Anna Soubry, Brexit, Democracy, Euro-Scepticism, European Union, GE2019, Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson, Labour, Leon Trotsky, Nicola Sturgeon, Opinion, Politics, Scottish Independence, Scottish Nationalism
‘You are pitiful, isolated individuals! You are bankrupts. Your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on—into the dustbin of history!’
When Leon Trotsky had uttered these stirring words, or something like them, at the first meeting of the council of Soviets, those to whom they were addressed had had the decency to indeed go and to go promptly. “Then we’ll leave!,” the Menshevik Julius Martov had cried, turning his back on Trotsky. Martov, exiled and demoralised, is not a name that today detains many high-school history students. The shock of last night is that those who had been similarly dispatched to that famous “dustbin” in 2016, and who have been trying to get lost on the way ever since, have finally arrived.
There have been three years of delays and excuses, of a feigned deafness to the original Brexit vote, of a wilful mystification of the motives behind it, of a vain hope that if Brexit was dragged out long enough then the voters might become distracted and forget about it, and with all of this culminating in the most blatant, insolent attempt to hatch a new Brexit referendum in which Brexit was discreetly missing from the ballot paper. Alas, the faerie gold of a People’s Vote has, in the daylight of democracy, been transformed into dirt and dry leaves. There is never going to be a People’s Vote. There will be no more of its title’s devious, insinuated dehumanisation of Brexit’s original voters, as if they were somehow not officially or adequately “people.” A People’s Vote has been today deleted from modern consciousness.
So too have we been relieved of these various ghastly insects, who have been parading around television studios and trying to make out that they are “independent” post-democratic egos, unbound by manifestoes and liberated from any need to represent their constituents. The list is long and richly satisfying. Anna Soubry, Dominic Grieve, Chuka Umunna, Sarah Wollaston, Sam Gyimah and, hey let’s say it again because it sounds so good, Anna Soubry. Here, please all take your seats in the luxury, first-class compartment of the dustbin of history. Here is your complimentary glass of champagne. And here’s ours.
The extent to which last night will have been enjoyable for you will directly correlate with how much of the political media you have consumed over the previous three years. For someone who only ever catches up with the news now and then, perhaps when flicking through the Metro, the loss of Soubry et al will feel like a few stray flakes being shaken away. But for those of us who seem to have spent hours every day listening to these politicians multiplying across news channels and radio programmes and YouTube clips, with their endless manipulations and their infinite condescension, the termination of their careers is like a prison sentence being ended.
Sorely should we heed the Aesop’s Fable of Jo Swinson, the erstwhile Lib-Dem leader. She had said that she wanted to cancel Brexit. She had refused to respect the result of this gigantic democratic event. She had even entertained the prospect that she would refuse to respect the outcome of a second referendum if her side lost it. When saying these things, she frequently implied that democracy doesn’t work and that ordinary people shouldn’t be left unsupervised to take democratic decisions by themselves. If one is a fascist, then they can logically hold these beliefs, but the trouble was that, in having abused the voters and tried to devalue their votes, Swinson then found herself standing for re-election. It would be her community who would cancel her.
We will look back on the last three years as being three years of inexplicably wasted time. Three years of echoes and querulousness. The brunt of last night’s election result would have occurred naturally in 2016, had many of our politicians actually honoured their original promises to respect the referendum result.
Speaking of respecting referendum results, I suppose that we should turn to the Scottish National Party. Here there seems to be a peculiar misalignment. Those who had refused to respect the 2016 referendum result, and who have continually insulted and patronised the voters ever since, have at last felt the bitter crunch. But those who refuse to respect the 2014 result, and who have schemed just as fervently and who have interpreted it just as fancifully, appear to have received a handsome reward. How has justice come to fall this unevenly and with so little method?
I remain very complacent about the SNP. To me, there are at best superficial differences between the respective civic societies in England and Scotland, and there is certainly no observable distinction between the attitudes that they hold towards the EU. In other words, there is no hard surface beneath the greasy marmalade of nationalism, or any philosophical underpinning to anything that the SNP claims to represent. To paraphrase a great Unionist and an even greater secularist, David Hume, the SNP’s ideas cannot be traced back to any solid impressions. And once the SNP embark upon a madcap journey to turn Scotland into a nation that is in a political union with Bulgaria but not in one with its closest neighbour and trading partner, they can only shed votes. The UK’s history is a process of clarifying ever more sharply the sheer good-for-nothingness of nationalism.
Nicola Sturgeon has reduced Scotland to a Chihuahua. A small, spindly, disagreeable fusspot yapping harmlessly at Westminster from the sidelines. So long as Scotland has an SNP government, its people won’t be meaningfully participating in the UK’s democracy and in the lives of millions of their fellow citizens.
In Edinburgh South, I had personally voted for Ian Murray. He is today the only Labour MP left in Scotland and for now he looks increasingly like the Union’s equivalent of General Custer. I was depressed about voting Labour and I did so with extreme reluctance. I possess many cherished lunatic ideas but an obsessive hostility towards Jewish people doesn’t number amongst them. Still, whilst Murray favours cancelling the results of a national referendum, a stance towards democracy that in any normal country would render him a fascist, in Edinburgh South he is only a moderate. The Liberals want to do away with Brexit without even the courtesy of a referendum; the SNP openly revile every referendum that we have had.
During the election, I had written a fiendishly clever article that had tried to reconcile my own Brexiteering with Labour’s manifesto. Sure, I had reasoned, Labour might be bent upon getting us back into the EU, but their manifesto is ultimately a fantasy about a politics that is bigger and richer and more participatory than that which is supposedly guaranteed by the EU’s institutions. I can see now that my excitement about Labour’s manifesto largely petered out at the borders of my own website. This manifesto did not tip voters into greater participation and political engagement – ordinary people were not spontaneously debating with each other about the merits of nationalisation and the redistribution of wealth. They had instead concluded that a Labour government was highly unlikely to happen and that it was not worth bestowing any thought upon it until it did.
What now for Labour? Corbyn and his team have been at least realistic enough to ensure that it is difficult to remove him and to fully eradicate his influence. I suspect, however, that what is so objectionable about Corbynism is really the Blairism. Rather than asking people to give serious thought to new ideas, Corbyn had transformed himself into a values-free media performer, dispensing with his Republicanism, his Euroscepticism, and his opposition to nuclear weapons. With Blairite aplomb, he had made sure to issue the characteristically vapid slogans and soundbites. The party’s most unpopular policy – its Brexit compromise – was the only part of its manifesto that was not cut from Bennite cloth. It was in fact an attempt to accommodate the Blairites and the great ache of the paternalistic middle-class.
Those who are now insisting that Labour requires a corrective lurch nearer to Blairism should be reminded that a lot of managerial technocrats, from Jo Swinson to Chuka Umunna, have been humiliated in this election. It is also worth emphasising that no amount of Blairism is going to win back Scotland for Labour, as a trail of wrecked careers has already shown.
Maybe that dustbin of history contains room enough for Corbynism and Blairism and Bennism. A heavy-duty black bag of decomposing ideology. Yet Labour still needs to be and to have a product and this product should be both inspiring and economically credible. Blairism is not inspiring and Corbynism was never economically credible. So what and who is next? Will yesteryear and its discredited personalities continue to weigh down on Labour like a nightmare?