A party that didn't exist a few weeks ago, has no policies and campaigns on only one issue has won the European elections. This should give everyone on the left pause for thought. This was a clear sign that there are still millions of people in the country who want Brexit to happen, no matter what.
Granted the Brexit Party did about as well as UKIP did in 2014 and they are led by Nigel Farage, the most recognizable politician who isn't the prospective Prime Minister or the leader of the opposition. However, it took UKIP years to build enough momentum to win a European election and as appearing as Farage is to a certain class of voters, he is toxic to others. The success of the Brexit Party goes beyond the appeal of Farage.
The terrifying success of the Brexit party
The Brexit Party have used the frustration at the fact that we haven’t left the EU very well. When campaigning, Farage doesn't talk about immigration or the cost of the EU or EU democracy or any other prominent pro-Brexit talking points. He only mentions one thing: people voted to leave and we haven't left. This has whipped up rage aimed at the leaders of both main parties. Even if Britain leaves the EU this year, the anger at the political class that Farage is exploiting will not go away.
The Brexit Party is just a vehicle to get Farage what he wants: to go on TV and act like a big shot. However, I’m very worried but how far he will take this. He is clearly riding a tiger of populist rage, which could lash out in any direction. The more Farage winds up Leave voters about how the elites have betrayed them, the more likely it is that something terrible will happen.
A riot? Bricks being thrown at MPs? Another assassination? None of these are out of the question. I am worried that the Brexit Party could become Britain's Yellow Vest movement with Farage riding the nuclear bomb like Major Kong from Dr. Strangelove until it explodes.
Already the Brexit vote is drifting to extremes. Support for Theresa May's deal, a deal to take Britain out of the EU, has been described as treachery as, apparently, it’s not Brexit. Farage is at the core of this hardening of the Leave vote. He is simultaneously benefiting from the hardening of the Leave vote and encouraging a narrative of Brexit betrayal to make the Leave voter harder.
As gratifying as it was seeing the Tories do really badly in the most recent EU elections, those of us in the Labour Party have to admit that last Sunday's result was a disaster. This is not the performance Labour should be delivering if it wanted to form a government soon. The Labour Vote is being split, but Labour voters are mainly backing the Greens and the Lib Dems, pro-Remain parties. Change UK have failed to make an impression and will doubtless be folded into the Lib Dems so that its surviving members don’t leave their seats.
Despite the growing threat to Labour from the unambiguously pro-Remain parties, I’m not convinced that calling for a people's vote with a "Fuck Brexit, stay in the EU" option on the ballot paper is the best way forwards.
The country is split three ways: between No Deal, No Brexit and an orderly Brexit. Nothing commands a majority. Yes, the parties of No Brexit won the most votes in the EU elections, but that’s only the case if you include the nationalist parties (I'm pretty sure there are people who want Scotland out of the U.K. and the EU) and even then it is still less than 50% of the vote. We are a long way off the slimmest of consensus on Brexit, let alone anything that will put the cursed issue to bed one way or another.
I don't think this EU election settles anything. Lots of people voted for strongly pro-Leave and pro-Remain parties. This indicates that we are still deeply polarised on Brexit, which we didn't need an election to know.
Problems for Labour
Losing Remain votes to the Lib Dems and the Greens is bad if you want to see a Labour government any time soon. However, Labour pretty much maxed out its pro-Remain vote in the last general election and it didn't win. The route to a Labour government is either through Leave voting swing seats or Tory voting Remain seats, which will not be swayed by Labour's radical program. The choice is either compromise on Brexit or compromises on everything else. I guess I’m resigned to a compromise in Brexit.
Once again, I feel the need to say that I voted Remain and would like Brexit to go away. I just don't want the Labour Party to have to throw itself on the fire of populist anger to save us from Brexit. The lesson from the pain destruction of Scottish Labour after siding with the no to independence side in 2014 should be instructive. Yes we saved the Union, but at the cost of Scottish Labour.
We need a new argument
The sudden success of the Brexit Party should make us make left Remainers worried about our complacency over Brexit. I’m worried that Remainers are underestimating how deep and how strong the support for Brexit is. There is a powerful feeling, that transcends traditional party affliction, class and region that Brexit is what's best for the country. This is not a sentiment I share, but we need to accept that this big cultural divide won't go away even if we can convince 51% of the people to vote against Brexit in a second referendum.
I don't see anyone on the pro-Remain side making arguments that would appeal to people on the Leave side. Who’s saying that a vote for Remain in a People's Vote is a vote for a serious commitment to rebalancing the economy and that voting for Brexit is a vote for a Singapore style No Deal Brexit that only benefits the City of London? Who is making the patriotic argument that Britain has been committed to being heavily involved in Europe since the Napoleonic Wars and that we would honour the troops for have fought for a free Europe by not walking away from the continent of many Britons lost their lives defending?
This invocation of patriotism doesn’t appeal to me, but I voted Remain. You don't need to convince me that making it easy to pop to The Pompidou Centre for a day trip is in my best interest. We need different arguments to stop the spread of The Brexit Party.
Remainers fall back on the arguments that play well to Remainers. That all Leave voters are racist, that Vote Leave cheated, that it's bad for the economy. All of these arguments have had a fair hearing and they're not moving the dial. If we really want to stop Brexit then we need a new argument.
No Deal vs No Brexit
No one learns anything and Farage is still on TV advocating the worst possible thing for the country as the best possible thing for the country and no one has worked out a way to make this simple point stick. I am worried that if Labour comes out for a second referendum then this will only grow the support for the Brexit party and Farage’s narrative of the elites stealing Brexit from the people.
It may eventually come down to a showdown been Farage's No Deal and No Brexit, in which case I hope that the left pulls together and stops the economic suicide of No Deal, whose pain will be felt the most by the most disadvantaged in society. Until then we need to work to lower the temperature on this issue.
The sudden success of the Brexit Party should worry everyone on the left. We are running the risk of ignoring a rising tide of populist anger that could bury us all. I am worried that despite our noble efforts to oppose Brexit, we are not taking seriously how angry people are about the issue.