(This a slightly expanded version of my latest column in CounterPunch Magazine.) The greatly benighted land of old Blighty is now embarked on yet another of the fundamental turbulations that have marked the latest era of “Conservative” rule. Not content with having nearly destroyed the island’s ancient union by driving the Scots to the very brink of independence, the gilded goobers of the British elite have now engineered a referendum on leaving the European Union which, if approved, will necessitate a reordering of national life on nearly every level … including the distinct possibility of, er, destroying the island’s ancient union by driving the Scots into independence.
(By the by, does anyone remember when “conservative” meant “cautious, averse to change”? Now, on both sides of the Atlantic, so-called conservatives do nothing but advocate “disruption” and “revolution,” giddy with notions of endless upheaval and permanent crisis, happy to shred traditions, decimate communities, gut institutions, exalt ideological fervor and unhinged emotion over rule of law. The more correct term for this kind of behavior is “radical,” of course. But this peculiar brand of radicalism aims not for social betterment but to reshape society toward a single aim: the endless enrichment of the rich, using the fears and prejudices of the hoi polloi as fuel for the latter’s own despoliation.)
And thus it is in Britain’s latest convulsion. The “Brexit” vote is, in so many ways, the very model of a major modern democracy: it offers voters a “choice” between two crappy possibilities and says, “Good luck with that, suckers!” For although the EU has shown itself to be an organization devoted chiefly to the rapacious imposition of destructive corporate will (no more so than in last year’s brutal beatdown of democracy’s birthplace, Greece), the plutocratic poltroons pushing for Britain’s EU exit are, if anything, even worse.
The Brexiters have no objection at all to the EU’s most pernicious activities. Indeed, they seized on the agony of Greece as a fearmongering bull-roarer to frighten the folks into the Tory camp in last year’s election. “OMG, if we don’t keep drinking the bitter medicine of austerity, if we don’t keep knocking Grandma’s crutches away, we’re going to turn into Greece! Aieee!” They are in full accord with the EU’s ball-busting brand of capitalism.
No, what they object to are the few protections the EU still provides for the non-plutocratic rabble (perhaps out of nostalgia for its idealistic origins in the aftermath of WWII, when people thought a closer union might keep the highly advanced nations of Western civilization from massacring each other every few years). What the Brexiters hate with a visceral passion are the EU’s human rights laws, its regulations against feudal exploitation of workers (a practice known fondly as “flexibility” in British boardrooms) and, above all, its immigration policies, which Brexiters believe have swamped their pure and holy island with grubby Eurotrash and dangerous darkies from even farther afield.
Led by such stalwarts as the Trumpish Boris Johnson, the Le Pen manque Nigel Farage, and the creepily Heepish Michael Gove — a man who gives Ted Cruz a run for his money in the personal warmth department — the Brexiters dream of a rump Little England, free of sissy-mary restraints on the lord of the manor’s ancient rights to order his affairs as he sees fit, without any folderol about the rabble’s “rights” — much less any interference from Johnny Foreigner!
For example, Gove — a long-time Murdoch minion who delivered much of Britain’s public school system into the hands of privateers, grifters and religious cranks — says Brexit will allow Blighty to “regain its moxie” and play a bolder role on the world stage. It goes without saying that Gove, like most leading Brexiters, is an unabashed nostalgist for the lost glories of Empire, constantly hymning the great civilizing effect of that enterprise whose true nature was perhaps best summed up by the title of Mike Davis’s remarkable and harrowing book, Late Victorian Holocausts.
Jeremy Corbyn, whose astonishing election as Labour leader was one of the few outbreaks of genuine democracy in modern times, is reluctantly supporting the campaign to remain in the EU. Like many, he recognizes full well what the EU has become, but still sees some wan hope in what it could be. This may be a grasping at straws, but some see it as preferable to be being trapped on a tiny island permanently dominated by unrestrained Victorian Holocausters.
And so, again, voters are left with nothing but narrow, unpalatable choices: vote for this set of corporate hucksters — or this other set of corporate hucksters who are probably worse. (The same choice American voters will almost certainly be confronted with in November.) Either way you’re screwed, mate. Ain’t life grand?