The writer, Anthony Barnett, has a very good video on Brexit:
He actually starts with neoliberalism, which, I’m paraphrasing only slightly, he maintains, has depoliticised politics and presented its outcomes as fate whilst allowing government revenues and licences to be captured for private profit.
For a start, that’s a really incisive summary of neoliberalism, with which I wholeheartedly concur.
A Brexit referendum was an opportunity to shout out about the powerlessness that was the result of continuously neoliberal policies. Change, among those fighting for it, was seen as nigh on impossible – so Brexit was a golden opportunity for some change – rather like an earthquake, change itself was needed.
Amoung radical minds none of this is particularly controversial.
He has interesting things to say on English nationalism which are quite at odds with the normal narrative of England’s delusions of grandeur and superiority to the small nations of the UK.
It is, he suggests, quite the reverse. Brexit was an absence of English Nationalism – there was a sort of retread of ‘Great Britishness’ precisely because of the sense of hopelessness – at least Scotland and Northern Ireland and even Wales have some sort of independence from this rabid cruel cutting government (he was politer than that). Most of England so called ‘local government’ has no defence at all and is ignored by central government. Outside the financial extraction zones of London and the South East, little attention is paid to the rest of Britain but in fact, even less so to a voiceless Rest of England. Whereas the smaller countries of the UK can, for sure, be less easily ignored. If this problem is laid at the doors of resurgent thoughts of Empire, it was just that this was all the English had to latch on to. (And it should not be forgotten it was not the English empire but the British – Scots, Irish and Welsh were all part of it.)
At this stage I must emphasise that these are my feelings after watching the video so they should not be taken as in any way verbatim, but I hope I’ve given a broadly correct impression.
I did however have problems with the fact that “Britain is not a European country” – ‘les rosbifs’ are, for better or worse, the British- that’s English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish (in fact anyone with ‘GB’ on the back of the car!) so I fear, that for most of the European world, at least, Britain is indeed a country, European or not….
I do agree, nonetheless, that, within Britain, England itself is represented only in the one (British) Parliament. All other nations or countries (whatever the difference is?) are represented in two.
Anthony Barnett continues by suggesting that the ‘remainers’ need to claim the ‘democratic high ground’ (as in ‘taking back control’) with the EU. A Federal Britain, with which both I and, I think, he, is in favour, needs democracy in England. Remainers have to “reimagine Britain”.
So this is a plea to all UK (remember that?) members.
The argument for being English does not stem from identity but for a need for democracy. Democracy gets traction when it is linked to the renewal of the national imagination. Perhaps a sort of English cosmopolitan nationalism might cover it.
Thus he argues that Brexit supporters need to be persuaded to retain their opposition to their powerlessness.
Three cheers for that…
A better imagination is needed to counteract the reckless Brexit opportunists – who are, of course, by no means all English.
Then he suggests:
while changing their vote to crush its actual source, the now Brexit establishment [people], [need] to gain democratic control.
And to convince [Brexiters], Remainers have to show that [they] have changed their approach from the transactional defeatism of ‘stronger in’ to an imaginative call for modern European democracy that will empower us here at home.
He has further evidence in that in an increasingly complex society, the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary are now – in effect – he suggests, actually accompanied by Regulation as a fourth arm of government. It is distinct and effectively not entirely subordinate – because in a complex society regulation is complex. The EU has created an international regulated space, which is popular even amoung Leavers. As Ivan Rogers has christened it, the EU is a regulatory superpower.
The Brexit vote should have taught politicians to give better control to the people. But definitely not in a pained way to explain why you must follow the result. Leaders have got to have the courage to reimagine the institutions of Britain.
Diverging for a moment to David Allen Green, when in the Jack of Kent Blog he says that “referendums are part of the problem not part of the solution. This can be also be seen as the problem of duelling mandates…..But instead what you will have are two decisions – two heads of a dragon instead of one. And what if the further referendum is on a lower turn-out? Or a different majority? Which mandate takes precedence?”
I fear ‘Jack of Kent’ has lost focus; this is seeing barriers where there are none. At least with a ‘People’s Vote’ there is a very much better chance that we actually know what we are voting about so there should be the opportunity for a more informed consent!
Anthony Barnett thinks that the Brexit vote should have taught politicians to give better control to the people.
That is of course, really taking back control.
That is what a People’s Vote should do.
Meanwhile concentrating on the constitution will be unlikely to get us out of this mess, but being practical and innovative just might.
And as Frances O’Grady has pointed out: If you have a strike you have a ballot and if you get an offer you put it back to the members. A People’s Vote would be saying this is the outcome of your decision – is it what you want?
That is actually, real democracy.