It’s Sunday afternoon and I’m reading Terry Pratchett’s “Night Watch” in an effort to distract myself from the fact that the far-right’s plan for a No Deal Brexit that lets them set the UK up as a low wage, low job security, low regulation, tax haven that benefits the very wealthy and sets us on a path to neo-serfdom, while Labour tries to make its dogmatic buttocks comfortable sitting on the Brexit fence, more focused on extinguishing centrist tendencies than on opposing the right-wing coupe that is trying to sweep away all the progress we’ve made since 1945.
It’s not working.
It turns out that Sam Vimes understood the problems of Brexit even though he’s a fictional character, written decades ago and occupying a different reality.
When I read what he had to say about “The People” it seemed to me that he could have been talking about the problem with Labour’s “Will Of The People” position on Brexit.
Here are his thoughts:
Vimes had spent his life on the streets and had met decent men and fools and people who’d steal a penny from a blind beggar and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses but he’d never met The People.
People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed in any are. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and even distrustful of cleverness. And so the children of the revolution were faced with the age-old problem: it want that you had the wrong kind of government, which was obvious, but that you had the wrong kind of people.
It seems to me that far-right understood The People very well when they ran the Leave campagin. They understood how easily The People could be led to vote in favour of Brexit if the question was abstract, the consequences vague, the benefits short-term and the threats were foreign.
Since then, Labour, partly driven by class warriors (mostly middle-class lads with Oxbridge educations) who want to liberate us from the neo-liberal tyranny of the EU but mainly driven by the fact that the sixty marginal constituencies that will determine the next General Election all voted Leave, have been claiming that Brexit is The Will Of The People and must be followed.
I believe Labour needs the courage and the will to forget The Will Of THe People and engage with individuals and groups in each constituency and explain the harm that Brexit will do to them and to their neighbours and to the most vulnerable in their community.
Labour needs to lead them from the abstract to the real and help them to organize to stop the right from using The Will Of The People to make working people poorer, make our communities less tolerant, make our children’s choices more limited and make the very rich even richer.