Professor Paul Bernal on why he thinks Britain needs both a left-wing Labour government and a way to either stop Brexit or get a less damaging Brexit that accepts freedom of movement.
At the risk of being attacked from all sides, here are a few short words on Brexit and the Labour Party.
One thing I can see is that, in general, both sides of the argument have their hearts in the right place. Both want something positive in left-wing terms.
The Labour people advocating Remain, don’t do so to protect their privilege, they don’t do so from ivory towers and to try to stop a genuine left wing government. Very much the opposite. They do so because they think Brexit makes a left wing government’s life much harder.
For most, it is a genuine concern that Brexit will harm exactly the people and institutions that Labour should protect. It will harm the NHS, cripple social care, raise food prices (which hit the poor the hardest) and so forth. It will make it much harder to reverse austerity. So, please, those on the left who oppose the Remainers, don’t assume it is about selfishness and wanting to avoid a socialist government. It really isn’t.
Conversely, however, those on the Remain side of the argument shouldn’t assume that they have the monopoly of ‘virtue’.
Those who don’t think that Brexit is the biggest issue — that we need to focus on austerity, on the NHS, on housing, etc. and stop obsessing over Brexit, have a big point too. We do need to address all of that, and we haven’t shown much sign of doing so for decades (or more).
So, if you oppose Brexit (and I certainly do) you shouldn’t dismiss the other argument — and you should show willingness to make the real changes that are needed. Understand how previous governments — including Labour governments — have really screwed things up in many ways.
And understand that a radical change really is needed. If it looks as though all you want to do is to go back to how things were before the referendum, then there is not much more to be said. It wasn’t a good position — it was bloody awful for many, many millions of people.
And that means that thing like saying we should all vote Lib Dem — whilst the Lib Dems still don’t acknowledge that the coalition was an absolute disaster in terms of austerity in particular — is no help at all. It is being in as much of a state of denial as those who think that there is such a thing as a ‘jobs first Brexit’.
Going back to how things were is only good for those for whom the old situation was good, and for many millions it wasn’t. You may say ‘it can get worse’ (and I have, too many times) and be right, but that is no answer.
From my personal perspective, we need both a left-wing Labour government and a way to either stop Brexit or get a Brexit that is genuinely less damaging — one that accepts freedom of movement in particular. One without the other won’t do.
But I know others hold different perspectives, and though I think they are wrong (I wouldn’t hold my own position if I didn’t believe it!), I don’t doubt their sincerity and commitment to achieving something good (for the most part, at least).
All this does is make the current rancour and arguments harder. There are some, of course, for whom this is not true, but not that many. On Twitter, in particular, most of the people on the left that I know are decent, honest and genuinely trying to do what they see as the right things.
It is sad that this often causes so much anger.🔷
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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article, with the author’s conscent, with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)