... or just farce repeating itself as riot?
Charles Parselle asks how are we to regard the current swirl of activity around Brexit/Remain. Are we witnessing a nascent breakthrough in national consciousness, or just reacting to a scratched record stuck in a groove? How can we participate in a system that systematically limits our participation and in which virtually all power is concentrated at the top?
What is more precious than Gold? asked the King.
Light, answered the Snake.
What is more refreshing than Light? asked the King.
Conversation, said the Snake.
[The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily: Goethe]
Consumers, on whose collective choices a capitalist economy depends, exert their power by choosing to buy or not, participate or not, exit or not. Their power to choose is absolute, but potent only as long as the choice remains pending. Once the decision has been made, what remains of the consumer’s power is to be found only in the fine print of the limited warranty.
Voting in an election is much the same. The voter’s power is contingent. It can only be exercised while an election is pending, and it is only potent so long as there is some competition for the vote. Once elected, a politician represents the constituent in only a limited sense and often not at all, considering that only a minority of constituents votes at all, and a proportion of voters always prefer a different candidate.
Capitalism is a top down system that assures the consumer that he/she has the final say, the freedom to choose or walk away. Our democracy is a top down system that assures the voter, that he/she has the final say, the power to “throw the rascals out.” But now we find ourselves in an exceptional situation, with our national future under extensive scrutiny. Voice is happening at many levels though in a chaotic and unstructured manner.
Brexiters would have preferred to exit without further exercise of their vocal chords, but that option has not proved possible. They have increasing reason to fear that too much Voice may lead to Brexit delayed and then Brexit denied. Remainers have reason to feel optimistic. Andrew Adonis, Labour peer, who has worked long and hard for Remain, reported with some elation on 27 February: “At long last we’ve broken through. My party, the Labour party, has decided to back a People's Vote, taking us a big step towards securing a final say on the Brexit deal.”
Anna Soubry MP, who has laid her career on the line by joining The Independent Group, derides Corbyn’s move, which she describes as “trying not to commit to a people’s vote in a way that could actually make it happen.”
Even so, Labour’s move seems to have jolted the European Research Group, the Tory splinter under Theresa May’s skin. If Labour moves in support of a People’s Vote, it diminishes the European Research Group’s leverage. They may feel it best to exercise their power while they still have it, knowing that the polls for months have been consistent in favour of Remain.
Michel Barnier in Brussels, whose priority is to minimize disruption, is reportedly working on a ‘legal add-on’ to the Irish backstop. The PM seems open to a short delay without conditions, but insists it must be no longer than June. Neither France nor Spain is sympathetic. The French President insists that a “new choice” has to be made by Britain, while Spain’s Prime Minister has indicated that unconditional postponement would not be “reasonable or desirable.”
The 16thTory minister has just resigned since the 2017 election. In his resignation letter, George Eustice, refers to the “final humiliation of our country.” If so, it is a humiliation of our own making, to which politicians like Eustice have contributed in full measure. But perhaps all that is really happening is a lesson about the balance of power: a united bloc of 450 million in 27 countries is more powerful than our disunited 65 million. It is not so much a humiliation as a learning experience, though one that Brexiters seem determined not to learn.
Here is a random Brexiter post from Facebook: “I have found, time after time, that most [Remainers] don't have any real reasons why they voted for the EU. The reckless naivety is stunning and quite frightening.” It comes as a shock for a Remainer to realize some Brexiters think this, that two years of bad news about the consequences of leaving the EU has made no impact on them, and that strangely some think we Remainers are just naïve.
It feels that we are witnessing a clutch of wrestlers immobilized on the mat, limbs entangled, conversing in grunts and gasps. None of us can predict the future but in terms of the old certainties, the old complacencies, things are falling apart. The chaos is wonderfully expressed by that comic genius Marina Hyde, who wonders if “we are reaching the stage of Brexit where farce repeats itself as riot?”
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