In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.
Brexit is a symptom of deeper causes. In addition to directly causing an outbreak of open racism, plus enormous fear and uncertainty, the Leave vote has laid bare existing rifts and sicknesses in British society. We urgently need a political plan that confronts these underlying problems – racism, neoliberal austerity, the democratic deficit – as well as the place of Britain, or more likely England and Wales, within Europe.
The Leave politicians have not only called forth a storm of racism and xenophobia. They also have nothing, beyond the temporary warm feeling of having ‘taken control’, to offer those communities that voted overwhelmingly to leave. They have no plan to restore the institutions of the welfare state – themselves dependent on migrant workers – or to invest in failing industrial or post-industrial areas. They are in fact among the keenest to destroy these institutions and make Britain ever more subservient to the City of London. They have no plan for actually giving people ‘control’ over their lives, for addressing their powerlessness and disenfranchisement. All they can do is to exploit these facts, diverting people’s anger away from the real causes of their distress, towards migrants and minorities.
Most of the Remain camp have little to offer either. The Labour right, Tim Farron and much of the liberal commentariat seem to think the answer is to restore the political centrism of the Blair era, and to attempt to reverse the Brexit decision. But a Project Fear redux based purely on opposing the Brexit vote will, again, do nothing about the underlying issues. Instead, it will likely make concessions to the xenophobia of UKIP and the Leave campaign, pursuing a settlement with the EU that preserves the interests of finance capital but sacrifices the rights of people to move and work freely. It may well embolden the far-right or provoke a still bigger backlash against migrants and minorities.
Meanwhile, the one major political player which has offered to address the causes behind Brexit – austerity, neoliberalism, and, less strongly, the democratic deficit – is the Corbyn-led Labour Party. Corbyn’s leadership, after being constantly undermined by the media, is now facing an attack by an embittered Labour right. If Labour members can successfully defend it, their party has a chance of becoming a centre around which a new and creative political plan can form, capable of addressing the real issues behind the anger of Leave voters, of making a firm case for England and Wales as European countries, while resisting the anti-immigration rhetoric. If Corbyn goes under, we will still need to build that plan, with whatever political materials are left.