The Coming Fight Over Brexit

Professor Jonathan Davies, director of CURA, offers his thoughts on Brexit.

After yesterday’s staggering Brexit vote, it is impossible to predict what lies ahead. It is clear, however, that responsibility lies at the feet of both the British and European elite. By a thousand cuts it has immiserated, marginalised, impoverished and fragmented working class communities, some of which voted by overwhelming majorities to leave the EU. It can be no surprise in these dire conditions that resentment is boiling across the continent. This vote is a seismic moment in the rolling crisis of Britain’s post-war economic and political system. It is a moment in the rolling crisis of Europe, where vast territories have been laid waste by waves of crisis and austerity.

For many people, the grinding realities of austerity and the lack of hope for the future manifest in the form of virulent anti-immigration sentiments. The politics of despair are rife. Fears have been successfully channelled by the ugly dog-whistle politics of the leave campaigns. This is extremely damaging, but there is nothing new about it. Provoking racism to deflect attention from their own actions has long been a tried and tested policy of right wing elites. And it can be a lot easier to blame other people at the bottom of the heap than to hold the powerful to account.

Yet nationalist resentment is not the only story. Many working class people reject racism – especially in London. The people of Spain and Greece show that a politics of hope is possible in their struggles against austerity, despite the awful conditions they face. Like it or not, the struggle ahead will be over the meaning of Brexit. This is a huge challenge for people who believe in solidarity, open borders, love the diversity immigration brings and reject the delusion that stopping immigration will mean more jobs for “British workers”. At its height in the early 2000s, the anti-globalisation movement rallied around the slogan “another world is possible”. Our common challenge is to find a way of making it happen.

 Jonathan Davies is Professor of Critical Policy Studies and Director of the Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort Univiersity.

Looking (and thinking and acting) beyond Brexit

CURA’s Adam Fishwick offers his thoughts on Brexit, in response to Jonathan Davies’s previous post.

Brexit can only be understood as a victory for the Right. The Leave campaign was no anti-establishment revolt. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Ian Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage, Rupert Murdoch – for all their posturing in standing up to the bureaucrats in Brussels or confronting the entrenched political elites of Westminster, represent nothing more than a nastier, more virulent, more insidious strain of that which they outwardly claim to be confronting.

But there is an anger at the established political and economic forces that occupy the institutions that govern us. As stated by Jonathan Davies, the marginalisation, fragmentation, and ongoing immiseration of many in the UK (and across Europe) is the real issue facing us today – and it is here that there has been, and continues to be, a real revolt.

The Right have succeeded in making this into a narrow nationalist, anti-immigration, and oftentimes racist response to the deepening impact of neoliberal policies and practices that are the real cause of the vast inequities of wealth and power around us. Mobilising all too familiar tropes against those outside and appealing to a nationalist rhetoric that offers little of substance but harks back to a vague, semi-existent past has filled the symbolic gap left by the retreat of social democracy into the comforts of the political power and institutional prestige.

Worryingly we are already seeing the emboldening of the far Right through this discourse. Some of the early congratulations for Brexit came from Marie Le Pen, Geert Wilders, the AfD, and the Northern League and the recent presence of groups like Britain First in Leicester in the previous weeks show the comfort such groups have found in this campaign.

The answer to this, however, does not come from a decrying of the ‘false consciousness’ of the working class or to anger at their betrayal on the part of those supposed to represent an alternative vision that they have clearly long abandoned. In The Communist Hypothesis, Alain Badiou argues that such pronouncements provide an inadequate and counter-productive starting point for confronting the entrenched relations of power that have led us to this point and which are continuing to set the course as we begin to move beyond Brexit.

So, perhaps instead, it is time to embrace the emerging new contentious politics and to replicate a break with what Badiou called “the set of parliamentary political personnel that proclaim that they are the only ones equipped to bear the general consequences of a singular political movement” (149). And to do this there is a pressing need to articulate and begin to embody a vision beyond austerity and beyond neoliberalism, political forms that lie at the heart of the wider disenfranchisement and marginalisation seized upon by Brexit. From post-work utopias to horizontalist political spaces and experiments, some of the work in envisioning and constructing new political forms has been started already, but there remains much more to be done and a much longer struggle ahead.

Dr Adam Fishwick is Lecturer in Urban Studies and Public Policy and a member of Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University