June 18, 2019

Who Gets to Control the Brexit Narrative?

“The European elections unfolded according to predictions: the Brexit party won big, Labour and the Conservatives both got a kicking, the Lib Dems and the Greens swept up. But predictability aside, these elections were bizarre – they were never meant to have happened, and as such, were conducted on the hoof. The most passionate voices on one side, at least, were fighting for seats that they intended to occupy for only the shortest possible amount of time. But the really distinctive thing was that no party said anything.

The Conservative campaign launched to a near-empty room, with nothing to deliver but an abject apology. The Labour campaign, described in a withering email sent to supporters before the results by their MEP John Howarth, was “implausible rot” – defined by a single-minded determination to fight a European election without mentioning Europe. The party’s leadership took a ballot that was animated entirely by Brexit and preached a pious and incredible creed of forgetting our Brexit divisions and uniting in Labour-ishness. That much was predictable from the moment the elections became a certainty.

Interestingly, Nigel Farage’s Brexit party did not have a message either, that was in any recognisable way political: they had stopped talking about immigration, on the basis that it was no longer very salient. They had no concrete agenda for Brexit itself. For sure they had no wider political aim that you could glean from their speeches. Their agenda was pure anti-politics, anti-Westminster, anti-elites, anti-this-lot. Their success is both terrifying and mundane: history is alive with people who swept to power with the single, amorphous promise of destroying institutions. It rarely transmutes afterwards into constructive, pro-social policy.”

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