John Weeks has been continually analysing the development of Brexit since the referendum, which we have been posting. Here is his latest update.
John Weeks is Professor Emeritus, School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, and author of ‘Economics of the 1%: How mainstream economics serves the rich, obscures reality and distorts policy’, Anthem Press.
Some predictions refer to events so certain , yet “anticipated” seems the more appropriate word, for example, the Global Financial Crisis foreseen by many. Other predictions earn the claim of foresight because few if any anticipated them – the 2016 Brexit referendum outcome and Trump as president despite receiving only 46% of ballots cast (Clinton received 48%). Into a third category fall those predictions arising from religious faith or irrational hopes such as the 2nd Coming and the 2nd Referendum.
Into the first category, near sure things, falls my assertion in May 2017 that a Brexit agreement between the May government and the EU negotiators looked possible, followed a year later by an article asserting that agreement was highly likely, and, this August that a deal was imminent. Anticipating Brexit outcomes involved no great foresight or insider knowledge, as I explained almost six months ago (in openDemocracy).
Why then for over two years did the mainstream media almost without exception treat the negotiations between the British and European representatives as perpetually on a knife-edge, with “no deal” Brexit considered a high probability? The treatment of Brexit talks as a cross between soap opera and morality play certainly helped sell newspapers and attract listeners and watchers.
More fundamentally, Brexit-as-morality-play serves the interest of both the far-right and the centre of British politics (see my recent video interview). “No-deal” represents the hope of the far-right, because it would create the potential to complete the Thatcherite project to destroy the trade union movement and reduce workplace rights and protection. What the Brexit reactionaries seek is not de-regulation of markets but re-regulation in the interests of capital.
Centrist Remainers also hype-up the “no deal” rhetoric. It serves their principle goal, the reconstruction of a Blairite neoliberal political hegemony. That hegemony collapsed after the June 2016 referendum outcome (which marginalised the Tory centrists) and the election of Jeremy Corbyn as head of the Labour Party (expelling neoliberals from the party leadership). Both of these blows to centrist politics resulted from insurrection of angry followers against their elitist leaders. The first insurrection came deeply tainted with reactionary motivation. In contrast, the overwhelming victory of Corbyn as leader signalled the transformation of the Labour Party from neoliberal centrism to social democracy.
The first electoral insurrection, largely reactionary, directly led to the second, which is unambiguously progressive. Perhaps some neoliberals seriously believe that the election mechanism that destroyed their power would, if repeated, resurrect them. That belief is the obvious driver of the “People’s Vote” organization and its fantasy of a Second Referendum. Indeed, the tactics, even the rhetoric, are strikingly similar to those used by the Tory government and the Labour centrists for the debacle of the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
Again we have a campaign built around horror tales of economic catastrophe, from the paranoid (only three days of food on supermarket shelves), to the absurd (lorry queues at Dover stretching back to London suburbs), on to the statistically dubious (estimates of growth decline based on inappropriate methodologies). In all this centrist propaganda one fails to find more than passing reference to the workplace protections in EU treaties and protocols, which reveals the underlying neoliberal class ideology of the referendum re-run Remainers.
The dubious politics of the Peoples Vote comes clear in the low probability of realizing a second referendum even when its propaganda surge began in the late summer (founded in April 2018). All but the delusional now recognise that 1) the series of political events necessary to realize a second referendum are highly speculative and conditional on unlikely circumstances; and 2) should those improbabilities transpire insufficient time remains for them to run their course before the Brexit deadline (which the European Council will not extend because of pending EU wide elections in May).
Why would wealthy backers fund what will not occur (George Soros’ Open Society Foundation alone kicked in over £200,000)? Why structure People’s Vote as a cross party alliance what the Labour leadership would not support (committed to bringing down the fragile minority Tory government Labour Leadership would not join an all party political movement, especially one with Chuka Umuuna leading Corbyn critic as nominal head)? Why launch and accelerate a campaign for a 2nd referendum when it will not occur? The rhetorical answer to these rhetorical questions seems straight-forward. Peoples Vote campaign has the longer term purpose of undermining the current leadership of the Labour Party in order to return the party to the neoliberal centre.
Peoples Vote promotes two clear messages. The first message, based on dubious evidence is that a massive shift in public opinion towards Remain has occurred. Second the Labour leadership refuses to endorse Peoples Vote despite overwhelming support for a 2nd Referendum by Labour voters and Labour constituency groups. Therefore, when the 2nd Referendum fails the blame will be on Jeremy Corbyn, who it will be argued no longer represents the sentiment of his party members.
This appears as a sure win political strategy, easily sold to middle class Remainers in the Labour Party and politically without risk. If in the extremely unlikely event of a 2nd referendum, centrists would blame Corbyn if it loses and if it wins discredit him as a Leaver. When as is all but certain time runs out on the referendum fantasy, blame will fall on Corbyn for not supporting that fantasy. The problem with this as for all fantasies is that at some point real world forces determine events, not hopes and speculation.
To conclude I move into the real world. We should take the current hue and cry about the imminent end of May as prime minister as a continuation of the reversing Brexit propaganda, intended to foster another chapter in the centrist Brexit fantasy, this one titled “if May goes we have new possibilities”.
A close following of media reports provides a reliable guide to what to expect in coming weeks, especially sources in Europe where Brexit reporting is considerably more accurate and less biased than in Britain (for example, Politico.eu). On 25 November the European Council will approve the now infamous agreement. In early December May will present the agreement to the House of Commons for approval. I suspect that before the end of November we shall have a strong indication of the likely outcome of that vote. One thing is sure. It will not result in a second referendum.