And the winner of is: a weak and unstable coalition of chaos

Theresa May lost the election. But she somehow still has to ‘lead’ the UK government, lead her party, and lead the UK through Brexit negotiations. None of those constituencies wants her as leader.

Many things will be said about all this. Here are just a few fairly quick observations and reflections, first on the results, and then on their implications.

Mulling over the statistics

2017UKElectionMap
UK parliamentary constituencies (source: wikipedia)

As we all know by now, Labour increased its share of the vote from 30.5% to 40% (from 9.3m to 12.9m). The Tories also increased their share from 36.9% to to 42.4% (from 11.3m to 13.7m). Both parties have won significant parliamentary majorities in the recent past with those kind of numbers: in 2001 Tony Blair’s Labour won 413 MPs with 10.7m votes (40.7%); in 1987 Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives won 376 MPs with 13.7m votes (42.2%). But this time the two main parties cancelled each other out.

The UKIP demographic is interesting not only in that UKIP got wiped out (0.6m votes compared to 12.9m two years ago), but also because Labour arguably gained as many former UKIP voters as the Tories did. Given how hard May had worked to absorb UKIP, this is astounding. She gave the Tory proposal a clearly ‘nasty‘ flavour, alienating several fellow Conservatives, and yet failed. Labour put forward a positive ‘left-wing’ vision and gained at least as many former UKIP voters. Surely ‘the left’ everywhere should take note.

Both SNP and the Greens also bled votes, to pro-union and anti-austerity parties respectively, it seems. The Tories, but Labour too and even the Lib Dems, all absorbed former SNP voters. Many Green voters seem to have voted tactically for Labour (and perhaps many 2010 Lib Dem voters did too). You could say this is a victory for tactical alliances, but it’s also a victory for those who don’t want to change an out-dated disproportionate first-past-the-post system.

Turnout among the 18-24 year olds is reported to be around 72% compared to the 68.6% national average. In 2015, the turnout was apparently only 43%. It seem a significant majority within the 18-24 bracket will have voted for Labour, and made a big difference. Casting your mind back on Brexit, this tends to confirm an increasing generational divide in the UK: younger voters tend to prefer Remain and Labour (but will settle for Lexit). The Tories are relying on an older demographic, which could be interesting come the 2030s.

Some traditional Tory voters could not bring themselves to vote for Theresa May’s manifesto. It was too nasty for them. Labour, whose manifesto was framed by some as alarmingly left-wing, actually pulled 3m more votes than ‘Red Ed’ in 2015. Maybe we rather need to stop talking in simplistic right vs left terms. After all, it’s a crass oversimplification which cannot begin to accurately map in its strictly linear fashion the varied positions of all political actors on issues as varied as social justice, market regulation, Europe, immigration, LGTB issues, the environment and so much else. Either way, on many of its core proposals, Labour was neither ‘loony’ nor ‘extreme’, but popular.

As for polling organisations, it turns out YouGov and Survation were ‘most’ accurate. What’s particularly interesting about YouGov is that they used a completely redesigned methodology, and proved ultimately quite good at seat-by-seat predictions, apart from in Scotland where they didn’t foresee the extent of the SNP-to-Tory swing. No doubt they’ll refine their Scottish data for next time.

Implications

Of course it’s silly to talk just of ‘winner’ and ‘losers’, but there are still some actors and policies that clearly come out thumbs-up and thumbs-down. Winners, I reckon, include: YouGov and Survation; the Guardian and Independent; Corbyn, Momentum door-knockers, and Labour’s policies (despite hysteric media bias); tactical voting, and the two-party system. Losers: obviously May, the Tories, UKIP and the SNP, but also the gutter press (for all their self-appointment as representatives of the people); and also Scottish independence.

The UK finds itself governed by a lame duck PM heading an unstable minority/coalition government propped up by a group some see as ‘terrorist’. The policies this government will pursue over anything between 3 months and 5 years will probably not include fox hunting or the dementia tax. Austerity will be harder to sell (the DUP might want to remember what happened to the Lib Dems when they propped up Cameron’s austerity), though I’m sure they’ll try: it was in the manifesto, after all.

The Tories can look ahead to renewed infighting and regicide. They have to pretend to get along with the DUP (might be interesting on gay marriage for rising star Ruth Davidson). The party will struggle to look united, even if it knows full well that disunity tends to be punished at the polls (Labour were remarkable well behaved during the campaign). As austerity keep biting and Brexit uncertainties go into overdrive, they’ll need a seriously different message led by a serious and different leader to approach the next election with any real ambition.

Labour, by contrast, should avoid any leadership election any time soon. Even Mandelson and Campbell are basically asking to rejoin the ship and rolling up their sleeves. An army of door-knockers will remain available at the next election. Labour can sit in the comfortable benches of the Official Opposition and snipe away relentlessly as the Tories make a dog’s breakfast of Britain’s future.

Brexit negotiations do need to begin soon. In fairness not much headway is realistic before the German elections, but then there is the cliff-fall of the Article 50 deadline to bear in mind, and entire archives of complex legal and trading arrangements to unearth and renegotiate. Brexit negotiations cannot but start soon, but the government might find it harder to bluff on a hard Brexit. And of course the DUP want no hard border in Ireland. This means people in Ireland (the EU) can move freely into Northern Ireland (the UK). Yes, Brexit means the injustices of the detached workers directive can be stopped, but controlling immigration flows more generally will be an interesting one for the Tories to manage in a way they’d hope to later spin as trustworthy and effective.

I reckon several media outlets will have realised they need to be fairer on Labour, if only by aiming at least also at the Tories. I would not be surprised if the Sun backed Corbyn at the next election. Kuenssberg might not become much fairer with Labour, but she might at least be nastier with the Tories. The Daily Mail is less likely to turn away from belching UKIP odours, but hardly anyone takes its politics seriously. Establishment broadsheets will probably still favour the Conservatives, but not without some criticism, and perhaps even with some openness to Labour ideas. The way key outlets could reconfigure their framing of Labour v Tory policies will be interesting to watch.

As for public debate more generally, perhaps the orthodoxy of hard Brexit can henceforth stop sounding so hegemonic. Ditto for austerity. Brexit will dominate the news for at least two years though, so let’s try to also keep the debate calm and sensible on immigration, trade compromises and so much else. If Corbyn can keep being himself and the Parliamentary Labour Party bat away alongside him like a machine, Tory MPs with an eye on their constituency (and their thoughts with Julian Brazier) are going to increasingly find it difficult to pursue policies they know to be unpopular and frankly unnecessarily austere.

Who said politics was boring? Oh and we have parliamentary elections in France this weekend.

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An open letter to young voters: speak for your generation this Thursday

Dear younger voters:

Why this letter

2015_UK_general_election_constituency_map
2015 UK general election constituency map

I write in a personal capacity, in a blog post, as an open letter to you. It is a partisan letter, but I hope it can act as a contribution to a vibrant debate. My former students know that I am usually very elusive about my politics in the classroom (because I think it’s much better that way in learning environments), but for once, in the heat of this important election, I wanted to address your generation. You might not agree on everything but we can still respect and debate each other. I’d also stress that it’s not people but ideas and policies that I see as the real political opponents. These inevitably get conflated during elections, but passionate disagreement on ideas and policies does not imply disrespect for the persons entertaining them.

My frustration is that, even though I’ve lived in the UK for 19 years (longer than some of you, who can vote, have been alive), even though I work and pay taxes here, and even though I even teach and study politics, I don’t get to vote. Why? Because so far I’m an EU worker, and unlike ‘Commonwealth’ residents, we won’t get a say. Yet I’m obsessed by this election, by British and European politics, by the fate of our unjust and unstable global political economy, by the fate of our common planet and so much else. I’m obsessed yet cannot vote where I have settled.

So instead I’m sharing my analysis with you. It’s no longer than most of the essays some of you have written for me: under 2000 words (with many URLs for further resources). You should be done in 10-15 minutes. I am going to take sides. Don’t read if you don’t want to. But if you do and you then want to comment, please feel welcome to (I only ask the same spirit of debate).

Labour

There is a clear choice of government on Thursday: Theresa May, ‘her’ manifesto and an establishment on its traditional mission for another 5 years, or Corbyn’s Labour manifesto for Brexit Britain. Of course there are other parties, and of course only at best a quarter of the seats are seen as potential swing constituencies anyway, but where you vote could make a difference (check out YouGov’s constituency-by constituency estimates). The next government will work towards either the policies put forth by Corbyn, or those of May.

I reckon many of you (and probably many academics) would far prefer the kind of policies envisioned in the Labour manifesto than 5 more years of austerity, migrant-bashing, hard Brexit, food banks, longer NHS waiting times etc. Labour offers the vision of a fairer, renewed and forward-planning Britain which invests in its future while protecting the prides of its past (among which a properly-funded NHS).

Other parties have good ideas too. Nearly all agree that global warming needs action (except the UKIP Tories). Most want a fairer economy (food banks should not have to happen). Most claim Brexit need not be ‘hard’. Many remind us that immigration does need to be discussed. So Labour is not the only sensible choice, and in some seats it might be more tactical to vote for a different candidate than Labour whilst still against the Conservatives. But for the next government (even if perhaps a minority government), it’s Labour or the Tories.

Labour’s manifesto is full of popular and sensible policies. It’s ‘fully costed‘ and not so unrealistic (many Europeans do at least as much as what Labour proposes). It changes the direction of the country, partly reaffirming what was either valuable or improving in the UK until the 2008 crisis (including public transport, the NHS etc). It even looks forward ecologically, in housing, in funding of social justice and education. It aims for international peace and reconciliation where possible. It proposes to be sensible about Brexit and terrorism and the NHS, and so much more. Read it (and read Theresa May’s too)!

Leadership by Corbyn’s principles…

Endlessly-maligned Corbyn (maligned, one might ask, by whom and to whose benefit?) has turned out to be someone with broadly sensible and compassionate ideas, and someone who believes in nuance. He is a seasoned but principled politician. He respects democratic decision-making processes (including Brexit and the drafting of the Labour manifesto). He doesn’t always win, but puts forward proposals that mean to better our common lot. To me these seem good qualities for a ‘leader’. He will even engage squarely with thorny issues, with a honest critical mind and an attempt to address injustices.

Take immigration (which, let’s face it, was probably the main issue at the Brexit referendum). Corbyn’s Labour concedes it needs to be ‘managed’. Brexit will stop the EU directive that allows ‘detached’ workers from other EU members coming here because local bosses can get away with paying them less than the local minimum wage and social safety standards (on that particular gripe, those who criticise ‘immigration’ are right to sense an injustice). But equally most of you agree immigration has a been a good thing for the country: it’s actually not unmanageable, it helps runs most services, it contributes taxpayers, it is good for the economy, it diversifies our common culture and enriches exchanges. And we ought to be proud to provide a shelter for people seeking refuge from war and persecution (‘refugees’ are a special category of ‘immigrants’). Yes any rising population requires infrastructure investment, but people who come and work also pay taxes and contribute to building and funding our common society. Corbyn offers a ‘managed’ and principled immigration policy, without injustice or exploitation of anyone (Brit or foreigner) on British soil.

On international affairs: Corbyn again has a track record of being driven by a concern for justice and peace, which often means, yes, an openness to dialogue (what longer-term solutions haven’t needed that?). He voted against the Iraq war, against the kind of war planned in Libya, against apartheid, against the violence in Northern Ireland. He’s not terribly keen on imperial jingoism in the Falklands (should we really unquestionably go to war to keep total colonial sovereignty over islands far away with some settlers and thousands of sheep?). He’s hesitant to say he’ll press the red button to burn and irradiate millions (would you not hesitate?). He wants us to think again at the wars that don’t help counter, and often foster more, terrorism (why’s that not a good idea?). And yeah he’d be more hesitant to lead the country to another Iraq or Syria or Libya (is that terrible leadership?).

As for education, he’s long been against tuition fees. Many European countries manage without the high fees UK universities have to charge. Universities matter and it’s good for all to be able to educate ourselves. At least Labour is thinking about access to education ‘from cradle to grave‘. And education is crucial for future generations to brush away dangerous demagogues.

… or leadership by a ‘bloody difficult woman’ and her ‘nasty party’

By contrast, Theresa May (who boasts being a ‘bloody difficult woman’), the party she herself once called ‘nasty’, and ‘her’ manifesto are committed to: a ‘dementia tax‘, fox hunting, hard Brexit, more food bank austerity despite actually mounting debt and tax breaks on the 1%, fracking, HS2, immigrant-demonisation, privatisations, zero hours employment promises, NHS crises and longer waiting queues for even basic health treatment (listen to the practitioners), underfunded schools (even homeless teachers), ever more expensive houses; etc. All that uncosted.

Her stance on Brexit has been criticised by nearly every European politician, and it is hardening their own stance (yet she’ll need those very same politicians, but still thinks finger-wagging will facilitate a successful Brexit). She’ll ‘save’ your headline GDP by selling to international investers what you thought you ‘had taken back control’ of (replacing Brussels with big corporations), by cosying up to master Trump and those we apparently must sell weapons to (suppressing all the while official reports that warn against this), and by indulging in vague delusions about infinite trade partners presenting a money-tree of untapped economic potential. In the process, on education, she offers universities struggling with both students and staff because of her Home Office record and Brexit, and postcode-lottery schools that are underfunded and dispirited (remember they’ll teach your kids).

The Tories seem to be realising they went too far in courting their UKIP alter-ego. Yet all they’re offering when pressed are vague false charm through praise, soundbites and carefully calculated statements (read their statements carefully). They are hoping the British public can again be fooled by tactical and empty promises which they never live up to (do remember the Brexit referendum debate was mostly blue-on-blue and  displayed Tory political communication techniques on each other before our eyes). Even during this dreadful campaign they had to screech on many u-turns when they realised specific policy proposals were actually extremely unpopular (they hadn’t realised earlier?).

They say to judge them on their record: debt has gotten worse despite austerity. They say they were needed in 2010 to sort out our finances: the cause of the fiscal bleeding was our shouldering of the mess left by finance (there were promises to clean that up at the time). Austerity is the price the many are paying for the mistakes of the 1% who own most things including the media and steer establishment parties.

She won’t even properly debate. She came off alright on the BBC ‘debate’, though far worse on the Channel 4 one, and no better for chickening out of all the other appearances. She says she’s meeting the public: she’s meeting her own local party members in front of a bus (remind you of anything?). She says on many ideas which she has realised were bad on reflection that she’ll ‘consult’, but charities have been muzzled for this election, and consultation is legally ignorable and duly ignored between elections (unless, apparently, when it’s the Naylor report proposal to sell off more of the assets of the NHS).

This week, they’ll repeat 2015 election themes: ‘coalition of chaos’ (unlike one with Trump and the Saudis?), ‘trust us with the economy’ (though it’s not working but hurting the many), ‘cannot trust Corbyn to nuke’ millions of humans, etc. Another ‘project fear’.

Vote tactically

There are wide variations in the polls, for many reasons: ‘shy Tories‘; the young who claim passion but often vote in lower numbers; constituencies with heavy Brexit preferences (either way) that could become marginal. YouGov gives me cautious hope and gives you a reading on whether your constituency actually could matter.

Of course first-past-the-post is peculiar. Your constituency might have tradionally been ‘safe’, your vote thereby irrelevant. But it might be a marginal this year. So might the one where your grandparents live, go on and talk to them, as Owen Jones suggests. Talk to your neighbours and friends, do what you can at your level, and show your entourage that the younger generations are serious about their future.

This election will shape the Britain that will frame your life. To me, Corbyn seems principled, knowledgeable, experienced, respectful. He is willing to question problematic orthodoxies. He has a positive vision for Brexit Britain. His party has put forward a feasible, enthusing manifesto. The alternative, in my personal view, seems far worse.

The Tories didn’t seem to want to encourage your generation of unregistered voters to register on time. They seem afraid of your vote. What worries me instead is their vision for Brexit Britain. I might be wrong, and to repeat these are my own personal thoughts which I appreciate you might disagree with.

Either way though, you might not get to vote again until 2022. Where do you want the country to be by then?

Best wishes,

An older and worried European among you

#UniteAgainstTheTories

https://www.tactical2017.com/Labour only 5% behind on the latest YouGov poll. Yes polls have their problems etc, and this only one poll etc, but seriously, think back how they looked 2 months ago. Labour is where it wants to be 2 weeks ahead of June 8th.

Labour surge

To be honest, the popularity of much of Labour’s manifesto (certainly many of its core proposals), set against the regular bursts of madness from clearly not so ‘strong and stable‘ May (bold UKIPIsation of discourse since Tory party conference, fox hunting, dementia tax, so many u-turns, once apparently ‘remainer’ but now willing to gamble even the harshest possible Brexit, proud to be ‘bloody difficult’ with Juncker), does look appealing. They even costed it pretty accurately and have the backing of many economists, whereas the Tories’ numbers look shoddy, and their economics painful for the many, good only for the few. Corbyn increasingly looks like a nice enough, authentic enough, principled man. And many Labour MPs and candidates are decent people with good ideas and a concern for others.

Tory woes

Notice how the Tories had been banking everything on May’s image, hiding somewhat everyone else (you would, I guess, wouldn’t you). Well the problem now is she’s becoming toxic: u-turns, too nasty (remember how she told off the police as Home Secretary, how mean she is proud to be with immigrants, how ruthless she proudly wants to be in delivering Brexit), and even unreliable at delivering an election-winning manifesto. She’s unpredictable, and she is avoiding difficult questions (hence also avoiding political debates, or meeting the non-Tory public). Moreover, even if they’re better at hiding it, the Tories are divided: many (a third) did vote remain, and moreover many Conservatives are not the type who will gladly be lads with UKIP. They are not all Mayists. Many of them are concerned, and rightly so.

Could the Tories lose even with 43%?

This election is far from over (even it could still end up in agony like May 2015). Think about it: the constituency boundaries in FPTP are awkward and tiny. Brexit preferences might make certain seats more marginal than traditionally expected (urban centres in the West and Mildands, much of pro-Remain London, places with big universities). Younger voters (typically more pro-Labour and against hard Brexit) could turn up in higher numbers. Some of the people who voted Brexit to shake things up could vote Corbyn to the same effect. There are tactical progressive alliances in several important seats. And remember the SNP should get 50+ MPs.
How totally safe are those 330 Tory seats? Maybe 150 or 200 are, but what about the rest? The Lib Dems might pinch some. Labour could pinch some too. The way the seats were gerrymandered back when the current setup was designed means that actually many Labour seats are safe and it’s Tory marginals that swing strongly one way or the other. 43% Tory and 38% Labour could mean 300 Labour MPs (Labour got 355 seats with ‘only’ 35.2% in 2005): it all depends where those voters are. Even 270+ Labour, to which the SNP could surely add 50, might design a better Brexit. It does not have to be May’s Mean Manifesto.

Make it happen!

So Labour peeps: bring the manifesto to every doorstep (isn’t the party ‘bigger and richer than ever’?). Redirect resentment against ‘free-riders’ (scroungers, immigrants) towards the real free-riders (fat cats at the top, those same ones who like blaming scroungers and immigrants). Promise an exciting, tolerant, forward-looking (and perhaps some steps away, though not poles apart, from the EU) Britain which moves increasingly ecologically, with sound economic policies (not austerity but investment), public ownership where many mainland Europeans have shown if can work, etc. Greens: get out and put your arguments across as well, and then vote tactically. Lid Dems and SNP and Plaid: do this too.
In 2015, 11.3m voted Tory, 9.3m Labour. In the referendum, Leave got 17.4m and Remain 16.1m. Surely many who took a gamble with Brexit to shake up the establishment can be convinced to also surprise the establishment with enough swing a Labour ‘upset’. They took you for granted. You showed how you can surprise traditional voting traditions: show the Tories, the essence of the establishment, that there needs to be more democratic and caring leadership (and yes, principled too).

Defining Britishness for generations

The Labour vision for 2022 can be paid for by taxing higher those at the top of a system that sent us down that path in 2008 when we bailed them out. Why do the rest have to pay even any of it, especially when it means so many food banks, waiting queues, zero-hour contracts and an even more elitist education? Higher progressive taxes barely makes the UK less competitive than EU counterparts. Invest in your society, your infrastructure (transport, NHS, greener and healthier economy).
There’s too much evidence on the cost to all of inequality, the unneccesariness (and cost) of austerity, the emergency of global warming, and so much else that a more progressive government would be more compassionate and forward-looking at navigating. I actually think a majority of Brits are socialists at heart (see for instance the levels of support for the NHS). You are caring, tolerant, multicultural, open and critical. But you also want fairness. Not everyone has enjoyed the fruits of the last few decades, and this needs better sharing for everyone’s sake. So wherever you are, please swap your votes if needed: https://www.swapmyvote.uk/, and #UniteagainstTheTories: https://www.tactical2017.com/.

Crowdfunding Essays on Anarchism and Religion

the_deserter-hdrishEssays in Anarchism and Religion is a multi-volume collection of academic essays which aims to be available freely online, and cheaply in print (priced at the cost of printing). The first volume is ready for production with Stockholm University Press, and two more are in the pipeline.

To reach the aim of producing a scholarly text that is freely available online, and available as a cheap physical copy, the editors have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to meet the production costs. A range of rewards are available, for contributions as low as £5. If the campaign manages to raise more than we need for volume 1, the extra funds will go towards the production costs of the next two volumes.

The series as a whole examines the intersections between anarchist politics and activism on the one hand, and religious ideas, thinkers and practices on the other. Conventionally treated as intransigently hostile systems of thought, the series explores the unexpected points of contact and contestation in a richly varied perspective that encompasses, amongst others, Christianity, Buddhism and mysticism, and the ideas of Kierkegaard, Proudhon and Voegelin. In charting these relationships, the series casts fresh light on the intellectual foundations of anarchism as a political movement, and on the neglected relevance of anarchist ideas to multiple  strands religious thinking. This series will therefore be of interest to those interested in political theory and religious studies, but also those interested in the history of ideas and philosophy.

For more information, to look at the contents of the first volume, and to make a pledge, please visit the campaign’s Kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/97077166/essays-in-anarchism-and-religion.

Think the world’s in a mess? Here are four things you can do about it

Brexit. Trump. Climate change. The financial system. The arms trade. Hardliners. You name it, it’s causing anxiety. The state of the world upsets you, but what can you, a poor little meaningless individual lost in a powerful and complex system, do to change anything? How can you make any difference?

There are actually numerous ways you can engage politically – as often as every day. Here are four to think about.

1. Be a reflective producer

What we do as a job ends up being our biggest contribution to society in terms of productive capacity. We spend decades labouring in a particular sector of the economy and for particular employers, producing a particular “output”. Some of these jobs are neutral, some harmful, some more helpful.

Jobs in finance, agriculture, manufacturing, NGOs, marketing, energy or education fulfil different functions in society. Even within these sectors there are differences in the moral stature different employers and employees can genuinely claim for themselves.

Of course, for many of us, choices are quite limited. But some can choose which industry and company profits from their productive capacity – and the more comfortable classes tend to have more choice. Why not reflect further on what your job is dedicated to morally, economically and politically? Is your creative potential absorbed in advertising? Your engineering skills in weapons technology? Your oratory sold to the highest bidder? Is the production process you contribute to dedicated to justice? Knowledge? Crude profit? Who benefits from the work of your employer?

Where your job sits in the economy frames its contribution to society. It might be the slowest and most structural area of political decision-making at an individual level, but it nonetheless remains at your disposal.

2. Be an ethical consumer

We give lots of money to people over a lifetime through the purchases we make. Some products reach us through better labour conditions or have a lower environmental footprint.

We owe it to those affected not to forget that smartphones may contain rare conflict minerals some of which come from eastern Congo where mines are controlled by militias with child soldiers and rape is a weapon of war. Let’s also remember that parts of the clothing industry use child labour. And let’s not forget that so much of the plastic we consume is produced from petrol, an industry which partly fuels war in the Middle East.

How was your morning coffee produced? Shutterstock

Everything we buy has a history and a social, environmental and political cost: the raw materials, the labour, the ecological footprint. There is much more to it than the price.

There’s also the stock market dimension. Many pension funds, banks and insurance policies invest our money in whatever offers the highest returns, often without much thought about ethics. Why not pressure those massive money pots to be more ethical in their investment preferences?

Of course you cannot put your money where your ethic is all the time. Nor does ethical consumption (which advertisers have become effective at spinning) resolve deeper structural issues. But a more inquisitive approach to our daily shopping can have an impact on the world. So ask yourself: who and what benefits if I buy this product?

3. Be an active citizen

Obviously, we can use the political channels officially open to us to be an active citizen, from elections to petitions, to campaigning, participating in trade unions and writing to politicians. Some will even consider tactical civil disobedience: for all the critics of the suffragettes or Gandhi at the time, even established politicians have since come to praise them as heroes.

But we can also become more conscious recipients of political messages. We can bone up on basic lessons of political communication to avoid falling for tricks. There’s agenda-setting theory, spiral of silence theory, cultivation theory and many more. Political marketing tactics have proved effective at winning votes (Trump is a brand). The tools they have been using to swing us are not that difficult to see through once we know how.

4. Be a principled person

Think of that conversation you overheard in the street, or what your uncle said at the family dinner, or the racist or misogynist insult you overheard on the bus. You can let it pass or you can intervene. Of course, a fruitful intervention needs to be sensitive and tactful. But if someone says something that worries you, who wins if you don’t react? If someone is driven by fears, why not listen and discuss, even while sticking to your principles?

Think while you tweet. Shutterstock

We live in our local communities. Most people are quite normal. Some have opposite views to you on key political questions. Why not talk them through politely and respectfully, try to empathise and even consider solutions together? It might even develop our own thinking.

Bethink yourselves

These four areas of decision-making are not exhaustive, and they do overlap. When you’re on social media, you are consuming but also producing content. When your insurance company invests in your sector but asks for higher returns through weaker labour conditions, you indirectly become both slave and slave owner. Human structures and institutions are complicated.

So we need to ask questions and be open to learn. Decisions still need to be informed by reflection and analysis, including through discussion with those who do not already agree with us.

Nor is it fair to expect perfection: compromises are inevitable, though there is always room for more effort in a conscious and critical direction. Without continuous questioning and engagement, the current structures of power and oppression continue unabated.

Tolstoy wanted us to “bethink ourselves”: to wise up to false preachers and systemic injustice, and to withdraw our complicity from structures of oppression (especially if you’re among the comfortable classes). A century on from his death, there are many more ways we can all engage in politics. You’re only one of many, but there are many like you, and if the direction of the world worries you, there are actually quite a few things you can do about it.

The Conversation

Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Loughborough University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

“Jusqu’ici tout va bien”: the dangerous voice in PM May’s head

Image result for brexit keep calmAt the start of La Haine, a classic French film about life in tough suburbs directed by Mathieu Kassovitz in 1995, we hear the following words which have since acquired cult status: “C’est l’histoire d’un homme qui tombe d’un immeuble de cinquante étages. Le mec, au fur et à mesure de sa chute il se répète sans cesse pour se rassurer : jusqu’ici tout va bien, jusqu’ici tout va bien, jusqu’ici tout va bien.” [The loose English translation goes: “Heard about the guy who fell off a skyscraper? On his way down past each floor, he kept saying to reassure himself: So far so good… so far so good… so far so good.”]

Theresa May this summer got away with the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, partly because companies, markets and other key economic agents seem to have thought “OK, she’ll surely be reasonable. Surely the Tories have enough well-placed friends and experience to negotiate a ‘Brexit means Brexit’ that is reasonable for the key market forces that underlie the British economy.”

Declaring as she did a couple days ago that Article 50 will be triggered by March 2017 shatters this semblance of calm and opens the door to years of political and economic turmoil. In effect, it’s as if she had actually triggered the Article now although with a slightly longer timeline of 2.5 years – timeline against which everything will now be measured. Why make this declaration now?

The Financial Times argues that the motive is purely political: she chose this timing to placate impatient Brexiteers in her party and minimise the risk of the Conservative Party looking disunited at its annual conference. Imagine the stories otherwise: “Labour comes out of its conference looking increasingly united but the Tories are dividing”. Perhaps, then, the PM was clever to name the date now?

Probably not. She’s playing with very high stakes at a gambling game in which she lacks strong cards. Pretty much every experienced trade negotiator (please note: “experienced negotiator”, not tabloid pundit) says it will take years to get new deals (note the necessary plural). Without a (good!) deal by the end of the Article 50 period the UK economy will face quite a plunge into a completely new, and probably not very favourable, legal context for its trade. That the specifics are uncertain is not going to appease the markets or encourage them to smooth our ride to that date.

Moreover, the UK government has so few trade experts to lead a clever negotiation game that it’s having to recruit them. The EU27 (the other members), for their part, are in no rush (some also have existential elections to focus on first), and have far less to lose. The rest of the world might use this as an opportunity for a trade deal with the UK, but not necessarily for a deal that benefits UK constituents (Do you think international relations to date has been governed by solidarity? Or that the UK has projected so much selfless love in the past to earn magnanimous solidarity now?). Calling the date now gives away one of the few bits of leverage the UK had in negotiating a good deal for post-Brexit GB (or, well, England and Wales).

Theresa May is in effect pointing the allegorical gun on the head of UK Brexit negotiators (led by the strikingly reckless – some say rather incompetent – Davis, Johnson and Fox): “Brexit must mean Brexit and you must make a success of it”. She must know the gun going off would probably kill her political career too (though she’ll be fine herself, don’t worry – there’s many potential luxurious careers awaiting recycled PMs). The problem and the bitter reality for others in the UK is that the gun is also on the UK economy too. And markets will speculate no end about it as time flies and in reaction to every little declaration by British and European politicians.

The PM’s approach as a cold administrator delivering what people seem to want worked alright at Home Office. Actually, it did “alright” in seeming to apply toughness on immigration – but it failed to reach populist targets, it angered the police force and it fostered further lingering xenophobia.  May herself did do alright out of it though, so far. And economic doom has not enveloped the country (yet?). So “jusque ici tout va bien”. But the next line in La Haine famously adds: Mais l’important n’est pas la chute, c’est l’atterrissage. [“How you fall doesn’t matter. It’s how you land! “]

May basically declared an end to her honeymoon. Europhile Tories are going to get vocal. The SNP too. Labour, if more clever, will exploit this. Corporations will plan for the potential (and so far looking most likely) scenario of the end of passporting rights to the EU. The tabloids will scream ever louder. Brexit utopians will cling to dreams and every reassurance they can find. Europhiles will panic and some will prepare plan B (remember this includes the most educated and the youngest).

Until we hit the floor, leading Brexiteers can claim we’re doing fine: jusqu’ici tout va bien. What I’m curious to know is exactly how they will be held accountable after March 2019. And by “they”, I don’t mean those fooled by a rotten political and media system into believing this seemed a good idea at the time, I mean the establishment game players on the top floor who have been playing with our futures. Who will pick up the pieces, who will be the pieces, and will those who led the fall accept responsibility? Who will have benefited from this whole episode? And will discussions about the EU have grown in maturity by then? Honi soit qui mal y pense?

Brexit: reflections from UK-based politics lecturer raised in Brussels

If only the debate had really been about how the EU functions, what it does, why, how the UK works within it, what does need changing and how best to do this together. You cannot say political scientists, economists, legal scholars and other experts didn’t see this coming and warn of the consequences. Yet Brexit won. There are many reasons why, but there are also many ways to respond to the root causes. Politics is often complicated, and there are many different aspects to consider to get a better understanding of what happened. The below are my tentative thoughts on this. It’s a longer than average read, but I want to try to do justice to the many complexities, and I have provided numerous links to further info and related arguments (I am grateful to many facebook friends for posting interesting stuff on these – and other – issues.). I hope it can contribute to the unfolding debate, and I genuinely hope to hear from you to refine or revise the tentative analysis.

Let’s start with a reminder of some of the damage (so far):

  1. the sterling is down and will be volatile for a while to come (the same applies, though probably less acute, for the euro), with numerous economic consequences, including higher inflation, more debt and economic pain, a very uncertain future for national institutions like the NHS (both because it relies so much on immigration, and because of the public views on it by leading Leave campaigners including Farage, Johnson and Gove), major employers moving out of the UK (starting with banks), the possibility of higher interest rates or recession or both, and so on;
  2. Moody’s revised its rating for the UK economy to ‘negative’, which will make the UK’s continuing deficit and debt more expensive to service;
  3. stock markets across the world have reacted with turmoil and volatility of their own (and for all you might feel little sympathy for the financial market, remember they’re also holding your pension);
  4. Britain faces a major constitutional crisis on several fronts with Scotland quite clearly on a pretty firm road to independence, the fragile Northern Irish Peace process in jeopardy, and uncertainties about the status of Gibraltar [see also this];
  5. the divided Conservatives will be electing a new PM soon after a major miscalculation by the PM and Chancellor, and the Labour leadership continues tear itself apart;
  6. there is political uncertainty all across Europe, and considerable anger (hence the demand for a quick divorce);
  7. populist politicians across the world are gloating (even Trump is celebrating, in Scotland of all places!);
  8. Britain is deeply divided (52:48 is a pretty even division, not a broad agreement) across party lines, many Remainers feel quite angry not without reason [see also this and this], and many Brexit voters seem to be having second thoughts already (not least as some of the lies that tricked them are now being admitted), with an official petition asking for a second vote gaining millions of signatures;
  9. parts of the UK which have benefited very considerably from EU membership are pleading for continued special support post-Brexit (even if some actually voted for Brexit despite clearly gaining hugely from the EU [see also this]);
  10. British xenophobes have been feeling liberated from ‘political correctness’ and are much less hesitantly publicly abusing foreigners [see also this, this, this, this and this], so there is no denying some toxic forces have been invigorated.

We’re in for a long and hairy national and international political and economic rollercoaster.

Much will be said about it and we do need to talk and listen to each other about all the pertinent issues. These clearly include immigration (within the EU, but also from refugees fleeing death and persecution), the EU and its institutions, the gap between elites and the people (and the anti-establishment ‘protest’ vote), post-2008 economic policy (austerity and its alternatives), better designs for democratic structures from local to international levels, and more.

Here, I want to offer some perplexed and frustrated thoughts including on those issues, and some concrete proposals too. I feel drawn to write this because I have what I think is a very peculiar location in British and indeed European society. But I’m also genuinely interested in conversation and debate, so if some of you feel like reading and reacting (constructively), then great.

I think I ought to start by explaining a bit about where I come from on all this, because this is both relevant and more transparent – but skip that part if you’re really not interested. Then I want to make a few remarks about the broader British and European context this is all happening in, because this is relevant in order to understand the Brexit outcome. The third section finally turns to various reflections on the referendum result. In the final bit, I make (or rather echo) some concrete suggestions for European politicians and citizens to ponder and discuss.

I. My topical location

I am uncomfortable talking about private life, but it’s relevant here. Why? I come from the EU. I have lived, studied and worked in the UK for 18 years now. I was not allowed to vote (whereas some of those born here after I migrated soon will, and ironically I’ll be teaching some of them if they’re starting a politics course in Loughborough in September). I pay taxes here and take part in political life in many different ways. My two-year old son with my French wife (who I met in Kent) is British and French, and I just did the British thing of hopping onto the ‘property ladder’ (possibly a mistake now). I live in Leicester, a multicultural city even Europeans have now heard of (champioooones!) at the heart of a Brexit-dominated East Midlands.

But I’m a ‘foreigner’, an ‘expat’, a ‘migrant’. My mum is French, my dad was Greek, and I grew up in Brussels, in the very centre of the EU beast. I even went to a European School and got a European Baccalaureate. I’ve never lived in France or Greece, the places I’m supposed to be ‘from’ – I only ever lived in Brussels and England. Not surprising therefore that international politics has long intrigued me, as have the EU and attitudes towards it from across Europe. I studied and later taught EU politics and economics, and now work at a respected university as senior lecturer in Politics and International Relations.

So I have an awkward perspective on all this, one that leads me to want to make a number of reflections you might care to hear about. And by ‘you’, I mean Britons of both sides, students, workers, travellers, migrants from the EU and beyond, EU technocrats, politicians, commentators and others. Reactions of Europeans living in Britain have already been reported, but I want to try to combine academic reflections with those of a child of Brussels living in Britain.

Of course that does not mean I’m right. The study of politics involves a lot of nuances and confusions and speculations, but these can still be approached with careful analysis. And I am genuinely keen to learn more from your responses to these tentative reflections. I really mean to have a conversation with you. Please comment (constructively) and let’s talk about all this.

I’ll give you a spoiler: I think we need to pause the divorce, seriously listen to each other’s concerns (on immigration, on economic deprivation and more) and consider some fairly straightforward policy options which could actually make it a better journey for us all. And ‘Europe’ is far from the only urgent priority.

II. The UK and Europe today

File:UK location in the EU 2016.svgNo event of such magnitude can be analysed outside its context. Britain today is largely a welcoming society, with people from all sorts of cultures (including different British cultures) living side by side, engaging with each other with considerable respect, tolerance and equality (backed up by selectively progressive ‘equality’ legislation compared to other parts of the globe). My experience (in Kent and in the East Midlands) of the many Brits I have met, worked with, eaten and drunk and sang with is of a truly welcoming, witty and friendly bunch – across class, profession, newspaper-readership, gender preference or ethnic background. I have met many EU (and other) migrants here too who have felt welcome here and who make an undeniably positive contribution to British society and its economy, including helping run the NHS (which would simply not cope without immigrant labour). The UK is not a racist society, though as everywhere you do have some racists and xenophobes (it seems racism is ironically one of the characteristic that all nations share).

Class’ is a big thing here. It frames identities (far more than in France, for example). You talk about it a lot. And it does matter, though class in the socio-economic sense (e.g. what you do for a living) is actually quite different from class in an anthropological sense, in terms of how people imagine their identity. This is important on Brexit because some genuine ‘class’ (economic) inequalities that do need dealing with were framed and exploited as ‘class’ divides in a more identitarian sense for rather calculated electoral reasons. But then class matters quite independently of the EU anyway, and we do need to reflect on whether an elite class has been waging a war on the disenfranchised whilst simultaneously happily relying on them to extract legitimacy for their policies.

The EU has faced increasing scepticism since the early 1990s. More recently it’s been blamed (not without good reason) for constitutionalising neoliberal economic policies, but it’s also a political framework with shared democratic structures (the European Parliament for one), shared ‘rights’ or ‘civil liberties’ (I think Brits prefer the latter term on the whole), and yes a common market too. It has many flaws, which need addressing. The EU leadership (which means in large part the democratically elected heads of government that make up the European Council) has been poor at addressing these flaws with real intent. It has also now associated itself with very painful and unnecessary austerity even though a root cause of what led Greece to such debt is the EU’s poor design [see also this]. It does play a role in reinforcing and institutionalising neoliberal economic policies and the left-wing strand of eruoscepticism does have important criticisms to make about this [see for instance this and this].

But the EU is also the Erasmus programme, fairly free travel, cultural exchanges and a recognition of our proximity with a will to work together on common challenges. It invests in poorer regions, in science and in programmes to help the needy outside the EU. The EU ‘does’ a lot of ‘things for us’ (see also this). It was an ambitious project (and yes for some, from the start, it was a political project with ambition for further and deeper integration), but it has stalled partly through expansion and compromises. Many even close to its core do not expect a much ‘closer’ Europe anymore. And frankly some of it definitely needs thorough redesigning.

There is no doubt that those who have benefited from the European project have not always ensured those with fewer opportunities enjoyed as much the benefits of the EU. In the Brussels bubble I grew up in, for example, we were priding ourselves in being very tolerant and understanding of different cultures, not noticing we shared more with each other than with many of our nominal ‘compatriots’. We were different and tolerant of each other alright, but of similar and comfortable socio-economic backgrounds.

For many, the EU is this bureaucracy far away that comes up with silly policies (actually often in part to ensure fair competition in a single market) and is too inflexible on free movement of EU workers (actually because without free movement of labour you have distortions hindering the full functioning of a single market). National politicians don’t help when they portray the good stuff agreed in Brussels as theirs but the bad stuff as from ‘Brussels’ (as if ‘Brussels’ wasn’t in good part those same democratically-elected politicians, and indeed the elected European Parliament). But yes, the EU has had something like Brexit coming. And yes, the wealthier have enjoyed more of the EU – though others have too.

There has of course been a very significant Eurosceptic strand in UK politics for a while [see also this and this]. Europe famously divided the Tories in the early 1990s. It divided the left way before that too, for partly different reasons. And the UK Independence Party has been making steady gains especially in European elections, even getting 3.9m votes in last year’s general election (though under the UK’s electoral system, only one MP was elected to translate that electoral weight into parliamentary weight). But Eurosceptic Tories have been pressing hard for a referendum in recent years, and Cameron and Osborne decided to try to placate that wing of their party by negotiating a (pretty weak) ‘new’ settlement with EU partners early in this parliament and putting it to the vote. Internal party divisions would be settled by a national vote. They clearly miscalculated. It’s worth noting that focus groups in the run-up to the referendum showed the British public considered the EU pretty low on a list of primary concerns, far lower that immigration, a top concern. How surprising then was it that the campaign focused so much on immigration rather than the EU?

Finally on context, the 2008 crisis must be mentioned, as must the broader context of neoliberal economic globalisation (to use the language of its critics). Greek citizens are being submitted to the kind of austerity we were meant to have learnt from the 1930s was suicidal, counter-productive and frankly dangerous. Irish, Spanish, Portuguese and other residents too. In the UK the coalition government actually imposed austerity largely for ideological reasons (this particular kind of economic policy, with so many victims, is just not necessary and in fact profoundly discredited). All this ostensibly because the financial system crashed. It was caused by a system encouraging fat cats to become fatter, a system the EU had little to do with directly. That said, economic injustices predate the 2008 crisis, and significant chunks of British and Western society have been disenfranchised for at least as far back as 1980s and the Washington consensus. The Brexit vote is in part a response to longer-term globalisation.

III. Brexit

So on Thursday 23 June ‘the UK voted for Brexit’. We need to pay attention to the demographics. First, it’s undeniable that Britons are pretty much split in half on the one expression of binary political preference they were given: 17.4m voted for Brexit, but 16.1m did vote against it, and the latter are angry and agitated by the result.

In England, Brexit got a majority of votes every region except London – the capital, a major centre of global finance, one of the most multicultural and globalised metropolis on the planet, and now a pro-EU island in a Brexit-preferring England. And of course Scotland and Northern Ireland (and Gibraltar) went the other way. Yet each set of voters contained different kinds of voters with different concerns and priorities.

We also know the younger and better educated tended to vote for Remain. Ironically, the (generally well educated) political elites are the people who now have to put together a Brexit reality, and the younger generations those who will have to live in it (quite right, then, that many feel angry).

Class did play a role, inevitably. Those earning more did tend to side with the 16.3m – not just because they stand to lose a good deal, but also because some actually believe in the worth of the EU. At the other end, those who have been worse off for many years now tended to vote for Brexit. Some clearly wanted to register a protest against the elite in Westminster, in the City and in Europe. If only they focused on the economic policies that had a bigger role in causing their misery! But the binary choice they were given was only between ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ in the EU. Many were led to see Brexit as the choice that expressed (justifiable) discontent with the status quo and its establishment, and with the UK’s management of immigration as they have been led to perceive it [see also this, this and this]. Much Brexit support came from towns and regions that have been run down for decades (not just since 2008) [see also this and this], with many there clearly going for Brexit in part because they felt they have noting left to lose. This is surely a tragic cry we need to recognise and respond to – how long can we really go on ignoring communities that have nothing left to lose and pretending our current economic policies is the best that can be offered to them? Do we really want to let xenophobic and opportunistic populists become their self-appointed spokespersons? In any case, to quote Penny, if this was a working class revolt, “it’s not a working class victory” [see also this]. They will suffer considerably if Brexit does go on unfolding as it has started. And anyway, for all the above, the working-class remained overall less likely to have voted in the referendum at all.

Some are accusing all Leavers of racism, but of course not all 17.4m Brexiters are racist. However, those voters who are racist (a small but real minority) did all side with the 17.4m [UPDATE: as per first comment below, I should rephrase to: “a clear majority” of racists, not “all”]. I’m not sure all UKIP voters are racist, but at least quite a few are, and 96% of the 3.9m who voted UKIP in the 2015 general election folded into the 17.4m Brexiters (interestingly, 4% of UKIP voters actually voted Remain). We know a considerable chunk of the 11.3m who voted Conservative will have gone that way too (58% apparently). But clearly some of the 9.3m who voted Labour must have contributed to the total (one estimate is 37%), and indeed some who didn’t bother voting in 2015 (didn’t see the point?) did here see this protest vote as worth using to make a point (the turnout in 2015 was 66.4%, and 72.2% in last week’s referendum).

But there is little denying that the campaign was dominated by immigration (with much misinformation on it) [see also this]. This matters. You see, those who have studied scientifically how the media influence politics have realised it’s just not as simple as people voting as told by their paper. What does happen though (and this is just one of the ways the media do influence electoral outcomes) is that what themes dominate a campaign skews results (it’s called agenda-setting theory). If, say, in a general election campaign the issues that dominate are around crime and security, this tends to benefit right-wing parties because they’re seen as more competent on those issues. If the dominant issues are around social justice, health-care and so on, the converse happens with left-wing parties. So, if the media let immigration dominate the news during the EU referendum campaign, even if they grant both sides religiously equal time talking about it, the effect will be to benefit the side looking like it has a plan to deal with this. This is despite a pretty conclusive set of studies showing immigration leads to a net economic gain, except perhaps for some of the very worse off (and this does matter of course).

(Incidentally, we really need to all learn more about how the media influences politics. We need to learn about that at school to be better able to see through the ways some interests have become good at spinning things and shaping ‘democratic’ preferences. Just relying on legislation about equal time for candidates simply won’t prevent those interests influencing elections.)

A popular slogan and hashtag proved to be ‘take back control’. Many thought the UK would ‘take control back’ of its borders. One might ask whether the British demos really does now ‘control’ unfolding events any better now, let alone the further economic pain to come. If you want real ‘control’, you need to get involved in parties, in political activism, in local to international organisations. Giving Farage and Gove and Johnson (and Le Pen and Wilders) a grin isn’t magically granting you or us much real ‘control’. Decisions will still be taken far away – just from Westminster more than Brussels (though to be honest Westminster still took far more decisions). By the way, there’s also the argument that the real power is not in Westminster but in the clusters of capital, in the City and in the lobby HQs of global corporations and rich interest groups – that the democratic spectacle is effectively a distraction, that whoever wins the show will still comply with the structural constraints that push for a richer and thinner 1%. To ‘take back control’ in this context means more than just voting for Brexit.

And if you want real control you need something close to what the EU (among others) refers to as ‘subsidiarity, but also with real democratic accountability at each level (including powers of recall, a functioning sphere of knowledgeable debate and information, and bottom-up channels of political engagement and empowerment). Anarchists actually have many useful warnings to heed about parliamentary democracy, about political organisation, about economic interests left to take control of politics – but I’d say that given my research interests, and it’s a different debate, here for another day.

Then there are the Lexiters (of which Corbyn might almost secretly be one). To the extent that the EU has indeed constitutionalised neoliberal economics, breaking from it and (crucially) going on to set up a different set of economic policies could help achieve left-wing ambitions. But that’s to forget who will probably be in power in October, and the forces that are doing great off the whole evolving context. To take TTIP for instance, it is dangerous indeed, but I’m not sure an independent UK will resist it better than within the EU [see also this]. Brexit today would also very likely threaten many gains in terms of employment law which many Leavers have clearly earmarked for culling. And before any left-leaning readers celebrate banks moving staff out of the UK, bear in mind that quite apart from this being a major employer shedding jobs, the UK economy has simply not been reconfigured enough yet to depend less on financial services, which means another hit to that sector will also hit the public purse even further.

Right-wing eurosceptics have some arguments worth hearing too. I’m not convinced ‘sovereignty’ is actually something real anymore that can be ‘held’ in national political institutions, but immigration is indeed a concern for some, and much as I personally do not like borders [on that, see this], it’s true that it takes time for big and long waves of immigration to be absorbed. That said, it ‘only’ takes proper public planning, such as the (employment-generating) building of schools and infrastructure, and a willingness to discover each other (this cultural bit probably takes the most time). If the US could grow to its current population, then to describe the UK as ‘full’ is nearly as myopic as calling the whole of Australia as ‘full’ (as some do). In other words, infrastructure tends to follow population once there’s proper planning. Still, people need to know that immigrants are not ‘stealing’ their jobs (or rather local employers willingly underpaying them with even more exploited labour), and immigrations takes some smart policies in dialogue with all concerned to be managed well.

So to sum up, the Brexit demographics tends to include in particular older voters, the most disenfranchised, the xenophobes, those intending to protest against the elite, and the less educated. It brought together ‘shire Tories’ with ‘industrial heartlands’ (to quote Bell) and indeed frustrated xenophobes. Many of those were fooled by a disingenuous campaign which left the impression that voting Brexit meant voting against the establishment (which, given Johnson’s background and Farage’s wealth, is bitterly ironic), against excessive immigration, and for more ‘control’. Few people are denying today that the campaign was corrupted by lies, misinformation (we now live in an age of ‘data’ rather than ‘facts’, in the words of sociologists), and lack of genuine information and debate on the EU [see also this, this, this, this, and this]. Even the Sun is facing some backlash from readers unimpressed by the campaign misinformation it is now coming to admit.

Brexit, though, is a mistake. It re-energises some truly dangerous ghosts of the past (xenophobia, nationalism, populism and the politics of division) [see this]. It’s unfair on the younger generation. Even many who voted Brexit seem to be regretting it [see also this]. By the way, it’s almost amusing how Farage can (so quickly!) say the NHS funding pledge was ‘a mistake’ (a pledge Johnson, possibly the next PM, was happy to stand by), and Hannan can say the pretty dominant claim that Brexit will help reduce migration was misleading [see also this], but we still describe the outcome as ‘the will of the people’, rather than then also call that too a ‘mistake’ which equally needs to be revisited now the lies of the Leave camp are being admitted to. Even the Leave camp seems to realise it has landed itself in a very difficult position and needs to move carefully and slowly on this – some of its rich backers will be pressing it not to press the button. Besides, Cameron’s manoeuvres anyway mean for now that Article 50 looks unlikely to be invoked before October, by which time it might be that Brexit will look unlikely in the end, and a second referendum might be on the way. Either way, voters were heavily misinformed and misled, hence the outcome very arguably not that legitimate.

Do remember who the Leave camp included. Johnson was hesitant for a long while and weighed on the Leave side most probably to boost his chances of being anointed as the next PM. Gove was always against the EU, as was Duncan Smith. Gove and Hilton uttered some pretty worrying and dark anti-intellectualism – a particularly sinister populist tactic to muster the vote of the disenfranchised and the racist, and this despite ‘experts’ being far more trusted than politicians or journalists (though Brexit could indeed trigger a ‘brain drain’ – including worried British brains by the way [see also this]). Farage and UKIP have uttered some clearly racist and crypto-racist things (don’t ever forget that poster and its parallels) for many years. And did you know that Brexit backers (and voters) are far more likely to deny the human contribution to causing catastrophic climate change (against the scientists)? Bear this in mind and reflect on it.

Frankly, there’s so much else that matters so much more than the EU. The planet is heating, with massive consequences we can predict, including (by the way) mass migration triggered by ecological disasters and rising sea levels. The global economy is sick, deeply unequal and unstable (we also know the rich gain just like the poor from more equal distributions of wealth). There’s plenty of weapons (from light weapons to WMD) flying about, and plenty of political violence (from ‘terrorism’ to war) that kills and maims as you read this. These issues should be political and economic priorities. The EU is another layer of governance that can help deal with them. It does need reform, but a binary Brexit is not it. It has pretty much stopped getting ‘ever closer’ as a union in any real sense a while ago, but Europeans will anyway remain ‘ever close’ to each other, and there are challenges that can only be met successfully together.

IV. Building Europe and EU+UK Democracy Together

So let’s try to make some concrete suggestions.

First, why don’t the leaders of the EU27 agree to open Council Meetings as Varoufakis has called for, and then ask the UK electorate to vote again now things will be so much more transparent? Why is this so difficult to concede to if their discussions really are clean and democratic and important? If you really do mean to serve the people, why not hold open meetings? See how British voters react then (and yes, I’d expect ministers to behave differently as a consequence, but that’s partly the point).

Perhaps the EU27 (the EU minus the UK) can grant the UK some genuine migration controls too. A complex compromise on this even dealing with the current constitutional challenge is possible, and would address an increasingly toxic public concern. But why not pause the divorce and really make a couple of simple but significant reforms that will change the way the EU is portrayed by the media and by national politicians? (By the way, we need to talk about Fortress Europe too – but some other day.)

Let’s also all push for Cameron to set up a regulator to ensure political advertising is never again as misleading [sign also this], and let’s get this done before the next plebiscite.

If you’re an EU migrant living in the UK, consider expressing solidarity with the ‘general strike’ on 4 July to help expose the UK economy’s dependence on us – though with current UK laws on strikes, a real strike would probably be thoroughly illegal and risky. Perhaps there are more creative ways to do this too – even wearing a badge, or writing an auto-reply, pointing you’re a potentially vulnerable contributor to the UK and you’re happy to chat to people about the whole Brexit fallout or at least your own circumstances and what impact Brexit would have on your input into the UK? Whether EU citizens in the UK or UK citizens in the EU, let’s try to be creative in engaging those living around us in helping all those interested reach a better understanding of where we are and how to go where from here.

Let’s also agree to at least wait a little before invoking Article 50, pause the divorce and consider in all seriousness how the EU27 want to do the EU from now on and how the UK really wants to relate to that, and let’s harness our collective capacity together to shape things for the better. It’s also not illegitimate to reconsider what is portrayed as the ‘will of the British electorate’ (52% of it, that is) when some now regret joining those ranks, and when even Brexit campaigners have now conceded to have peddled some pretty thick lies to swing the vote. Note also that Farage himself said in May that if Remain won by 52:48 this would be “unfinished business”, in other words saying he’d have considered a 52:48 in that direction to need another referendum (surely the same applies the other way?). Maybe Brexit will still happen in the end, but there are surely good reasons to pause and have one last, honest and in-depth chat before the divorce. There is no need to let the demons of populism get a quick and predictably risky win. Let’s use this crisis as an opportunity to improve things (the forces of ‘neoliberal capitalism’ do that so successful – Naomi Klein shows it well in Shock Doctrine – so why shouldn’t the demos too?)

Either way, surely this referendum thunderbolt ought to remind EU and UK Politicians and technocrats to listen more to the people, and less to corporate lobbies and vicious political and economic forces (though if you lobby for financial interests, maybe the time has come to lean on your Tory friends to make the economic consequences of Brexit clear?). And please listen not just to the binary expression of that will, but listen to the causes and put forward some genuine proposals to deal with their concerns.

But Europe is not even among the biggest international challenges facing us all today and tomorrow, though it is one of the political vehicles to meet them. Let’s build ecologically-friendlier houses for all across the planet, starting at home (which in the UK means revisiting some notorious Tory U-turns on green policies that were helping the UK become a leader in an emerging economic market). Let’s get used to sharing this planet across borders (we will soon have to anyway as sea levels rise!). Let’s work on mending socio-economic injustices too. Let’s stop shrinking our economies whilst piling up more debt but instead adopt Keynesian policies of the kind the US adopted in response to the crisis, and let’s then work harder on setting up fairer and more sustainable economic policies in the longer run. Let’s try to work together to face the big challenges for current and future generations together, and let’s build political structures that do this democratically and accountably. Let’s pull together the best of human creativity to discuss visions for a decent and resilient global society by 2060, if only for the sake of today’s parents and their children.

This is all perfectly achievable. A full bottom-up utopia might be some way away, but some simple things can be done to improve our lot. We know a Tobin tax would reduce financial speculation. We could ask that employers (maybe entire states, through legislation) adopt a wage-ratio cap of 20:1, i.e. no one in the organisation can earn more than 20 times the salary of the poorest earner (‘you want to earn even more, raise the basic salary too then’). Perhaps we need to adopt a more proportional voting system so anti-establishment views can feel better represented, as Lucas is suggesting (by the way, the 2011 AV referendum should have been on single-transferable vote, not AV). Let’s all educate ourselves on the mechanics of political marketing and political communication. I’m sure others can come up with other relatively simple and cheap policies to meet the real global challenges. Then we can also discuss the knottier stuff too. As for the referendum, let’s run this again but with serious conversation this time, and a sharper awareness of how the media influences electorates.

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I don’t expect you all to agree with all I said. Indeed I am keen to engage in discussion and refine/revise these reflections. Hopefully you found some of it engaging. I’m genuinely interested in your views on any of this, whether you are in the EU bubble, an academic, a Brexit voter, a Sun or Guardian reader, a worker or unemployed, a Green or UKIP voter, a EU politician or a European citizen. Let’s talk about this. Let’s even do that whilst watching the European football. Let’s use the Brexit shockwave to democratise Europe politically and economically.