by Frank Schnittger
Sun Dec 8th, 2019 at 01:53:46 AM EST
I used to write quite a lot about US politics - about 65 stories on the European Tribune alone. And then Trump got elected and I could face it no longer. Say what you like about the legitimacy of his election, but the very fact that a guy like that could get elected doesn't fill me with much hope for the USA as an advanced polity. And why write about him when so many there are much more qualified to do so?
I came of age politically through meeting some South African anti-Apartheid activists who inspired me to do my masters thesis on Apartheid. I couldn't bring myself to visit their country until Mandela was freed and elected President. I did not want to become complicit in the Apartheid regime by visiting the country while I would still enjoy the privileges of a white European under Apartheid. I feel almost as bad about visiting the USA now: lots of great people, but the system absolutely sucks.
And now, having written 170 stories on Brexit, I am beginning to wonder whether my interest in writing about the UK will survive a Boris Johnson victory in this weeks general election. Any country which could vote for Boris Johnson as its leader has to be seriously f*cked up... And yet all you hear and read in the media commentary about the election is of self-proclaimed former Labour voters deciding to vote for Boris because they can't stand Corbyn.
What is it they can't stand about Corbyn when he has been (a relative) voice for moderation and reason in an increasingly dysfunctional, corrupt and disintegrating political system?
I agree he isn't particularly telegenic or charismatic. His age and very urban London roots probably count against him. His tortured attempts to keep both Remainers and Leavers on board within the Labour party always seemed destined to fail. But isn't that precisely what the UK needs right now - someone who can rise above division and bring a bitterly divided nation together again?
Leavers seem to suspect him of being a closet Remainer while Remainers suspect the reverse. But he followed the establishment line of campaigning for Remain and then accepted the result of the referendum as politically binding. His solution was to advocate for a soft Brexit which would keep the UK's economic relationships with the EU as intact as possible while respecting and implementing the vote for Leave: Very much a centrist establishment response to a difficult situation.
And yet he is pilloried from all sides as an extremist when it is the pro-Brexit side which have been becoming ever more extreme in their pronouncements and policy stances. Corbyn was anti-Apartheid, anti-climate change, anti-Iraq war, pro-LGBT rights and pro-united Ireland before it was either fashionable or mainstream to be so, and yet his positions then, have become the political centre ground now. Are people angry at him now for proving them wrong then?
It wasn't Corbyn who said f*ck business, starve the Irish into submission, Muslims are bank-robbers and letterboxes, the EU is the new Soviet Union, or the Brexit negotiations would be the easiest trade negotiation of all time, and yet he is the extremist with a limited grasp of reality?
I appreciate there has been a sustained media campaign against him and even the BBC has disgraced itself, but that has been the case with pretty much every Labour leader since the beginning of the last century. It is probably delusional to think that a more "reasonable", "moderate", or "centrist" Labour leader would fare much differently. But what seems to be different now is that all semblance of class solidarity is breaking down and even those traditional Labour voters who withstood the Tory hype before are succumbing to it now.
The opinion polls have tightened slightly but the Tories still hold a clear 10% lead in the average of recent polls - enough to win an overall majority if translated into actual votes - given the idiocies of the archaic first past the post electoral system. It may be that pollsters are using models which do not take sufficient account of new or occasional voters who may be motivated to turn out by the inanities of the Brexit campaign, but the likelihood seems to be that the "Get Brexit done" Tory campaign slogan will win the day.
If that happens I will be likely to join the many Europeans who cannot see the back of Britain soon enough so that the EU can get on with the job of putting its own house in order. And Britain can "go whistle" if it wants a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement any time soon. The priority will be to "Make Europe Great Again" (MEGA) and any concerns we have for "our friends in Britain" will be very much a secondary consideration.
Responding to English Nationalism with a new European nationalism may not seem like much of an advance, but every political entity needs a minimum of political and social cohesion if it is to function effectively, and for the EU, that means trans-national solidarity on the issues that matter most - climate change, greater economic and social equality, the protection of businesses previously dependent on the UK market, and improved public services for all. These have played second fiddle to other distractions - Brexit, middle eastern wars, and US imperialism for far too long.
I hope it never gets to the stage where I will become reluctant to visit my friends in England for fear of becoming complicit in a class regime dedicated to the destruction of social cohesion and the imposition of austerity on all but the super-rich. But I do get the sense of the UK, and particularly England, spinning off in an entirely different and regressive trajectory if Boris Johnson wins an overall majority.
The sad part is that England became home to so many of the anti-Apartheid activists who were forced to flee South Africa. England also has a rich progressive tradition which is at risk of being lost. And no, it's not all Corbyn's fault, a sentiment both Fintan O'Toole (subscriber only) and Andrew Rawnsley are currently peddling.