The EU referendum has unleashed a host of profoundly unpleasant things. Nigel Farage being happy. Louise Mensch being happy. Katie Hopkins being happy. Basically, obnoxious bigots being happy. But worse than that, it has created an immigration-hating monster that is laying waste to the political centre ground, spreading across Westminster like a plague of turds. If mainstream political parties aren’t willing to stand up for immigration and open borders, the Brexit vote could leave us all with a much nastier, much poorer kind of society.
The monster spawned by the anti-immigration, anti-establishment, anti-fact rhetoric has been a so far unstoppable force. Visually it looks like the Predator has been dressed in a tweed jacket and given pint glasses full of human brains to down. Its prey of choice is any kind of mainstream political lifeform, but the more it eats the more it needs. Even all the bendy bananas we expatriated from the faceless Eurocrats of Brussels cannot sate its lust for political egotists.
In short, Faragenstein’s immigration hating monster is extremely angry and extremely hungry, and as anyone who has been simultaneously angry and hungry will tell you, it is the most dangerous mental state imaginable. Bad things happen. You say things you’d never normally dream of, and do things that are even worse. You take out enormous and unaffordable Wonga loans in the queue at KFC. You periscope yourself stealing food from the mouths of tramps and babies to both the police and every single person you once hoped you might sleep with. You vote to leave the EU even though you know deep down it ranks alongside leaving a Trump supporter with a crate of Stella and an assault rifle in the race for ‘Worst Idea of 2016’.
And that is where we find ourselves in July 2016, with the shockwaves of Brexit rapidly tearing their way through political life as we once knew it, all the way back in the heady days of June 2016. First Cameron, then Boris, Farage, Gove and now Leadsom. Each marinaded in hubris for years but devoured instantly in a remorseless public feast. Some, like Boris, then brought back in zombie form to extricate the UK from its economically prosperous relationship with the EU.
As enjoyable as some of those departures were, this period is opening up a deeply uncertain time in politics. These high profile casualties are mere emblems for some of the bigger political changes in motion since the 23rd June. The Conservatives have a more right-wing cabinet than before the referendum, and Labour are in complete meltdown. The early indications suggest centre ground of politics could give way to the anti-immigration movements of the right wing.
Politics is so fully through the looking glass that there is no point in making predictions. In the time it would take to predict what will happen with Brexit, Tim Farron will be ousted from the leadership of the Labour Party, a position won in a raffle at a village fete, before becoming the surprise winner of Love Island. The last month of politics has completely debunked the entire notion of mathematical probability.
But if we consider a range of plausible scenarios, each sees yet further political carnage and deposed leaders. And at the end of all of them, UKIP, or whatever dark force grows from its ashes, looks like the victor. Let’s consider just a few.
May’s Sword of Damocles
A hot contender for the Feast of Brexit is Theresa May, who we should at this point congratulate on becoming Prime Minister. This is partly because it’s a fine achievement, and partly because her welcome present is the ticking time-bomb marked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. She should make sure she enjoys the first few nights in no.10, before the baying hoards turn up outside with their pitchforks.
May’s choice is fairly stark, and resembles the choice of which pile of dog shit she’d most like to tread in. It is basically a choice of immigration vs the economy. She can desert the principles of Brexit, either by not doing it at all, or through a Soft Brexit of an exit deal which includes retaining freedom of movement and access to the European Economic Area (EEA) much like the arrangement we are leaving. Or she can Hard Brexit, leaving the EEA and gaining greater control on immigration and the cost of a functioning economy, at the very least in the short to medium term. So, she can screw the right of the Tory party membership, or she can screw the economy, but it is hard to avoid doing at least one of those things.
Three possible scenarios are as follows:
- May goes for a Soft Brexit and gets the best deal economically for Britain – full access to the European Economic Area (EEA). She saves the UK’s financial services sector and avoids an economic crash, for the small price of accepting freedom of movement. The right of the Tory Party, along with UKIP, scream betrayal, and with their business interests bolstered by a recovering economy the Mail and the Sun are free to torpedo her career. The Deportamentor feasts heartily on her brain and leopard print shoes.
- May goes for Hard Brexit, and ditches complete access to the EEA in exchange for control over immigration. The right wing are satisfied, UKIP creams its collective pants, but the financial sector promptly decamps to Paris, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, plunging the UK into economic chaos. New trade deals signed with other countries either don’t emerge quickly enough, or can’t compensate for the loss of jobs and business. As people lose their jobs and have their homes repossessed, the press hound May into the slobbery, chomping jaws of Govezilla.
- May backtracks totally on Brexit, because she is ultimately a rational person incapable of doing things that are totally mental, and order returns to the economy. But a lot of people feel very betrayed, and as with scenario A, with their business interests now safer, the right wing press can feed May directly into the burning Eye of Dacre as punishment for her betrayal.
In fact, the only plausible scenario in which May survives is the one in which the EU allows her a miracle, with Brexit, full access to the EEA, controls on immigration and a lower membership fee than we previously paid as full members. While good news for May, this would be very bad news for Juncker, Tusk and the leaders of EU countries with thriving anti-immigration scenes. Tyrannosaurus Brex would be on the next Eurostar to Brussels hastily rescheduling his 5:2 diet regime ahead of a big continental political buffet.
But this scenario basically just exports our political problems to the EU, which is why it feels unlikely and also no less concerning. The idea of any kind of further anti-immigration sentiment taking hold in France, Austria or Germany now is a very bleak one. None of these scenarios seem to end well.
Labour’s Love Lost
Labour has emerged from the referendum in the most impossible of situations. Corbyn has the support of nearly all members and virtually no MPs. The MPs have the support, in theory, of 9m voters but a minority of the members. Neither side seems willing to compromise at all. Corbyn can’t lead the party in such circumstances and nor can anyone else.
It is a scenario so logically impenetrable it is surely destined to end up as a question posed by decrepit academics in future Oxbridge interviews. There seems no escape other than the slow demise of the Labour Party in its current form. It feels like a political version of a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book where the only ending is curling up in a ball with a whiskey and capsule of cyanide. The only real options are now for Labour to choose how they get there.
I’ve written before about the Corbyn Experiment, and it’s safe to say that voting to leave the EU did not feature heavily in many people’s visions of how Corbyn might one day emerge as a Prime Minister. His endorsements for the EU were at best lukewarm, and his polling numbers – 8 points behind a Tory party that has just plunged the entire country into chaos – are the only thing in the known universe making the 2016 performance of sterling look positive.
With the possibility of a general election on the horizon, a leadership challenge perhaps looked like the only conceivable option for the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). That said, their coup has been shamefully amateur, and one of the candidates chosen to take on Corbyn – Angela Eagle – has a mountain ahead of her. Having voted for the Iraq war, and then voted opposing an Inquiry into the Iraq war, her task is what government mandarins might describe as ‘challenging’. Owen Smith doesn’t have Iraq on his CV, but in entering the race he has split the anti-Corbyn challenge.
If Eagle or Smith loses, it is difficult to see how the Labour Party can remain a credible political party. Which is why, when the stakes are so high, it is curious that she was the one of the best candidates that could be mustered. Because let’s just pause briefly to contemplate the launch of Eagle’s campaign.
The absolute state of that campaign launch.
It looked like a bad day time TV discussion programme, and that was before everyone left to go and report on some real news. As she stood upon the stage, monotoning to reveal a total void of any policy substance, she exuded all the charisma of a DFS sofa. Her hot pink union jack campaign branding, designed to convey the fact she is a woman, and that you should be probably vote for her because being a woman is good, had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The pink scrawled handwriting spelling out “Angelu” looked like the design for a new range of industrial strength sanitary towels. Angelu: She’s so comfortable you won’t even know she’s there.
But moving back to the leadership race, there are only two immediate scenarios to contemplate
- Corbyn wins. In this instance, the party would have no credibility and would surely have to split. Corbyn would be unable to even staff a shadow cabinet, making the business of opposition impossible. A messy divorce would seem so inevitable the only material question would be about who keeps the cat.
- If Eagle, Smith or another PLP challenger wins, then hundreds of thousands of members will leave overnight. It is hard to imagine Eagle or Smith winning back Labour’s lost heartlands any more so than Corbyn. There will be a choice to make about Labour’s stance on immigration – a choice between cedeing the argument on freedom of movement in an attempt to win back some votes, or to stay true to the Party’s values and maintain a pro-open borders stance. Whichever they choose, people are going to get angry and votes will spill out of the side one way or the other. Perhaps a new party, possibly led by Momentum, will be born and Labour’s already fractured vote will fracture further. Perhaps not, but it’s hard to see Labour averting its downward trajectory with an uninspiring leader, this time shorn of large portions of its grassroots activism.
And the real winner is…
These are bleak days for anyone in the centre-right to the centre-left of politics. It’s of course possible that the above scenarios can be avoided. The Brexit worms put back in their can. But from my perspective, the signs are all pointing one way: to further support for anti-immigration politics.
Human lizard and UKIP-donor Aaron Banks – while awaiting his psychopath test – recently announced plans for a new political party, even further to the right than UKIP. This would be a grassroots movement, presumably designed to motivate people into right-wing political activism by injecting triple-distilled rage directly into their brain stems.
Whatever happens with Brexit, it will likely be further fuel for their fire. Keeping freedom of movement will create a sense of establishment betrayal, a highly potent source of anger. Ditching freedom of movement will legitimise their long held position and allow them to focus on other immigrant communities it wants to restrict entry to, or even worse, deport. If Labour does split or recede as a party, then there will be plenty of votes to hoover up.
The rest of this scenario starts very quickly to look like a dystopian nightmare. Play it forward far enough and at some point decades in the future the son of David Miliband will send back the Gove T100 to the year 2010 to defeat Ed Miliband and the Brexit T1000 with a bacon sandwich.
Taking Back Control
Which is why, even though politics is so baffling, so disconcerting, so unappealing right now, it’s vital someone makes the case for immigration. We’ve previously published our wholehearted defence of immigration. Tony Blair once said that the future of politics is not left vs right, but open vs closed. This now feels eerily prescient. We need mainstream political parties to make a positive argument for immigration, possibly in some kind of grand alliance of the left and centre left.
There is a common refrain that metropolitan elites, which seems to just mean anyone who lives in London and prefers their news to be based on facts, are “out of touch”. But look at the facts and it is clear it is the Brexiters who are out of touch, not just with the country but with reality. We know that EU migrants are a net fiscal positive to the economy. We know that our health system and construction industry, to say nothing of the miserable precarious jobs picking fruit on farms, depend on immigrants. We know that with an ageing society we will continue to need immigrants to keep us afloat in the future. We know that the areas least affected by immigration were some of those most likely to vote to Leave, and vice versa.
In a post-fact world, it is hard for these mere truths to be accepted by people who have been conditioned to hate by a right wing media. But someone has to try, and that someone has to be the political centre-ground.
Whoever is in government must also take seriously concerns that immigration stretches scare public resources and infrastructure. While ridiculous vanity projects like HS2 and Trident create the real stretch on our infrastructure, rises in populations, either through the birth rate or through immigration, require composite improvements to the capacity of infrastructure. Dedicated funds are required to fund extra infrastructure and services in areas where there are gaps opening up because of immigration.
It may also be time for Labour to face facts. The lost heartlands may never be won back. The disenfranchised blue collar workers and forgotten post-industrial communities may never be persuaded by Labour in the 21st century. Making a compromise on immigration, which is not the cause of problems in these communities, would be a cowardly and self-defeating way out. If these voters can’t be won back within the vague realms of what the Labour Party is supposed to be about, why not make a decisive tilt towards support for immigration, and focus on winning over and engaging the youth vote. These voters are the future and Labour needs to be aligned to them.
Perhaps the paradox here is that while a passionate defence of immigration is needed, we also need to shift the discussion away from immigration. At a macro level, it is not a substantive issue for the country. Right now, the best thing a political party could do would be to persuade people of the real cause of their long wait for a GP appointment, their congested roads or their over-subscribed school, because it isn’t immigration. Labour and the Greens have tried, but we need to double down on these efforts. In defending immigration, we also need to point the finger at the real culprits. The tax evaders, the predatory businesses, the austerity economics of the last 6 years, the callous disregard for the human cost in post-industrial communities created by globalisation. These are the real villains, and we can’t let Brexit continue to destroy the factions of political debate able to make that case.
*Caption Credit – Tim Stanley