Tuesday 2 July 2019

On the Brexit Party Protest

They might turn their backs when Ode to Joy is played, but they certainly won't turn their backs on the salaries, perks, and very generous expense accounts. Nevertheless, the Brexit Party's miserable stunt in Strasbourg earlier can be considered an unqualified success. It led the news across all channels, upset swathes of people they like upsetting (liberals, centrists, leftwingers), and no doubt provide for a frisson of smug satisfaction among the BXP fraternity sat at home. Indeed, in another context and with quite different politics involved, the likes of Nigel Farage and his right wing cheerleaders might call it an example of virtue signalling. For instance, I wonder what they made of Liberal Democrat MEPs who sat there during their silly little protest wearing 'Bollocks to Brexit' t-shirts?

Yes, it was disrespectful of EU institutions, and yes it does remind the bloc of nations of how petty minded and unserious the UK can be. A reminder set to be repeated once Boris Johnson is installed in Number 10 and tries negotiating his fantasy land Brexit deal. But in and of itself, there is nothing inherently wrong with parliamentary protests, and trying to present BXP as illegitimate because they've clowned around in one (what they call "cheerful defiance") is short-sighted and daft. So folks trying to draw links between BXP and the Nazis by drawing parallels between today's antics with Nazi deputies turning their backs to the Reichstag speaker in 1926, aren't terribly helpful. It certainly drives outraged tweets to outraged audiences and reminds them of how awful Farage and his private, limited company are, but it's not about to make anyone change their minds and their votes.

Far from there being nothing wrong per se with protests in parliament, there is something of a tradition of them in this country. Last June, the SNP walked out en bloc in protest against John Bercow's decision to bar Ian Blackford from parliament for the day. Lloyd Russell-Moyle, John McDonnell, and Michael Heseltine(!) respectively interrupted proceedings by half-inching the mace. As lately as April, members of the public glued themselves, semi-naked to the security screen. Fathers 4 Justice famously lobbed a powder bomb at His Blairness as he stood at the despatch box, pro-hunt protesters stormed the Commons, and most spectacularly of all lesbians abseiled into the House of Lords back in 1988 protesting against Section 28. Whether you agree or disagree with the causes protested, they are part of the warp and weft of democratic politics and a reminder it is always something more than votes and speeches.

The truth of the matter is efforts to delegitimise BXP as a political actor is going to have to come from somewhere else. They got the highest vote during the EU elections, and that is legitimacy enough for its supporters. Appealing to an imagined shared reverence for constitutionalism isn't going to cut the mustard among people for whom it assumes zero importance. It means being creative and thinking about who its base are and the interests it articulates. If we can understand them, then we can beat them.


Dipper said...

Much debate in my Leaver circle. Most against it; 'pathetic and unhelpful' was one view.

I disagree. I think the EU turning into a state is an abomination and they were right to show their displeasure. Those picture for the 30s of the England football team giving the nazi salute are shameful, and I would think Brexiteers standing in recognition of the EU state to be similarly shameful but clearly a coupe of orders of magnitude down.

The EU is turning into the exact opposite of what was intended due to a failure to understand the origins of the rise of nazism. Germany did not push out, it was sucked out by Germans outside the borders of Germany wishing for reunification and giving them the chance to dominate their neighbours. It is no coincidence that Hitler was not German, but Austrian.

Similarly, the structure that was intended to be a brake on German nationalism has now become the vehicle for a rampant central European nationalism, complete with threats to neighbours and talk of Empire. Maniacal politicians from small countries who would ordinarily have never seen any international exposure are now sensing they can ride the tiger of German economic power to achieve previously undreamt of domination.

It is important that those clustering round the institutions of the EU proto-superstate understand that many people really don't like this at all.

It is critical for people to understand that the EU is not in a stable state. The tensions between centre and periphery, state and EU institutions cannot continue indefinitely without some kind of resolution. Resolution around a superstate will bring conflict and oppression.Proponents of it have already shown a repeated contempt for democracy (overturning referenda) and the fate of citizens within it (Greece). The most dangerous people in the world are politicians from small nations who think they can use the military and economic muscle of superpowers to address their local grievances. The EU is full of them. Support it at your peril.

Speedy said...

Hello Dipper. Well, if there is one thing more than any guaranteed to transform the EU into an imperial project it is Brexit - the UK has explicitly acted as a break on these ambitions, with the UK gone there will be little to stop it, although I think your view of another German empire is a bit behind the times.

This is why Brexit was again against the UK interest - it was the perfect cuckoo in the European nest, cherry-picking the best things and disrupting its federalising impulse. The classic Yes Minister sketch wasn't far off.

But why the continued loathing? The Brexiters have got what they want - it seems to me more that they need to continue to have something to hate, or like Colley said in her history "Britons" to define themselves against (in that case, the French, for which the EU is now a stand-in).

It is interesting that the two Western nations to have avoided historical fascism have now fallen for a version thereof - Trump's US and the UK's Brexit Party. The great irony is that democracy, as we grew up understanding it, is finished - and finishing more quickly in the Anglosphere, manipulated by populist demagogues, than in any imperial Europe.

In Europe, the parliament is forever cleaving for more power and accountability. In both the UK and US, incredibly un-democratic, distorted systems (by EU standards) are no longer fit for purpose.

You are quite right - there are many, many problems with the EU but it is much more likely to weather the profoundly dangerous (and profoundly undemocratic) direction of modern history than the UK (small, free market). I think this is recognised by the fact that, regardless of their diversity, the European countries have shown a united front against the UK.

You may be on the winning side of the argument, but you are on the wrong side of history.

Anonymous said...

After 40 years the EU was fed up with the whingeing Brits and the Brits got fed up with the EU. Change from within was clearly not possible, and each sovereign country must put its own needs and people first. As for being on the wrong side of history, no one knows - but usually the answer depends on perspective. My view is that the choice is between working for someone else (in the EU) or working for yourself (out of the EU). Both have charm, but my preference is out.