Saturday 9 September 2017

Remainia and Structural Naivete

London Town rang again with the chants and pounding feet of a march, like it does most weekends. Demonstrations are always coalitions organised around broadly progressive issues, and therefore tend toward a left wing colouration. A good indicator of socialist creds is whether it attracts our friends the paper sellers or not. Less common are mobilisations of the right. The EDL and the Britain First Facebook group tend to avoid central London and strike out for the provinces, which more often than not means a car park on an out-of-town industrial estate. But the Countryside Alliance pulled off mass demonstrations early in His Blairness's reign, reminding us the right can organise extra-parliamentary opposition if the forces favour it. Rarer still are liberal marches. Occasional lobbies of Parliament with a dozen or so participants, yes, but tens of thousands? Breaking with convention and entirely in line with our mixed up politics, today's anti-Brexit demonstration is the third or fourth big demo against leaving the EU. Krazy with a capital K.

Asking why liberalism is on a march (not on the march) seems redundant. It's obvious, innit. 15 months on from the referendum vote, the political establishment are split this way and that. Brexiteers remain divided between indifference to what a hard exit would mean for millions of people as well as Britain's continued economic health, and those who maintain a modicum of good sense. Similarly remainers are found twisting this way and that. Folks who accept the UK has to leave, folks who want to stay in the single market/customs union, folks who by hook and by crook want Britain to stay in the EU, it has all percolated outwards. The referendum and the general election helped politicise millions of people, and what would normally be the province of politicians, wonks, hacks and hangers on (like yours truly) now has a mass audience. If there is a constituency stirred up by something, then a demonstration is a very good way of, well, demonstrating the depth of feeling about it.

Liberalism in the shape of the current fortunes of the Liberal Democrats isn't in tip top shape, but getting 50,000 or so on the streets for Remain will certainly gratify the organisers. And dubbing the politics of the march 'liberal' is amply justified by the speakers and the quality of their contributions. Uncle Vince ponied up to the rostrum as demonstrators ambled into Parliament Square. Fiery oratory will never be associated with the LibDem leader, but no doubt attendees were pleased to hear him attack "the Brexit" the "incompetent, dysfunctional and disunited" Tories are foisting upon us. Can't fault him, but did Vince act with the honesty the LibDems are famed for and remind the crowd his party's position is to honour the outcome of the referendum? I'm sure it slipped his mind. Ed Davey, deservedly ex of Westminster, told the audience that Parliament was against remaining and the odds were stacked against them. What "we" have to do is reach out to leave voters and become a unifying force. Um, when your objective is overturning a divisive referendum result there might be one or two difficulties in "reaching out" to people who fundamentally disagree with your position. Still, you can't but try and our Ed is very trying.

Our good friend Jolyon Maugham was there and gave a speech. Woot! Thankfully he steered away from new party/centre party nonsense and talked about, um, nothing in particular. Whereas Uncle Vince and Davey can get away without saying anything - because their personage and position are tied entirely to their party - JoMo doesn't have that luxury. As C-list commentariat, a sideline to the lawyering day job, he's supposed to say it as he sees it, and chart something of a way forward. What sage advice did he proffer? Um. "Taking responsibility". Apparently, responsibility is different for everyone. To wit; "if you’re a student, maybe volunteer in a care home. If you’re wealthy and a parent send your kids to a state school so they know the lives of others. If you’re an empty nester work with a refugee charity to help another human being live a decent life. Look out for one another. Look local."

It's easy for old hands to snark, but JoMo typifies a trend. Remainia as a movement is incoherent and suffers from structural naivete. It is a sentiment sometimes finding expression in the LibDems, sometimes in Cameroon dregs and Blairist remnants. It marries together dethroned party elites (and their elitist sensibilities) with layers of the liberal intelligentsia who had transferred hope for a better future to the supranational (if not the supranationalism) of the EU, and are entirely at a loss to a) explain what happened, and b) how to recover the situation. To make matters worse, while 50k is indicative of a certain level of mass support they're squeezed between the growing might of Corbynism and the passive, large but declining support for the Tories. It is a constituency unmoored and cut adrift from polarising politics. Hence they grasp after the EU's comfort blanket just as it is yanked out of reach. Without it and in the absence of a vehicle for liberalism, like a LibDem insurgency or Dave and Blair on the rise, we see confusion become confusionism, and its outbreak across the mediascape as narcissism and cluelessness.

All told, folks attending today's march enjoyed a good day out. A few snaps were shared and selfies taken, friends made, virtue signalled and duly signalled back. Yet none would have come away with a sense of direction. Purpose perhaps, but not what to do next. It's a good job there'll be another demo in the Spring.


jim mclean said...

But they are right as isolationism is a prefect base for fascism

Phil said...

It takes much more than isolationism. Look at Hungary and Austria. Fully integrated into the EU and the far right on the rise. Still.

Chrisso said...

Well of course it's always easy to sneer! But there are more 'Remain' rallies planned for forthcoming party conferences and yesterday's event was also on the front pages of European newspapers, in Spain, Holland, France etc. I think that whilst this one was backed by the sad LibDems, as time goes on you will find that more are backed by trades unions and the Labour movemnent. Who will seem 'naive' then?

Jonathan said...

Phil they are protesting against something that will cripple our economy and all you can do is sneer. Says it all really.

Frankie D. said...

If you're going to complain about "virtue signalling", then you have to admit that you've become a twat.

Steph said...

Structural naivete, huh! Blairites, huh! This piece of rhetorical nonsense consists entirely of lobbing insult after insult at anyone who recognises how damaging Brexit will be. As it has no thoughtful content whatsoever, it doesn't deserve any more comment than that.

Phil said...

Complaining and noting are two different things.

But as it happens virtue signalling is a thing and you find it most frequently among liberals and the internet travelling far right. Different politics but what they both share is an elitist disdain for normal people, and don't they show it by, yes, virtue signalling and their contemptuous narcissism.

Phil said...

Liberals hate structural analysis. Especially when they're on the receiving end.

Anonymous said...

Brexit will be bad, great insight peeps.

But the "comfortable centre" are the very worst people to expect to combat it, given their fundamental role in bringing it about.

JGiftmacher said...

I'd be a bit more cautious about labeling this liberal in the sense it's Libdem or old Blairite driven. A good portion of the confusion is because the EU ref reached across a number of camps.

I myself am decidedly left (ludicrously labeled "hard left" by modern standards) but I'm still remain. Not in the Jo sense, which seems aimlessly sneering and angry, but in the "I don't like the potential for crushing the shit out of the bottom five deciles" sense. Similarly, as a democrat I see the whole issue for how the powerful have hollowed out and rotted away a large portion of our democracy. Following through, particularly on small margins looks set to erode matters further as the cost seems set to be high.

You are correct, that regardless of motivation, "remaining" seems devoid of positive direction. Blair, oblivious to what likely caused this mess has revved up a bit of anti-immigration rhetoric as reassurance. The LibDems... well I'm not sure more of the same is going to win the day either. And then there's the remaniacs: hellbent on telling everyone they're idiots and Randian fantasies of the blowback crushing the livelihoods of millions.

It's a broad church, and not a pretty one. No bugger is prepared to present a positive vision and so all the dregs seem to fight it out. Curiously, a strategy that worked well for the decidedly right wing leavers, but a poor rebuttal and one that leaves a good portion reluctant remainers. Particularly in the labour party lots of ordinary members are wondering how we will ever unpick this mess without massive blowback (either democratically or economically).

Still, you have to hand it to the tories, who knew they would so spectacularly export their own existential nightmare to everyone else? They finally got Brits to really give a toss about europe, but typically for them, in all the wrong ways.

Speedy said...

Your structural thing doesn't really add up though, does it? Leave won by a couple of per cent, which could have easily been swung on lies about the NHS, the lack of Labour's pro-Remain campaign, or simply protest.

More to the point, the people who voted for it are on their way out - a once in a lifetime generation of selfish, ignorant bastards that never had it so good, or will again. It is perfectly conceivable that within a decade the UK will be pleading to be let in again (or at least EEA). Whether this is granted or not, is, of course, another matter.

Andrew King said...

"A few snaps were shared and selfies taken, friends made, virtue signalled and duly signalled back." Kudos for a devastatingly accurate parody of professional contrarian, Brendan O'Neill.

Seriously, though, I didn't go to this Remain demo, but I went to an earlier one. If you like, I'll plead guilty to naivety. I did naively believe that politics was about engaging, trying to change minds and support allies, rather than pretending to "respect" policies I fundamentally disagree with. Since people voted in two austerity-supporting governments in recent years, should I also get over my naive anti-austerity preference and respect the fact that austerity must have been really popular with everybody except for a few out-of-touch Islington virtue-signallers?

Or maybe we could simply apply Occam's Razor and accept that most people protesting against things like austerity and Brexit are probably just doing it because they think they're really bad ideas, rather than as part of some elaborate display of moral and social one-upmanship?

Anonymous said...

Even if we accept your "argument", a majority never voted for the Tory party which has foisted austerity on us.

A majority, however, *did* vote to leave the EU.

I also detest Brexit, but this is incontrovertible.

Andrew King said...

I’d like to address three points raised by Anonymous:

1. “A majority, however, *did* vote to leave the EU.”

So? Let’s park the specific question of EU membership for a moment and do a thought experiment about referendums in general. The death penalty was abolished 1965 in Great Britain (1973 in Northern Ireland). Although this got through Parliament, polling data showed a majority of the population were still in favour of the death penalty for quite a few years after the law had changed. Just suppose this question had been settled by referendum instead. After a pro-death-penalty win, should the anti crowd have simply accepted the result and stopped campaigning to change minds? Personally, I don’t think so, although you’re welcome to disagree.

2. “a majority never voted for the Tory party which has foisted austerity on us.”

Yes, especially in the coalition years (the distortions of FPP are a whole other can of worms). But my point wasn’t that I actually believe that most people are pro-austerity. My point was that people have a limited, sometimes opaque, set of options when voting and what parties subsequently claim they voted for isn’t necessarily what they thought they were voting for.

This was certainly the case in the coalition years and is true with knobs on for the referendum. Not only were the waters muddied by the specific lies (£350 million a week for the NHS, etc), but the whole framing of the choice ensured such a disconnect. Leave had no manifesto for a specific course of action, just a wish (to leave the EU). When pressed on the specifics of how this was going to happen, they were free to cite any number of different, and mutually contradictory, ways that this might be done (still in the Customs Union, maybe out, probably in the Single Market, or perhaps still in, we'll be just like Norway, or did we mean Singapore, whatever, it'll all be great, honest). The greatest failing of the Remain campaign, Remain politicians and the press was to allow them to cherry pick the best bits of all these incompatible scenarios and pretend that we could roll them all up into one, easy, trouble-free exit, without pinning them down to committing to any specific plan for achieving their only goal.

3. Putting scare quotes around the word “argument” isn’t a valid counter-argument. You need to be more specific.

Anonymous said...

The answer to "what if people voted to restore capital punishment in a referendum?" is simple - don't ever have one.

We should never have had a referendum on the EU either, but the PM of the day thought otherwise - and almost all MPs ultimately voted for one (including many who claim to "stand up for the 48%" now)

Now that it has happened, the result can't just be ignored unfortunately.