The first to comment in this collection of small essays on the Brexit Vote is David Runciman.It is a myopic political analysis filled with data and a special pleading for Proportional Representation, that functions argumentatively as some kind of answer to the vexing question of these kinds of Referendums, if I am reading it with comprehension. It seems not quite relevant, except for the policy technocrat or even as just rhetorical ballast?
What seems to have escaped the attention of Mr. Runciman is the starkest kind of object lesson, not lost on the British voter, of the treatment by Merkel and The European Central Bank of Greece. Now the fact that Germany was a four time defaulter in the 20th Century was the subject of a Financial Times essay by Gillian Tett:
Headline: A debt to history?
Sub-headline: To some, Germany faces a moral duty to help Greece, given the aid that it has previously enjoyed
That the story of Greece remains outside Mr. Runciman’s narrative is unsurprising. For those patient enough to read through this essay, here Mr. Runciman shows himself to be New Labour, without doubt:
What about Corbyn? I don’t believe that a different leader, fighting a more full-throated campaign, would have made much difference to the final outcome: most Labour voters went for Remain anyway and many of those who didn’t were sufficiently alienated to be resistant to all persuasion. Nevertheless, if Labour had had a different leader there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be in this mess. Yvette Cooper might have been no better at convincing people in Labour’s heartlands to turn out in support of an unloved and distant institution – she might well have been worse – but she would have been far better at convincing the Tory government to think a bit harder about the risks it was running in holding the referendum, including the risk of defeat at a subsequent general election…
Or this rather obtuse jab at Corbyn :’ It forced the entire Labour movement to line up behind a leader who was not competent to lead them.’
For an antidote to Mr. Runciman’s dry post-mortem read Neal Ascherson’s essay, next in line, for a more historically informed and adroit, not to speak of tart, dismissal of both the Remain and the Leave camps, framed by this wonderfully vivid opening paragraph :
This is the third time the island has given notice to Europe. The first brief and bloody, the second powerful and long-lasting, the third stupid and calamitous. A Dutch marine officer in the Roman forces called M. Mausaeus Carausius tried it in 286. He proclaimed himself emperor, beat off imperial expeditions crossing the Channel and struck a great many silver and copper coins with his bearded face on them. Like the Leave campaigners, he told the Brits that together they would ‘take their country back’ (‘Restitutor Britanniae’). He had ‘Genius Britanniae’ stamped on his coins, along with quotes from Virgil. Carausius, seen by some romantic Victorians as the pioneer of British independence, didn’t last long. He was murdered by his chancellor of the exchequer, a certain Allectus, in 293. Soon afterwards, Britain was back in Roman Europe.
I voted Leave, without enthusiasm, mainly because I had promised to do so in Greece last July. What Dijsselbloem and Schäuble did to Greece back then seemed an indication of what the EU was truly for. It remains our best clue to how ‘Europe’ would act if a left government, of a nation less hopelessly enfeebled than post-Pasok Greece or post-Blair-and-Brown Britain, dared, say, to resist TTIP’s final promulgation of the neoliberal rule of law. Certainly the relevant point of comparison for the 17 million Leave votes is the No to ‘austerity’ registered by the Greeks, again in the face of all respectable opinion, a year ago. And everything will now be done, as then, to make sure the scandal of democratic refusal doesn’t get in the way of business. I have no doubt that already, behind the smokescreen of Article 50, Dijsselbloem and Schäuble’s intermediaries are sitting down with Carney and Osborne to settle the outlines of the no-but-on-the-other-hand-not-really.
Global capitalism, in other words, is inconvenienced by the verdict from the UK zones of sacrifice, and naively disdainful of it, but well equipped to cope with the casualties’ ingratitude. It will soldier on. The intelligentsia can be depended on to froth in its favour. Facebook, an American friend tells me, ‘has become an unbearable liberal wailing wall’. Conversations with young Southern European immigrants in London – one recently with a Bulgarian woman sticks in the mind – are a welcome reality check. They know all too well what the ‘free movement of labour’ means for people like them, and how much the discipline of the euro is responsible for driving them north. No lessons in the mechanics of wage suppression or Deutsche Bundesbank’s anti-Keynesianism are needed.