Contribution to Soft Left Politics by Rabbil Sikdar.
The grieving for Britain leaving the European Union hasn’t yet passed has it? It feels like it’s only going to get worse. Something we took for granted is going and its significance will be felt eventually. Maybe sooner rather than later. Compounded by Donald Trump’s victory across the Atlantic. Everywhere the story is the same: the demise of the centre-left has been met by the march of the far right. In Britain, we might not be there quite yet, but Brexit signalled a chilling surge to the far right.
Leftists who voted to leave the European Union did so on the basis that the EU was a capitalist club that was an affront to democracy. They saw leaving as the opportunity to build a socialist dream and the roots for their thinking are clear: a socialist Britain is in theory impractical within the EU structures where there are industrial regulations imposed upon by the EU. Take into the equation the TTIP and many feared that the EU would facilitate the private market to carve through public services.
So how’s this for the progressive working class revolt? There’s going to be a £122bn Brexit black hole. Public services already on their knees will simply collapse. The government will cut deeper and deeper, plunge further people in poverty and still fall short of dealing with the debt and deficit. £122bn.
But then I saw John McDonnell talking of Brexit as an opportunity. I saw leftists calling the victory of Trump as some anti-establishment kickback against the centre-left. To these leftists, Brexit was the working class revolt that needs to be embraced. They saw Brexit as a road to a socialist Britain.
Working class people will be ruined by Brexit so it is hard to envisage this as an opportunity. Attitudes like this might be pitched as some sort of half-hearted appeal to the working class Brexit demographic but it exposes just how far removed from the working class lives the hard left is. Brexit is going to bleed the working class because of the severity of the cuts that will be introduced to cover for it. The pockets of those at the bottom will be hit hard to make up for the cost of leaving the EU.
But there’s another group who have been let down badly by the Lexit vote: minorities and migrants. Since Brexit, racism has risen immensely. Hate crime against eastern Europeans and BME groups have risen tenfold. For many of us the referendum was glimpsed through a prism of UKIP-driven hatred, division, fear and prejudice. The Lexit vote helped deliver that: it voted alongside Ukip, The English Defence League, Britain First and so many other bigots. The result has been now many people feel Britain isn’t their home, hostile and unwelcoming.
When solidarity was truly needed, when it mattered, the Lexit left went missing.
This type of ‘socialism’ is a betrayal of the working class. It doesn’t understand the importance of being in government, in helping the working class – that is why you rarely hear Jeremy Corbyn or his supporters praising the merits of the New Labour governments. It refuses to understand the times that we are living in and how vital the EU was in combating the regressive forces fighting against the gains we’ve made.
For these socialists, these economic, social and environmental rights and protections have been gambled on the hope that Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour will win in 2020 and be in position to deal with this. Perhaps even that Brexit will create a social and economic chaos that will enable a Labour win. Yet look at the polls, and Labour’s future is extremely bleak.
The Labour leadership’s utter antipathy towards the possibility of Brexit during the referendum changed me from a warm supporter to a disenfranchised critic. But the tone emanating from them since hasn’t been one of regret or loss, but gleeful relish.
Brexit has hurt the working class and minorities. It has hurt the most vulnerable people in this country and yet there are far too many on the left relishing the forecasted doom of the European Union. They find comfort in the march of the far right as being some kind of vindication of themselves, but this is not who the Labour Party are. For our party, things can and must be better.