• Can We Be Pro-Brexit and Progressive?

    Jeff Sparrow in the Guardian (2 January) allows a thoughtful article to be vitiated by an error familiar to all readers of that esteemed organ – a mindless lumping together of those who voted for Donald Trump on the one hand and for Brexit on the other, and branding them all as bigoted and racist.  “Progressives”, on the other hand, (defined by implication as those who voted for neither Trump nor Brexit) now need, he argues, to recapture the agenda so as to help the benighted souls who were led astray by the hateful doctrines of the right.

    One of the reasons for the failure of the “progressives”, he says, is that they did not register the genuine and understandable grievances of so many who felt that they had been ill-served by the democracy in whose name so much had been promised.  The left, he says, needs to re-discover the concept of progress, so as to turn that dissatisfaction into more constructive channels.

    One can only say “hear, hear” to that – but some of us were there long before him.  We represent a body of opinion whose existence is virtually ignored and denied by mainstream media – so obsessed are they by the need to stereotype both those who agree with them over Brexit and those who don’t.

    We have the temerity to assert that the issue of Brexit or not should have been analysed from the outset in the terms advanced by Jeff Sparrow – that the question should have been all along as to whether the way we organise our affairs (and that necessarily includes EU membership) has been fully serving the interests of ordinary people.

    Instead, the debate has been dominated – and still is – by those who insist on a convenient polarisation.  According to them, ranged on one side are those who are said to have the good sense and purity of spirit to recognise the nobility of the European ideal – not to say the attractions of European culture, food, music – and for whom the day-to-day challenges for some of their fellow-citizens of making a living and bringing up a family are a mere distraction.

    On the other side are those who have been encouraged by right-wing demagogues to attribute the harsh realities of their lives to malign forces unleashed by our European involvement, so that the political choices we make domestically are exonerated.

    There is no room in this polarised debate for those who argue that the good times enjoyed by a minority over recent years – by virtue of a globalised economy (of which the EU is a subset) – have been bought at the cost of an increasingly difficult struggle for many others, and that the economic and social consequences for those others of EU membership cannot be absolved from responsibility for their plight.

    There is, in other words, a “progressive” analysis of EU membership which does not rely on the ignorance and prejudice exploited by the right, but which does not shrink, either, from an analysis of the EU that identifies some of its inherently anti-democratic, pro-capitalist and “free-market” characteristics.

    It is, of course, precisely those characteristics that have manifested themselves in the lives of so many pro-Brexit voters.  We cannot expect those voters to overlook the impact of those characteristics in favour of the “finer sensibilities” of those who have done well, when that impact includes the decimation of British manufacturing and a perennial trade deficit which together have led directly to the loss of jobs and a more general job insecurity, an inflow of cheap labour which has further threatened job security and wage levels, and a sense that democratic control over their lives has been lost or is at least ineffective.

    These impacts are not accidental, but eminently foreseeable – and therefore intended.  The EU is consciously an “intervention-free” zone, deliberately created to hand power to unelected bureaucrats so that market forces and powerful corporations are allowed free rein without intervention from elected governments.  There can be nothing less “progressive” than to overlook this in the name of the “European ideal” and then to castigate those who register and bewail what they have lost – democracy and self-government – as bigots and ignoramuses.

    If we are really to embark on a new progressive agenda, as we surely must, we must have the courage to identify what is and has been wrong and therefore must be changed. It is not an auspicious start to characterise the “progressive” stance as that held by those who have all along prioritised their own sense of intellectual and cultural superiority over any attempt to grapple with the real and practical issues – not least as a consequence of EU membership -confronting so many of our fellow-citizens.

    There are many who abhor all that Trump and his British equivalents stand for and who nevertheless understand that EU membership has served primarily the interests of the haves, not the have-nots.  If we really want to re-establish the “progressive” agenda, we could do with less castigating and more listening.

    Bryan Gould

    3 January 2017.

     

     

5 Comments

  1. David Blake says: January 3, 2017 at 10:19 amReply

    Absolutely right that the EU has done nothing for those who lose in globalisation. But it’s worse than that. The German obsession with austerity means that the EU has failed for everyone except possibly the Germans.
    Germany has used its power to destroy the Greek economy, has sought to prevent the ECB doing anything to save the economy and run an economic policy which gives it huge surpluses.
    The problem is that Germany does not really accept that it is one in a company of equals. Instead, it sees itself playing the role in Europe which Prussia played in Wilhelmine Germany. And we all know how that ended.

    • Patricia says: January 4, 2017 at 10:57 pmReply

      Perhaps Germany is doing with Banks what it couldn’t do with tanks……

  2. pwj says: January 4, 2017 at 8:20 pmReply

    i remember when we joined a common market notr the frankenstein monster the eu has become, jusst get on with it ,it is like a bad marriage get a divorce and still be civil to one and other talk play enjoy ones company but not married or joined at the hip. Most of us love our european neighbours and will strive to support each other has we have done over the last 100 years it is only the monster that is the eu parliment that we neither want or need . so the children in brussekls need to grow up fast stop sulking and get a new fresh relationship with us ,we can get on but just cannot live with one another.

  3. Wilfrid Whattam says: January 5, 2017 at 6:30 amReply

    Very well said. I despair of The Guardian on many issues – this, the US, and the Middle East mess. Yourself, Yanis Varoufakis, Robert Fisk & Patrick Cockburn (in the Independent), Craig Murray, and The Real News are some of my best sources of sense. People like Polly Toynbee and co. (but by no means all Guardian commemtators) have been wildly wrong for many years; establishment through and through.

  4. Bryan Gould says: January 5, 2017 at 8:10 amReply

    Thanks Wilfrid. Kind regards, Bryan