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By Jason Michael
OVER THE PAST FEW DAYS I have found myself to be something of an unwilling ally of the new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Not at all because I like him or because I agree with where he hopes to take us, but because we are forced to deal with the facts of our present reality. It should have dawned on people by now that Brexit is happening, and that the most likely outcome is that we will be leaving the European Union under the worst set of circumstances imaginable. Sure, events in the Commons today – with the government embarrassingly losing its majority live on television – give us some cause to be optimistic. It is possible that tonight the House of Lords will make a no-deal Brexit illegal and so pave the way for Johnson’s snap October general election.
On the face of it, it looks promising. It does look like we have avoided the worst and that we will have yet another extension which will allow a new government to reach a deal that will at least take the sting out of the worst-case scenario we now face. But let’s imagine for a moment that everything does go the right way, that the Lords remove a no-deal car crash from the menu and we get this snap general election. According to the unwritten constitution of the British state, no parliament can be bound by a previous parliament; meaning that whatever is decided tonight can be overturned by the government formed after the coming general election.
Ensuring the illegality of a no-deal Brexit following a snap election, therefore, depends entirely on the result of the election. Only if Labour or a Labour-led anti-no-deal Brexit coalition wins will the decision of the Lords be upheld. Hopefully by now the reader can see the problem. The more outrageous Boris Johnson becomes, the more support he gets. The polls are showing quite clearly what is going on; since becoming Prime Minister, Johnson has been soaking up the hard-right Leave vote – causing Farage’s Brexit Party’s polls to deflate. He has lifted the Conservatives from their April slump to 34 per cent, enough in this first past the post system to give him a clear majority. Even if he fails in this, he will still have the support of the DUP and the possibility of back-up from Brexit Party MPs who may well win seats in strong pro-Brexit constituencies where the Tories are weak.
Looking over the polls, there is no hope for a ‘rebel alliance’ coalition. Even if we could imagine a parallel universe in which Labour was capable of leading a rabble of Liberal Democrats and Tory defectors, the SNP, and Plaid Cymru, the odds are not in their favour. What this general election will produce is a stronger Conservative government in the Commons; a party that has rid itself of the flies in its ointment and is free to ignore whatever is decided in the House of Lords tonight. Yet, we are still at the wishful thinking – and this bothers me.
On the Remain and the anti-no-deal side of the Brexit debate, we have developed a tendency to magnify even the slightest glimmers of hope into reasons to believe this Brexit won’t happen. This fallacious logic has become a house we have built on the sand of normalcy – the erroneous and dangerous belief that the conditions which prevail at present will remain the same in the future. Together, these beliefs have conspired to create in our various camps a form of political wishful thinking. What we wish to be true has become a substitute for cold, hard facts and this has begun to colour how we think and act politically. But the effect this is having is terrifying. It is blinding us to what is actually going on and so making it ever more difficult for us to resist.
So, why then does this make me a reluctant ally of Boris Johnson? Well, simply because there are other things going on under the hood. Brexit is being driven by the far-right. So far, Johnson has sapped its energy by sucking up its voter base. Yes, of course, he has only emboldened it by doing this – and this is not a good thing at all, but for the time being, for as long as the Brexit he offers is the only show in town, Johnson – whether wittingly or unwittingly – is the only one holding it at bay. No one else in the London parliament, no politician and no party, has nearly enough support to do this – never mind defeat it. Again, this is something our wishful thinking has blinded us to.
The Conservatives have never been the strongest democrats; they are a reactionary establishment party, willing always to bend the rules and shift the goalposts to conserve the status quo and protect the fortresses of wealth and privilege. But we are making a serious mistake to confuse them with the Brexit Party and its ilk. These parties and their ideologies have much in common, but they are fundamentally different when it comes to their positions on parliamentary democracy. The Tories will use the institutions and structures of representative democracy when it suits them and bend them when it doesn’t. Regardless of their recent authoritarian affectations – ignoring Scotland’s democratic will, the Henry VIII clauses, and Johnson’s suspension of parliament, they are parliamentarians and constitutionalists. They will leave government when defeated.
As populists, the people behind the Brexit Party are another kettle of fish. They claim to be for the people and direct democracy, but never define who ‘the people’ are. We have seen how in Europe they have nothing but contempt for debate, compromise, and representative democracy. The Brexit Party presents itself as a single-issue party, but its MEPs’ résumés reveal the fact that Brexit, to them, is merely the shell casing for their racist and xenophobic far-right agenda. ‘Make Britain Great Again’ means different things to the Conservatives and the Brexit Party. For the Tories this is a fanciful and nostalgic hope of reclaiming the glory days of the empire. For the Brexit Party this is the dream of a British ethno-state and a fascist totalitarian nightmare for the rest of us.
Our wishful thinking here – seeing the Tories and the Brexit Party as one and the same – makes it impossible for us to see the danger we are in. If Boris Johnson is stopped by a rebel alliance which itself does not have the power to take the state – leaving England’s hardline Brexiteers frustrated and ignored, then the Leave vote that has bolstered Johnson in the polls will swing to its Plan B, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party; the thugs who only recently gave us the largest single political party in the history of the European parliament.
Johnson is not my preferred hero. He is a buffoon. A spiteful and nasty racist with an ambition for power well beyond his abilities. He is an uncompromising one-nation Briton whose arrogance threatens the security of Ireland and the peace of the whole of the United Kingdom. His no-deal Brexit will be an unmitigated disaster – and I am in favour of none of this. But we must deal with the facts on the ground: There is no effective opposition to him at Westminster, he will secure a majority, and there is a more dangerous alternative waiting in the wings. Realpolitik is the art of doing politics based on realities rather than ideologies. Ideologically, Johnson and I are poles apart, but we are both very much faced with the same set of terrible realities. Given the way things are and until the prevailing winds change – or until we have independence, there are only two routes left: Johnson’s no-deal Brexit and all the misery that that entails, and Nigel Farage – the final nail in the coffin of British democracy. Wishful thinking won’t make this any different.
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