I woke up this morning thinking about Brexit. Not about the geopolitical or financial impact but what it means for my politics. As far as non-Ghanaian politics is concerned my sympathies usually lie with candidates or causes supported by lower-income people and the intellectual left.
In the case of the UK Labour election I backed Jeremy Corbyn because of the support for him from lower-income people and prominent economists on the left. I have supported Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton even though many of those economists backed Hillary. My reason for that was Hillary’s hawkish foreign policy and the fact that Sanders’ policies were more in tune with what these economists had called for in the past.
Going into the Brexit vote, there were a lot of good reasons for people on the left to vote Leave. The treatment of Greece by the EU, the EU forcing austerity policies on governments even in the face of their ineffectiveness, TTIP and the EPA all presented the EU as a monster that had to be defeated in the interest of working class people. But when the campaign itself started many people who had railed against the EU wanted the UK to remain. Even Yanis Varoufakis, the radical former Finance Minister of Greece, campaigned in the UK for them to remain. Why is that?
In supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, Paul Krugman (arguably the most influential economist on the left today), said that if there were to be any mass revolution in the USA it would be on the right not the left. I had my doubts about this. Even after the GOP chose Donald Trump I still had my doubts. Surely, the large number of people who had been the losers in globalisation and neoliberalism would be the most likely to break the resolve of the “establishment”. The Brexit vote is an indication that I was wrong.
I cannot think of any movement on the left which has had the kind of victory which the xenophobic right has had with Donald Trump and now Brexit. Perhaps one will mention the victories of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Corbyn in the Labour leadership race but none of these are comparable to the world-changing and history-shaping event that is Brexit. The warnings of economists on the left and the right, historians and other academics was ignored. A wave of nationalism and anti-intellectualism swept through the UK and carried it out of the EU.
Before the British people could talk about the implications of Brexit Donald Trump had landed in the country and was praising them for “taking their country back”. Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and many xenophobic parties across the EU have been ecstatic about the result and are calling for replications in their country.
And now it has become clear why many on the left who had been very critical of the EU had campaigned to remain. It is also clear why many of the right-wing UK media which I thought would join the business community of the UK to campaign for remain had called for Brexit. This vote was not about the money. It was about identity and a rally against “others”.
In the wake of Brexit I have had to reexamine my politics. We are not in normal times. The threat of fascism and nationalism is one which we cannot take for granted. The pollsters were horribly wrong about Trump and Brexit and no one knows for sure what is going to happen now.
In such an environment the reasonable thing to do is to support the status quo. And that is what I intend to do. There will be no leftist revolution but the xenophobic revolution must be stopped. It was not austerity ideologues or Brussels bureaucrats or bankers who railed against immigration or intellectualism. It wasn’t they who backed Trump. It is not they who have created an environment of hostility to minorities.
The world may not be getting better but we cannot allow it to be made worse. There may be time someday to make the needs of ordinary people the main purpose of politics but for now there’s the need for compromise between the left (at least what is left of it) and the establishment to stave off the rage of people determined to reverse time and turn the world into what they used to know.