I knew just over a week ago that I would have to write something or rather several things on the disaster that is Brexit. But I didn’t want to react at the time, neither did I want to say anything until I had something in place with the potential to achieve some redemption (by which I mean both understanding and potentially reversal). I thought I would illustrate it with one of my favourite T shirts – I couldn’t find the selfie so you are spared that. I grew up in a Labour Family and in her youth my mother had been on the far left. At eleven I was stuffing election addresses into envelopes and riding by bike between polling stations and the office with numbers on election day. In 1964 I was the Labour Party candidate in the Primary School mock election and won with the only serious speech: no vacuous promises of no lessons, sweets in every break and the like but a serious and passionate plea for justice and equality. At University I was a leader in the Broad Left; an alliance of Labour Party, Communist Party and Unaligned Left which largely opposed Trotskyite Parties of the extreme left – this was the 70s. I was convenor of the House of Debates, active in the National Organisation of Labour Students and set on a route that would have made me a politician. My mother told me that when I was born, the officiator Doctor had handed me too her saying “There you are a future Socialist MP and prop forward for Wales” (I was a big baby).
I give you this by way of context before I get to the heart of today’s post; there will be more and I’ve created a new category for them. So let’s get to the heart of this. One of the lessons that was drummed into me during my early years was that was a illicit contract between the intellectual left and those who voted for us. We should never be deluded into believing that they accepted our politics en mass but as long as we were one of them and seen to be on their side then there was a sustainable symbiosis. Service to the community was the price you paid for having a chance to influence the direction of society, Any sense of entitlement or inevitability was knocked out of you early on – which is why I never bought into the idealist left for which everything was an inevitable march to an idealist future and any setback could be explained by a conspiracy theory (sound familiar in the modern day?). When I was a student politician I argued the same; we had to be the best at social welfare, we had to deal with student poverty, we had to fight the University and Local Government authorities to improve the day to day lives of our voters. The ideology, the theory of political change was secondary to that primary purpose. Mrs Davies, one of the great Labour politicians in Mold was also a magistrate. She sent her voters to prison but she was always fair and she spent her life (and her health) fighting to improve the conditions that gave rise to that crime. Everyone on the council estate which she served felt she was one of them. I remember that from when I was knocking doors to get out the vote of people who ten years before had bullied me mercilessly in primary school. Wearing my red rosette I was one with them.
In Wales, the Midlands and the North East the Labour Party lost that connection. Sending in middle class, well educated professional politicians to safe seats as representatives; allowing neoliberal establishment priorities to take precedence of the needs of their communities during the Blair years. I’m not here to debate if that is right or wrong (although personally I think it was wrong and I left the Labour Party during that period); the point is that in that change were sown the seeds that grew into anti-immigrant and neo-facist ideas gaining roots as a protest against the establishment. In parallel with that we have a growing young, metropolitan, multi-racial and internationalist group who like to go the rallies and be preached to as the converted. Their interests should be aligned but they are now at war with each other and into that gap the Little Englander mentality and political opportunism of the right has stepped. I don’t think they are all happy about exit either by the way; some of them wanted a narrow loss so they would be seen to be against Europe to gain Conservative party votes for a future leadership election while avoiding the economic and social disaster than any informed person knew Brexit would be.
We live in a fragmented, divided society in Britain these days, multiple tribes with little insight or understanding of each other, a tendency to desire instant gratification and a lack of critical capability on all sides, let alone a sense of wider purpose and service.
… to be continued