Monday 25 September 2023

Four Points on the Rejoin March

Four quick points on the national Rejoin march that took place in London on Saturday.

1. The politics of the march haven;t moved on from the second referendum/hard remain demonstrations of the Brexit wars. The list of speakers were a mix of social media celebrities, grifters, and complete unknowns. There were no prominent voices save those already associated with the movement (Gina Miller, Guy Verhofstadt), and not even an obscure Labour, Liberal Democrat, or SNP backbencher could be found to offer a soup├žon of official gravitas. This is because, presently, the Rejoin movement is politically spent. At one point hundreds of thousands were involved because of their visceral disgust at the Leave campaign's lies, and also in rebellion against what the referendum told them: that their idea of a progressive consensus - the official ideology of the professional managerial class you might say - did not have as wider purchase as their social circles led them to believe. But more importantly, despite these sentiments and motives for grassroots involvement, the elite forces that funded the coaches and paid event organisers to put on the big demonstrations were less interested in rejoining the EU. Their focus was breaking up Corbynism.

2. This helps explain the lack of media interest. Also in London last Saturday, a few hundred XL Bully owners gathered to protest against government efforts to ban the breed. They received more coverage from the BBC and Sky than the yellow and blue army bopping along the streets to EU Supergirl's greatest hits and the bellows of Steve Bray set to repetitive beats. Divisions among the Tories over the EU have been settled, while Keir Starmer pretends he had nothing to do with trying to overturn Brexit. Ever the client media and with (nearly) all of capital's eggs in his basket as the next Prime Minister, they can be relied upon not to make matters too difficult for the powerful and so bang on about his recent history. But the march did attract the attention of foreign media, notably French, Belgian, and German outlets. And why wouldn't it? They're not interested in a row about dangerous dogs, but that there's still a constituency for returning to the EU after the bullshit of Brexit - that's newsworthy and interesting as far as their editorial offices are concerned.

3. Between 3,000 and 40,500 people took to the streets, depending on who you believe. According to folks who were there, the turnout wasn't different to the last national mobilisation in October last year. That indicates the movement has a stable core, even if it has been abandoned by its establishment backers of old. But it also suggests it's not attracting new layers either. From what I can gather, the composition of the march was mostly professional managerial/middle class types. Trade union banners were not in evidence. If you wanted to be unkind, you could say it was the Lib Dem base LARPing as angry, annoyed demonstrators. And just as that party has proved unable to expand its support beyond certain limits, we find the street expression of its politics suffering from an identical difficulty.

4. But it probably won't always be like this. There is an overlap between Rejoin's constituency, the Lib Dems, and Starmer's base. What's more, despite the very best efforts of the shadow front bench at dampening down expectations, people will be expecting an incoming Labour government to fix public services, to see an end to penny-pinching politics, and making simple things like getting a doctor's appointment and having a passport arrive on time happen. Disappointment is bound to translate into opposition, and because of the state the Tories are in both the Lib Dems and the Greens are well placed to profit from Starmer's difficulties. But there's no reason to believe that pro-European politics won't become another axis of opposition a Labour government will face. Despite burying his record, significant sections of the Labour vote are expecting steps back towards the EU. Some might have fooled themselves into thinking that Starmer's ruling out of single market and custom union membership and dismissal of the associate member status being floated in French and German government circles is electoral expediency, but they will be gutted when they find out his no really means no. At best there will be tinkering, not unlike the recent return to Horizon and Rishi Sunak's fiddling with the Northern Ireland Protocol. And when that penny drops, don't be too surprised if the voices clamouring for a return to the EU or a second referendum becomes a repository that condenses a certain kind of discontent.


Duncan said...

As Anthony Barnett says, and said in a Culture Power & Politics two years ago, Britain needs - must - to return to the EU, but that won't be Britain, it will be an independent Scotland, independent Wales and independent England within the EU.
70-80% of Labour members and voters are in favour of rejoin, so I think there mey well be some movement there in the future. I really don't think the Paris photo ops were for nothing.
As a member of Another Europe is Possible, and having been at the Culture, Power Politics in June (I asked the question about Green party), the 'noise' about rejoin, and the polling at around 60% for rejoin - as Richard Corbett says - opinion polls tend to be fikle - the consistent rise in polling for rejoin isn't fickle and is powered by younger cohorts (Anthony Barnett's argument again).
As a left wing person am fully supportive of this movement.

Anonymous said...

Rejoin is politically untouchable at the present time, because the hard core of Leave will always vote on that single issue, no matter how bad the state of the country (they never need much persuading that it's all the EU's fault). Whereas most of the rest can be persuaded that we have more immediate problems - especially when no major party is offering a hint of rejoin hope.

Longer term, it's a different story. What are the exact demographics of hardline Leave...? Almost certainly skewed very old, and they will die off long before there's any hint of their imagined "sunlit uplands". Large numbers of younger people are already extremely aware that their best interests were gleefully thrown under a bus by Leave, and so in theory rejoin should be an easy sell to them, once it becomes politically possible.

JN said...

Just personally:

Whenever I hear Sunak, Braverman, Truss, Rees-Mogg, Johnson, etc.... It makes me want to vote Labour.

But whenever I hear Starmer, Reeves, Streeting, etc... It makes me want to vote Green.

But in reality my vote doesn't fucking matter because we have such a shitty and unrepresentative electoral system.

Welcome to Britain, ostensibly a democracy, but effectively an oligarchy.

Anonymous said...


Just in case this advice is useful to you...

Check the records for your constituency.

If it's a Tory marginal, then hold your nose and vote for whoever is most likely to beat the Tories.

If it's not a Tory marginal, but it is a Labour marginal, then hold your nose and vote for whoever (except the Tories) is most likely to beat Labour.

Otherwise, vote for whoever you like.

(Similar advice would apply for the wretched Lib Dems, but there's nobody else left to vote for at this point other than the Greens anyway).

Best you can do under this electoral system, other than try to move to a less decrepit country.