Nigel Farage is the former and currently default leader of the UK Independence Party who, as a British Member of the European Parliament (MEP), had for many years campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union (Brexit). His was arguably the loudest voice in a triumphalist chorus on the “leave” side of the EU Referendum on the morning of 24 June, 2016, when the result of the British “YES” vote to leave the EU became known.
It was Farage who was responsible for the billboard poster that showed a massive queue of immigrants – many with the appearance of being African or middle eastern in origin – waiting to obtain entry to the UK. It is the same Nigel Farage who was seen recently on television speaking at a campaign rally for Donald Trump, the outrageous Republican candidate for the next presidency of the United States of America. For many, Trump wears his anti-immigrant racism on his sleeve; Farage is seen as being somewhat more subtle.
A recent edition of the Australian Daily Review carried an article with the heading, “’Please explain’: A tragicomic portrait of a bigot, sympathetically done’. It was written by the controversial Australian journalist, Helen Razer. In part the extract stated: “Europe is now almost full of racist politicians as it is of bad discos, and didn’t Nigel Farage do a marvellous job of taking a white British working class, battered by the austerity rent-seekers demand, and blame it all on the foreigners?”
To many, the above, and especially Razer’s view of Europe, would be deemed a quite extreme view, especially seen from half-way around the globe. However, in the period since the British nation voted to withdraw from the European Union, a disturbing level of apparent xenophobia, even racism, has been detected as being embedded in British culture. This has been primarily seen in comments made at the local level, rather than on a national or institutional scale.
Living in the UK are many persons who have come to this country to study and work in order to pursue their economic, cultural, educational and social interests. Amongst their number there are currently deep misgivings as to what their future will be like in consequence of Brexit. Despite assurances that the interests of these incomers will be protected, there is a mistrust of this situation given that the history of the present government, an administration that has overseen a radical policy of economic austerity, has not been encouraging in such areas as human rights, worker’s rights, trades unions’ legislation and overseeing immigration programmes.
To take a cue from some further comments of Helen Razer on election and referendum voting patterns, it is, of course, a lesson that liberal progressives need to learn that simply to ‘call out’ racism in individuals, rather than outright condemnation of the same, will ensure that people in all western democracies will continue to vote for persons like Trump and Farage. These are political actors who look for scapegoats to blame for the breakdowns in society, but promise the lot to those who will support their misguided views and simple solutions.
There are reasons why poorer, working class people, worn down by life, will vote for political programmes that will encourage xenophobia and racism. That is not, however, to support these programmes nor advocate voting for and rewarding those who promote them.
Casting her net a little wider, Razer makes the following observations: “The underemployed American living in the Appalachian ghetto does not vote for a candidate (like Clinton, for example) who insists that they use respectful liberal language and pretend that the ugly America they live in is a great nation.” Similarly, “…the underemployed Queenslander who can’t afford to run an air conditioner does not vote Green. They vote for the person who promises them dignity and a wage.”
It might also be added that, for example, the unemployed steelworker in Sheffield, the redundant coalminer in the Welsh valleys, or the car assembly worker in the north-east of England is not going to vote for a political party which offers no promise of investment in traditional British manufacturing industries.
It is pertinent perhaps to add to the above the suggestion that ‘sympathetic TV portraits of migrants don’t work to change the minds of racists’, so I don’t know why anybody might think that ‘a sympathetic portrait of a racist might change the mind of a progressive’ (author unknown). That is why, in post-Brexit Britain, there is such a present, public and ongoing outrage over attacks on job-seekers from within the EU. Racist and xenophobic attacks are extremely offensive to British liberalism and humanity.
In all of the post-referendum discussion and confusion, it has seemingly been forgotten that the Prime Minister responsible for authorising the EU Referendum, David Cameron, has resigned from his post. In doing so he announced an elongated list of those who are to receive “honours”. It seems quite ludicrous that a failed Prime Minister should reward others in this way, especially when these honours are conferred by the present monarch.
The reigning monarch is seen as the focal point of national sovereignty – even in a democracy and even though she is unelected! Yet the monarch sits imperiously at the head of an establishment against which, if we are to believe the narrative, so many British people, particularly in England, raised their voting voices against! These same people are probably those that still enthusiastically sing “God Save the Queen” at football matches featuring the national team of England. Fact is, truly, stranger than fiction.
The same monarch is, of course, the Head of the Church of England, the established church in the land – with tentacles to other religious institutions of the so-called British Commonwealth. The present British government, led by an Anglican vicar’s daughter, is seriously discussing reintroducing a “Minister for Faith” into the government ministries. It is interesting to speculate as to who would be a suitable choice for this position and what relation, if any, this secular minister will have with the monarch!
It will be obvious from all of the above that I am a pro-European and that I voted in favour of the UK remaining within the EU. Indeed, being a convinced federalist, I am of the view that the European project has a viable future that will be realised by becoming more, not less, European – even if that ambition now seems a little more remote from a British perspective. For me, the EU Referendum vote is out of step with reality. For this reason I am a friend of The Federal Trust, an organisation for education and research – enlightening the debate on good governance. How badly this is needed in present-day Britain!
In a recent pamphlet, ‘Brexit, what Brexit’, Brendan Donnelly, the Director of The Federal Trust, said: “Within the British government and its administrative structures, it is increasingly coming to be realized that extricating the United Kingdom from the European Union and establishing a new relationship with the Union will be a gigantic logistical undertaking, involving many different and overlapping negotiations”.
There are those who are of the view, wrongly for Brendan Donnelly and many others (including this writer), that extricating the UK from the European Union will be a simple matter of triggering Article 50 (the formal mechanism for leaving the EU) and all else – amicable relations with European countries, trade deals worldwide, British ‘problems’ solved, and so on down the list – will naturally follow. And all within a period of two years! Unfortunately, undoing forty years of involvement with Europe, and re-establishing as yet unquantifiable trade agreements as well as social and cultural relations with the rest of the world, will not be quite so easy or comfortable for the British Brexit mind-set.
As the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said: “Brexit means Brexit”. But what does that really mean: for economic prospects, race relations, human and workers’ rights, job opportunities, international cooperation in security matters, and that old warhorse – national sovereignty? It is also ironic that those who have spoken the loudest and longest about national sovereignty are amongst those who now wish to delay, even avoid, parliamentary scrutiny over the details of the British negotiating directions and outcomes (it seems to be a case of not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing). In all of this there is, of course, the philosophical question of “Who benefits?”
Perhaps the penultimate word on this, for the time being, belongs to Brendan Donnelly: “There are many millions of voters unwilling simply to acquiesce in Brexit and whose traditional party loyalties have been shaken by the events of the EU referendum. The course of the Brexit negotiations over the coming years is unlikely to reassure them that the present structure of British politics adequately reflects their concerns”.
In conclusion, it is appropriate to mention that there are those who hold tenaciously to the belief that a more united, flexible and effective Europe is a dream worth pursuing. Such persons consider that Brexit is a step too far and out of step with the realities of the contemporary world.