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A Serpent's Egg Redux: Labour and the Disconnect with the Working Class

04/07/2016 10:15 | Updated 04 July 2016

For much of the past ten days I have been engaged in a series of online and real-life discussions with complete strangers, friends, friends of FaceBook friends, and so forth over the political crises in the United Kingdom.  Where one conversation ends another begins in one long somnambulant push to understand what in the hell just happened.

While the Tories have demonstrated breathtaking incompetence given that every single actor involved in pushing for Brexit has resigned, disappeared, or changed campaign promises, I am more concerned by what is going on the other side of the aisle, where the situation is no better.  Some might even say it is far worse.  On social media, conspiracy theories abound about how 80% of the MPs have conspired to oust Corbyn to delay the release the Chilcot Report.  One part of the Labour Party members use the word "coup" to describe what is happening, but to anyone reading and watching this drama unfurl it is anything but.  Over 80% of Jeremy Corbyn's fellow MPs passed a vote of no confidence in an expression that they view him as a a political liability.  This is aside from Corbyn's leaked emails which were critiqued in the media, emails which demonstrate his weak enthusiasm for the Remain campaign, much less the accusation that Corbyn slept through the referendum night.  Corbyn's supporters growl, "But the no confidence vote is unconstitutional and holds not weight legally." Great! If that is the case, could not the same be said for the entire Brexit vote which likewise has no legality behind it?

Flame wars ensue between those Lexiters who support Corbyn and the many who feel betrayed by Corbyn's inaction in campaigning and educating the public about why, for instance, remaining in the EU and fixing its problems from within the structure would be more beneficial. And it may very well be the more realistic and far less expensive option over what leaving the EU is certainly going to cost the British taxpayers more than simply the stability of their currency.  As of today, over sixty shadow ministers have resigned and there is no honest discussion about Corbyn's liabilities among his supporters. Instead, Corbyn heads to SOAS to announce that he is "proud to carry on," addressing the very demographic which had the weakest voter turnout last week (ages 18-24: 36%).   His supporters stubbornly refuse to address the Remain voters within Labour who hold legitimate concerns about Corbyn's inaction concerning the EU Referendum and who are likewise distressed with the messianism surrounding Corbyn, his very person rendered cultural myth despite his having done so much damage by having done so very little.

While it is clear that not everyone voting Leave was a xenophobe or racist, the inverse is also true: that those who voted to Remain were not opting into the neoliberal political machinery.  Many, indeed, voted to Remain because of feeling as if their lives were part of Europe, that the larger community of the EU allowed for the British subject who wanted some symbolic connection with a larger international community.  And this is where Corbyn's supporters should be very concerned.  While criticism of Kosovo and Greece are valid and should be levelled at the EU, the majority of Leave voters were the petit bourgeoisie and the hardcore xenophobes who always vote for the right.  The Lexiters can argue they voted to "topple imperialism" as one person told me, but they have unwittingly collaborated with the far-right for short-term political gain, each side believing that only their agenda is the true way to political revolution.  Add to this, the fact that Lexiters promoted the myth that Brexit was a great uprising by the working people against the elite.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

As Labour held 63% of the Remain vote, pretty much on par with the SNP (64%),  none of the working class protest against Remain focussed on neoliberalism or the predatory policies of the bipartisan political elite that have taken over political power since Thatcher.  The working class, the most affected by the rapacious policies of New Labour and the draconian practices of the Tories since the late 1970s, was the one group which did not evoke class consciousness or critique of these neoliberal structures of power.  Instead, the working class vote was won with ad hominem attacks planted  by the Leave campaign and further insinuated by right-wing media whereby anyone on the Remain camp was painted as an elitist.  And as it went, the reasoning for a Leave vote fell to the easiest prey:  the recent immigrants who are "taking our jobs." Many working class voters ran with Brexit given that for them any change was perceived as better than the status quo.  In the weeks leading up to the referendum, we saw little to no critique from the working class voting for Brexit which rebuked Tory budget cuts to public services such as the NHS and legal aid. We saw even less criticism by working class voters of New Labour and its neoliberal practices. And let's not forget that that the Leave campaign was heavily funded by Rupert Murdoch's Sun, an ex-BNP member, and many more individuals and organisations whose ethos is hardly "working class."

As Labour and the Tories implode, this conflict means that the British people are forced to confront their political "car wreck" from every direction--oil slick, glass shards, body parts, and all. This is one of the greatest political yet postmodern pile-ons of all time, but it is largely a civil war of elite voices who are being heard, vying for visibility and power.  Labour has simply not engaged the working class in the struggle against neoliberalism, in the critique of class politics in the United Kingdom today.   It will take more than a skilled bunch of left-wing advisors or attending an anti-racism rally to consolidate the working class. Corbyn can have the best laid out plan in the world to shore up support, but without the ability to listen to the working class who voted Brexit, he cannot no longer ignore the absence of the working class or the unintentional collusion with xenophobic sub-texts for political gain.

If Corbyn does not confront the critiques by his fellow Labour MPs which brand him an ineffectual leader and address the mass exodus from his shadow cabinet, it will soon be just Corbyn and his shadow that remain.

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