By Ian Drummond
For as long as I can remember politicians have been saying not only that we need to have a debate about immigration but that the debate has been supressed until now. The latter part of which can’t possibly be true the second let alone tenth or twentieth time it is robotically repeated, yet adds to a sense of sullen alienation around the question while doing nothing to clarify or solve it.
But whether as a lazy commonplace or cynical pandering, it surely cannot be credible ever again to allege that Britain has not talked about immigration or that the case against has been gagged. Instead, it must surely now seem not such a bad thing to people of goodwill across the land if we never again have a “national conversation” like the one we have over the EU referendum.
A toxic swamp of xenophobia, racism and dishonesty has characterised the official Leave campaign, culminating in Farage’s disgusting Breaking Point poster that was so quickly shown near identical to actual Nazi propaganda. Right wing arguments have predictably dominated a referendum held as a vote by the public on an exceptionally vitriolic civil war in a Tory Party that 77% of that public did not vote for.
It was the rise of UKIP and harrying by the Thatcherite Tory hard right that forced Cameron’s hand in calling for a referendum in the first place. And it is only now happening because of a Tory majority smaller than the number of Tory victories the electoral commission are now investigating over serious allegations of electoral fraud.
Along with its murky origins the referendum has been structured in a reactionary way. EU immigrants who will be more directly affected than anyone else have been seemed unfit to vote on their own future, even though those who lived in Scotland were deemed fit to vote on the future existence of the UK. There will in fact be local councillors, which EU nationals can become, who will be deemed unfit to vote in the most important poll in British politics. And anyone born between June 23 and September 18 1998 in Scotland will have been deemed old enough to pass judgement on the existence of Britain almost two years ago but an incompetent minor on the issue of whether it stays in the EU now.
The debate on both sides of the Tory civil war has been dire. Cameron invoking the threat of World War III to boost Remain rang hollow after he spent several years not ruling out the possibility he would be for Leave himself, if the renegotiation wasn’t mean enough to migrants on benefits for him to sell to the Tory right. Boris sat on the fence longer than anyone else and left his decision to a day after all the others, the better to be the main headline for that day, only to embrace the worst excesses of the Leave side, comparing the EU to Hitler and insinuating that Obama was for Remain because he’s anti-British because he’s black.
This is the context of the referendum and would be that of Brexit were it to happen, where no Greek style struggle against EU imposed austerity has yet taken place but ultra-Thatcherite forces have turned a referendum on the EU into a referendum on migrants. Cynically attempting to deflect anger and alienation created by their own policies of decades long deindustrialisation and union-busting followed by six of the worst years for the economy and human misery onto some of the most vulnerable people in the country and the world.
And it was out of this sewer of hate that a fascist emerged to murder a Member of Parliament. It is now certain that Thomas Mair was politically motivated and not merely mentally ill in his vile murder of Jo Cox; giving his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” in court removed all doubt. It is not credible that the timing of his foul crime, though a lone wolf action, was mere coincidence.
Like Walter Rathenau, Yitzhak Rabin and Chris Hani, Jo Cox was murdered by a far right fanatic at a time of political ferment across her whole society, with the wider hard right playing an outsized role in that ferment. If this is not to be a sign of things to come and society is to pull back from the brink, Britain First and its mainstream amplifiers – Farage, Boris, the Sun and co – need to be but back in their box, firmly and fast.
The argument that this is not the time and manner in which we should leave, whatever the many correct points left Leave campaigners make about the EU itself, is now overwhelming. Furthermore Yanis Varoufakis’s position that an unplanned, despair-driven, right-led collapse of the EU would strengthen the far right has been borne out in practice in the first potential splinter from the edifice. Instead the first port of call for socialists and democrats must be to stay in and fight, hard, for major reforms to break the grip of an undemocratic bureaucracy and a recessionary economic policy that is driving the bitterness and disintegration we oppose.
The idea that such a struggle is so doomed from the outset that we must vote for Brexit now, despite a real world context that no leftist could welcome, is a counsel of despair. On multiple levels.
Firstly the idea that this is a “once in a generation” vote and Remain gives the EU elite cart blanche to do what they like with us can be answered in one word – Scotland. A narrow In vote does not, on the recent evidence, mean the Out side see the matter as finished. That may be no good thing given the tone of the Leave campaign, but it does mean their scare stories about being forced to join the Euro and so on are for the birds. And that a future Corbyn government would have considerable room for manoeuvre in any conflicts with Brussells.
Further the idea that only a Leave vote could create the Tory crisis needed to bring down the government is misplaced. Except in the almost inconceivable scenario of a crushing Remain victory Cameron is probably toast anyway, seen as a traitor by his own side most as most of the Tory base will vote Leave. While the party of government, if Britain votes Remain, will have just voted differently to the public and likely still elect a leader who did the same. In any case the Tory crisis has already begun, from the bungled budget to the Panama Papers to the gathering storm of the election spending scandal; and the two warring sides are not likely to come back together harmoniously whoever wins.
The replacement of this vicious and pathetic Tory rump by a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would be electrifying for the left and progressive forces across Europe. The loss of Britain would be a traumatic event for all the pushers of austerity and neoliberalism around the world.
It is not British chauvinism but plain fact that Britain is a much bigger, richer, more powerful state than Greece. We are not in the single currency and would not be negotiating massive debts with the EU institutions. If we were to try and chart a more socially just and economically viable course at home and fight for change in the way the EU was run, we should not think that we would be crushed just because Greece was, when we would have incomparably more leverage.
And we would have allies. In Spain just 3 days after the British referendum there will be a general election which Podemos, now running with a wider left alliance, could win, and form a left-left government with the Socialist Party that they have overtaken. If on the other hand the Socialists enter a coalition to prop up the hard right current governing PP they will face the fate of PASOK and Podemos will likely consolidate as an even stronger left opposition and future government
In Portugal there is already a social democratic government dependent on Communist and Left Bloc votes, and in Ireland a whole range of anti-austerity forces have advanced at the last election while the traditional parties of government have been reduced to rumps, in the absence of any UKIP-style right wing populist breakthrough. (Ireland also, incidentally, makes a good case against Brexit, as the return of a hard border could harm the peace process. Northern Ireland is in fact the most pro-Remain part of the UK, despite major support for Brexit among sectarian loyalists.)
If despite all efforts, work with allies across Europe, and the inspiration that Corbyn’s election would represent across the continent, it proved both impossible to reform the edifice of the EU or even to renationalise the railways while still a member, different conditions would be created. The conditions for a left exit, unlike today’s.
In such an exit not only would immigration not be the driving issue but there should be a guarantee (not given by this Leave campaign) that such an exit, forced on us, would not prejudice the rights of EU citizens living here. But such an exit would not be the only possible outcome of a left government’s approach to the EU, and far from the ideal one. In the struggle for democracy and against austerity, we might actually win.
But we will be less likely to see, and take part in, the various struggles that a Corbyn victory would unleash if there is a vote for the Brexit that is currently on the table. The stamp of approval on a racist campaign that doesn’t deserve to win, the messy divorce negotiations with Brussels, the recessionary hit to the economy in a right led political context, and the likely re-emergence of the Scottish question which would splinter the working class and spell disaster the economies of all parts of this island – none of these immediate consequences of a Leave vote would increase the likelihood of someone as anti-racist as Jeremy Corbyn coming to power.
Instead in this referendum we must take the necessary, if in itself insufficient, step of voting Remain. And do so as a national revolt against the racism and even fascism that the Brexit campaign has unleashed.
The unvarnished truth when it comes to the campaign for Britain’s exit from the European Union, Brexit, is that it has unleashed the ugly forces of right wing extremism, racism, xenophobia and British nationalism in a society that had allowed itself to grow complacent when it came to the aforementioned, doing so in the mistaken belief that common human decency was as British as Big Ben; in other words in the belief it could not happen here.
Recent horrific events reveal that it can and has happened here.
Over the past few months of the Brexit campaign we have borne witness to a scapegoating and demonisation of migrants by mainstream politicians and right wing newspaper columnists reminiscent of the way Jews were scapegoated and demonised in Germany in the 1930s, and on the same grounds – i.e. they pose a threat to our way of life; they hold alien cultural beliefs and practices; their values are at odds with our values.
This scapegoating has been so intense, so vehement, it has raised the political temperature to the point where an elected MP who dared raise her voice in solidarity with migrants and for Britain’s continuing membership of the EU was murdered in the street in broad daylight in an act of right wing extremism and terrorism, reminiscent of the way democratically elected politicians were murdered in Germany in the 1930s, depicted as ‘traitors’ from the vantage point of the swamp in which fascism swims.
It is important to understand that the economic and social conditions that existed in depression-ravaged Germany back then have been replicated in Britain and across Europe today on the back of an economic recession compounded by the implementation of austerity, which has been tantamount to a mass experiment in human despair. This recession and resulting Tory austerity have combined to leave millions impoverished, marginalised, angry and fearful, thus perfect fodder for the kind of right wing populism and demagoguery that has underpinned a campaign that has been an insult to common human decency never mind the nation’s collective intelligence.
Without the horrific murder of Labour’s Jo Cox, UKIP leader Nigel Farage’s obscene anti-immigration poster should automatically have marked the point of no return for a Brexit campaign that has from the outset been predicated on exploiting the impact of austerity by politicians who have been among its biggest champions, inferring that the huge pressure brought to bear on the nation’s public services, on the social and private housing sector, and on the NHS is due to immigration rather than the extreme cuts to public spending and investment that have taken place.
As much as the EU needs to be reformed in the interests of its citizens rather than big business and the financial sector, it has been a last line of defense against a Tory establishment that would relish nothing more than to pull Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, a statutory requirement of EU membership, and get rid of the progressive legislation that we presently enjoy via the EU on workers’ rights and protections, maternity leave, paid holidays, consumer protection, and the environment. And this is without taking into the account the harm it would do to the economy in terms of investment, exports, jobs, and the value of sterling.
But these issues are trifling compared to the main one, which is the worrying emergence and normalisation of far right nostrums and the ‘othering’ of migrants, minorities, and asylum seekers. It is a toxic brew that has gained traction on the back the growing anger of the millions who have been battered materially, psychologically, and spiritually by a Tory government in whose control the economy has been wielded as a sword to punish the poor and the vulnerable instead of a held up as a shield to protect them from circumstances and factors beyond their control.
A vote to Remain on June 23rd is now a vote for hope rather than despair, for progress rather than regress. It is a vote against the politics of division and hate, against scapegoating and in defiance of a base tribalism that offers the country nothing apart from apartness.
We can no longer delude ourselves that racism is a marginal phenomenon in Britain. It is not. Indeed, it would be hard to recall a time when it has been more prevalent than now. This is not to accuse everyone who supports Brexit of racism, of course not. It is, however, a campaign in which racism has been afforded the opportunity to grow and incubate in a way it has not in living memory.
Warning of the danger of lapsing into complacency when it came to the possibility of fascism re-emerging after its defeat in the Second World War, German playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote: “The womb from which this monster emerged remains fertile.”
How those words resonate now, today, in Britain, seven decades later.
My vote on June 23rd will not be cast as a vote for the EU; it will be cast as a vote against Brexit and the ugliness it represents and has unleashed.
My enemy does not reside in Brussels. It resides right here at home.
Given the fact that the alleged murderer of Jo Cox has been charged, it is important that any discussion of the surrounding issues is contextualized by the requirements of the criminal justice system. There is guidance on reporting restrictions and contempt of court provided by the Crown Prosecution Service here.
But if we step outside this immediate British context, to consider another “lone wolf”, Omar Mateen, who committed the appalling slaughter at the Pulse night club in Orlando, then there are contested accounts in the mainstream media whether his motivation was the political expression of jihadi terrorism, or due to poor mental health. According to CBS:
The suspect had been married to Sitora Yusufiy for several months before divorcing in 2011, Milton reports.
“He was mentally unstable and mentally ill,” Yusufiy told reporters in Boulder, Colorado. Although records show the couple didn’t divorce for two years after the marriage, Yusiufiy said she was actually only with Mateen for four months because he was abusive. She said he would not let her speak to her family and that family members had to come and literally pull her out of his arms.
Yusufiy said she was “devastated, shocked, started shaking and crying” when she heard about the shooting, but she attributed the violence to his mental illness, not any alliance with terrorist groups.
It is surprising the speed with which commentators take as good coin the mental health assessments of non-professionals with a link to the alleged perpetrators, and this betrays “common-sense” misconceptions about mental health. Of course crimes are committed by individuals, and the mental health of those individuals needs to be professionally assessed, but as an article by three practicising mental health professionals, Maryam Hosseini, Christina Girgis and Faiza Khan-Pastula, recently argued in connection with reporting of Omar Mateen.
Lately, the term mental illness has come up a lot when we talk about mass shootings. For many, words such as “bipolar” have become almost synonymous with violent and unpredictable. It’s human to look for reasons, to find any cause that could explain senseless or atrocious acts. But blaming “mental illness” is a dangerous precedent that moves the conversation in the wrong direction.
The fact is, we cannot know yet why Mateen took his disastrous course; the reasons are likely complex, and we are in no position to hazard a guess, much less diagnose from afar.… As psychiatrists, it scares us whenever we read the words bipolar in relation to mass shootings. It increases the stigma against an already vulnerable population without addressing any attributable cause.
… Mental illness is a broad term, one that can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. It doesn’t really help us understand a person’s state of mind, and it does not always correlate to an actual psychiatric diagnosis.
The term “bipolar” has become a colloquialism. It has come to mean someone who is irritable, has frequent mood swings, outbursts of rage, lacks restraint. … But that’s not bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is not outbursts of anger. In fact, when someone has daily mood swings from minute to minute with trivial triggers, bipolar disorder is a pretty unlikely diagnosis.
Bipolar disorder occurs in 2.6% of the population, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health, and is characterized by distinct episodes of depression, distinct episodes of mania or hypomania, and distinct episodes of normal mood, or euthymia. It is not a set of pervasive characteristics that a person displays daily throughout his or her life. It is an illness, separate and distinct from the person, which has no bearing on his or her character and is not related to personality traits. This is an important distinction to make, particularly when we look at risk factors for violence. … In fact, most times what the public calls bipolar disorder or generalizes to be “mental illness” could actually qualify as antisocial personality disorder or some variant. Those people know the difference between right and wrong and may feel no remorse for their actions.
Jessica Rosenberg, from Long Island University, argues in a persuasive paper on “Mass shootings and Mental Health Policy” that popular debate linking high profile incidents of violence with poor mental health has had a prejudicial effect, not only increasing the stigma attending mental health, but also leading to some changes in public health policy that have been ill considered, enacted as they were in the highly politically and emotionally charged aftermath of violent events which may not have even been associated with actual mental illness.
Let us be clear, the connection between violence and mental health is a complex one, but most violence is not attributable to poor mental health:
Research suggests that demographic and economic factors, such as being young, male, and of lower socioeconomic status, are the major determinants of violence (Stuart, 2003). Although teasing out a causal connection between mental illness and violence is difficult, a large body of research shows that violence by people with serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, is rare and accounts for approximately only 4 – 5% of violent acts (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Appelbaum & Swanson, 2010; Fazel & Grann, 2006; Monahan et al., 2001). Moreover, when people with mental illness are violent, it is almost always interpersonal (87%), typically occurs in the home, and the targets are usually family and/or friends. In contrast, the vast majority of violent acts are associated with crime, not mental illness (Stuart, 2003). Persons with mental illness are far more likely to be victims, rather than perpetrators, of violence (Hiday, 1995; U.S. Department of Health & Human Services [HHS], 1999).
As a caveat to that, there is a linkage between co-occurring psychiatric disorders and substance abuse, but the psychoactive effect of certain substances, primarily cocaine, methamphetamine, and alcohol, is considered to contribute to violence even in those without underlying mental health issues. The social problem here is substance abuse, not mental health.
Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Dr Elie Godsi, who has worked with a large number of perpetrators of violence, including at Rampton Maximum Secure Hospital, argues in his excellent book “Violence in Society: Reality Behind Violent Crime” that even some of those who commit heinous acts and find themselves in secure hospitals may in fact have been abnormally socialized so that the extreme violence was to them a rational response to situations as they perceived them, rather than being due to an underlying organic or biological illness. In some such cases therefore violence may be the result of an extreme social problem rather than an issue of individual psychopathology.
As Godsi argues:
We are living within a cultural frameworks that predominantly distort and obscure the reality of violence in society. The unquestioned belief in medical and scientific explanations, allied to a general culture in which genetics and biology are given massive prominence over environmental explanations, all adds up to a society that continues to exist in ignorance and collective denial.
The alacrity with which some, including liberals and those on the left, leap to an assumed link between political violence and mental health, including the uncritical acceptance of “common-sense” attribution of poor mental health by non-professionals, can be prejudicial against acknowledging that political violence can be a deliberate act. As Randall Law, a historian specializing in the study of terrorism, states:
Individuals or groups choose to commit terrorist acts as part of a process or rational and conscious decision making within particular political and cultural contexts. Thus terrorism is not, as it is often colloquially described, a kind of madness …. Terrorism is a communicative act intended to influence the behavior of one or more audiences.
The cultural presumption that Godsi refers to, of seeking genetic or biological explanations, chimes with the legacy “deep” theories of mental health, which were really quite poor science as they were based upon unfalsifiable propositions that can never be adequately tested, including narrative case studies, testimonials and clinical anecdotes. There is discussion of this by Lilliston and Shepherd in their article “New Religious Movements and Mental Health”. These deep theories continue to have a disproportionate hold on popular understanding of mental health, although they are now relatively marginal among clinical professionals.
For example, for Freud and his followers in the psychoanalytic school, good mental health is characterized by normal adjustment to the constraints of social norms, so that a well-adjusted person has “normative personal and sexual relationships,is a productive worker in a satisfying job, values most highly a normative family life, embraces the standard civic values and virtues and makes some contribution to the maintenance of those larger societal values”.
Other “deep” theories with a more “humanistic” perspective, for example, those of Carl Rogers, view humans as transcending their animal nature and having a need to pursue self-actualisation and a creative quest for understanding. Yet this still defines psychopathology in terms of social non-conformity, of deviation from an expected norm.
If good mental health is judged by the absence of behaviours which we assume should be evidence of psychopathology, then we end up with an unfalsifiable proposition that a person who acts crazy is crazy.
In the context of political terrorism, then we need to understand the degree to which the vulnerability landscape has shifted, to include so called “leaderless resistance”. The concept was made clear by Louis Beam, former Grand Dragon of the Texas Ku Klux Klan, who in 1983 called upon “like minded individuals to form independent cells that … … commit acts of terrorism without coordination from above”. The so-called “lone wolf” terrorists, who act either alone or in concert with a few close confederates, but who feel connected to a larger community through publications, both printed or on-line, and through interactions with a network of possibly geographically dispersed co-thinkers.
Tourish and Wohlforth, in their 2000 work, “On the Edge, Political Cults Right and Left”, drew attention to the degree to which political movements that seek to radically achieve transformative overthrow of the existing social and political order may exhibit some of the characteristics of so-called “New Religious Movements”, which is a non-perjorative term for “cults”, with the confusing caveat that some NRMs are not religions! I find the work of Tourish and Wohlforth somewhat sensationalized, but the foundation is sound, if we remove the assumption that supporting the status quo is automatically more rational than seeking to change it.
It is perhaps useful to characterize the supporters of modern Jihadism as a New Religious Movement (NRM) though a particularly malign one; and it is a small stretch from that to seeing the parallels with the networks of white nationalist extremists. I offer this as a proposition worthy of consideration, rather than a firm conclusion, but there is a body of research that may be useful in evaluating this aspect of the terrorist threat,
I think part of the problem of discussing cult like behaviour is that the language is so value laden. Some of this has been deliberate, for example, discussion of “thought reform” models in professional psychiatry in the 1950s was partially informed by the idea that unwilling converts could be inducted and converted to Communism. It is relatively uncritical adoption of this cold war model which diminishes the work by Dennis Tourish and Tim Wohlforth; and can be summarized as a delegitimizing technique to isolate political radicals as “weird people who believe crazy stuff”
Pattison and Ness in their paper “New Religious Movements in Perspective” refer to a useful definition of religion (and correspondingly to secular belief-oriented organizations). The reason this is worth considering is that a corrective to the common-sense idea that someone who believes or acts differently may be crazy is examination that they may be judging themselves against values and social expectations that are different from the mainstream, and from the perspective of their sub-culture they are behaving in a normative way.
“A religion is to be found where persons take it for granted that their own ethos corresponds to the meaning of the Cosmos” Applying this definition … we recognize three analytical dimensions: 1) the creation of an ethos , 2) a process of cosmization, and 3) the reification of ethos with cosmos.
The relationships between ideology, ethos and belief is complex. Some taxonomy may help, where a mainstream religion or political movement to an extent possesses the virtue of verdicality (truth correspondence) between the belief groups ethos (their habitual character and behaviour), and their social cosmos ( the society they live in).
The language of sects and cults developed in mediaeval religious discourse, and has been adopted by ethnographers and sociologists, but it unnecessarily pejorative, hence the preferred term of NRM. It is worth exploring just because there has been extensive research and literature on the subject of sects and cults, and the similarity to the model of political groups which may incline to violence, means that there may be insights in how to deal with them.
A sect may be regarded as a variant of the mainstream politics or religion; and sect members may live in both the mainstream cosmos, and participate in the ethos of their group, despite the fact that there is tension; and lack of verdicality. For example, someone who believed themselves to be a white nationalist revolutionary in twenty-first century Britain, could function effectively in most situations, but their political practice is orthogonal to the social and political institutions of our society.
It is easy to see how the habitual description of violent, right wing extremists as “loners” corresponds to someone who has a relatively normal participation in society, but by choice seeks to limit their social interaction with those who share their beliefs and ideology.
It is also worth considering that a distinct political sub-culture that envisages a different social reality is unlikely to accept a self-marginalizing strategy like the Muggletonian cult. Someone who believes in racial supremacy and race-war, and who believes that their country has been betrayed by traitors and foreigners, will be inclined to act.
It is worth considering that groups like the English Defence League and Britain First both provide a mutual support network, and also popularize the idea that political, and if necessary violent, action can reconfigure society towards their own conception of it. Or in the terms that we have been discussing, a political sect will seek to resolve the issue of verdicality by seeking to change society to correspond to the ethos of the group.
On the left we are accustomed to the energy with which left groups respond to mass strikes or political crises, hoping that this will lead to a breakthrough, and their very orthogonality to the modalities of mainstream politics can mean that they are dynamic and effective at mobilizing popular campaigns. It would be easy to see how a popular campaign by mainstream politicians based upon opposition to immigration could excite far right extremists, and increase their motivation towards demonstrative violence, for which they have been planning for and fantasizing about for years.
The work of Dr Marc Gallanter, of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on Psychiatry and Religion suggests that, perhaps contrary to expectation, mental health within members of NRMs is actually better than that of the general population. Lilliston and Shepherd suggest some reasons why that may be the case, that membership of a tight-knit, counter-cultural group may be associated with a more clearly evaluated value system, and will foster a belief in their own self-efficacy, that is, they may be confident that their actions are leading to the results that they want to see. Both of these are associated with good coping mechanisms, and therefore associated with a good model of adaptive functioning when confronted with “stressors”, which is indicative of good mental health.
The truth about violent white supremacist groups is that they are not “crazy”, but they are dangerous. These are people who fundamentally oppose the tolerant values of our society, and are prepared to use violence to achieve what they want. We need to be very clear that this is a problem of politics, and not of mental health.
When I travelled down to London the other day I did not expect to find myself attending a vigil at Parliament Square in Westmister in tribute to Labour MP Jo Cox, brutally murdered by a fascist over her pro-immigration stance and support for Britain’s membership of the EU.
In this regard I make no apology for calling out Lexit as a cause that reeks of Labour aristocracy and British nationalism.
If Brexit does come to pass on June 23rd – which given this horrific deed would merely compound its regressive character – and the national voting spread reveals a Remain majority in Scotland, I will immediately join the call for a second referendum on Scottish independence and will support Scotland coming out of the UK and joining the EU as an independent state.
I have been appalled at the attempt by members of the pro-Brexit left to immediately attempt to deflect from the significance of this murder, its political import, by claiming that Jo Cox’s assailant was mentally ill, suggesting that the hatred which fuelled the deed is nothing to do with the ugly nature of the Brexit campaign and the demons it has whipped up.
The vigil itself was a suitably reflective affair, with most in attendance stunned and struggling to digest the implications of the murder of an idealistic young MP who leaves behind a husband and two young children.
We are witnessing the recrudescence of fascism in Britain in 2016 and, as such, I now call on the pro-Brexit left to disband and renounce a campaign that has involved them riding the back of a racist and extreme right wing tiger in the mistaken belief they can guide it all the way to British socialism. The folly involved in such an endeavour is now beyond self evident.
“What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or in the holy name of liberty or democracy?”
According to witnesses the ‘beast’ who slaughtered Jo Cox screamed ‘Britain first!” before carrying out his foul deed. Anyone who believes that this act of brutality is unconnected to Brexit and its ugly politics is either guilty of mendacity or wallowing in ignorance.
As Polly Toynbee writes in the Guardian: ‘The mood is ugly and an MP is dead’.
Oh how the words of Bertolt Brecht, warning of complacency when it came to the possibility of fascism ever re-emerging , resonate today. Brecht wrote” ‘The womb from which this monster emerged remains fertile.”
The pro-Brexit left need to know that they are dancing with the devil. I would urge them to turn back before we enter an abyss from which there is no coming back.
Brexit is the legimisation of racism, right wing extremism, and the politics of hate against ‘the other’ in response to austerity. It is everything that previous generations of socialists, communists, and progressives have resisted with their liberty and lives if need be.
As I have just written elsewhere, we have borne witness to the ideological collapse of the pro-Brexit left.
Enough is enough.
Shame on those who have attempted to attribute a progressive character to this racist campaign and cause.
Sometimes the rush of the commenentariat to express opinions about contemporary events can seem cynical and ill considered. But I was impressed by two articles which must have been written as almost instant reactions to the tragic murder of Jo Cox, one by Alex Massie in the Spectator and one by Poly Toynbee in the Guardian. I felt that both writers spoke for me in expressing what I was thinking myself.
The mainstream Brexit referendum campaign has been fought on the ground of immigration and hostility to foreigners. Demagogues from the right and centre right have unleashed the crudest and basest of emotions in a cynical and irresponsible pitch to get their vote out.
The depth of the cynicism was exemplified by Michael Howard on BBC Breakfast yesterday, saying that it was a “fact” that Brexit would lead to a reduction in immigration. In truth the free movement of labour is not a condition of EU membership. but of the UK’s membership of the single market. The end of immigration, even were that desirable, would only be achieved by the UK not only leaving the EU but also entering an economic purdah by leaving the single market and turning our back on European trade.
Where mainstream Brexit politicians promise to end immigration, this not only stirs the pot to encourage the disadvantaged towards dark passions, blaming their woes on foreigners and migrants; but it will also inevitably lead to those promises being unfulfilled, and those who believed that immigration would be controlled will be frustrated and feel further betrayed. This is a dangerous cocktail to mix.
As Alex Massie says:
When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’
When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks. When you present politics as a matter of life and death, as a question of national survival, don’t be surprised if someone takes you at your word. You didn’t make them do it, no, but you didn’t do much to stop it either.
Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.
Of course those few voices on the left who support Brexit have not been riding the same train as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, but they have totally misjudged the political context. The defining issues in British politics has become immigration and racism. Those who report back conversations on the doorstep from Labour voters who intend to vote Leave are not saying that these party supporters are against the EU due to high falutin’ arguments about parliamentary sovereignty or fishery policy. The issue leading most of them to reject the party’s advice over the EU is frankly all about race and hostility to migrants. Relatively marginal left intellectuals, small socialist groups and a handful of small, specialist unions are unable to make any substantive difference to the direction of travel of the Brexit juggernaut. They are like a fly riding on the back of an Ox, no one sees anything but the Ox.
Those who delude themselves that Brexit will lead to a split in the Conservative Party and a political realignment that will benefit the left and lead to a fight against austerity need to look at the reality. A racist, demagogic, populist Brexit campaign has opened the door not for the left, but the grimmest and ugliest resurgence of nationalist politics, where reason is buried in a red mist of anger. Do they believe that Brexit will lead to political chaos? It already has, with a rise in racist hate crime, and a lovely, kind, compassionate social democrat MP lying dead in her own blood at the feet of a fascist murderer bellowing “Britain First”.
The raw emotion with which the Leave campaign is seeking to discredit any balanced evaluation of the economic and social risks of Brexit is utilising rage and sense of betrayal against the very idea of reason and rationality in politics.
If you thought that a “Lexit” campaign could gain any traction, you were wrong, and you have not being paying attention to events in the real world. We are staring into the abyss, and now is the time for all of the left and the centre left to unite with the mainstream of the trade union movement to get out the vote for Remain.
by Noah Tucker
Speaking in 2013, the Labour Party’s (then) Shadow Home Secretary coined an apt phrase for one of the worst features of British politics when she declared:
“…we won’t enter an arms race of rhetoric on immigration – and we hope the Prime Minister won’t either.”
But in other parts of that speech, Yvette Cooper took the initiative in that competitive spiral of anti-immigrant (not merely anti-immigration) policies and rhetoric, including the pronouncement that British child benefit and tax credits should not be paid to EU migrants for their children who are living abroad .
And in November of the following year, Ms Cooper and Rachel Reeves, who was at that time the Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, stepped up the ‘arms race’ with the declaration that the Labour Party would impose a two year ban on unemployed workers from other EU countries claiming JSA and other out-of-work benefits. Upping the ante for the Tories, David Cameron announced that EU citizens moving to the UK would be blocked from access (initially for up to four years) to in-work benefits including Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits. Dubbed the ‘emergency brake’, agreement to this proposal was later flagged up by Cameron as the biggest achievement of his negotiations with other European leaders prior to Britain’s referendum on EU membership. Click to continue reading