‘He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount’
The Brexit tiger has a broad back. Let's look at some of those who have decided to hitch a ride. The first passengers are those ambitious opportunists who think that it will lead to their heart's desire. Travelling with them are libertarian ideologues who mistake the beast as a harbinger of pure economic freedom. 'Disaster capitalists' have jumped on too, hoping to profit from the disruption Brexit will bring. Then there are the unhinged nationalists, English exceptionalists, and enthusiastic believers whose ideological preferences trump evidence. They are joined by cowards who think that as long as the tiger is given some of what it wants it will leave them alone. Sitting astride the haunches are those leftists who think that their chance will come once the tiger is exhausted after satiating itself, forgetting that they are the beast's favourite appetiser. Given the strength and the cunning of the tiger, the riders are completely out of their depth. They are Brexit's 'useful idiots' and are trapped.
The tiger is a dangerous beast. It's cunning and has no wish to give up its prey. Brexit is not a happenstance, but a purposeful policy. The people driving it are sinister. The tiger is not just Brexit, it's more than that. The tiger is fascism. I'm using the term loosely, in a way that makes me uncomfortable. I am not talking of the precise definition coined in the mid twentieth century – dressed in uniforms, complete with militarism and totalitarian dreams – but a more recent version for our era. Twentieth century fascism was only one form of a persistent authoritarian polity that morphs to suit its times. Today we have a squalid, authoritarian, nationalist populism that loathes democracy even as it steals its language. It's aim is an intolerant state devoted to enriching a kleptocratic elite while preaching anti-elitism. Its language is hatred of the other, contempt for the dissident, deep, deep misogyny, and racism. Its logic is conspiracy theory.
Sometimes the fascist tiger appears as the deceptively friendly face in the pub talking 'common sense' and dishing out simplistic solutions to non-existent problems. But lately it has let us glimpse its claws and teeth. A UKIP candidate talks sneeringly about whether he would rape a Labour MP. The Brexit party fields a candidate who supported the IRA bombing of a shopping street in Warrington that murdered two children – standing in a constituency that includes Warrington. Then, listen closely and some familiar names emerge – Rothschild, Soros – and you realise that this tiger carries one of the oldest and most infectious diseases of all.
Brexit is a tasty morsel for the tiger. Its origins lie in the weird ideological fantasies of a group of plutocrats. But once the dream had been sold, the tiger licked its lips. Brexit obviously meant leaving the EU, but how or why was undefined or clouded in untruths. So, it became whatever the Brexiteers wanted it to be at any moment in time. And, of course, what they wanted it to be was always impossible. That meant that their Brexit, whatever it is, cannot be delivered – by anyone. And this is where a trick comes into play, it is not the tiger who has to make it happen. That's the job of the riders. They will fail, obviously, and so the tiger can roar 'you have been betrayed' at all who will listen.
How do you dismount the tiger? The riders convince themselves that they don't want to. This isn't surprising. The tiger is fierce and immortal. Its back feels safe, though it is exceedingly dangerous. It can never be killed or tamed. Getting off can only be done by wounding the tiger, giving time for escape. Abandoning Brexit would make it step back and lick its wounds. The riders could descend, run, and breathe a sigh of relief.
Yet that is only temporary. The tiger has to be caged and starved. We once had a magnificent cage with formidable bars – representative democracy, the European Union, human rights, social democracy, secularism, and the welfare state. It's a little rusty now. Bits have worn away, some parts have been neglected, and others have been vandalised. The tiger has pushed at the weakest points. It needs repairs, and some sections need replacing with something better.
The cage isn't a place of confinement. It isn't a zoo where we go to look at the tiger. It's a method of building a better world that pushes the tiger away so that we forget that it exists. Its importance isn't what it protects us from, it's what it gives to us. It's the cage that sets us free. It's built from democracy, internationalism, equality, liberty, and security. All can be improved, some can be bettered, negligence and vandalism can be put right. But we need to celebrate it, campaign for it, and speak out against the miserable resentment that the tiger's friends want us to embrace.
Rebuild and the riders can dismount and join the rest of us who are no longer wary about our status as vulnerable prey. And, out of the corner of one eye, we might catch a glimpse of the emaciated tiger, slinking back into the shadows, hoping in vain for escape.