A strong and stable earthquake
In 2016 the people of the United Kingdom overturned pollsters’ predictions and politicians’ complacency when they voted to leave the European Union. American citizens responded, ‘hold my beer,’ as they elected the Apprentice host and hotelier, Donald Trump to the highest office in the land. The political establishment was shaken, or was it?
It is unsurprising that as austerity reduced living standards, wealth inequality grew to unprecedented levels and political parties became ever-more indistinguishable from one another that campaigns calling to ‘drain the swamp’ and ‘take back control’ captured the imagination of voters. Wealth concentration has been overseen by Conservative, Labour, Republican and Democrat parties following the tacit acceptance of the Thatcher-Reagan orthodoxy of under regulated free-market capitalism. Both Brexit and Trump were desperate democratic backlashes. The tragic irony in the states is that Americans, sick of political puppets, have installed the puppeteer and his billionaire friends into the oval office. Brexit is far more complicated.
Follow the money.
On first examination it would appear that the Brexit referendum, like Trump, was another success for billionaires painting their money with flags and hiding it inside white vans. The two newspapers pushing the leave vote were The Sun and The Daily Mail owned respectively by Rupert Murdoch and Lord Rotheremere. Murdoch is worth an estimated $19.2 billion and Rothermere, a paltry by comparison, $1.1 billion. For Rupert Murdoch, perhaps the most virulently anti-EU magnate going, the EU stands in the way of his long awaited bid for Sky. Leaving the EU reduces the number of regulatory hurdles his bid, largely seen to be creating an unacceptable media monopoly, will face.
Taking back control means handing it back to a smaller pool of corruptible politicians. Murdoch’s backing of Blair showed that he doesn’t care what badge is on the government so long as they can be controlled. As the independent reported 3/5 of the various Leave campaigns budget was funded by 5 of the UK’s wealthiest business elite.
It is no coincidence that the referendum was scheduled a year before the EU finally began to realise its potential as a bloc to crack down on tax evasion in a way no single sovereign state could. The size of the market to which the EU holds the keys, makes going elsewhere less plausible.
Leaving the EU was to this elite the occasion for the dismantling of workers’ rights, the scrapping of environmental regulations and the slashing of corporation tax. Huge deals with private American healthcare corporations are being floated in think tanks as possible benefits of departure. The ‘£350 million for the NHS’ slogan slapped across a bus was to them just a con to win round voters.
The majority of the Remain campaign’s funding came from Lord Sainsbury (net worth: $1.1 billion), David Harding (net worth: $1.8 billion) and Lloyd Dorfman (net worth: $1.2 billion). The natural torchbearer to the remain campaign, The People’s Vote, is similarly funded by the billionaire George Soros. These big money donors are sure to be adversely affected by departure. This group come largely from retailers reliant on European protectionism that shields them from other global competitors. These unscrupulous magnates benefit from the ability to import workers with lower job expectations from other areas of the European Union with no barriers thus reducing the collective bargaining potential of the UK workforce. This is not a result of free movement but the result of politician’s failure to crack down on those exploiting minimum wage and taking advantage of eastern European workers.
The economic interests of these backers is perhaps the only thing that makes sense of the confusing cross-party divides behind Brexit. Brexit has come more and more to resemble a nerve jangling, murky, survival horror and it is well suited to the strap-line from Alien Vs. Predator; ‘No matter who wins. We lose.’
The smokescreen that conceals this secret war is also its smoking gun; how can the conversation about the biggest political development of the 21st Century be so conspicuously lacking in ideology? Political parties talk about good deals versus bad deals as if they are objectively weigh-able and their merits universally applicable to every citizen. It is worrying to see how complete the Blairite dissolution of class consciousness has become. We are not ‘all middle class now’ and our interests are not homogeneous. However the middle class are now far closer to those on welfare than those in Mayfair.
What is a good deal for billionaires is not generally a good deal for the rest of us, despite the Conservatives fruitful attempts to conflate the two. When they talk about a good deal for business they mean a raw deal for workers. Both campaigns claimed that they would, either by shifting where power lies or ensuring economic abundance, allow people to have better healthcare, housing and employment. But the truth is we lack neither the ability nor the resources to achieve this whether inside or outside the EU. We lack the political will power.
Take Back Democratic Control.
Yes, the European institutions have too many unelected officials and groups like the IMF and World Bank often exert control over the democratically elected European Parliament and the wishes of the 27 democratically elected leaders of sovereign nations. But look at the second chamber of British politics: despite its reduced powers The House of Lords is an unaccountable stain on our national democracy. And if the Brexit process has shown anything it is the failures of Britain’s democracy and its desperate need for a codified constitution. Theresa May has ridden roughshod over a parliament that struggles to control the damage she is doing with the flimsy rule of convention, a hangover of an ex-imperial state. The nature of money in both campaigns, a number of which are now being investigated for dodgy financial dealings are another sign of the democratic crisis this side of the channel. Murdoch once told Anthony Hilton ‘When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.” This highlights the unelected powers wielding control here in the UK.
Take a Break from Brexit
What we need, and they fear most is the return to genuine discussion, openly politicised debate, and ideological argument. That would not split the public down the false binaries they’ve created. The only way to take back control is to wrest it not from Brussels but from the private sphere. CEOs and invisible, unelected forces, are deciding how our communities will function, at every level. Brexit is about whether our democratic deficit exists on a national or international level and which big money interests that benefits. Ultimately we can change the UK or, working with European allies, we can change the EU, but it starts by eroding this distractionary divide and making demands on the ends not the means. The only way to do this is to explore new forms of democratic consultation, such as citizen’s assemblies. This process will escape the stultifying binaries, help reconcile our fractured country and begin to scrutinise the reforms of representation and accountability that are needed in all of our clunking institutions, nationally and internationally. Let’s take the time to make a difference.