By IOE Blog Editor, on 5 July 2016
We’ve been very busy at SSEES this week, trying to untangle the strands of the results of the EU Referendum and what it could mean for the future of the UK. Here are some final thoughts by our academics.
I would like to add just a few ideas, particularly focused on Pete’s point 1:
Could we reverse the referendum result, and get Britain to stay in the EU? There is no question that this would come as a good surprise to the 48% of the population who voted Remain, and to the many Leave voters who are now regretting their choice (not to mention all other EU countries and, in fact, most of the world). But is it realistic?
Previous posts have already mentioned what could be done within the British political system. For example, Pete mentioned how a change in government could provide legitimacy for a new referendum to be held, and how the activation of Article 50 could be delayed.
I feel it’s also worth looking at how the EU institutions could help. There has long been talk within Brussels policy making and academic circles of so-called “differentiated integration”, whereby EU members integrate at different speeds. The idea that it could be beneficial to distinguish between “core” EU countries which are keen to proceed with further integration, and more reluctant members such as the UK, has long been whispered in Brussels.
However so far, this “two-speed Europe” has only been developing informally. It was clear that countries like the UK and Denmark (both holding “opt-outs” from several EU policy areas), were already on a different track, but this had not yet been institutionalised. Such an institutionalisation, for example through the creation of a status of “Associate EU Membership”, could potentially allow the wishes of (52% of) British voters to be respected, without the need to activate Article 50 and leave the EU.
The EU’s history of past referenda is very enlightening in this context. Back in 1992, a Danish referendum rejected the Maastricht Treaty …but after the EU offered concessions and opt-outs to Denmark, a new referendum was held, this time with a positive result. In 2001, exactly the same reversal took place, this time with Ireland and the Treaty of Nice. At first sight, Britain’s vote to leave the EU may seem like a very different situation – but, if we cast our minds back to EU debates and developments in 1992 and 2001, it can be argued that there is a strong air of familiarity.
Reading through the fine print of Article 50 could also be useful. Aside from helpfully pointing out that any country leaving the EU would be welcome to re-join at a later stage, Article 50 also mentions that the period of two years between article activation and EU exit can be extended. This can be done if all EU countries, including Britain, agree – not at all impossible, given the complexity of the work ahead. If this period was extended beyond the next general election, EU exit might be avoided altogether.
This is perhaps all speculation (and maybe wishful thinking), but following the past few days of political bombshells, who knows what further surprises may lie ahead…
Anna–Cara Keim (SSEES Research Student)
About one week has passed since the British electorate voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Yet the result had barely been digested, when events throughout the country begun to unfold. It has become evident that the dividing lines in this country run deep. Much deeper perhaps than many wanted to acknowledge. The political landscape of Britain is witnessing drastic changes. The Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has openly begun to talk about the possibility of a second independence referendum in Scotland, the Labour party is in chaos, the prime minister has resigned and the Conservatives struggle to elect a new leader. There have been incidents of racism and hate crime have been reported all over the country. It seems that the leave vote suddenly ‘legitimised’ this sort of behaviour in the eyes of xenophobic leave supporters.
As a EU citizen living in London I did not have the opportunity to vote in the referendum – but I did what I could to support the European cause. I was born a stone throw away from the Berlin wall at time when Europe was still divided by an iron curtain. The fall of the wall in 1989 paved the way for what many of us thought to be road to peace, prosperity and freedom. The central European states returned to Europe, Germany unified and the Soviet Union collapsed. While the experience of change and transition was not an easy one for many, no one wanted to go back to a divided Europe. At its very heart, the European Union is not only an economic project but first and foremost a peace building project. Never again should Europe have to witness again the atrocities that it saw in the first half of the twentieth century. In recent years, new physical and mental fences have begun to reappear all over Europe. Be in the form of Eurosceptic national governments or in the shape of fences that were built a number of European countries to deter the flow of refugees. The EU has been the object of a lot of criticism and often rightly so. Some of its organisational structure and its decision-making mechanisms are deeply flawed. Yet, there is never been a country that has made the radical and potentially irreversible decision to leave the European Union. Brexit has made waves all over Europe. Many have argued that a decision as momentous and far reaching as this one should have never been left to the electorate in the first place. Especially, if one takes into account that David Cameron promised to referendum in attempt to safeguard his own political career. As Article 50 has not been triggered yet, we do not know how the actual divorce process will look like but other European members will try everything to prevent setting dangerous precedent for other potential exit candidates.
Britain’s separation from Europe will not be an easy one. Yet, the extent to which the referendum has highlighted the dividing lines within Britain will present a far greater challenge for any future British political leader. Whereas the majority decision will need to be respected, there are still those 48% who wanted for the UK to remain part of the EU. Immigration has been the key issue for many leave campaigners and although some of the concerns related to the issue, such as the pressure on infrastructure, may be valid, it has done, I fear, far greater damage in the long run. The rhetoric that was used in the run up to the referendum has done an unimaginable damage to social integration. It has divided society in us vs. them. Not just European immigrants but also other minority groups have found themselves the target of post-referendum xenophobic and racist outburst. Hate crime can under no circumstances be acceptable. British society is incredibly diverse and there will be a need find unity in diversity. Some of those parts of the country that opted to leave also did so in the anticipation that their own situation cannot get worse than it probably already is. Political elites have failed in engage with large parts of the electorate in a suitable way. Indeed, so have many of us that campaigned for the UK to remain part of the EU have done it in London or Edinburgh where large numbers of voters did not need persuading. The many wonderful educational events and debates that I attended in the run up to the 23rd of June reached mostly those who already had an interest in the topic. Perhaps we should have spent more time on the streets of Hull or Doncaster than in auditoriums of the University of London or talking to commuters outside of Euston station. Future leader of both the Conservative and the Labour party alike must make a greater effort to bring the country back together. This will not just require the rethinking of things like structural investment in infrastructure but more importantly, it will require to listen to the needs and fears of those who live outside of the metropolitan areas, it will require a change in the political rhetoric used and it will require any future party in power to find ways of governing that do not alienate half of the population.
The situation in Scotland is somewhat different. Many of the promises that were made to Edinburgh after the independence referendum in 2014 have not been kept or were simply forgotten about. The SNP has taken over all former Labour strongholds in Scotland and it has to some extent also managed to unite Scotland. There now appears to be cross party consensus in Holyrood that Scotland has its place in the EU and that measures must be taken to make this possible.
Britain is currently experiencing an existential crisis and although signs were visible before, the Brexit decision has unleashed it in its full and ugly form. Every possible effort must now be made to reach a consensus. The Labour party must unite and reorganise itself in way that it is fit to prepare for the challenges ahead – else it will not stand a chance in the next election. If the Scottish government feels that they have the support of a considerable part of the Scottish population, they should be free to call a second independence referendum. And all of us who are angry, who grieve and complain about the results should use this moment to become more involved in politics and rebuilt civil society. Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to have gone to Eton or Oxford in order to participate in everyday politics…
Paulina Stepien (SSEES PhD Student)
I recently read this article in the Independent and was wondering exactly the same. On one hand, leave campaign has been based on lies and deception; on the other, politicians often lie. It was up to the remain camp to expose those lies (which they half-heartedly tried). People did not want to listen. In addition to that, almost all the leaders of the leave campaign have deserted and left the mess to those who (also half-heartedly) voted to remain… So, given that there has been deceit and the leaders who were supposed to lead the exit are not there any more and there is no plan of action, does it make it illegal/illegitimate or in any way warrants a nullification of the referendum?
Also, there is an issue of the voters. Many leavers feel very strongly about the result and any action to undermine the validity of the vote will cause a backlash and deepen the social divisions. It would be interesting to have a new poll asking the leavers how would they vote again and how they would feel about cancellation of the referendum.
Geoffrey Hosking, Emeritus Professor of Russian History at UCL SSEES, has kindly offered us his postscript to his chapter ‘Trust in the trustworthy: a key to social cohesion?’ in a collective volume due to be published by the European Commission Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, ‘Public Trust and the Future of EU Research and Innovation Policy.’
Britain’s decision to leave the EU was taken as a protest against the established government and opposition parties, in response to an agenda which included restricting immigration, curbing the influence of globalisation and restoring the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. The symbolic motifs of the nation-state have dominated the polemics leading up to the vote, often in defiance of logic and truth. No British citizen can feel proud of the outcome.
But neither can the European Union. Brexit is a challenge to terrible mistakes which the EU has made and to pernicious tendencies which have grown up inside it: its rigid and cumbersome bureaucratic procedures, its espousal of narrow-minded economic policies which have generated massive unemployment especially among young people, its failure to investigate and collectively pursue the tax-dodgers who deprive member states of billions of euros. Many French, Dutch, Italian and even German citizens sympathise with the Brexiteers and might copy them if there are analogous referenda in their own countries.
I believe the European Union should now demonstrate that it is tackling the economic problems which blight so many people’s lives:
- At the head of the agenda should be common action against the tax havens (not least in Britain and its dependencies) where irresponsible wealthy firms hide most of their profits. Such action will show serious intent to improve the lives of the poor and disadvantaged, and it is much better done by 27 nations acting together rather than by individual nation-states.
- The EU should announce a major programme of investment in green industry, green technology and the accompanying retraining of workers. With interest rates at a uniquely low level, it is irresponsible not to engage in this mitigation of the effects of climate change. Austerity and annual budget-balancing should be moderated until this investment brings about serious economic growth in the eurozone.
- Simplify bureaucratic procedures as much as possible, especially for small and medium businesses. Not every entrepreneur is conversant with the language and the formalities of accountants, lawyers and EU officials.
- Identify refugees in real need at an early stage of their hazardous journeys; provide help for them and economic aid for those local authorities which have problems in offering them housing, education and health care. We know that in the long run immigration brings economic benefits to the host nations, but in the short run it creates serious problems, often at the expense of the poor and disadvantaged in the receiving countries.
- Finally, the Union needs to become more open to democratic procedures. As a start, it would be good if the President of the European Commission were in future to be elected, not through backroom deals, but by all citizens of the EU. This would encourage ordinary people and the media inside the various countries to debate EU policies seriously and with some sense that they can influence them.
Conclusion, by Pete Duncan
Thank you to Filipa, Emma, and Paulina for your latest contributions. I still think it’s realistic to argue that Article 50 shouldn’t be implemented. I don’t want another referendum. I don’t think the result of the last one was legitimate, to answer Paulina. I want a return to parliamentary democracy.
As far as I can see, it would be illegal for the next Prime Minister to activate the Article without a vote of the House of Commons, and indeed the House of Lords and the Royal Assent. It would be illegal under the European Communities Act 1972, which would first have to be amended through normal parliamentary procedures. This is the argument being made by Mishcon de Reya, which Emma cites.
Again, as far as I can see, The European Union Referendum Act 2015 simply lays out how the referendum will be organized and does not bind the government to accept the result.
If Theresa May is elected Tory leader, and she doesn’t activate Article 50 until the end of the year, as she has said, there will be nearly six months for public opinion to change. This is likely, in the wake of the abandonment by the leaders of the Leave campaign of their main promises about NHS spending and immigration, and their personal antics. By then there’s a real possibility that developments inside the EU may make reforms in the EU which will make membership more palatable, as Filipa has suggested.
There really are changes in the attitudes to the UK inside the EU. Immediately after the referendum, it seemed that the whole EU was telling us to activate as soon as possible and get out. This was the position initially in a joint statement on 24 June by Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz and Donald Tusk They seemed determined to punish Britain for the referendum and rule out any possibility of reversing the decision, in order to deter other member states from going down the same path.
Since then, however, some of the member states, particularly in the SSEES part of the world, in Eastern Europe, have been more supportive. The president of Lithuania Dalia Grybauskaitė, has said that if the UK changed its mind, “welcome, welcome back”.
Miroslav Lajčák, the foreign minister of Slovakia which has just taken over the EU presidency, and Witold Waszczykowski, his Polish counterpart, have followed US Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestion that the referendum result could be ‘walked back’. And even Angela Merkel (a former East German) is shifting: her chief-of-staff, Peter Altmaier, is quoted as saying, ‘The Britons must decide whether and when they request to leave’.
In Eastern and Southern Europe, and in Germany, there are forces opposing the centralization of power in Brussels and the policies of austerity. In Britain today, even while our government and opposition are both bitterly divided, we need to get our message across to Europe that there is a growing body of opinion of people who are ready to use all legal means to stop the activation of Article 50.
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL or SSEES.
By IOE Blog Editor, on 4 July 2016
Following on from last week’s discussion , more of our experts put forth their views on the outcome of the EU Referendum. 52% of voters opted to leave the EU, a result which has caused disruption to the financial markets and a 31-year low for the pound. Both main parties are facing a leadership challenge. David Cameron announced his resignation on the day of the referendum result and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was met with mass resignations from the Shadow Cabinet.
The debate – both at SSEES and nationally – continues.
Hala Haddad – SSEES BA, MA, PhD 2008)
It is very clear from all the messages that we are all devastated by the result of the referendum and are willing to sign petitions, demonstrate, demand a second referendum etc just to reverse the damage that has been done and avoid the catastrophic future we could face. In my humble opinion and against all my hopes, I don’t think this will amount to anything. Democracy, at times, may not be the best solution to an issue that has so many far reaching consequences, especially when, as we witnessed later, many ‘leave’ voters didn’t properly grasp what they were voting for. The day after the referendum the most asked question on google was ‘what is the EU’? What we must do now is observe and respect the democratic outcome and live up to the decision we have made as a nation. The remaining EU members will not be forgiving, and trying to turn back the tide will not work. What we must make sure of is that we do not get bullied into implementing article 50 before we are ready. I can go on and on about the above, but I’ll stop.
One last thing, I think David Cameron is entirely to blame for this. Why are we even voting on a referendum that is so damaging when we can’t control the outcome??? Corbyn ( and I am sorry Pete) cannot be let off lightly either. I don’t think he did enough- far too passive. He was behind the scenes too much. I certainly would have liked to hear more from him.
Thank you very much for so much food for thought. Thanks to Pete for starting the discussion. I have been silent so far, but now just want to add something that may help us understand why people voted the way they did in the referendum on 23 June. Last night, I watched a Horizon programme on BBC4 called ‘how you really make decisions?‘ (first aired on 24 Feb 2014)
We make between 2,000 – 10,000 decisions every day, the majority of which are without thinking: the intuitive, often irrational decisions, the result of the ‘system I’ part of our brain. The ‘system II’ part of our brain is the slow, rational, and often lazy one. What happens is that system I and system II are often in conflict, with system I being engaged so that system II does not have to be. This leads to systematic mistakes, or cognitive biases.
Researchers in psychology and behavioural economies have found 150 of these cognitive biases to date, including the halo effect (where we associate good traits with a person or organisation we like and feel uncomfortable if we know they/it has some bad traits too, and vice versa); present bias focus (where we think more of ‘now’ than the future e.g. why we text while driving or smoke); loss aversion bias (when we think we’re winning, we don’t take risks but when faced with loss, we are reckless – think of the bankers leading up to the 2008 economic crisis), etc.
So, voters may not have voted rationally in the referendum. Neither do politicians behave rationally! Hence another reason to try to stop Article 50 from being invoked.
No matter how much I liked reading your comments and opinions I think we are crying over spilt milk. If you saw BBC News last night, you could see the complete change of tone that could not happen without official order/approval. So Europe is out. It made it into 20th minute of the news but in a semi-comic/semi curious way after all internalist and nationalist debates were exhausted. Angela and co were treated like Putin and co. Even the positive reports about Europe and its citizens which made into London news were paternalistic and the message was clear – Europeans are welcome as long as they are making a contribution. But it is clear who decides on who is welcome and what constitutes a contribution.
I think this is a reality that we will be facing increasingly and that we have to concentrate our thoughts and energies into maintaining our links to Europe, trying to save our students from Europe and not falling prey to insular and chauvinist atmosphere.
A 60-40 Referendum – But ‘Remain’ Has to Get the 60%
Whether or not there is an early general election depends on the arcane politics of the Conservative Party. Whether or not a new Labour leader emerges capable of articulating a properly positive case for Remain depends on the extra-parliamentary left. But willing forces could start now to campaign for a second vote on a 60-40 basis.
This would not be the retrospective tinkering with the rules that some have advocated. It would only apply for a second vote. And crucially only Remain would have to get 60%. Anything less, and the original verdict would stand – Exit would still prevail. The point would not be simply to overturn the Exit vote. There would only be change if enough Exit voters had changed their minds.
There are some signs that they may have done so already. Not the ill-informed mood of ‘Regrexit’ or buyers’ remorse. But because Exit leaders ditched their false prospectus so quickly, and because of Boris Johnson’s extraordinarily swift departure from the murder scene. And because Michael Gove seemed to be perfectly happy working with Johnson when it was a matter of sabotaging the country’s foreign policy future, but not when it came to the more important question of which of them should be Prime Minister.
The ‘project fear’ campaign during the referendum was too hyperbolic, and many voters just tuned out. But the accumulation of real-world economic and political costs is different. And things will likely get worse. Some Exit voters might welcome the chance for second thoughts. Others may not. But that could only be tested in a way that respected the original verdict.
How confident are Remain supporters that they could get 60% in a second vote? 55-45 might be an easier target, but would be less of a moral statement. But if Remain supporters think the case is as strong as they have been claiming, then why not?
Katja Richters, SSEES PhD 2010
I agree with Pete that the activation of article 50 should be delayed as long as possible (or indefinitely) with the means that he mentions. I’ve signed the petition for a second referendum although I don’t really want one. If people didn’t know what they were voting for last week they will not know what they are voting for next month or next year. I used to be a fan of direct democracy, but it seems to me now that EU membership is too complicated an issue to be put to a popular vote. Also, David Cameron made a dog’s dinner of the referendum by not stipulating a minimum turnout and a decisive margin for either side to claim victory
I also strongly agree with Licia that the idea that immigration is a problem needs to be challenged. Although immigration has been a major issue during the referendum discourse I really do not see the result as a mandate to restrict immigration or indeed to leave the EU. Instead, I see it as a desperate cry for better public services and I sympathise with it. This is a huge opportunity for the Labour party and I do hope that it will seize on it.
Regarding Corbyn: I voted for him last year and I went to Parliament Sq on Monday to support him. I agree with his anti-austerity stance and I also believe that now is really not the time for the navel gazing that a leadership challenge always brings with it. Unfortunately, I’ve had to change my mind because it has become clear that Corbyn is the only high-profile politician who is currently calling for the immediate activation of article 50. He has been a fervent critic of the EU for most of his political life and he only agreed to campaign for remain because this was the party line. I do not envisage the Labour Party to stand on a pro-EU platform as long as he is leader. So, when the time comes for members to vote for a new leader of the Labour party I will not be voting for him.
Regarding the outpouring of nationalism: Pete’s thoughts were absolutely prophetic. I have just returned from the Labour Party General Committee in Tottenham where our MP, David Lammy, informed us that he had multiple death threats against himself and his family and that the word ‘nigger’ had been used on numerous occasions. I have rarely seen a man as angry and as depressed as he was tonight. David Lammy was the first MP to suggest that the referendum be considered advisory and he’s trying to build a cross-party coalition to stop the activation of article 50. I have written to him expressing my support for his actions and my condolences about the abuse that he has been subjected to. Let’s hope this helps.
I am surprised how little attention is being given in the public discussion to the point Katja raises about the fact that such a fundamental decision on the future of the country (and of Europe, obviously) was subject to a simple-majority referendum. Given registration and turn-out factors, this means that 17 million people now count as a ‘majority’ in a country of 64 million inhabitants. In other circumstances major decisions need to pass a 2/3 or even higher majority. So the seeds of fundamental social disruption were planted right there.
Regarding chauvinism/intolerance, I even had my own (very minor, of course, but unsettling) brush with it the other day–perhaps just coincidence, but have never experienced anything like that in nine years of living in this country (and it involved a tie-and-suited, well-fed middle aged man who clearly belonged to the London managerial classes, not a disaffected member of the post-industrial heartlands…)
In my opinion, Corbyn needs to go at this point. The luxury of a period of purification of Labour before setting up an electable leadership structure, has unfortunately been taken away.
I’m concerned by the treatment of Ruth Smeeth MP at the launch of Shami Chakrabarti’s report on anti-Semitism in the Labour Party; and by John McDonnell’s acceptance of the referendum result, claiming that ‘the people have spoken’. On the other hand, Theresa May’s statement that, if elected, she’ll postpone activation of Article 50 until the end of the year, gives us more time to influence public opinion.
Please see the letter sent by leading Green politicians to Corbyn and others proposing an alliance of anti-Brexit parties. It is in line with my earlier suggestion, and I support it, though I suspect that Labour will give a dusty answer. Alas for us all!
Katja Richters, SSEES PhD 2010
If the Greens don’t get a decent response from Jeremy Corbyn’s office (which is likely), they should send the letter to my MP, David Lammy (Tottenham) who is trying to build a cross-party alliance against Brexit. He was the first to suggest it and was still very keen on it when I saw him last Wednesday. Alas, he’s been largely ignored in the media.
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL or SSEES.
By ssees-opinion, on 30 June 2016
As the UK makes its mind up what to do in light of the EU Referendum result, where 52% of voters opted to Leave, Dr Peter Duncan invited SSEES staff and alumni to join him in a debate about the future of the UK. The debate has taken place in three parts in June-July 2016. This is the first part of the conversation that ensued.
We are proud to include remarks from Peter Duncan – Senior Lecturer in Russian Politics and Society, Tim Beasley-Murray – Senior Lecturer in European Thought and Culture, Geoffrey Hosking – Emeritus Professor of Russian History, Licia Cianetti – Postdoctoral Researcher, Bojan Aleksov – Senior Lecturer in Modern Southeast European History, Emma Goldman – SSEES Alumna, Michal Murawski – UCL Mellon Post-Doctoral Fellow, Anna-Cara Keim – PhD Researcher, Constanza Curro – PhD Researcher, Ernesto Gallo – Affiliate Researcher, and Rose McMahon – SSEES Alumna.
After Thursday’s disaster, with its predictable effect of fuelling nationalism and anti-British feeling on the Continent, and racism and nationalism in England and Scotland, it seems to me we should be doing three things.
- Do everything possible to prevent Article 50 from being activated in the first place, taking advantage of the three months that Cameron has given us. While it goes against my democratic instincts to write that, it’s clear that many voters had no understanding of what they were doing because of the misleading reports in the Press and the lies of the campaigners. Already the leading ‘Leave’ campaigners have gone back on their promises over NHS spending and control over immigration, and the markets, especially the plunge of Sterling, have demonstrated some of the real financial costs of Brexit.
We should support any half-plausible initiatives: the petition, which has nearly 4 million signatures calling for new rules for a referendum; the efforts of the Scottish government, whatever we think of Sturgeon and the SNP, to hold up activation; votes within the House of Commons, where a majority of MPs are pro-Remain, to refuse to implement the result of the referendum; and delays in the House of Lords. I think I’d draw the line at petitioning the Queen. Activities such as demonstrations, petitions, online campaigns, and letters to MPs all have a role.
If we leave and then rejoin, we’d probably have to adopt the Euro and join the Schengen zone. These have been rightly rejected by British governments of both major parties. It’s much better that we don’t leave in the first place.
- If, nevertheless Article 50 is activated, or if the new prime minister calls a general election before doing so, we should persuade the Labour Party to campaign on the basis that a Labour government would seek to take whatever is left of the UK back into the EU,or not activate Article 50 in the first place. The Labour Right has traditionally supported the EU; the Left has been divided, but the June issue of Momentum’s political journal Labour Briefing called for a Remain vote. I think a call to rejoin or stay in the EU could really reunite the party. By showing those millions who, by then will be regretting their vote on Thursday, that there is an alternative to economic, social and political retrogression, Labour might actually win.
The Liberal Democrats have already said that they will campaign to rejoin the EU, but their national support is still tiny.
- I still think we should support Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, on the basis that there is nobody in the Parliamentary Labour Party who is better. He should have done more to get the message across in the referendum. He should have said that if we are outside the EU we’ll still have to implement EU policies and standards in order to access the single market, but we shall have no chance to influence those policies. He should have recognised the genuine fears of many voters about the impact of immigration on jobs and infrastructure; and pointed out that outside the EU we would still have to allow the free movement of Labour if we want access to the single market (as does Norway) while inside the EU we can try to change policy. He should have provided some sort of forward-looking socialist vision for Europe.
His first Remain campaign speeches were crowded out by the campaign against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The Labour Right was so keen to discredit Corbyn and argue that he couldn’t win elections that they launched the idea that Corbyn was tolerant of anti-Semitism. It was no help that Ken Livingstone had been appointed to co-lead the Labour defence review, before he came out with his Hitler-Zionist idiotic comments. After the anti-Semitism row subsided, most of the Press united in not giving any publicity to Corbyn’s statements, so it’s not really surprising that a lot of Labour voters didn’t know that the party was for Remaining.
The Labour Right is now using Brexit to try to oust Corbyn, with the No-Confidence vote in the Parliamentary Labour Party (172-40). It appears that if there were an election for Labour leader now, assuming Corbyn was on the ballot paper, he would be elected again. So we’d be back where we started – but with an even more open split between the Party in Westminster and the Party in the country. The only other person currently with such a following among the membership is John McDonnell, but I don’t think he’d be better than Corbyn. We should remember that Corbyn was victorious on the first ballot because nearly all the personalities in the Right and Centre of the Party had been discredited with the membership, and divisions between Blairites and Brownites were not healed (Alan Johnson refused to stand).
I’d change my mind if it became clear that Corbyn was unwilling to lead a campaign to take Britain back into the EU.
There is nothing more important than this terrible drama that is playing out on our national and continental stage and it makes sense to try and untangle the nuances of it, and to think of practical steps in this not so brave, new world.
- I think that it is highly unlikely that much can be done to stop the activation of Article 50, Merkel certainly seems to think so, but it is surely worth trying for the reasons you give.
I would also add this: politicians of many stripes are saying that we cannot go back on the ‘democratic’ decision of the referendum, that the ‘people have spoken’. I would dispute the democratic nature of the referendum result.
37% of the population scarcely seems a number with which to come to such a crucial decision about the nation’s future. But also, to give such weight to a referendum is to undercut the very essence of our representative and parliamentary democracy: a Yes/No Referendum can only ever give a binary result. It is clear now to everybody, as it should have been beforehand, that ‘In’ and ‘Out’ are not simple binary options. Have the people voted for a ban on immigration? Have they voted for a continuing membership of the single market, but outside EU membership? It is impossible accurately to tell on the basis of this simple vote.
As a result, either
- Parliament should be able to take this ochlocratic plebiscite as the mere advice that legally it is, and decide on the exact and detailed nature of our relationship with Europe – including the option of whether we should remain an EU member.
Or, B) The people should be given the chance to take these sort of decisions by voting for parties’ detailed manifesto commitments at a general election.
- Similarly, I agree that the best chance for a better relationship with Europe is by lobbying and voting for a Labour Party that is committed to this, in alliance with other progressive forces, such as the Liberals and others. But, only the Labour Party stands any chance of re-connecting with those duped, deluded but by now surely disillusioned Leave voters in the post-industrial towns and cities of the North and the Midlands. If Labour fails to engage these voters, the prospect is dire: sooner or later, a nasty form of right-wing populism (where UKIP or not) will come to bloom like mould on this neglected soil.
- I did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership ballot, yet there is a lot that I agree with him about, particularly his opposition to austerity. I respect him as a principled man. Nevertheless, he is not the man to reinvigorate and lead the Labour party in this crisis where leadership and reinvigoration are needed above all. Rather, he is now a deadly obstacle to progress, his principled selflessness has become myopic and self-serving, and he must go.
As Machiavelli put it in his letter to Vettori, ‘a successful leader needs to be able to love his city more than his soul’. Corbyn has fatally neglected the country that he is meant to love. Nowhere is this more clear than in his half-hearted, perhaps feigned support for the Remain campaign, so-called support that – if we are to believe Alan Johnson – tipped over into actual sabotage of the pro-European cause. He must be held, in considerable part, responsible for the failure of the Remain campaign and for his absolute betrayal of the progressive hopes for the United Kingdom. To serve the people as they deserve, he must listen to the people who desperately need a government that will actually govern in their interest. Above all, Corbyn has no mandate to be unelectable. He simply must resign.
On the question of his mandate and of his political legitimacy as Labour leader: While Corbyn may have the mandate of those in the wider party who voted for him last year, he wilfully forgets the mandate of the nine million who voted for Labour’s sitting MPs. He also ignores the fact that a significant proportion of these supporters (SWP members and similar):
A are fundamentally opposed to the guiding ethos of the Labour Party
B have more or less explicit contempt for parliamentary democracy and hence have no interest in the Labour Party actually winning an election
and C constitute a strange echo-chamber for Corbyn’s own views that have little, if any traction with the people more broadly.
What all this amounts to is clear evidence that Corbyn and the far-left tradition he comes from similarly does not believe that real change happens through the institutions of parliament, but rather beyond Parliament, in the striking working classes and on the streets. Whilst I have some sympathy with this position, at this juncture in European history, it is, at best, naive and wishful thinking and, at worst, a dangerous opening to anti-democratic forces. Because, if push came to shove on the street, I suspect that the xenophobic right-wing populism whipped up in the ‘left-behind’ Leavers would be a more potent force than Corbyn’s SWP boys and the North London elite.
I am rather troubled by reference to the ‘Anti-Semitism row’. Let’s see what Shami Chakrabarti says, but it seems to me that tolerance of Anti-Semitism is Anti-Semitism itself. There is nothing more shameful than the way that Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has coincided with the poisonous rise of Anti-Semitism in a movement that ought to be viscerally against this sort of thing and that has so often opposed it. I am no ‘bitter Blairite’, no Zionist conspirator, but for me, this factor alone is enough to say that he is the wrong person to lead the Labour Party. The Labour Party must unite behind somebody, such as Angela Eagle, who is willing to do this, and to offer a Labour platform that addresses the concerns of the ‘left-behind’ Leave voters.
I think the most important thing is that Labour, whoever leads it, should now seek an alliance with Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists to do roughly what you suggest above. Labour is currently both in decline and seriously split, and alas cannot be an effective opposition on its own. I have already written to Compass (of which I am a member) to suggest this – but had no reply from them.
I agree with your call for action to resist the rhetoric of “the People have spoken” that paints a yes/no referendum as the highest form of democracy. And I agree that only a progressive Labour party (whether led by Corbyn or not I think is unimportant at this point) has a chance of fighting back against the advance of populism and nationalism.
But I want to caution you about talking too lightly about the “genuine fears” of the people about immigration. There seems to be a widespread opinion that Labour has lost their grip on their traditional constituencies because of their failure to tackle the “immigrants question”; that to reassure people that the party is not out of touch, Labour should address the people’s “legitimate concerns” that immigrants put pressure on housing, welfare and health care, drive down wages, and increase natives’ unemployment. This is, to put it lightly, misguided. Labour (and indeed all of us when talking about the “Immigrant Question”) should instead make it clear that issues of housing, welfare, health care, wages and unemployment can be solved only with progressive, redistributive politics and not with border controls. They should make it clear that the problem is not that we haven’t talked enough about immigration, but that for years now we have talked pretty much only about immigration. If Labour thinks they can reconnect with their lost constituencies by showing that they too can be tough on immigration, they will fail. If the message is that the problem is indeed the immigrants and Labour agrees with it, why should people go for Labour and not for UKIP or tough-on-immigrants Tories? Labour has let the Nationalist and Neo-Liberal Right set the agenda and the terms of the debate for too long. It’s time they took some courage and started leading rather than pandering. They might even get some votes back in the process.
In general, whatever Labour end up doing, I think it is important that progressive-minded people – in the UK and all around Europe – do not slip on the “Immigrant Question”. We have a duty to challenge the Populist and Nationalist agenda. The point we push through should not be that immigrants are good for the economy; that is probably true, but beside the point.
The point should be that the whole fixation on the “Immigrant Question” is a great distraction. We should be as stubborn as the Populists on this: the more they reduce every question to immigration, the more we should take the conversation back to redistribution.
I think that Geoffrey’s proposal for an alliance between parties is one of the most sensible I have heard since the debate began.
My problem with supporting Jeremy Corbyn is that, whilst in an ideal world I do agree with a lot of what he says, I do not think that what he believes is enough per se to justify his position as leader of the Labour Party. It is not just the lack of leadership skills, lack of dynamism and ability to inspire, but, pragmatically, he heads a party he has made capable of only talking to itself.
Sure, if you are up in the hallowed halls of that party, then Jeremy no doubt rocks, but he is completely unable to reach out to what the new London mayor calls ‘a broad church.’ The mayor won the London election because rich, poor, black, white, working and middle class saw his appeal. A simple ‘populist’ example is that, come sunset each day, he breaks his fast for Ramadan in a variety of places that include synagogues and other places of worship and he posts this onto social media for a mass audience. You may think this is trivial but to me it is clever, and promotes liberal values in a sort of Justin Trudeau style.
Corbyn, by contrast, talks only to people who already agree with him; he borders on petulant when challenged, because he has none of the skills of a senior politician, and does not reach out to anyone beyond his immediate circles. I believe he is personally doomed but, much more seriously than that, he is taking the party with him. People say that he is ‘decent’ but, to me, the fact that he refuses to go, reveals not so much decency but an underbelly of the supreme arrogance we are used to seeing in politicians and those in positions in power.
Perhaps one ‘bright spot’ on the horizon is that the once coveted post of PM is now ironically a poisoned chalice for the next Conservative leader. If they take it and does not trigger Article 50, they are finished; if they bow out of the whole thing, they are finished; if they oversee the break up of the UK, they are finished. Hence Boris Johnnson’s subdued manner. He was banking on a narrow win for Remain – enough to weaken Cameron and make him go; he never expected – and probably did not want – to win. That is how duplicitous he is and how shameful was the campaign, based on lies and half-truths, and in which, in their media narrative, where the News becomes a ‘commodity’, journalists colluded.
And now, as Martin Schultz so aptly puts it, ‘the whole of Europe is being held to ransom because of in internal fight in the Tory party’ – although I would paraphrase that and say ‘because of a row between two old Etonians.’
Interestingly, the rest of the Johnson family voted Remain. I would not like to be Boris around the Christmas table this December….
Johnson (please let’s avoid feeding into his ridiculous faux-cuddly cult of personality by referring to Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson by his middle name) is not “finished.” This, I think, is wishful thinking. He was subdued, yes, but he (unlike Corbyn) is a crude and sophisticated enough political operator to weasel his way to the top, no matter whether Article 50 is invoked or not, and no matter how long this takes.
Corbyn appears, at first glance, to be in the process of self-destructing, and I, like Tim, find his self-indulgent, sanctimonious, smug attachment to his own integrity to be quite off-putting (as well as his small-minded indifference to Europe). This is a pity, because, as Owen Jones neatly relays in this article, the plan among Corbynites and the Momentum core was always to have him lead the party for a couple of years, until a more sophisticated, younger, less brocialist/Moczarist successor could be discerned and groomed to lead the Labour party around 2018, a couple of years ahead of the next general election (as initially scheduled).
Corbyn, as I gather, was in on this plan. And a Remain vote in the EU referendum would have been a big step towards its successful realisation. Corbyn (not just him, but also the remainder of the Will Straw-led Remain Campaign) sabotaged the otherwise inevitable Remain vote by a mixture of incompetence, lack of imagination and yes, “integrity”. They were able to muster neither a positive message (the importance of the EU, the prospects for reforming it from within) nor even a truly effective negative “Project Fear” (the real risk of the dissolution of the UK; the fact that the UK would pay obscene amounts of money into the EEA if it remains in the single market, without any benefits of being in the EU; the prospect of chaos, hatred and violence). The failure hammer home what Jo Cox’s tragic murder portended, despite the valiant efforts of her husband, was also unbelievably inept and arose, I think, partly out of a confused understanding of “moral integrity”.
Having said all that, Corbyn needs backing for now. Intentionally or not, he (and the Tories) sabotaged the hunt for a progressive heir to lead the progressive left post-Corbyn. However, the way that the Blairites are executing their coup is chaotic and grossly incompetent. Let’s see if Corbyn survives as leader until the Chilcot inquiry. If his response to this is as muffled and muted as his participation in the EU referendum, then he really will have no legs left to stand on any more. But, for now, Corbyn simply needs to be backed as the lesser evil.
There are certainly some well-made points, and I agree with those. However, I am also very sceptical about Corbyn’s position. The problem is that alternatives are few and far between and a consensus to back the lesser evil seems to me the only way forward. The increasing fragmentation in the English social/political landscape is very worrying.
The dividing lines in across this country run deeply and, as the referendum results show, perhaps much more so than anticipated. Large parts of the country have been alienated, neglected, forgotten about or left to the nationalists. This is something that urgently needs to be addressed and it will be one of the biggest challenges ahead for Labour. 30 years of social policy failures cannot be reversed, but Labour must try harder to integrate all these disaffected communities.
As for Scotland, I believe that a second Independence Referendum is almost inevitable. I am not so sure that that Labour can ever recover what has been lost to the SNP. Nicola Sturgeon appears to be firmly in control of the situation north of the border. This also seems to be a question about identity, or rather, an identity crisis… The new Scottish nationalism has given rise to a Scottish identity which is non-ethnic, cross denominational and firmly rooted within Europe and connected to a thriving musical culture. However, as Ayesha Hazarika once pointed out, there is nothing comparable south of the border…
The pace of events is hard to follow and might also undermine some points and initiatives expressed here. Therefore, I would like to propose that we focus on something that hopefully cannot and should not change overnight, that is the status of UK universities and research within EU and the status of British students in EU and the EU students in Britain. We should campaign that whatever government comes out of this mess and whatever position the EU takes regarding UK maintains the existing rights of students and researchers. I am aware that funding for research makes only portion of a bigger budget which, together with trade and other relations, will be hotly contested during the divorce negotiations but we should insist they are safeguarded.
Our colleague Hannah Skoda from Oxford is currently soliciting signatures for a letter to major European newspapers, that aims to remind our European friends, colleagues and neighbours of an overwhelming support of the UK academic support for European project and that is asking for European solidarity.
I don’t think I have much to add to what has been already said, but just want to follow up with a couple of thoughts:
1) Regarding addressing the “genuine fears” about immigration and its impact, I agree with Pete that the Labour party has so far largely failed to do so also under Corbyn’s leadership, mostly labeling people who voiced such concerns as racist and xenophobic, and therefore shutting down any possibility of investigating such a complex issue from a more informed and nuanced perspective. I think it is pointless, dangerous, and also patronising to deny a fair amount of blatant racism which has been following through the articulation of such “genuine fears” in the name of an idealistic inherent “leftist-ness” of the working class. But, precisely for this reason, I definitely agree with Licia’s point: rather than being in denial or condemning a priori what we don’t like to hear and see as generalised “racism” or “fascism”, all progressive forces (within and outside the UK) must shift the focus of the debate on austerity policies and the systematic dismantling of the welfare state and social security. When this applies to the Labour party and its future, I think that, beside “ideological” considerations which, in my view, demand a supposedly leftist party to take on a clear stance on specific issues, this is fundamental for the party to avoid failing over and over and perhaps recovering some credibility, and with that, who knows, votes.
2) In this regard, I am not necessarily keen on Jeremy Corbyn as such, for the reasons that many of you have already mentioned, although I think it should be emphasised that even before his election as Labour leader he was defined as “unelectable” a priori, depicted as a sort of hard-line socialist with plans that could find no application in today’s world, and considered, in the best case, as a short-term “experiment”. Above all, I blame him and several people around him for having promoted (more or less explicitly) the disastrous idea of a leftist cause for Brexit, which I find of the most deluded and profoundly wrong kind. However, I wonder what the Labour Right, which is orchestrating Corbyn’s exit, has in store for what comes next. Labour did really badly in the last elections, and it would be ignorant to think that they can go on along the same line without losing further credit. I have not enough knowledge of Labour party politics, so I don’t know if there is anyone that at the moment can do better than Corbyn. The only thing that seems clear to me is that while they argue about what leader they like and who is electable or not, then Labour will be literally wiped out.
Rose McMahon: My main thought is that the Labour Party is in need of some Corbynite purity while it regains its focus on its mission. Obviously, after that is achieved, and a general election looms, that is the time to select a leader who can take the mission to a broader electorate.
Being an EU citizen from Italy, I am of course more than interested in the issue.
Although Brexit has a much bigger resonance (and deservedly so), this is not the first time the EU has failed to persuade its citizens. In 2005 The Netherlands and France rejected the Constitutional Treaty, and traditionally pro-EU Ireland had to repeat a referendum in 2007. Even the Maastricht Treaty had been adopted in France with only 51.5% of votes.
The big question for me is, ‘The EU: What For?’ This has to be clarified by parties and governments in Germany, France etc. and in Britain as well. After World War Two, European integration was a project for peace, prosperity, and some degree of democracy. The Euro was meant to be a step towards political integration. Then the whole process lost momentum, and lost touch with citizens.
However, the current crisis provides the EU with an opportunity to move ahead. If Mr Juncker or Schulz or others propose political solutions to our current problems (youth unemployment at 60-65% in some areas of Southern Italy, rise of Far Right parties in Hungary, Holland etc., rampant racism across the board…), the EU will leave the current stalemate and Britain could choose whether to follow or not. But if the point is whether to stay in or out of a kind of free trade area on steroids, then I wonder if being in the EU is worth the effort.
Pete Duncan: Conclusion
Thank you very much to those of you who have contributed.
I was not surprised that my support for Corbyn proved the most contentious issue. It is not unconditional support and will depend on whether he is able to continue campaigning against leaving the EU, and with what level of effectiveness.
I was more surprised by the lack of criticism of my seemingly undemocratic view that we should, in practice, call for the result of the referendum to be ignored. People have privately told me that this is wishful thinking. Julia kindly sent me Gideon Rachman’s FT article saying why he thought that article 50 would not be activated. What is clear is that David Cameron has promised to resign rather than proceeding with his promise to activate article 50 if ‘Leave’ won, and those in the running for the Conservative Leadership are apparently not in a hurry to implement it either. It is absurd that a snapshot of opinion taken against a background of confusion and lies, many of which are already exposed, should lead to national antagonisms in Europe and the breakup of the UK.
On immigration: I’m particularly grateful for Licia’s and Costanza’s comments on this. Yes, we mustn’t blame immigrants for the impact of austerity policies on public services and on the health, education, social care and transport infrastructure. These we can rightly blame on Neo-Liberal policies, which we explored at our conference in December and for which Elisabeth and I are preparing a book proposal. At the same time I think that freedom of movement of labour, under capitalism, works in favour of employers, not of workers. We must understand why people sometimes feel that they are losing their jobs to immigrants who are willing to work for less, and we should not allow this to happen. The key is for the trade unions to organize the immigrant workers in unity with the UK-based workers, as some unions have been successfully doing in London. It’s a different story in the fields of Lincolnshire and some of the factories of the Midlands and the North. And of course we must oppose all racism and ethnic enmity.
Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL or SSEES.