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  • Published in Opinion
Shady deals: Emmanuel Macron and Donald Tusk embracing in 2017. Photo: Flickr/Arno Mikko

Shady deals: Emmanuel Macron and Donald Tusk embracing in 2017. Photo: Flickr/Arno Mikko

A People’s Brexit that unites the left is the only way to confront an increasingly bold neoliberal mafia, argues Lindsey German

It would be helpful in the debate about Brexit if we could actually look at the reality of what is going on across Europe. Unfortunately, that still is not happening. Yet the picture across the EU 27 is hardly recognisable compared to the one portrayed by the continuity Remainers, determined to avoid Brexit at all costs. Whether we look at the minority of London MPs who claim that it will change the whole nature of the city, or those embarking on a tour to change Labour’s mind and commit to remaining in the EU, there is a studied refusal to consider what the EU represents today.

Perhaps this is because it is not a pretty picture. Rather than the nirvana of workers’ rights, prosperity and liberal diverse democracy which is the Remain view of the EU, all of these areas are under sustained attack – and more often than not the EU institutions are key players in the process.

It is they after all who have enforced austerity policies across Europe, most dramatically in Greece, but also in Portugal. Its tough stance over trade deals with Britain has a lot to do with its fears of a Corbyn government committed to public ownership. President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Juncker, last week insulted Italians for not working hard enough, being corrupt and not being serious. This from the former prime minister of tax haven Luxembourg. It is not hard to understand growing anti-EU feeling across the continent when this is the arrogant and disdainful attitude portrayed by its leaders.

Meanwhile, the hero of many liberals, Emmanuel Macron, uses his presidency to launch vicious attacks on workers and students and to attack their rights. This is part of the ongoing race to the bottom which the EU countries have been engaged in particularly since the banking crisis of 2008. The worsening conditions for working people which have accompanied neoliberal Europe since have been in large part the drivers of the Brexit vote and of the election in Italy which saw the formation of a government of the far-right Lega and the Five Star Movement.

Which brings us to democracy. While Juncker claims that he is not interfering in Italian politics, Italian president Mattarella’s decision to veto a specific minister who was strongly against the single currency suggests a contempt for democracy – whatever you think of the proposed minister or proposed government. And the fact that this minister was vetoed precisely because he was hostile to the single currency speaks volumes.

The visceral hatred of ‘populism’ of both left and right varieties is one main characteristic of the EU bureaucracy and its defenders. Yet the same people who decry populism actually make huge concessions to right-wing policies, while refusing to countenance challenges to market-led policies which come from the left. They feel threatened by votes from new parties but rather than dealing with the issues which help strengthen the right, they compete with them in terms of attacking migrants, Muslims and others who are being scapegoated.

So in Denmark, a law has just been passed to ban the burqa and prohibit false beards (I don’t quite know how that one will be enforced). In Germany, the Bavarian state government has decreed that crosses will be displayed on the front of public buildings to demonstrate the region’s commitment to ‘Christian values’. Hungary and Poland both have right-wing racist governments whose policies include attacks on minorities. Italy’s new government plans to deport 500,000 migrants yet the EU Commission has little to say on this.

Yet the Fortress Europe policies are both condemning many migrants to drown in the Mediterranean, and are helping to reinforce, and make respectable, anti-migrant racism. This, in turn, is fuelling the growth of the far right. The answer is not to prettify this operation or to ignore that it is happening. It is instead to fight for a different sort of politics, which opposes racism and austerity and which demands a better future for the ordinary citizens of Europe. This is exactly what Jeremy Corbyn is trying to do, and exactly what the EU will stop him from doing. A recent article from economist Costas Lapavitsas demonstrates how the EU regulations would prevent the development of policies which would benefit us all. 

It’s really time to stop trying to reverse Brexit and start organising to deliver the sort of policies which can break the neoliberal consensus and challenge the far right.

An old-fashioned story of politics, murder, lies and cover-up 

I have been absolutely engaged by the series on BBC2 about the Jeremy Thorpe scandal. I only started watching it when others recommended me to do so, because I already knew the story and wasn’t especially interested in hearing it again. What a mistake. It has some of the best production values, unsurprising from the team of actors, writer and director who made it, but it also blows open one of the most bizarre but also a very sinister case of political cover-up which happened in our time.

Now the Mail on Sunday has discovered that the alleged hired killer – presumed dead by police and CPS – is actually alive and living in Surrey. It will surely mean a reopening of the case.

The idea that no one knew about this is preposterous. Rumours and stories swirled round for years in a period before social media, but where Private Eye continued to raise questions. There were reports of the killing of the Great Dane, Rinka, long before the trial of Jeremy Thorpe and his fellow conspirators. Other Liberal politicians – and Labour politicians, since Labour was in government at the time – must have known, as did the police and various security services. The cover-up continued as long as it could, to be followed by a trial using the age-old method of a high court judge utilising every prejudice of class, every legal trick, every inch of disdain, to ensure the acquittal.

Thorpe was finished but it worked until his death in 2014 ended the threat of libel and regenerated interest in the case. So we find the truth – or some of it – 40 years later. I am not one for believing most of the myriad conspiracy theories that are thrown around, but it is worth remembering that if they could do this over one man, fearful that a (then illegal) homosexual affair and an attempted murder to cover it up would become public, what could they do over other issues they wanted to hide? It is also worth remembering that the British establishment is past master at this sort of thing. Thorpe’s wife had previously been married to the Earl of Harewood, cousin to the queen; he was public school educated; he was an important party leader; the civil service and secret services would be known to him. Perhaps the wonder is that it came to a trial at all.

Lindsey German

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.

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