Compass Counterpoint

22 December 2018

Brexit and The Political Compass

Say what you like about talkback radio: it’s a good indicator of what a sizeable slice of the population is thinking. Or not thinking.

An in-depth trawl around talkback stations reveals little in the way of in-depth insight among most pro-Brexit callers. They don’t like migrants and they don’t like the EU telling their country what to do. And that seems mostly the size of it.

The simplistic views of such listeners clearly represent those of a considerable number of Brexit voters in the last referendum. At the same time, others have subsequently learnt more about the seismic implications of the leave vote and wish to make a better-informed choice in a second referendum.

While it’s far from certain that a second referendum would deliver a different result, it would doubtlessly take place with access to a good deal more information for those willing to take it on board. Far from being a travesty of democracy, a second referendum would offer the public a second democratic opportunity — the chance to consider the leave conditions that were unknown at the time of the first poorly presented one. It’s standard practice in commerce that an ill-informed purchase can be reconsidered. Given the magnitude of the EU question, Britain surely deserves the opportunity to think again before buying into Brexit.

Brexit has highlighted deep divisions that have existed for decades among Labour voters. In Political Compass terms, there is reasonable accord on economic directions but often very different perspectives on the social scale. The truth is that many traditional working class Labour voters are deeply socially conservative, and vulnerable to the appeals of authoritarian nationalism.

From the outset Labour should have been robustly educating its post-industrial heartlands on the relevant benefits of the EU Social Chapter — not the least in raising the UK’s minimum wage — and the reality of the prevailing economic orthodoxy that facilitates unchecked migration. Open borders for the free flow of capital necessitate more or less open borders for the free flow of people.

Much of the Brexit vote was unconsciously anti-neoliberal, but wrongly targeted. The EU is neoliberal because it reflects the complexion of the present member governments. Remain and Reform is a perfect strapline for the left, but the idea seems too big and too visionary for Jeremy Corbyn.

If Corbyn is serious about attacking neoliberalism — and he certainly is — he could pack a punch in the EU. The recent letter he received from prominent figures on the EU’s left had a ring of desperation. It pleaded with him to work from within, and to translate his ideals onto a wider stage. We have yet to know the contents of any reply.

Jeremy Corbyn’s level of popular support is remakable, given the hostility heaped on him by most mainstream media and, indeed, from within his own party. He is a principled conviction politician and, from our Political Compass perspective, he has widened the previously closing ideological gap between Conservative and Labour to offer the electorate a much more significant choice. That has to be a healthy situation in any fully functioning democracy. It’s to be regretted, however, that the Labour leader will confine his anti-globalisation campaigning to little Britain.

In these Trump times, the US has never been less popular in the UK. With any sort of Brexit, the country will inevitably be drawn closer to Uncle Sam’s prickly bosom. You would expect the erratic and increasingly undemocratic cousins across the Atlantic to be uppermost in Corbyn’s mind, and that he’d seize the moment to promote the EU as a better option. Astoundingly, he hasn’t.

Post-Brexit, a future Tory or Blairite government might well set up a Singapore-type free trade zone on the Continent’s doorstep. Surely that would be a nightmare for any progressive. The only way to prevent that possiblity is to remain and reform.

Labour’s resonse to all things Brexit has been too tepid. Too small. Too breathless. And too late. On this massive issue, Labour has generated neither heat nor light.

A constant prelude to fascism is an enfeebled opposition.