4 February 2018

Brexit: a affront to progressive values

The ideology behind Brexit is an affront to the values of progressive the left.

We often tend to think of Brexit only in terms of its adverse legal and economic consequences. Yet, the meaning of Brexit is more than just junking a set of legal arrangements between the UK and twenty-seven other European states. Brexitism, if I can coin that term, and the whole set of discourses which sustain it, are based on a frontal assault on the core values of the political left. These values inter alia are:

1. Universalism: the idea that people, irrespective of nation, religion or ethnicity, are of equal worth and should have the same rights and responsibilities.

2. Cosmopolitanism: the idea that the mixing of cultures has the potential to enrich, rather than undermine.

3. Liberalism: the idea that it not, in the first instance, up to society or the state to tell people how to live, but people should be able to do their own thing, providing they do not undermine the same right for others.

Brexit is an affront to each of those values. It addresses itself to the particularism of one people, not to people as people. It accredits value to one culture, a supposed Britishness and seeks to shut out others from its space. And it undermines the right of choice: the locking in or locking out of people at British borders - and by implication the persecution of those who straddle them.

Ukipery circulated the virus of Brexitism, which took hold - principly among England's non-metropolitan middle class and in its post-industrial wastelands and rotting seaside resorts - to such an extent that it won a majority of the voting electorate in June 2016. But today that virus has spread to take hold of the Conservative Party and government. It is present in what we might call National Labour, too (e.g. Frank Field, Kate Hoey, et al.) and casts a long shadow over Labour as a whole. In short, it is a pollutant across British society.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015 was the biggest victory for the Left in Britain in a generation, but we need to make sure sure that Corbynism promotes universalism, cosmopolitanism and liberalism at the heart of its political thinking.

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