Tuesday, July 05, 2016
I am not here referring to the so-called 'Bregrets' (please stop this) expressed by about 7% of those who voted to Leave. Those regrets are clearly not enough to get people to support a new referendum, which is very strongly opposed in polls. (Also, please don't try to get around this difficulty by talking about how 'we are a parliamentary sovereignty' for god's sake.) I am talking about the fact that the number one issue, by far, among Leave voters, was the fear of immigration. It was the question of the free movement of labour within the European Union that harnessed the energies of the Leave.
It was, you will recall, a question of quality not just quantity. All those Romanians. All those Bulgarians. All those Poles. All those Turks looming over the horizon. NHS under threat. 'Breaking point'. Not that most of those who voted Leave had much experience of migration - the areas with the highest numbers of EU nationals living in them were also those with the strongest Remain votes. But that is how it usually works with race politics in the UK.
And yet, strange to relate, it now appears that the majority of British voters want EU nationals to stay. Leading Brexiters like Douglas Carswell have now openly campaigned for their rights to stay on. And even Nigel Farage has joined those condemning Theresa May for refusing to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK to stay here. So, to be absolutely clear: you don't want the Poles to be 'sent back'? You don't want the Bulgarians to be 'sent back'? You don't want the Romanians to be 'sent back'? You don't think we're at 'breaking point'?
And as for the free movement of labour, even so far right a Brexiter as Daniel Hannan admits that a free movement system is necessary if you want access to the common market. He is not wrong about this, of course. He is absolutely correct, and the EU has signalled this in the strongest possible terms. And of course Britain is going to seek access to the common market as a bare minimum in the coming years, because there is simply no ready alternative to the UK's extensive trade within the common market. Practically every serious commentator knew before the referendum that if there was a Brexit outcome, there would be an immediate negotiation toward a partial re-entry.
But what strikes me about all this is that there seems to be a very clear guilt reflex on the Right. The Boris Johnson panic and meltdown, George Osborne relinquishing his emergency austerian budget and giving up on the 'fiscal rule', the confessions from leading Brexiters that they had no plan for the outcome, the sudden rush to prevent a lapse into barbarism on the question of migration and in the treatment of existing EU nationals, all has the feel of a kind of dismal morning-after mopping up operation. As if, at each stew of vomit, at each alcoholic stain or piece of tumbled furniture, a fresh memory returns with sudden painful clarity, and they're thinking, "oh god... I didn't... I didn't...". Well, yes you did.
And look at what might now happen. Austerity could be a busted flush, as Osborne gives up on eradicating the deficit (which, of course, was never really a plausible outcome or even the objective), May pragmatically concedes the point, and Crabb promises massive deficit-financing of public investment. Scotland is likely to secede from the Union, and re-join the EU, thus finally drawing Britain to an appropriate anticlimax. Free movement of labour, with some reforms or restrictions, might actually be consecrated, as part of a consensus ranging from John McDonnell to Daniel Hannan, designed to avoid total clusterfucking disaster. And with property markets nosediving, house prices no longer able to subsidise incomes for the vaguely affluent and housed, there will likely be far more pressure to actually address the housing crisis and stop the whole system from being run on the basis of enforced scarcity. What then will become of the property-owning democracy underpinning the Conservative vote? What will become of England?
Obviously, this is slightly glossing things to annoy Tories and right-Brexiters. In reality, the coming period will be one of painful, difficult and contested transitions. It will be one in which triumphant reaction will seek to exact the maximum cost in human flesh. It will be one in which bitter struggle over a diminished social product will be fought out in the most unexpected, unpredictable ways. The financial crises and the loss of economic growth will be paid for by the poorest, as such things always are, until they decide they're tired of it and rebel. There is nothing to be chipper about here. But the point is that we are in terra incognita. The stable fixtures of Tory Britain, having been in decline for some time, are now looking more fragile than ever. This Brexit, vile though its victory has been, risks inflicting worse damage to the Conservative Party in the long term than Black Wednesday. This Brexit is the monkey's paw of Brexits, a cursed charm, whose appalling consequences might overwhelm their supposed beneficiaries.
And look. Don't lose sight of the danger. Don't forget who loses most from this situation. But, if he can hold on. If double, double toil and trouble doesn't consume him. Something Corbyn this way comes.
Addendum: Remember when I said years ago that Cameron's 'promise' to cut immigration by a certain amount was dangerous and deceitful bullshit? Remember when I said it would probably contribute to ending his career and propelling a new, right-wing leadership to power? Why didn't he listen to me? Why does no one ever listen to me? Why am I howling into a void?