The dramatic deadlock in the UK over Brexit is a spectacular expression of a broken political system. Our existing form of democracy is simply incapable of representing the diverse interests of the people, whichever way they voted in the 2016 referendum.
Ravaged by decades of neoliberal-driven globalisation, the system is but a shell, a shadow of its former self. As the drawn-out negotiations with the European Union have demonstrated, the UK state is a pawn in a much larger game.
Parliament’s power is so diminished that when judges ruled that it had to be consulted, the Daily Mail denounced them as “enemies of the people”.
Do the EU’s bureaucrats and political leaders hold the whip hand? Hardly! On both sides of the Channel, the real power brokers are the global corporations and banks. They have more than 10,000 lobbyists in Brussels alone, making sure that nothing changes unless they agree first.
Driving the negotiations are corporate demands that EU markets remain 100% accessible after Brexit. If, as seems likely, this proves impossible then business leaders say Brexit should be called off.
So you get the extraordinary appeal for a second referendum by business leaders, the day after 700,000 joined a London march calling for the same. An unholy alliance? Possibly!
The two main parties are divided amongst themselves in numerous ways.
Prime minister Theresa May faces opposition from both remainers and leavers, while the ultra-reactionaries of the DUP have threatened to vote with Boris Johnson et al to block any deal.
Labour’s official voice on Brexit, Keir Starmer is at odds with Jeremy Corbyn, who rightly says the 2016 vote to leave the EU must be respected. Starmer is out to stop Brexit altogether and has the support of a sizeable section of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Another group of Labour MPs representing Brexit-supporting constituencies could be drawn into voting with the government for fear of losing their seats at the next election.
Which assumes there will be a deal to vote on! Understandably, the EU is not predisposed to allowing a member state to depart on better, or even as good as, terms than already prevail. The delusion of post-imperial grandeur that the EU could be persuaded otherwise prevails among all factions in both parties.
In any case, whatever deal the minority Tory government cobbles together, it looks extremely doubtful that it can win the support of a majority in Parliament outside of the formation of a national, emergency government.
Make no mistake. This is a constitutional crisis of historic proportions. The majority of UK citizens voted to leave the EU but the political class is incapable of implementing the decision. Yet the UK is due to leave the EU come what may at the end of March 2019.
How is to be resolved?
A second referendum won’t solve the crisis of democracy. In fact, it could reinforce social and geographical divisions that split the UK in 2016. Referenda in themselves are not a progressive alternative to representative democracy, however flawed that patently is.
Given that there is a constitutional crisis, a new referendum would leave open the question of how the country should be governed and set a bad precedent. Votes requiring a yes/no answer are by their nature utterly superficial and arguably the road to authoritarian rule.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown has gone further and called for a Royal Commission on Brexit to find a way forward. Such devices are called upon when there is a need to park the problem somewhere into the dim and distant future. The chances of Brown’s idea taking off are somewhere near zero.
What unites most in both the Remain and Leave camps is a real powerlessness in the face of the neoliberal system. Fracking, although dangerous and opposed locally, goes ahead. Climate chaos threatens all, yet governments and states do nothing. Work become more exploitative every day but employees have no say. Cybersurveillance through microchip implants is just one upcoming form of Big Brother control. A new debt crisis threatens the financial system and the wellbeing of all but no solutions are offered.
There is no short-term Brexit “fix” because the underlying causes of the vote for Brexit have yet to be addressed and Parliament, which is part of a capitalist type of state, is incapable of doing so.
That’s why the RDM should step up the campaign to involve people in the drawing up of the framework for a real democracy where citizens have the decisive say about the future in their communities, regions, countries and, above all, workplaces.
They could come together in assemblies and conventions around the UK to work out, with the help of experts, how economic power could be transferred from the corporations, investment banks and hedge funds and build a political system to match. In other words, design a constitution for the 99%.
Parliament itself might be expected to find a new role this way because it certainly needs to!
These are among the questions under discussion on November 24 in Wigan when a group of us will be “getting to grips with neoliberalism”. Details and registration can be found below.