We need a second referendum on Brexit. Why? Because politics is not a parlour game
Those within the upper echelons of the Labour Party continuing to do their utmost to avoid putting their weight behind or against a second referendum on Brexit have run out of road. Fudging the issue is no longer an option, despite the obfuscation that has emanated on it from the party’s annual conference in Liverpool.
It reminds us that in politics, whenever you find yourself confronted by a fork in said road demanding that you choose between reality and ideology, reality is the non-negotiable choice for those who reject the notion of politics as a parlour game.
Indeed, for those on the left of the political spectrum who remain wedded to a Bennite anti-Europe position, regardless of what the actual economic and political consequences of exiting the EU in 2018 involve, the homespun logic of former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev stands as a desperately needed corrective. To wit: “You can’t make soup out of an idea.”
However given where we are in our political discourse, if the former Soviet premier dared offer this truth nugget to proponents of a ‘hard Brexit’ he would doubtless find himself accused of attempting to betray the will of the British people, of subverting democracy — of being a shill for Brussels.
Regardless, Khrushchev’s words do more to place in perspective the most far reaching political crisis to engulf Westminster since the Second World War than any of the ideologically-heavy but reality-light arguments that have been swirling around Brexit since the British people, by a small majority proportionate to turnout, elected to leave the EU in the referendum held on the question in September 2016.
The situation we now find ourselves in two years down the line is a reminder that when democracy lapses into a zero sum game of winner-take-all it becomes a tyranny of the majority, attacking the bonds of social cohesion that are essential to stability. And much the same as oxygen, stability in a given society is generally only ever appreciated in the breach — i.e. once it begins to disappear — even though that without it nothing exists, including democracy.
Taking stability — economic, political, social — for granted is a sure fire ticket to perdition. And perdition is precisely where the UK is headed going by the report that surfaced in July that the government had put in place contingency plans in the event of a no deal-Brexit — a so-called hard Brexit involving zero formal trading or economic relationship with the EU — which include the stockpiling of food and medicines and the army placed on standby to help deliver emergency supplies in the event.
When things get to this point the time has come to take stock.
Yet instead those who adhere to a hard Brexit have, if anything, grown even more zealous in their adherence as the clock runs down towards the country’s official departure from the EU in March 2019 — almost as if intent on proving they’re tough enough to go o’er a Brexit cliff without a parachute.
Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg: these are the commanders of what has taken on the character of a ‘hard Brexit Taliban’, a motley crew of privileged and pampered born-to-rule Tories, who by some perverse mangling of the English language are now posing as champions of the people and guardians of democracy, holding fast to the 2016 EU referendum result like fundamentalists on steroids.
Surveying this motley crew, Albert Camus’ lapidary admonition — “The welfare of the people has always been the alibi of tyrants.” — looms into sharp relief. And lest anyone harbour doubt, if and when the economic shock promised by a hard Brexit materialises, the aforementioned Tory knaves, men of means all, will be fine as they are. They will certainly be more fine than any of the estimated 3 million people whose jobs are dependent on some kind of economic relationship with the EU come March 2019.
Brexit confirms that referenda are blunt instruments when it comes to deciding on matters of irreversible import, and that whenever deployed should come with a high threshold set for a majority vote, say around 70%, before the result can be considered legitimate.
The reason such a high threshold is crucial is because in the case of both Scottish independence and Brexit, the potential impact of a yes vote not only on the lives of the generation who voted for it but on future generations is such that a slim or small majority is not enough to confer legitimacy. In other words, the decision to fundamentally alter a given country’s economic, political and constitutional future has to be taken with sufficient support to provide it with a mandate reflective of the scale of that change.
In the case of Brexit, returning to the issue, the fact that 62% of people in Scotland voting to remain, along with 55% in Ireland, means that it is not possible to argue convincingly that the purposes of democracy were served in the original referendum.
Former Prime Minister, David Cameron, the man responsible for this political and soon to be economic crisis — who blithely sanctioned the referendum not in the best interests of the country but instead with the objective of silencing the feral anti-Europe backbench ranks within his own party — should be chastised for all eternity and shunned by decent company forevermore. The product of the most expensive and elite education that money can buy, he is a prime example of a man too smart for his own good and too stupid for everyone else’s.
The anger that fuelled Brexit across post-industrial Britain, on the part of a working class that has suffered grievously under successive Tory governments with their attachment to the verities of austerity, is more than justifiable. However this anger was pointed in the wrong direction, as neither migrants nor Brussels is responsible for their plight.
In fact, and in truth, the plight of the poor and the working class in a country in which child poverty, pensioner poverty, homelessness and destitution is now more redolent of a 19th century dystopia than a mature and civilised society in the 21st, is down to the anti-people economic model, known otherwise as neoliberalism.
It is an economic model which emanated from the US not the EU, and is one to which the British ruling and political class has been more committed to maintaining and upholding than any other ruling and political class in the West, with the arguable inclusion of its US counterpart.
Better to be slapped with the truth than kissed with a lie, and the truth of Brexit is that the cure is worse than the disease. It has elevated charlatanism and demoted integrity, rendering British society more polarised, divided, and stricken with anger and bigotry than at any time since the 1930s. It has wrought confusion and sown enmity, unleashing a carnival of reaction and xenophobia.
May’s leadership of the country is now on life support after her disastrous showing at the Salzburg summit with the leaders of the EU27. Despite her attempt to seize the opportunity to bask in a moment of Churchillian defiance afterwards, the brutal truth is that she is a first rate second rate prime minister who lacks the ability to navigate the country through this crisis.
With an early general election now on the cards, Labour’s transformative socialist programme takes on the character of an idea whose time has come. However if it is to stand a chance of turning this vision into reality its leadership must finally nail its colours to the mast on the issue of Brexit.
Britain needs a Labour government. It also needs a second referendum. We may well now have reached the point where the former depends on the latter.