Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Four posts on Brexit; 1. Defeat

Make no mistake. The referendum was a huge victory for the political right.

There are left nationalist supporters of exit who are concerned about national sovereignty and who hope for their version of democratic socialism in one country, but the bulk of the vote came from the traditional English Tory right. They are affluent, older, spread throughout the suburbs and the countryside, and have been animated for years by a broadly fictitious picture of the EU as a foreign occupier and the conspiracy theory about a European super-state trampling over our liberties, compounded by deliberate lying.

They are not a majority though. But then the often youthful, urban Euro enthusiasts aren't either. The decisive factor was, as is so often the case in Conservative victories, the support of around thirty per cent of working class voters. They had to be won and the strategy to win them was based on the twin slogans of taking back control and anti-immigration. The two combined to unite those who had lost most, and swung the referendum. Labour did nothing like enough to hold on to them, and may have lost their loyalty for years to come.

Calling the referendum so casually was a crass mistake by a complacent political class. It was possible because of the unconstrained power the political system gives to the winner of an election in a system that does not allocate seats in the same proportion of votes cast. This is our 'democratic deficit.' There were no checks and no warnings, just a quick political fix planned at the risk of the entire future of the country. The same nonchalance was given to other issues, such as the construction of the referendum itself, its failure to protect minorities, its status as advisory even though its advice would be hard to ignore, the role of Parliament, and the adoption of a simple majority of votes cast for determining the result, with no other criteria or qualifications. Under the 2016 trade union legislation, if the same result came from a ballot for industrial action, the ballot would be lost as it failed to gain the support of 40% of the eligible voters. Yet it apparently isn't a problem to enforce the most radical change in British political history since the war.

We are now plunged into a major constitutional crisis. There are no rules, huge threats, and plenty of unintended consequences. The UK may break up, Brexit may never happen, who knows now? The one thing I am sure about is that the Conservatives will shape the settlement that emerges. The electoral coalition that won the referendum will endure, and even if there is a snap election and Labour manages to pull together under competent leadership, I am certain it will lose. Nothing in the electoral mathematics looks good.

The right have won. There is a long struggle ahead.

No comments: