Dear Owen…a response

Over the last few days I’ve potentially been one of the “vocal but unrepresentative minority of Remainers” who has given you a hard time over your brexit position.  I did give a tweet response to your article “Why I’m a remainer who accepts the result” as shown below, because I felt, and still feel, that you were raising straw men rather than discussing your own radically changed position (and, in my opinion, complete passivity) towards the brexit process.

 

That said, I’ve seen your piece described as “powerful” & “well argued” – with respect I don’t believe it is, hence this follow on blog.  I’ll try to be brief.

Xenophobia & Racism

The official Leave campaigns made the strategic decision to wage a poisonous xenophobic campaign which scapegoated migrants and refugees

As you stated in your blog this was and remains a major concern, in fact for me it’s one of the principle reasons to fight Brexit because of what a win means to these people and what it says about the UK.

However, we’re already seeing the same low level migrant bashing emerging from the left.

What there wouldn’t be is the wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry.

foreign workers would “come here on the basis of the jobs available and their skill sets to go with it”

These are direct quotes from Jeremy Corbyn.  Below is a tweet from Paul Mason:

nason

FoM is progressive by definition, it gives agency and freedom to the individual.  There may or may not be exploitation of workers but that must surely be addressed via the employers, however it appears Labour now wants to fix this by taking away the rights of the exploited.  It should also be said that one of the worst aspects of Thatcherism is how it had a tendency to see workers as simply a flexible resource pool, to be dipped into as needed.  How is it progressive to take agency & freedom away from foreign workers?  What happens if their job disappears, do they get deported?

The point being is this is victim blaming and immigrant bashing, the implication is that foreign workers can and are overwhelming & undermining us (and “wholesale importation” is an ugly and dehumanising phrase).  The exploited are being targeted because of their exploitation.  Overall this can literally be interpreted as “British jobs for British workers” & Mason’s tweet is so wrong on so many levels that I’m not sure where to begin.  Fundamentally, to shore up their vote, Labour are dabbling in the language of UKIP & reinforcing the divisive language of the referendum.

 

Polling concerning Remain Voters

You’ve quoted this poll in defense of your position, i.e. most people are now in favour of Brexit being enacted and so your position is reasonable. This in my opinion is flawed on 3 points.

  1. The poll has been discredited.  The “Remain” option is confrontational as it begins with “ignore the result”.  Very few people would be comfortable with selecting “ignore the result” as their preference.
  2. The poll only covers Brexit, not its form.  It doesn’t for example say “I choose a brexit which favours economy over immigration control/I choose a brexit which favours immigration control over economy”.  These are the very real choices as you will be aware, & without asking them the poll is not helpful in any way.
  3. Even if a majority favours Brexit, so what? You’ve been in a minority position your entire political life, yet it hasn’t stopped you fighting for what you believe in.

 

Onto your 8 points.  For clarity, I’ve taken the first line of each of your arguments as the header.

“First, questioning the intelligence and ability of the electorate…”

It’s not “elitism” to say the majority of people don’t understand Brexit, it’s a simple fact. I’ve been actively following it for 18 months & I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface.  Our chief negotiator & Leave campaigner didn’t understand Brexit. You may as well say it’s elitist to say the public don’t understand brain surgery.

It’s not that the public are stupid, or lacking in ability, it’s that Brexit is hellishly complex and its impacts are far reaching. To pretend otherwise is populism.

 

“Secondly, describing the referendum as advisory…”

I’m actually with you on this one though I know others feel passionately about it.  Yes, technically the ref was not binding and yes it was set up badly (no 60% or 2 thirds majority) however I personally agree the debate has to move on, though I respect others feel differently.

 

“Third, the referendum result is illegitimate because of the lies of the Leave campaign…”

Those who led the leave campaign, who based their entire campaign on lies and stirring up bigotry in this country, that’s who we’re taking on…how dare they, how dare they”

Your words Owen, from the “March for Europe” where you spoke passionately about the many lies of the Leave campaign for 2 minutes.

You’ll be aware that Leave lied on “an industrial scale”.  You’ll also be aware of the biggest lie of all which was that Brexit would be free, that the only net result would be a £350 Million weekly bonus for the NHS.  You’ll be aware that even the Leave campaigners didn’t actually believe we’d be heading for this Brexit.

You cannot fail to be aware of what happens when the results of those lies crystallize, when job losses begin and living standards fall, and people who were misled blame the EU (and in some cases EU citizens here) rather than the people responsible.

Yet you’ve moved from that passionate decrying of Leave lies to the limp “Unfortunately there are many elections — let alone referendums — across the world (let alone this country) which are full of lies”.  You are even hinting at the Leave false equivalence of “well Remain lied just as badly”.  They did not, you know they did not.  Most remain predictions are coming true if they haven’t already, almost all Leave predictions have so far proven false.

This is poor – you need to explain how the person on that video passionately decrying leave lies is the same person as the one who now implies “well, lets face it, everyone lies and it could be said Remain was just as bad”.

 

“Fourth, imagine if Remain had won by 52%…”

I’m not sure what your point is here.  The result was close, the referendum should have been set up with a clearer majority for change and if Remain had won Leave would now be demanding a rerun.  Honestly, so what?  Brexit is a mistake & it needs to be fixed regardless.

 

“Fifth, I’m accused of hypocrisy…”

Today:

If I can campaign against the government which came to power in the last election, why can’t I campaign against the referendum? The critical difference is that, in our democracy, parliamentary elections are inherently transient….That is not the same as a one-off referendum on a single issue, where the result was accepted in advance by all key protagonists on both sides

In September last year, in the above video:

You don’t have an election where 1 party wins & the other party says “OK we’ll just shut up now for the next 5 years”

Fighting Brexit was apparently legitimate and in fact you, in that speech, to all those people, drew a direct equivalence between elections and the referendum.  Now you passively accept it.  What’s changed, because, honestly, it looks a bit like hypocrisy.

 

“Sixth, would you support decriminalisation of homosexuality if the majority voted for it?…”

Yes, fair enough, this is probably an unfair & too personal comparison however the point stands. This thread posits an entirely reasonable analogy around the NHS:

The point being there are many feasible issues which may have been won on a majority referendum but which someone such as yourself would not accept lying down.  If the majority voted to sell off the NHS, bring back hanging, stop same sex marriage or a host of other issues you would still fight those decisions.  Yet on Brexit you’ve completely caved, not only on the issue itself but even how it plays out and the route we take.

 

“Seventh, sorry, but I’m convinced that overturning the referendum result would cause catastrophic, possibly irreversible damage to our democracy…”

You keep using this “overturn the referendum” language and I admit I find it interesting.  The implication again is that the majority would be ignored by brute force.  But few people are suggesting this.  Remainers fully understand that the public need to be convinced that Brexit a) is a bad call for the UK and b) can be reversed.

Yes of course ignoring the result would cause damage to our democracy.  Equally however, so will pretending (as both major parties are) that we can have our cake and eat it – the illusion cannot continue and the longer it does, the harder the disillusionment will be later.  Honesty, openness and transparency are all that remainers are asking for from our representatives.  To be blunt, if you’re not part of this drive, if instead you adopt the party line of “brexit is settled”, you’re part of the problem.

To reiterate, you persist in using the confrontational “Overturn the Referendum” language, when most remainers accept that it’s not the referendum that needs to be discussed but what happens next.  This feels like you have moved into the Leave position of saying that resisting Brexit in any way is undemocratic.

 

“Eighth, didn’t Labour’s unexpected successes have a lot to do with Remainers?…”

It did, of course it did. The figures show it & it’s disingenuous to say otherwise.  Elections are complex but tactical voting played a huge part in this election.  I’ve personally had 10-15 twitter conversations with Labour supporters who were convinced, beyond doubt, that Corbyn’s Labour is pro soft brexit or even pro remain.  I was told to “have faith” and to “wait and see” on many occasions and by some senior Labour figures.

 

 

To summarise – your overall concern about Xenophobic messaging is actually being reinforced by Labour figures today. Of your 8 points

  1. is a straw man
  2. is fair comment (in my view)
  3. is undermined by your own previous comments
  4. is unclear (in my view)
  5. yes, you do appear hypocritical based on your previous comments
  6. is demolished once sexuality is substituted for another possible issue
  7. is a straw man
  8. is plain disingenuous

Ultimately Owen, the concern is your move from passionate fighter who spoke at the March for Europe rally to passive observer.  You accept Brexit and have nothing to say (at least recently) on what form it should take, despite this being the most important political question of your life time.  Your article says nothing about the single market, the customs union or trade (the words don’t even appear) and simply list all the reasons why it’s OK for you to be passive.

 

There is a massive disconnect between the words of the passionate speaker at the march for Europe and the passive observer we see now, all the “Brexit fighting” links you provided are 12 months old and only highlight your current relative silence.  Specifically therefore your 8 arguments must be seen in the context of who is saying them and what they said previously.  The situation if anything is worse now than it was at that march, so what’s changed your view?

The fact that this has happened at the the same time as it’s become clear that Labour are adopting a hard brexit approach is the real story, and goes to the heart, frankly, of your credibility.  When seen in this light, I’m afraid that your blog comes across as weak self justification for simply adopting the line of your leader.

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13 thoughts on “Dear Owen…a response

    1. keep fighting Kate. The election result was the best we could have hoped for as it gave pause to hard brexit.

      The task now is to expose Labour’s hard brexit position but more importantly to keep saying a) Brexit is stupid and b) Brexit can be stopped. That’s all that matters at this point, the rest will, I believe, follow

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Excellent – thank you for articulating so many of my thoughts so well (quite the mind reader). However, I don’t go as far as you in conceding point 2 – the advisory referendum – as fair comment. This is not a point to be dimissed lightly as it goes to heart to the dishonest campaign.

    The Europe minister at the time of the referendum bill (David Liddington?) expressly told the house of commons (I think in a written reply) that the referendum would be advisory and non binding. Many people (Johnson in particular) intimated that the advisory nature meant you could safely vote leave on the understanding it would force reform, not actually lead to us leaving.

    The fact that Cameron said it would bind his government is a) irrelevant and b) a classic example of his cavalier attitude to parliamentary democracy. It also suggests to me that he actually was keener on leaving than staying (as did the shambolic nature of his remain campaign).

    The prime minister has no power to bind parliament or to rewrite a legal document (the referendum bill) on a whim – that is an important limit on executive power and essential to parliamentary sovereignty. Furthermore, Cameron’s government has fallen and been replaced (pretty much entirely). In the same way one parliament can’t bind its successor, so no government can bind its successor (save through primary legislation).

    Even the Article 50 legislation passed in the last parliament does not bind this parliament to any particular outcome – it merely gave the PM leave to start negotiations (not conclude them). MPs are both morally and legally within their rights to reject any subsequent bill sanctioning our withdrawal from the EU if the terms are detrimental to our long term economic health. That does not mean ignoring or ‘overturning’ the referendum. It simply means taking the mature decision that changing circumstances and the woeful lack of preparation and concrete planning by the current administration.have made the current trajectory too damaging to our economy and people’s livelihoods.

    Cheers – @HuwSayer

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    1. Agreed Huw – I take the view that the ref was flawed on a fundamental level AND that the flaws go to the heart of our democracy – unfortunately most people (including me 15 months ago) didn’t and don’t understand it.

      So I don’t personally think it’s a useful avenue to pursue as a high priority – but I understand others do

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      1. Not to say it shouldn’t be pursued – this is a key issue for any future constitutional problems and should never be allowed to happen again. I can just see that it might not cut much ice with many people (many of whom believe democracy = simple majority votes)

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  2. Owen has for a long time been seen by myself as a critical observer of the actions of the political classes across the spectrum, in particular the effects of policy on social justice. Recently he has come across as a person merely reiterating, in the most sycophantic of ways, the dogma of Jeremy Corbyn. Now in most cases this is a good thing, Jeremy put together a decent manifesto with lots to commend it but his commitment to brexit will fatally undermine his ability to deliver the promises held within. For Owen to support this stance regardless of consequences for the poorest in society has undermined his hard earned credibility. He needs to accept that the success of Jez was down to a temporary loan of remain votes and ukip voters returning to the fold who would have voted red regardless of the party leader. Jeremy is not the messiah and in his sycophantic adherence to corbyns mantra on brexit Owen is threatening the future of the Labour party as a credible force as feeding Jeremy’s hubris will leave the red rose tainted by the toxicity of brexit. He should think carefully before justifying a support for the majority of the referendum as they are more likely to vote Tory come what may whereas alienating the 48% who voted remain threatens to split the vote of the section who are most likely to vote Labour. Owen also needs to consider the consequences of being a zealous supporter of corbyns brexit, let’s not forget it is corbyns and not Labour’s brexit. However much he agrees that say nationalization of the railways is a good idea, is pursuance of nationalization of industry worth the risk to stability in northern Ireland as we may have to instigate a hard border in the region to stop immigration.

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  3. Sorry, but this is pretty flimsy stuff.

    And “Sixth, would you support decriminalisation of homosexuality if the majority voted for it?” is just ridiculous.

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  4. Nog, this is good and appreciated, especially because it means I don’t even have the temptation to write a reply myself: I can just point people to your post! 🙂
    There are two things I would have done differently, though. I’ll write them here, for (hopefully) obvious reasons.
    First and foremost, the current opposition to Brexit is almost exclusively centered on what is best for the UK’s economy. This is shortsighted and ultimately dangerous. You didn’t repeat the same mistake, as your discussion of the progressiveness of FoM is spot on, but you didn’t go all the way either… What I’m alluding to is the fact that the European Union is the most successful peace-making initiative in human history. I’ve lamented before that the debate seems oblivious of this rather fundamental detail (see: https://sergiograziosi.wordpress.com/2016/05/08/the-brexit-debate-no-matter-what-dont-mention-the-war/), but right now, the silence of the left is becoming unbearable. A progressive Labour, which defines itself as alternative to Blairism and as uncompromisingly pacifist, should be decisively pro EU for this reason alone. Corbyn isn’t and shouldn’t be given a free pass on such an important matter – anyone defending Corbyn’s stance also deserves to be reminded of this rather peculiar contradiction!
    The other aspect that is being overlooked and is worth repeating revolves around the Brexit lies. The lies go deeper than those told in the referendum campaign and dispelling them appears to be the most promising strategy for Corbyn’s Labour in particular (see: https://sergiograziosi.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/brexit-how-systematic-lying-reduces-democracy-to-a-farce/). Corbyn has decided to do the opposite with his “wholesale” comment. The fact that Owen decided to follow, instead of holding him to account is simply inexcusable. As such, I would think it’s reasonable to expose the anomaly explicitly.
    Thanks again, I hope I am not boring you or your readers!

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