In my last article, I touched on how capitalism has wreaked devastation across the world and lost credibility with people, suggesting that it resorts to authoritarianism to sustain itself (see, for example, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Donald Trump in the States, and Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson in Britain).
I also expressed hope that I wouldn’t have to write this on toilet paper in a camp somewhere – and while I can assure you I’m not, yet, forced to resort to that to get a message to you, there are already people way ahead of me on the front lines of exposure to the brunt of fascism’s force. Women, trans, non-binary people, travellers, Muslims, Jews, people of colour, and immigrants are all, statistically, far more vulnerable than me to these forces – heck, Johnson and Trump already oversee the use of concentration camps for immigrants (known as “detention centres” for public relations purposes).
Ever since the EU referendum, I repeatedly warned of the dangers of rejecting the results of the vote on the UK’s departure from the EU bloc, following decades of centrist letdowns like Tony Blair, as well as David Cameron and Nick Clegg, promising people change, then offering more of the same, leaving people disillusioned with traditional smarmy salesmen politicos, determined to shake things up for better or worse.
Whether it’s better or worse (and there has long been an issue with capitalism being core to the EU constitution), that’s not the point here. Yes, the Conservatives and New Labour collectively oversaw a massive rise in xenophobia and anti-immigration hysteria, which no doubt also played a part in the motivation for “Brexit,” and history will condemn them for that – but it’s not that simple. A huge part of the issue was simply a lack of faith in traditional institutions, and with the press still playing its part, adhering to the results of the EU referendum became important.
When Jeremy Corbyn – traditionally a “Euro-sceptic” – respected the results of the EU referendum, in the 2017 general election he literally increased Labour’s vote share more than any of the party’s leaders since 1945. With massively popular policies on public ownership, foreign policy, and the environment, for example, Labour were on the right track. Corbyn was even presenting his case for a kind of “Lexit” (left-wing Brexit) where leaving the EU in the correct way would suddenly open up opportunities for public ownership and such to be realised.
All other 2019 Labour policies have essentially been merely progressions or extensions of the manifesto of 2017 that provided a foundation to draw on further feedback and present a compelling case for a more just society. But one massive position changed: Labour Blairites, centrists and city-slickers out of touch with traditional party heartlands forced a change in this stance on Brexit. It was, as confirmed by the country we woke up to today, political suicide.
These same people who put the pressure on Corbyn and his inner circle now have a long-awaited opportunity to re-emerge from the shadows, adjust their ties, have their hair and makeup done, attach their clip-on lapel mics, and get onto our television screens to tell us articulately, eloquently, and convincingly with perfect annunciation that suddenly, for some unfathomable reason, Corbyn is a failure in 2019. It’s their opportunity to further the careers of themselves and their friends by pulling Labour back into Blairite territory, which – given the appetite for anti-capitalism that provided a groundswell of support for Labour in 2017 – would be disastrous for the party and the working class. But, to be fair to these types, aside from their smear campaigns and establishment friends in the press, they did bide their time patiently, waiting for a chance to strike. Still, they’re firing blanks. Their pals Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman, Angela Smith all just lost their seats, and for good reason – swept away in the referendum-respecting resolve of voters pinned to a sole election narrative of Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. This was Boris Johnson’s plan: exploit Labour’s open goal on the referendum, and – let off the hook by the media – avoid talking about actual policies and plans beyond Brexit. It was easy to do. It was always going to work.
It is the morning after, and so far Jeremy Corbyn has played a blinder. He has seen the clear truth of the matter and acknowledged his party’s mistake over the referendum result, and what’s more he has made a strategic masterstroke in remaining leader until a replacement is found, avoiding the rudderless party of 2010 after the New Labour experiment already on life support finally died, and the centrist Milibands battled it out for the Labour leadership while almost no arguments against austerity were being prepared, let alone presented.
Let’s not forget, democracy in Britain is in deep trouble. For all the complaints from many “remainers” about misinformation and untruths in the referendum campaigns, the corporate media – owned and controlled by billionaires terrified of a Corbyn government – all but abandoned a sense of journalistic integrity or duty in the run-up to this general election, and then it emerged that 88% of Tory ads in their campaign were misleading (compared to 0% of Labour ads). Beyond the repetitive mantra of “Get Brexit Done,” the Tories have few clear or credible policies, but they seem pretty certain on one thing: introducing voter ID checks, alongside re-drawing electoral boundaries, and retaining the first-past-the-post system, while remaining staunch supporters of an unelected House of Lords and Head of State, with Johnson’s response about the sex scandals of the royal family being that they are “beyond reproach.” That means they can do whatever they like; they’re above the law. This is feudalism. This is dictatorship.
Despite all of that, while the Tories enjoyed around 43% of the vote share, Labour garnered around 32%. Sounds better than the results you saw, eh? In a proportional representation system, the seats in parliament would look considerably different to what we’re seeing on this cold winter’s day. Labour’s next fight should surely include that of a more democratic electoral model. And that includes lowering the voting age to 16, as promised. “No taxation without representation,” the saying goes, and yet these teenagers are being expected to take on jobs without a say over anything. Young people, of course, are becoming aware, and are mobilising. Even 16, 15, heck 14 year-olds will be eligible to vote in the next election, as it stands. Many of these are on climate strikes, walking out of school to try and save the planet. They’re not capitalists. They’re sure as heck not Tories.
But beyond electoral democracy, Corbyn’s successor must also promise to build on the popular policies Corbyn has brought to the forefront of the Labour party. These must be prepared further, as people who bought into Brexit as the big issue will suddenly realise that they got what they wanted, without getting anything they needed. Pull away the curtain of Brexit, and the Tories are suddenly exposed: they pose no answers to the climate emergency, no answers to deregulated banks, no answers to tax avoidance, no answers to inequality, no answers for the collapse of public services. As these days turn to weeks, and weeks become months, people will be forced to think about actual policy again. That’s very bad news for the Tories. Here, they have no game.
People will wonder why the overwhelming sense of injustice just won’t go away. They “got Brexit done,” they closed off the borders, and yet still food bank use increases, transport remains in chaos, environmental catastrophe looms, and their precious United Kingdom teeters on the brink of complete collapse, so who do they blame then? There’s no one else left to blame. The Tories will find themselves in a corner, with no room for manoeuvre. They have a significant majority, they can do whatever they like, and they’ve been in power for years and years. There are suddenly no excuses left, no scapegoats. Tory supporters do not get to complain – about anything, yes, anything – ever again.
So if you thought I was going to suggest that the “endgame” was simply referring to our forthcoming demise, you’re wrong. Quite the opposite. The Tories are doomed. As American activist and filmmaker Michael Moore said about Donald Trump’s rise to power, “This is the last gasp of dying dinosaurs.” We’re witnessing it on this side of the Atlantic, too.
Beyond party politics, social movements are what influence policies. Edward Snowden pointed out something that should be obvious: “Democracy is not inherited.” That’s right. Trade unions, women’s suffrage and the civil rights movements did not gain victories because anyone gave them anything; they fought for them, and they demanded them, and they took them. There has never been a time in history without greedy authoritarians trying to keep their collective boot on the throats of the oppressed. The world’s population is very telling: cisgender men, white people, and the wealthy are not the majority. Quite the opposite. It’s time to remember what we, the people, have in common, and retain an intersectionality to our resistance. We have to stick together, and we have to become activists and allies, we have to join unions, renters’ rights groups, we have to create democratic workplaces through worker cooperatives – all these provide a strong and powerful resistance to the government “in power.”
Naomi Klein believes that Donald Trump was a wake-up call, and the same might be said of Boris Johnson here in Britain. “Crises,” she said, “do not always cause societies to regress and give up. There is also the second option – that, faced with a grave common threat, we can choose to come together to make an evolutionary leap. We can surprise the hell out of ourselves – by being united, focused, and determined. By refusing to fall for those tired old shock tactics. By refusing to be afraid, no matter how much we are tested.”