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An unprecedented act of self-sabotage

Never has a nation relegated itself into obscurity with such needless, reckless abandon. 

Nigel Farage at Leave.EU party. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. Nigel Farage at Leave.EU party. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.
Brexit is an unprecedented act of self-sabotage: never has a nation relegated itself into obscurity with such needless, reckless abandon. The country has opted for a form of ritual suicide, but one which will destroy others in its wake, fundamentally undermining the EU, the most progressive political project in history.

A few immediate thoughts, in the early morning haze:

- Cameron has destroyed not one union, but two: how ironic that a Unionist prime minister should trigger the breakup of Great Britain. (How fond he was of saying it was ‘Great’). Cameron treated the renegotiation and subsequent communication with an astonishing degree of complacency: the ‘Last Minute Homework Prime Minister’ ended up missing his deadline.    

- Under Cameron, Britain has held three referendums. The one that people forget – about voting reform – may prove to be the most significant, as AV would have reduced the democratic deficit and could have provided an outlet for some of the widespread political discontent. How strange it felt going to the voting booth yesterday knowing that our votes actually counted!

- Shortly after the polls closed, when the Leave campaign believed it had lost, Nigel Farage made an implicit threat of violence, as he had done in an interview with the BBC last month. He may now be the most powerful politician in the land – a man with no scruples, willing to endorse violence in a febrile climate.

- In the face of Faragism, let us never again be coy about defending cosmopolitanism. Farage said it was “a victory for real people, ordinary people, decent people”, in a grotesque Palinesque attempt to delegitimize the citizens of our great metropolises. Every MP who dismisses “latte liberals” downplays the achievements of consmopolitanism, which has brought plurality, peace, and immense cultural and material wealth. As nationalism engulfs the continent, we’ll finally learn to cherish liberalism.

- Young people have been angry for some time, with good reason. They will now be furious. We must channel this anger into activism, or it will be channeled into something less constructive.

- If you lived in Swindon, Hartlepool, or Oldham, you would (vote to) Leave too. The political class has completely failed low-paid workers in the age of globalization. 
There was always going to be a backlash – but this one has caused massive blowback for the elite, too. 

- Labour as a political party is a spent force: it may never again win a national election, and it has lost all connection to the labour it once represented. It did not learn the lessons from Scotland, and has now lost large parts of the north-east and the north-west of England. Without a political machine for mobilization (for decades Labour took for granted these seats), it was always going to struggle to persuade voters. In the north-east, south-west and Wales, substantial EU investment will now disappear – resulting in only greater rage, which the hard-right will exploit for anti-immigrant sentiment.

- In the short term, John McDonnell should take over from Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Corbyn’s heart was never in it (we all know he favoured Leave), and his campaigning proved disastrous. He does not have the skills or temperament to be leader.

-  Note the individuals who will be gleeful at the new settlement: Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin, George Galloway, Nick Griffin, Katie Hopkins, and of course Iain Duncan Smith, Liam Fox and Nigel Farage. The Daily Express, the fringe paper of paranoia, now represents the views of some key figures in British politics. The forces of reaction are now in control.

- Who would have guessed that a campaign run by Will Straw and Ryan Coetzee would be a disaster? Straw, who worked on the failed AV referendum campaign, embodies the complacency of the New Labour elite, while Coetzee oversaw the worst electoral result in British history – the Lib Dem disaster of 2015, when the party lost 85% of its MPs. 

- China looks on with bemusement at Brexit. While it often disagrees with the EU, it respects the union as a force of substantial political gravitas. At a time of new global alliances, Britain has chosen nostalgic insularity – and its bargaining power is greatly reduced.

- As I wrote previously, the English have not come to terms with the fact that they no longer rule the world. Otherwise, they would not have been so complacent about their shared privileges or contemptuous of their partners. Humility, not hubris, must follow this act of petulence.

-  It seems amazing to have to point this out, but the world faces an immediate existential threat: the destruction of our species through man-made climate change. Instead of focusing on collaboration to ensure better regulation and higher global standards, Britain has decided to obsess over a manufactured disagreement about ‘sovereignty’, with all the passion of an obscure sect. This is a shameful neglect of our duty to citizens worldwide, and future generations.

Beyond the anger, I feel a deep sense of sadness. I am a European, with a deep affinity to the continent. We have not only harmed ourselves, but we have endangered others, when we should have stood in solidarity with them. I fear for our future, and for our friends on the continent.

About the author

Benjamin Ramm is editor-at-large of openDemocracy. He writes features for BBC Culture and presents documentaries on BBC Radio 4. He tweets at @BenjaminRamm

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