The Brexit Party appeared on the UK political scene in January of this year. We ought to see it as an effect of the political impasse of the last three years; in particular, as a political grouping (it is hard to really see them as a party, seeing as they have so few policies) that would not exist if two discrete sets of circumstances had not come about: the failure of the Tory party to deliver Brexit and the failure of a left argument for Brexit to gain traction. Let’s take both of these in turn.
Brexit brought to the fore contradictions in British Conservatism that could not be resolved, namely:
- How the first party of capital could affect a break with the EU in the context of the fact that it would damage capital. There is no better deal for British capital and the vast majority of the ruling class than the one that they currently have.
- How a remain-supporting parliamentary party could seek a deal that achieved damage limitation while keeping both its Eurosceptic base and Eurosceptic right in parliament happy.
Brexit also brought to the fore contradictions in the left and specifically, British Labourism, though they are of a different order:
- How the leftward push brought about by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership could be maintained in the context of the majority of the labour movement in broad terms aligning itself with the EU from the late 1980s onwards. This is an alignment that has placed the left on the same side as the establishment.
- In this context, given the paucity of concrete analyses of the material character of the EU, how the left could continue to grow in the Labour Party while being under attack from the Europhile right and centre.
- How the Labour Party could speak for its traditional base, much of which had voted out, while keeping on board the section of the working class that had voted remain, and its liberal middle class base, which identifies strongly with a certain notion of Europeanism.
This set of circumstances has given ample space for the growth of the Brexit Party. It is important to note that it is not the same as UKIP, despite the presence of the ubiquitous Nigel Farage. It is not as anti-immigrant; the context here is UKIP’s increasing move rightwards into working with fascist groups and individuals such as Tommy Robinson. Moreover, left cover has been given to it by the support of George Galloway, who also considered standing for it, and of Claire Fox, and other former members of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) who now congregate around the online site Spiked. In reality, Fox et al made the journey from ultra-leftism to right wing libertarianism quite some time ago, but the veneer is still there, as witnessed by Fox’s speech at a rally in May, where she quoted Tony Benn and Sylvia Pankhurst. She is now an MEP.
Do not be fooled by any of this.
The Brexit Party is an anti-working class organisation that organises around nationalism, and abstract ideological notions of democracy and traitorousness. Its entire modus operandi is to deny the contradictions described above and instead to ascribe blame to the actions of individuals, who they refer to as elites standing in the way of the ‘will of the people’. That is the language of the 1930s. No socialist should have any truck with such a way of viewing the world, as it effaces the reality of how capitalism works: its structures; its sites of power; its clash of competing forces.
Furthermore, what will a vote for the Brexit Party achieve? What else do they stand for? Is there any version of reality where they would work with a Brexit-supporting left? Of course, the answer to the last question is no. In terms of their other policies, there are none to speak of, though Nigel Farage has attempted to respond to the way in which Brexit represents a rupture with the neoliberal consensus by suggesting he would get rid of the House of Lords, a demand he has been making periodically for some time now. This is extremely unlikely, notwithstanding the chance of his ever being in a position to do it. He and the other driving forces behind the Brexit Party are thoroughly establishment figures, even if they do project a sense of being renegades.
It is a shame that the response of the Labour Party to the rise of the Brexit Party – and more broadly, to the threat of no deal – was to form a sort of Popular Front with forces to its right, as discussed in this piece we published in September. The effect of such forces is never to further the interests of the left, and this can be seen in the two months of wasted parliamentary shenanigans prior to Labour thankfully agreeing to a general election recently.
At that election next month, there will be working class socialists tempted to vote for the Brexit Party in an attempt to show their frustration at Labour’s drift, which has seen it back a second referendum. However, LeFT strongly cautions against going down such a road. While we do not support a second referendum, the reality is that the road to a left transforming government outside the EU must now take that in along the way.
What is the alternative?
Five more years of Tory government, perhaps propped up by more reactionary forces to its right in the Brexit Party. A vote for the Brexit Party outside the cities in the north and midlands will most likely let the Tories in. No socialist can want that.