Thursday 27 October 2016

Brexiteers on the left must share blame for UK's lurch to the right

Published 05/07/2016 | 02:30

Protestors at the ‘March for Europe’ demonstration in central London at the weekend. Photo: PA
Protestors at the ‘March for Europe’ demonstration in central London at the weekend. Photo: PA

Brexit has delivered Britain into the hands of Eurosceptic Tories, and those on the left who championed the referendum are complicit in this lurch to the right.

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Speaking in the Dáil after the UK voted to leave the EU, AAA-PBP TD Richard Boyd Barrett said he had a plan to defeat right-wing ideologues, like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, who had been the face of the Brexit campaign.

"The deep alienation, inequality, poverty, unemployment and the disaffection of millions of people in Britain and across Europe with the utterly undemocratic, corporate-dominated, increasingly militarised and increasingly racist EU" would have to be urgently addressed, he said.

He must have been surprised then when one of the first substantive policy changes, in Britain's brave new Brexit frontier, was an announcement from Chancellor George Osborne that the UK's corporate tax rate would be slashed from 20pc to less than 15pc.

Maybe Mr Boyd Barrett was naïve enough to think that the Conservative Party's first instinct, after its emboldened Eurosceptic wing won a historic victory, would be to protect workers and those in disadvantaged communities.

One can only imagine him choking on his cornflakes yesterday morning when he read that, instead of a overseeing a massive investment programme in public services, Mr Osborne's primary concern is demonstrating the UK is "still open for business" as he embarks on his mission to create a "super competitive economy" - the latter phrase a synonym for shredding workers' rights and cutting taxes for corporations.

The left's 'Lexit' argument for Britain leaving the EU went something like this. The cabal of elite neoliberal demagogues ruling the EU would be dealt a hammer blow that would lead to chaos and, ultimately, the destruction of capitalism and some kind of socialist utopia.

I won't be holding my breath. The Brexiteers co-opted the anger of working-class victims of globalisation and austerity in order to achieve their goal of leaving the EU and, now they have captured that vote, why would they let it go?

Having barely had time to wash the blood from his hands after exterminating Boris Johnson's political career, Michael Gove delivered an extraordinary pitch to be UK prime minister on Friday, depicting himself as some kind of radical social justice warrior.

In a treatise that could just as easily have been delivered by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Gove railed against the "stratified and unequal society" that globalisation had left in its wake and promised to be a champion for the "flotsam and jetsam" who had been left behind.

"Since the 1990s the pay of top chief executives has increased from around 60 times average income to 180 times average income. And many of the wealthiest also use their money and connections to exploit an overly complex tax system to avoid paying their fair share," he said, adding that his "burning desire" was to create not just a more dynamic economy but a "society that is fundamentally more fair".

Of course, the small print in Mr Gove's new social contract is that this equitable society will be achieved by transforming Britain into a low tax and zero-regulation economy in which the safety net of EU laws that protected workers' rights has been stripped away.

Mr Gove's betrayal of his former friend may mean that he is too toxic for the Tories to elect him as leader, but his speech is evidence the party is positioning itself to harness the disaffection that propelled the Brexiteers to victory and take maximum advantage of the referendum result.

Those who think Mr Osborne's decision to jettison his much-derided plan to eradicate the deficit by 2020 is a hopeful sign that austerity is finally at an end will also be disappointed.

Mr Osborne's austerity agenda, deemed by the UN last week to be in breach of the UK's international human rights obligations, may have momentarily stalled, but the spectre of an emergency budget is still on the horizon.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Fiscal Studies has said the UK's requirement to increase borrowing just to stand still, as it tries to withstand the economic shock caused by Brexit, means "austerity will go on for longer because we'll have spending cuts and tax rises right through the 2020s to pay for this".

As Britain becomes a Petri dish for the far right, the only left-wing political party that could mount some kind of credible opposition, the Labour Party, is itself in disarray and lurching to the right.

The vicious coup mounted by Labour MPs may be spectacularly inept and ill-timed, but it is impossible to see how Mr Corbyn can continue as leader, and work effectively in parliament, given he has lost the support of 80pc of his MPs and 100pc of his MEPs. Despite now being able to wallpaper his office wall with resignation letters from his shadow cabinet, Mr Corbyn has given no indication he intends to stand down. If anything, the revolt seems to have hardened his and his supporters' resolve.

As Mr Corbyn fights for his political life, showing a steely determination many wish had been in evidence when he was campaigning for Remain, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has reacted to Brexit by vowing to end the free movement of people.

"Let's be absolutely clear on the immigration issue. If Britain leaves the European Union the free movement of people, of labour, will then come to an end," he said, a stance that rules out membership of the European Economic Area as well as membership of the EU.

Faced with a 500pc increase in racist incidents after the Brexit poll, the Labour Party is now apparently kowtowing to xenophobia that blames immigration for social deprivation and is determined to champion immigration controls.

The problem with this master-plan is the right has a much more credible track record of opposing immigration so conceding in this area will inevitably bleed support to UKIP and the Tories.

The irony of Lexit is that its only victim may be the Labour Party, leaving the British people to the mercy of UKIP and the Conservative Party.

Irish Independent

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