This article neatly sums up why most of the Left has got it so wrong on Brexit.
Andrew Murray expresses the opinion that Brexit is part of a ‘culture war’. You are given to understand that this means something essentially unimportant, non-political. Culture wars, we are led to believe, are a distraction – an irrelevance, something that can be easily left aside. It is as if the whole of society were being riven by a giant split over who should have won the Bake Off – this is an argument that we don’t want to get dragged into, that has essentially no political meaning or implications and that therefore we can safely dodge.
This is of course entirely wrong about Brexit. The livelihoods of millions of working class people, their immigration status, their family life, their right to work, their right to live and move are all on the line. This is quite apart from the inevitable rise of nationalism, racism and racist attacks and the Thatcherite austerity-plus that will inevitably follow Brexit. It could not be more of a political issue.
But maybe he’s got a point in there somewhere. It does seem like we are increasingly finding ourselves immured in the ‘culture war’ politics of the United States, where cultural divides between liberal and conservatives which cut across class lines partially replace more traditional class divides. I can empathise to some extent with people in the Labour Party wanting to get back to talking about the many and the few. However, the answer to this shift to ‘culture war’ terrain is not to try and pretend it isn’t happening.
Although the term itself is a dismissive, trivialising term, we need to consider what are ‘culture wars’ about? In the United States what that means is – do the police have the right to kill black people with impunity? Do you have the ability to have an abortion if needed? Is there access to contraception? Are the lives of gay or trans people going to be valued as having any worth? Are refugee children going to be imprisoned in camps in the desert? These are literal matters of life and death. The culture wars couldn’t be more serious.
Ultimately, why is this ‘culture wars’ thing happening? It’s happening because of the rise of the far-right and a return to nationalism, nativism, racism, xenophobia. That is the big picture of what is going on in the world and if you cant see that then there really is no hope.
Andrew Murray apparently can see this. He acknowledges that Brexit has become about many other things apart from just the EU – essentially about nationalism, nativism and xenophobia. Remarkably, he concludes that it would be very bad to take a position on this. His argument is based on electoral calculation – that the Labour Party can’t take a position against “xenophobic nationalists and Thatcherite utopians” because it needs the votes. Really?