Brexit exposes fascism
In a short letter to the Financial Times, Simon Crosby said that the Roman Tacitus reported how Britons would seek to escape by walking into bogland until they were up to their necks in mud.
Crosby then says, referring to the Brexit referendum: “We just did it again.”
It’s a nice quote, but there’s a more complex picture behind the shocking results that saw the UK pass a non-binding referendum on leaving the EU last week. The real story behind the referendum and the result cannot be boiled down to a backlash against globalization and integration and a desire to reclaim national sovereignty, as commentator James Wang (王景弘) has argued (“Parallels between Brexit and Taiwan,” June 29, page 8).
His link between Brexit and the desire of Taiwanese youth not to have their nation annexed by China is nonsensical, since at no point has the EU threatened to invade the UK in the name of unifying Europe. Wang’s analysis is a misplaced reach to apply an analogy where it does not fit.
Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron had promised a referendum on EU membership should he win the last general election last year as a means to blindside a rising UK Independence Party that was eating into the more right-wing base of his party’s support.
The idea was to cement his own authority within the party and nullify the rising challenge to his leadership by former London mayor Boris Johnson. The EU referendum was a device to settle an internecine dispute between two factions of the Conservative Party.
There was no need for a referendum and the result of it would have no constitutionally binding effect like the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. It would have a democratic effect though that would make the result hard to ignore for Westminster’s political class.
Ultimately, if the leave camp won, the government would still have to decide whether to activate Article 50 to formally notifying the EU of the UK’s intent to leave.
The result of the referendum was that 52 percent of a turnout of 71.8 percent voted to leave and 48 percent voted to remain in the EU. That means the decision to leave the EU was passed by a “majority” of 37.3 percent of the total electorate.
Two-thirds of Scottish National Party and Labour Party voters chose to remain. Fifty-eight percent of Conservative voters chose leave. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted remain, as did London and a number of other big cities. England as a whole voted to leave.
Lord Ashcroft polls indicate that voters aged 18 to 44 chose to remain, while most older than 45 voted to leave, but turnout by older voters was far greater.
Educated and politically engaged voters chose to remain in the EU by a large margin.
The campaign for the referendum was possibly one of the most divisive, misinformed, racially charged and violent political events in British voting history.
Labour Party member of parliament Jo Cox was murdered by a British nationalist for defending the rights of migrants and refugees.
A much touted claim that ￡350 million [US$464.9 million] per week sent to the EU would be spent on the UK National Health Service instead was not only false, but swiftly walked back after the result.
The question of immigration became a dominant issue, with a number of voters thinking that they were voting to deport all immigrants.
Following the result, Britain has seen a 500 percent increase in xenophobic acts of hate, including threats and physical assaults. It increasingly appears that many voters had no idea of the wider economic and political impact of leaving the EU.
The entire campaign and the outcome has been a multi-directional omni-shambles that has severely damaged the UK’s reputation, credibility, political stability and economy. There is no doubt that a majority of British print and broadcast media are directly responsible for the negative and ignorant tone and content of the campaign.
When people are faced with a constant barrage of fear, smears, lies, hysteria and extremism, it is no wonder that many end up voting as a protest against “the lot of them,” even though they were in effect, with Cameron’s resignation, only swapping a right-wing government for the rule of an even more right-wing faction. The referendum became a very English act of needless self defenestration.
In this context I understand and support Scotland and Wales seeking full independence from a increasingly toxic English political framework and cultural atmosphere.
Professor Ismael Hossein-Zadeh argues that fascism is a recurring symptom of capitalism in its extreme phases of inequality and germs of it are intrinsic to capitalism as are periodic economic crises. It is “a social-political strategy or tool employed to simultaneously pacify the discontented public and fend off radical, socialistic developments.”
The leave campaign succeeded because it provided an outlet for venting discontent with a right-wing neo-liberal consensus that had patronized and abandoned the electorate while simultaneously punishing them with austerity.
The leave camp channeled that frustration into anger at refugees and the EU, rather than the elites whose policies and ideology created the economic conditions ripe for a reactionary nationalistic backlash.
The EU referendum was a political heist implemented by the British right wing to dismantle continental institutional barriers to expanding policies that would allow ever greater wealth extraction and inequality. It was a cynical, vicious ploy in which the turkeys were told that they could fly like eagles if only they would vote for Christmas.
The result is an emboldening of a long-dormant English fascism, allowed to rise proudly to the surface and claim a popular mandate.
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