Someone needs to tell the pro-EU centrist establishment that plotting an establishment usurpation of democracy in public isn’t the smartest strategy
You have to admire the chutzpah of the establishment centre-left right now. Last week they publicly advanced their super clever idea for Remainers to pretend to make peace with Brexit in order to regain credibility with the public (but only in order to sneakily backstab the whole enterprise a few years down the line).
An increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area).
Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it.
Interesting. So let me get this straight:
Step 1: Pretend to accept the EU referendum result.
Step 2: Work furiously behind the scenes to overturn it in a few years’ time.
Step 3: Keep the whole dastardly plot a secret, so that nobody finds — oh, too late.
And today we see another confession from the Left, this time that they plan on pretending to be on board with the outdated and embarrassing ideas of patriotism and pride in Britain – because their stupid, backward working class base insist on clinging on to those foolish notions. Again, this was done in public.
Alessio Colonnelli over at LabourList begins by stating exactly what he thinks of the backward and dangerous concept of patriotism:
Brexit is a bout of extreme patriotism; an angry Pamplona bull you can’t really grab by the horns. You run away from it, then hide and watch it thunder past. Overwhelmed by it all, gasping for air, the only question left is: how to make the best out of this situation?
This is a promising start – not merely suggesting that the patriotism felt by a majority of Brits is irrational or a hankering for lost empire (the familiar trope from Remainers), but that it resembles an angry charging bull.
Having lost millions of voters in northern England, Wales and Scotland in between 2010 and 2016, the red party has started doing “patriotism” a bit more. It would be very worrying if it were not so. It’s a card one has to play, given the circumstances. Make no mistake: Machiavelli would pat you on the back for doing that. Whatever it takes, so his lesson goes. Besides, it’s not as if a dash of mild jingoism was ever alien to Labour throughout its history – Hugh Gaitskell was never enamoured with Europe either, after all.
The thing about Machiavelli, though, is that he didn’t advocate that politicians announce their dastardly plans in public before executing them, or make it painfully obvious that they are only pretending to get along with the target of their deception. He assumed that geopolitical actors would have a sufficient baseline of intelligence that pointing this out wasn’t necessary.
Not so for Alessio Colonnelli though, who tells us exactly what he thinks about patriotism, declares that he sees it as a form of “mild jingoism” in which the metro-left should nonetheless pretend to partake for the sole purpose of tricking Brexiteers, and then titters to himself that he is somehow pulling one over on those of us who campaigned and voted for Brexit on the grounds of democracy, sovereignty and patriotism.
Occasionally, as we all know, the centre of politics shifts, and momentarily weaker outfits are forced to follow the changes – the zeitgeist. It happens everywhere. In Britain, the centre has moved towards the right over the past seven years (with Ukip’s crucial help), and you would expect social democratic organisations to do something to counter this while playing along to the new tune for a bit and sneakily carving out a new space.
How brave. How principled, to pretend to agree with a current political trend that you find objectionable rather than standing up to it with courage and conviction. First I am astonished that Colonnelli believes that the political centre of gravity has shifted to the right lately, given the fact that Theresa May completely blew the general election, Jeremy Corbyn surpassed expectations and the public seem to be signalling that they are getting tired of this whole austerity thing. But presumably he is talking exclusively about Brexit, which in his two-dimensional mind he sees as being a right-wing phenomenon rather than a democratic one.
In all seriousness, though, there is an interesting contrast between the way that the Left is responding to populist setbacks on either side of the Atlantic. In Britain, we do see the stirrings of this attempt to reach out to Brexiteers and others for whom patriotism is not an embarrassment (the Somewheres, to use David Goodhart’s terminology) – even if it is only a transparent ruse designed to trick them.
This almost certainly would not be the choice of most of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who hold Brexiteers in barely disguised contempt and who wear their fawning, unconditional love for the EU like a badge of honour. But Labour’s centrist MPs are constrained in what they can do because Jeremy Corbyn, their leader, is a eurosceptic at heart and set the tone in the 2017 manifesto that Labour would support Brexit.
In the United States, however, the Democratic Party – despite having thrown away the White House, a minority in Congress and severely weakened in state government – shows no signs of being ready for a rapprochement with the voters that their standard bearer Hillary Clinton once called “deplorable” and “irredeemable”. If anything, the American Left seems increasingly determined to publicly double down on the divisive identity politics messaging which alienates middle America and saw the Democrats lose the Rust Belt (with the exception of a few brave voices in the wilderness, like Mark Lilla).
Two different approaches – on one hand an attempt to understand voters and meet them where they are (even if only as part of an elaborate and cynical deception), and on the other hand a perplexing decision to furiously lash out at the electorate and double down on the same old failed identity politics strategy.
Neither populist insurgency is going tremendously well right now – in Britain, the Conservative government seems determined to enact the most ruinous and disorderly version of Brexit possible, while in America Donald Trump is simply being Donald Trump. This might represent fertile territory for a left-wing party which actually knew what it was doing, a movement which wasn’t consumed by blind fury at being ignored by the electorate and cast unexpectedly from power.
The question is, when will the Left cease their temper tantrum, grow up, regain their senses and try being effective opposition again? Because surely it will happen eventually, and that will be a bad day for the populists.
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