by Jonathan Todd
Labour is over. The UK is over. The EU is over. For sake of something that Daniel Hannan now concedes won’t necessarily happen: a fall in immigration.
We have conspired to legitimise Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second Scottish referendum: a vote that seems likely to precipitate the UK’s breakup. Another vote in Northern Ireland may create a united Ireland around 100 years after partition.
While Jeremy Corbyn may be pleased by Ireland’s reunification, the breakup of the UK, closing off any Scottish Labour recovery within the union, reduces the prospect of Labour government. And this may not even be Labour’s biggest problem. Within England, the referendum exposed the perhaps unbridgeable divide between Labour’s liberal, metropolitan and socially conservative, provincial supporters.
The French cousins of that latter group dance to Marie Le Pen’s tune. The EU will muddle through Brexit but not Frexit, as President Le Pen threatens.
It is hard to believe that Boris Johnson – a Conservative and Unionist MP – intends the UK’s breakup; that Gisela Stuart wishes Labour to be so weakened; that the usually Whiggish Michael Gove wants the Europe that historian Sir Ian Kershaw sees opening up: “28 competing countries and in the hands of Le Pen, Orban, Kaczynski and the nationalists, a Europe breaking up.”
But that is where Johnson, Stuart and Gove – by acquiescing with the poison of Nigel Farage – have left us, which is unforgivable.
Maybe – but not certainly – David Cameron could have avoided this referendum. Maybe – but not certainly – Cameron could have fought a better campaign. Certainly, Johnson et al are culpable for the false prospectus they’ve sold.
Cameron has bequeathed a nation divided on every axis – geography, age, class. He is right that his successor and the UK will be assisted by him not triggering Article 50. It is equally obvious why EU leaders want to move more quickly.
They want to avoid Kershaw’s Europe by demonstrating that Brexit has damaged the UK and therefore, Frexit and similar would damage France and other EU countries going down the same road. As trading relations with the UK deteriorate, this will damage continental Europe economically, which is why Brexit campaigners said decent trading relations would be maintained.
But the Eurozone crisis has demonstrated that EU leaders will place politics (e.g. averting Kershaw’s Europe) above economics (e.g. a few percent on GDP). If they were for economics, they wouldn’t have allowed southern Europe to so struggle within the Euro. They’d have enabled fiscal transfers from north to south within the Eurozone. But the political price in northern Europe of these transfers was higher than the economic gain of a more competitive Mediterranean.
In Greece, as will be the case in the UK, the young and the poorest have suffered most. Here, the young must endure a future that they didn’t vote for. And the poorest angrily voted for Brexit but they’ll be angrier still when our economy contracts, hurting them most, and the untruths of Leave must be lived through. There won’t, for example, be an extra £350m for the NHS each week.
Leave does, however, have a plan for immigration. Even if it lacks a workable plan for anything else. As immigration to the UK increased in recent years as our growing economy and seemingly attractive culture acted as beacons to the ambitious and hardworking, our capricious vote for Brexit – and subsequent economic decline – will send the opposite signal.
If you think this decline in immigration is a price worth paying for economic pain; the abandonment of the EU’s labour market protections; the City of London being more like Guernsey and less like Wall Street; fraught relations with our closest allies; succour for Le Pen and equally ugly forces within Europe, as well as the isolationist gangsterism of Trump and Putin; and the denial to the UK’s youth the future they wanted, then you either really, really don’t like immigration (Perhaps a touch racist? Just a touch? Like a Chinky, do we?) or you don’t understand the consequences of the vote you cast on Thursday – or you are Boris Johnson salivating at the prospect of Downing Street, irrespective of the price of getting there.
It is obvious that this megalomaniac clown cannot heal the divisions in Britain that he deepened. The Tories who think that he can are as deluded as the Corbynites who believe their man can. Events feel so much bigger than these unconvincing leaders. Or even the hallowed out parties that they nominally lead or seek to.
We are lost on an unchartered sea. Wherever we end up, it will be due to the forces unleashed by our leaders, not whatever they now do. If the financial crash of 2008 was an event akin to the 1929 crash, we must hope that these forces do not drive us to extremism equivalent to that which followed the decade after 1929.
If that were to happen, and Brexit has further opened the door to it, the ends of Labour, the UK, and the EU will be small beer. As the 1930s loom over us, it isn’t Corbyn that Labour would be best served by but a contemporary Bevin.
Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut