As the established order falls apart, Chris Bambery argues how the left should respond
The British elites have been left reeling by the EU referendum result. Their European and global colleagues are no less in a state of shock. Put simply: they did not see this coming. More importantly, they have no Plan B for UK PLC.
That seems almost incredible. You might have thought they would have sent someone off to develop a strategy for British capitalism, even if they thought a Leave vote unlikely. But they didn’t.
Some neo-liberal commentators have a free market vision for Britain. Dr John Hulsman writes in today’s City AM, arguing Britain (post-referendum) must orientate on India, Indonesia and other emerging economies and re-forge the IMF, GATTs etc so they are fit for purpose in today’s era – and also strengthen the “special relationship” with the USA, boosting arms spending accordingly. But these are aspirations, not a plan.
In the same paper Christian May states that “Britain needs a liberal post-referendum plan”, claiming Boris Johnson has such a thing (this must be news to BoJo). Christian May’s own plan is to increase “quality” immigration from outside the EU to boost the economy. But he then goes on to state:
a more pressing concern weighs on the City: access to the single market and, in particular, retention of the vital passporting rights that allow financial services to operate across European markets.
We’ll have to see about that.
There is no discussion about how Britain could reverse its appalling balance of trade figures and its equally appalling productivity performance. The City and financial services are what counts. For people in places like Barnsley or Sunderland that voted Leave the future is low-paid, low-skilled work that offers little future or pride.
What the left needs to do is start talking about how we could rebuild a high-skilled industrial base, fit for the 21st century, requiring investment and an economic policy for growth; investment too in our welfare system and superstructure. We need to break the dominance of the City and finance.
We need to ally that with the simple argument that we all benefit from immigration. If we did not have migrants we would have a shortage of midwives, teachers, carers for the elderly and people who really matter to our everyday lives.
Meanwhile, as attention focuses on Labour’s civil war, we should realise the scale of the political crisis the ruling order finds itself in. For over a century, since it spearheaded opposition to Irish Home Rule, the Tory Party has been the main party of choice for the ruling elite. It now faces possible disintegration.
It’s hard to see a new leader papering over the divisions. We need to think how we can pile on the pain for the Tories and deepen those divisions.
For Jeremy Corbyn the choice is stark. Fight with every means to break his opponents in the Labour Party, or fall on his sword. His response to the resignations from the Shadow Cabinet indicates, I hope, that he is up for the fight of his life.
These people hate Jeremy far more than they do the Tories. He needs to go beyond them to mobilise his undoubted support in and out of the Labour Party to remove them.
Corbyn should give up on Scotland: announce he’s scrapping the position of Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and call on Cameron to do the same, tell Scottish Labour supporters to go for independence and reach agreement with the SNP MPs so they would support an economic programme for growth. Together they could work on how England and Wales exits the EU, how Scotland exits the UK, and how Scotland can forge co-operation with its southern neighbours to the benefit of all.
As Scotland approaches a second independence referendum the pro-independence left needs to relate to what’s happening south of the border and rebuild alliances with the pro-Corbyn camp.
The scale of what we are living through escapes description. The United Kingdom entered its death rites on Friday morning. The EU itself might follow. The political order in England and Wales is in turmoil and there is no plan for the economy.
For the left in these islands it must be all hands to the pumps to ensure it is the left that benefits and that we put forward a vision offering decent jobs, better welfare services and a secure future based on solidarity not racist scapegoating.
Things never will be same again and we are going to face surprises and shocks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride but let’s work to ensure it ends where we want it to end.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.