Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Britain in 2017: An Echo of the Politics of the 1970s

There is a big delusion on the Labour left that the social and economic revolution offered by Corbyn's repositioned Labour would remove the real discontent that led to Brexit. The calculation behind the 'hope' is that the working classes were really just rather deluded in suffering from 'false consciousness' in voting for UKIP.

As usual, it's the trap of falling into economic determinism. The workers are just dim and never really wanted to leave the EU. They were tricked by demagogues like Nigel Farage and the tabloids. With Corbyn moving back to a more old left social democratic platform, 'hope will trump hate' and a new state for all is at hand.

To a certain extent, Corbyn's utopian socialist vision comes into play. He fought against May 'as if' Brexit was secondary and that the idea could well be that the verdict is respected only in so far as it represented a revolt against the Establishment. In so far as Corbyn is too, he is the politically correct choice for a New Britain.

Britain in late 2017 could be polarised between two competing visions: 'the pragmatic Brexit' to be fought for and which would see a revival of British Unionism. The 'soft Brexit' which would see Britain as a radically united socialist state in which small nation nationalism and the British Imperial state would be diminished.

This really is a return to the 1970s and 1974 in many ways. May called a snap election as Britain was edging closer to ungovernability based on an ailing social and economic model. As with Heath's gamble, May's backfired but this time the circumstances are in reverse as Britain is leaving the European Union.

Britain's economy is already declining slightly due to political uncertainty and, should Brexit go chaotically, Labour could well be in a position to inherit the poisoned chalice of Brexit if it were to win a second election as did Harold Wilson in 1974. The debates back then were over whether Britain should have joined the EU in 1973.

This time there is no option to resolve them, as in 1975, as there won't be a second referendum. With a declining economy, divisions within Labour Party over the EU would open up about whether to backtrack on Brexit entirely if the social and economic promises are to be kept as it is thought the workers won't care about it any more.

This is a delusion. With Brexit hanging over both parties, the timescale of change for any social and economic end to austerity would be short and with the Tories abandoning it, there is no automatic guarantee why UKIP voters would trust Labour to deliver on Brexit as regards 'Leave meaning Leave', even if 'softly', if that means 'backsliding'.

Anatol Lieven has argued that left wing nationalism would be the future in an EU where the federal project is disintegrating in favour of a shift back towards sovereign states. The question is whether Labour would hold its nerve or whether the PLP would want to scupper Brexit at the slightest sign of intransigence from the EU.

After all, if there is no guarantee a 'soft Brexit' with restrictions on freedom of movement is going to be on the table with a weak and unstable May, there is no reason why it would be with Corbyn's team either. The EU is dealing with a move to Leave on both sides and not with giving British electors a perfectly customised package.

This would generate tensions within Labour between Corbynites, who believe in honouring the referendum and the 'will of the ordinary people', and those who wanted Remain and would prefer a Brexit so soft it ends up being indistinguishable from a real Brexit, thus alienating working class Labour supporters who switched from UKIP.

Corbyn could then develop his Bennite ideal of a sovereign socialist state from the EU capitalist cartel and US Imperial influence on the Venezuelan model. The difference between Benn and Corbyn is that Benn was never more than a high ranking cabinet minister whereas Corbyn is going for Prime Minister. His ideas matter.

UKIP is bound to make a comeback where 'Brexit is in danger'. The prospect of a visceral cultural warfare between Corbyn supporting radical city fortresses and the provinces is quite possible. Corbyn's stance on mass migration and Britain as a sort of European version of a Latin American state could lead to right-wing nationalist resistance.

The Tories too might decide nationalism could be one way to tempt these voters back, with Gove and Farage at the forefront, and this could ratchet up tensions in Northern Ireland that are potentially simmering because of the Conservative-DUP alignment. After all, Corbyn is seen as a supporter of Republican causes, if not exactly the IRA.

There could be a lot of turbulence ahead, even a 'state of emergency' and plots in certain circles for a more forceful restoration of order. The national security state is far more developed than in the 1970s and Michael Gove is certainly a shady operator who likes to ascertain there are enemies within linked to enemies without.

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