angrysampoetry

the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

Why I don’t care about Brexit

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So here we are: after nearly three years of ‘profound soul searching’ and ‘agonising’ discussions, the British nation is no closer to leaving the EU and the British people are sick to the back teeth of talking about it. I have noticed two things I thought worth writing about.

EU flag wavers

1. The national discourse has been fixated on the figure of the leaver. After the vote journalists were scurrying to Scunthorpe, Wakefield and other bits of the country they rarely paid attention to and a spectre emerged: generally racist, white, working-class and male. Important questions have been asked about why the ‘economically disadvantaged’, ‘anti-immigrant’, ‘left-behind’ voter voted as he did. Less has been said about the Middle England leavers, the third of British-Asians or the quarter of Black British people who voted out and not much has been asked about why people voted remain. Indeed, in every region apart from London (40%), Scotland (38%) and Northern Ireland (44%), a majority of the voters wanted to leave the EU, yet the ‘left-behind’ region of these debates is usually ‘the North’.

This figure (racist working class Northerner) has been with us for some time. Even a Prime Minister like Gordon Brown, who privately believed that blaming job losses on Polish immigrants made you a ‘bigot’, publically campaigned on a BNP slogan: ‘British Jobs for British Workers’. Privately educated MPs and journalists excuse their anti-immigrant policies and headlines on the basis that their core market like it that way, although cause and effect may well be the other way round.Brown's bigotgate

It is not unlike the man behind ‘The Movement’ (an attempt to unite the far-right of Europe in one frighteningly ignorant and frighteningly well-funded cohesive block), Steve Bannon, praising Luton-born figurehead of British racists, Tommy Robinson. The former Hollywood producer, investment banker, Breitbart News executive chairman and advisor to Donald Trump told a British radio host: “You fucking liberal elite. Tommy Robinson is the backbone of this country.”[1]  There is money and power behind the rise of the racist parties.

Without a hint of irony, Nigel Farage claimed, “nobody has done more to destroy the Far Right in Britain than me”, believing that by being the respectable face of racism, he was containing an otherwise street-fighting, working class movement in a disaffected but harmless parliamentary block under the stewardship of him truly: the public school educated, city trader Mr Farage. Thereby, he claimed, he “weakened the influence of the BNP”[2]. What he actually did, was make racism respectable again, and thus drive sections of the country further right. He did so with the help of the media, who, as I pointed out five years ago, gave a lot of oxygen to a minority party without a single MP. Having won the referendum vote on Farage’s single-issue, the façade falls away and we see that the ‘take back our country’ brigade do not have any vision at all about how to re-form society beyond kicking out the foreigners. Much of our parliament and the media are complicit. As I wrote two years before the Brexit fiasco, “through an utterly compliant media, they promote a safe alternative whose essential difference is slight, with a libidinal nationalism as a barricade against anything actually threatening.”

The BBC continue to play an unwitting role in building that barricade. They managed, for instance, on the day after the massacres at Christchurch, to show an in depth Newsnight feature on European-wide, hipster-fascists, Generation Identity. Our pompous host, who thought himself too clever to be outdone by a bunch of smartly-dressed plebs, instead was made a sucker by GI. He gave them time to make their points about how we should ‘create zGeneration Identityones and areas around Europe’ to hold back the ‘Islamisation of Europe’ and how ‘people who came here illegally need to be sent back home’. The best the host could do to challenge these views is to hint at the Austrian GI leaders he is interviewing that these solutions ‘have really scary overtones, especially in this part of the world’. Too respectable to even mention the words ‘concentration camp’ or ‘Nazis’, he is apparently ignorant of the fact that these solutions are not historical relics but are currently in place and paid for by the hated EU: Turkey has received 6 billion euros to contain 2 million Syrian refugees, Afghanistan £17 billion to take back its nationals who fled the war there, while Libya’s detention centres, the site of torture, forced labour and a new Black slave trade, are also funded from Europe[3]. When I see Remainers draped in EU flags and ‘I heart EU’ tee-shirts talking about freedom of movement and internationalism I question whether they are paying attention to the state of the world. It is this blind-eye turning that allows middle-class England to support racist, murderous politics which directly benefit themselves, protecting their privileged status as Europeans at the heart of the ‘biggest peace project in the world’. Instead of voting remain to counter a racist project but still attacking the EU for what it is, we have to pretend it’s a great force for good, while branding the Leavers as ‘uninformed’.

Perpetuating this figure of the racist helps build the reaction against progressive politics, an attempt to contain a potentially anti-capitalist, working-class movement inside nationalism. It is a dangerous game to play. Farage complained when Tommy Robinson was brought into UKIP as ‘an adviser on grooming gangs and prisons.’ He had almost realised what had happened: instead of neutralising a growing fringe fascism, UKIP had instead found a way for it to establish a platform in the mainstream.

Even if he began as a ‘neutral’ on the debate, our BBC journalist’s trip to ‘populist’ Europe shifted something in him so that he announces as a fact, not just reporting on the views of those “beyond the boundaries of the acceptable”, that the “dream of multiculturalism is losing its shine”. The best he can do to challenge GI is to say that they are numerically irrelevant. Martin Sellner, of Austrian GI, responds by telling him, yes, but they are shifting the Overton Window. Our narrator concludes that although they are currently a minority, “these old ideas that many thought had been consigned to history” are “being fed into the political bloodstream”. Not realising that it is he, the BBC journalist with the Newsnight syringe, who is feeding them!Libyan detention centre

2. Brexit debates are tiresome. What I consider the Left as a whole has stayed out of it. Yet, there are left-ish people who tell me I should take Brexit seriously because they or their friend from Iceland/France/wherever is going to get deported. Sadly, and this may sound controversial, I cannot bring myself to care too much. Firstly, because I do not think the British state will deport so much of its workforce. Secondly, because deportations and racist murderous borders are already in place. I know it is worse if, say, 1030 people, rather than if 1000 people get deported, but I am not overly interested in numbers on either side of the immigration debate. I care about individuals and about systemic institutional racism, not about saving a few Europeans while we deport Caribbeans who have been here for decades and allow Syrians to die in the Med. It is not that I don’t care, it is just that Brexit doesn’t change much and, ironically, I even have the numbers to prove it. Even before the referendum, 4701 people in British detention centres were EU nationals – 16% of total detainees.[4]

Perhaps staying in the EU will halt the march of the ‘hostile environment’. I am not overly convinced. What has been sad about these two years is that we have missed a trick to rethink the way that society is organised. In the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum, there was by all accounts, genuine public debate about what a post-independent Scotland would like. Empty shops were taken over as debating cafes and people from both sides of the argument discussed reasons for and against leaving. Here, there has been no attempt before or after the vote to imagine how we should organise society – just empty rhetorical posturing about taking back our country or angry insistence that things should remain just as they were.BRITAIN-SCOTLAND-INDEPENDENCE-VOTE-BBC

The hardcore Remainers have some reason to march and to demand the status quo stays as it is – no EU withdrawal, no Jeremy Corbyn, no alternatives to Frontex, no end to Fortress Europe. The UK has put its economic eggs into the single basket of international finance, outsourcing most of its industry and agriculture to cheaper labour forces elsewhere and creating a tax haven in the City for international finance. Some of this has spilt over into the South-East’s construction boom, building endless identical flats and offices, mainly with cheap labour imported from the parts of the EU which were impoverished by their adoption of the Euro and of EU ideas of liberal economics. It seems likely that if banks have to pay for financial transactions, or businesses will have their supply chains disrupted by customs checks and duties, then they will simply up and move elsewhere. As is already happening. Consciously or otherwise, Remainers are demanding their leaders continue to protect their privilege so that their business can flourish, they can travel across borders without paying for a visa or so their well-paid employment can continue. There is no talk from them either of how we could restructure society beyond the vague idea that we should ‘reform the EU from the inside’.

Instead of this focus on ‘in or out’, we need something that will bring progressive change. That means things that will bring meaningful jobs and lives to all regions of the UK and reduces some of the damaging actions on the environment.

Some ideas:

  • Free public transport on locally built, environmentally high-standard trains and buses.
  • Decentralised energy production with locally manufactured sustainable energy projects.
  • Labour intensive organic food production that goes someway to redressing our food sovereignty problem; increases the quality of food available; and employs people in meaningful jobs, while reducing the harm done to air, soil and rivers through deforestation, pesticides, intensive animal farming and chemical fertilisers. With this should come markets and distribution networks that can bring this food into towns and cities and go some way to challenge the dominance of the supermarket.
  • Re-wilding those parts of Wales and Scotland that are currently being taken up by sheep farming, grouse hunting etc, to regrow the native forests and to encourage jobs in tourism – hiking, bird watching, bike trails, adventure holidays etc.
  • Legalise weed in certain seaside towns that are in need of a re-boost of tourists and pleasure seekers on which their whole economy was built in the first place.
  • Rent controls on the private housing sector and the repurposing of empty homes for social housing, managed locally and employing local people.
  • Abolish the monarchy and turn over their palaces for publicly funded old people’s homes. Thus, for the same (or even lower) costs of keeping a few old people in impossible standards of luxury, we can keep a large number of our elders in appropriate comfort, looked after with appropriate care.
  • Maximum as well as minimum wage.

There are many more. You can add your own. But we need to start a debate on how we want the future of the place we live, not just stories of parliamentary shenanigans around 500 page ‘deals’ whose content the majority of people still know nothing about. We also need to stop pandering to racism, which means politicians and journalists not spinning lies about immigrants and the middle class to accept that being European does not equal ‘White’.

With thanks to Sam, Jacob, CS and Reload for recent conversations that helped inspire this article.

 

[1] https://www.albawaba.com/news/why-us-middle-east-forum-funding-tommy-robinson-1170222

[2] https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3068522/I-ve-STOP-racism-Britain-says-Farage-boasts-creating-harmonious-society.html

[3] http://www.irr.org.uk/news/europe-can-no-longer-pretend-to-respect-human-rights/

[4] https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/immigration-detention-in-the-uk/

Written by angrysampoetry

April 9, 2019 at 2:40 pm

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