Calls for a second Brexit referendum, from the unholy confluence of establishment Remain and Farage, must be resisted by all the left, argues Martin Hall
The initial reaction of many commentators to Nigel Farage’s announcement yesterday that he was coming around to the idea of a second referendum was bemusement. His reasoning, he said, was that the likes of Andrew Adonis, Nick Clegg and Tony Blair would never accept the result, so the only thing was to put it to the people again, in the belief that Leave would win by a larger majority and the matter would be put to bed ‘for a generation’. This news has been greeted with great pleasure by many of the remain-at-all-costs constituency, with Clegg uttering the phrase: ‘I agree with Nigel’ and Adonis adding ‘Bring it on!’
On the other hand, UKIP AM Gareth Bennett has accused Farage of ‘effectively joining the Remain camp’, which itself has led Farage to row back slightly and say that while he doesn’t want one, he is resigned to it happening. This morning he and Chuka Umunna, in a cringing echo of the intellectual paucity of the establishment Remain and far right Leave campaigns, clashed on the Today programme on the subject, as well as on the cancellation of the Trump visit. However, Chuka could hardly conceal his pleasure at the thought of the fight ahead to keep Britain tied to the neoliberal EU.
We now have the sight of supposedly two opposite poles of British politics in agreement. What has brought on this change of heart from Farage? What do the two sides have in common?
A desire to thwart the left, destabilise Corbynism and derail a jobs first Brexit in which the needs of working class people are paramount.
Both sides need to take the conversation away from the NHS crisis, pay, austerity, education – in short, all the areas where Corbyn and the left are making headway. Throughout the last couple of weeks, despite the reality of the manifold problems facing working people (the NHS crisis in particular), the continuity Remain end of the Labour Party has been discussing Brexit, both in (but mostly out) of parliament. This is a very deliberate attempt to centre the news cycle on Brexit, in order to at least keep Britain in the Single Market (though better still Remain, of course) and in so doing, put the genie back in the bottle and return British politics to its pre-Corbyn, pre-Brexit situation.
From the point of view of Farage, he has, of course, not been centre stage recently. UKIP was destroyed at the General Election in June, and overall, the rise of the far right in Britain has been slowed, with the left having a very good 2017. Moreover, the removal of Steve Bannon from Trump’s administration and the consequent reduction in far right influence upon Farage’s friend in the White House has limited his political opportunities in the USA as well. He is a narcissist, and his vision of a free trade, low tax, low immigration Britain is in serious danger of never coming to pass, due to the weakness of the Tory government, as well as its recent moves to put in place transitional arrangements that maintain the free movement of labour. For his star to rise, he needs a Brexit debate that puts immigration front and centre, and in so doing, stokes up once more the fires of racism that he fanned in 2016.
Of course, the continuity Remain campaign also needs that version of the Brexit debate, as thanks to the liberal press, in particular The Guardian, so much of the campaign then and the subsequent coverage attempted to create a narrative where a vote for Leave was a vote first and foremost to curb immigration, despite the evidence not pointing to that.
It should also be stated firmly that the chances of a second referendum are very slight indeed. Why would the Tories agree to something that would effectively be a vote of confidence in the government?
However, Farage’s announcement presents an enormous opportunity for Corbyn and the left. We have a return to two party politics, as seen with the Lib Dems, significantly the only party (in England and Wales at least) committed to keeping Britain in the EU, having such a poor General Election. Corbyn, having made it clear this week that Britain cannot stay in the Single Market after Brexit, can now present Labour as the democratic party of Brexit, in this fashion:
We are doing what the people asked us to do and respecting the referendum result.
You cannot trust Farage and the far right, who obviously do not respect those millions of working class leave voters.
The Tories are no friends of the working class. Look at the NHS. Look at our schools.
With us, for a rise in manufacturing, productivity, local procurement and ethical trade?
Or with the Tories for low tax, privatisation, and the continued destruction of our public services?
From the point of view of the left, there should only be one road open now. With Corbyn and a Brexit for the many?
Or will we see a new confluence in British politics, the Kippermaniac?
More articles from this author
- Brexit: the uncivil war - review
- The Left Case Against the EU - book review
- May's deal is dead: this is what must happen next
- Why we don’t need a second referendum
- EU summit: nothing much happens, but the crisis continues
- People's Vote vs People's Brexit
- Europe's Fault Lines: Racism and the Rise of the Right - book review