Yesterday I wrote a piece arguing that Tony Blair is not a good figurehead for the movement (if such a thing can be said to exist) to reverse the Brexit decision. My article was very widely read and received a huge amounts of comments on Facebook. Very few of them addressed my central charge: that Blair is, for many in the UK, synonymous with the insult to democracy that was the War in Iraq. Instead I received a certain amount of Ukip-style abuse calling me a ‘troll’ for even mentioning the subject. Inevitably, given that this is, after all, the internet, several such responses were from people who had simply not read my post, in which I said very clearly (twice) that the perspective I was presenting was not entirely my own. I was ventriloquising. We have to be prepared for the arguments that the other side will use to counter our case. That does not mean I am on the other side. The third paragraph even contained the sentence “I think that on this issue Blair is right and that Brexit will be an absolute disaster”. A cursory glance at the rest of this website makes it abundantly clear where my sympathies lie.
If someone is pointing out something to you and you can’t see it, you need to change your perspective. I wasted years of my life on Twitter arguing against Ukip supporters and other racists, people who systematically deny facts and automatically reject reasoned argument. We have to be better than them.
The War in Iraq is a fact. Our country devastated another because our messianic Prime Minister had promised the US President that his country would get involved in a major war regardless of the consequences. We are responsible for that. We can’t deny that it happened. It has consequences. They may not be consequences for us now. But we are still responsible. It would be the height of British imperial arrogance and racism to pretend that the lives of Iraqi civilians are less important than our own.
It’s essential that we bear in mind two things. We are not the only victims of Brexit. There are people worse off than ourselves who stand to suffer more as a result of this whole farce. We have to make common cause with them.
If you haven’t yet seen this speech by the Guardian journalist John Harris, made in the aftermath of the referendum, please do so. It is a devastatingly cogent and trenchant analysis of the circumstances that produced the vote, one based on his having spent a lot of time talking to people in places which voted Leave. It is the antidote to that sickeningly self-pitying attitude that says that everything in the world would be perfect were it not for Brexit.
Then there’s the effect Brexit will have on immigrants. We need to build solidarity with them. Doing so is a more effective means of combatting our despair than praying for a saviour to make the bad thing go away. Action is transformative. Through helping others we help ourselves. The leaders of this movement will quite possibly not have been born in this country, as it is they who will suffer most from the mistake made by our friends, families and colleagues.
Then there are those who came here or want to come here out of desperation and because they believed in the UK as a place of decency and sanctuary. We warned Blair in 2003 that his war would have wider consequences. One if them is that war creates refugees. We need to speak up for them and persuade those who voted for a cause led by a racist – not all of whom are by any means racist – that we have a moral and legal duty to house our share of refugees. It’s shameful that Corbyn has not linked the two issues.
The other thing to remember is that Brexit is not the only problem in an otherwise perfect world. The greatest ever problem humanity has ever faced is happening in our lifetimes. If you want a reason for the global far-right shift, the climate is a very good place to start. Getting rid of all references to Climate Change on the White House website was the first thing Trump did as President, even before the inauguration ceremony was over. He appointed the boss of the world’s most powerful climate-lying organisation – a man who is also a close business associate of Vladimir Putin – as his Secretary of State. It is no accident whatsoever that all the leading Brexiters are also climate deniers. We are now seeing the function of this very clearly: try to find a tabloid news story about food shortages which does not blame foreigners. The right-wing wants us to scapegoat immigrants for the changing weather patterns. We must do the opposite of that, which is to defend migrants and talk openly and very loudly about the climate. We know – although it’s very, very hard to accept – that many of our children will one day be climate refugees. We have to treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves.
Green Leader Caroline Lucas says much the same things as I’ve argued here, but what she says often falls on deaf ears because it involves effort and sacrifice on our part. It is much easier to hope for a Messiah, but if we want to make a meaningful change to the world we have to do the more difficult thing of building a movement around these issues. It is of course tragic that we don’t have the support of the most radical ever Labour leader. Corbyn is caught in a bind at present but that doesn’t mean we can’t build bridges in the future. The movement we need to build needs to demonstrate that we have the numbers and the will to turn the tide.
I’ve come across some absurd notions in the last couple of days. One is that the fact that people are talking about Blair means he is having a positive impact. He’s not. The media is talking about him because they know he’s an easy target. Then there’s the idea that he has no self-interest because he’s very rich. Here’s some bad news: they said the same thing about Trump. It’s also been suggested that Alan ‘The Apprentice’ Sugar or Richard ‘Virgin Healthcare’ Branson should play a prominent role. Such suggestions fail to acknowledge that Brexit partly took place because another leading business mogul (Rupert Murdoch, aka the Robert Mugabe of British politics) wanted to promote his business interests. All these men have their own agendas and we cannot allow the progressive forces in this country to be coopted into the megalomaniac projects of any one individual. As it happens, Blair’s motivation is not pecuniary, but ideological. It takes less than a second’s honest reflection to recognise that he wants to regain control of the Labour Party. That is his obsession and everything else is secondary. Other suggestions have included Nick Clegg and John Major. I cannot for the life of me think of any more absurd proposals, even for comic purposes.
Then who is to lead us? The answer is that we need to lead ourselves. The model for this movement – which, if it stays on Facebook, is not a movement – is not New Labour, but Occupy. We can’t go on treating Brexit as an isolated issue, one unconnected to all the other horrible things that are going on in the world. There is a very clear reason that Marine Le Pen, Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and all the other scum of our age support Brexit, scapegoat refugees and furiously deny Climate Change. They have a coherent ideology which links together all those issues and mobilises people’s frustration with their lives. If we want to stop Brexit we have to learn from them. We have to take on other, related, issues. The march on March 25th must make both Climate Change and the defence of migrants central themes. We also have to lead our movement ourselves. No celebrity politician can do that for us. Difficult as it may be, we have to take inspiration in the words of Gramsci: pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Or, as a character in Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Bleeding Edge’ puts it:
“Maybe it’s unbeatable, maybe there are ways to fight back. What it may require is a dedicated cadre of warriors willing to sacrifice time, income, personal safety, a brother/sisterhood consecrated to an uncertain struggle that may extend over generations and, despite all, end in total defeat.”