Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Are we witnessing the precursor to a British revolution...?

There has never been a revolution in Britain. I am sure part of this is a result of the huge financial resources amassed by the aristocracy and ruling class from the empire and slavery, riches which have largely remained hidden, undocumented, untaxed and held unaccountably. This has allowed them to exercise greater power over the rest of us, through control of the media, for example, than has occurred in many other European countries. 

To take the French revolution as an example, however, it was largely caused by a combination of widespread poverty and a complete insouciance on the part of the ruling elite; an ignorance of their position, how precarious it was and a consequent inability to head the revolution off at the pass through a pacifying redistribution of wealth or the like; "let them eat cake!". So could the same be about to happen in the UK?

On the face of it, no. Despite six years of a Tory government exercising its neoliberal ideology (or should I say excuses) as a means of redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich in a way that would have made the Sheriff of Nottingham deep olive with envy, conditions for the majority have not deteriorated to the levels seen in France in the 1780s. Food banks abound for a million people, which is shameful in itself but the other 62 million of us do not (yet) need to use them. People, by-and-large have cars, phones, TVs, full refrigerators, clothes, technology, etc.

Yet the insouciance and ignorance of the ruling class which ended the French aristocracy is clearly in evidence over Brexit. A desire to get the UK out of the EU has become a totally irrational fanaticism in many quarters of the Tory party and the consequences, as well as the means, of exiting the EU are little understood, in particular by those who are charged with negotiating it. Additionally the country, and in particular the media, seems in denial about the consequences of a hard Brexit. A staggering 85% of our external trade is either with the EU or comes as a result of trade deals that have been negotiated for us by the EU and will become invalid as soon as we leave. It is possible that not all of that trade will be affected of course, but the Leave Alliance's own reckoning suggests that the element which kills our trade will not be tariffs or quotas (difficult as they are to navigate for exporters) but what are called "Non-Tariff Barriers" (NTBs) to trade. 

NTBs include items such as standardisation of quantities and quality, which is vitally important to international trade, but also the accreditation and affirmation of those standards. Outside the EU our own accreditation systems will no longer be considered valid, and as such each shipment will require inspection at the port of entry at a significant cost in terms of money and time. The Leave Alliance's figures (of a consequent rise in unemployment to 7 or 8 million) cannot be dismissed as "scaremongering" because they come from the Leave campaign, however they can be regarded as underestimates. Their figure of 7-8 million is based on the assumption that only trade with the EU will be affected by NTBs; that trade constitutes around 48% of our exports. Now that we know more about the other trade deals which come as a part of our membership of the EU, extending to around 70 countries, that figure of exports negatively affected by brexit grows to a staggering 85% with the corresponding rise in unemployment likely to exceed 14 million people, close to half the UK workforce.

The reduction in tax receipts for the treasury would be huge, and the government would become liable for social security payments to huge numbers of people, further depleting the amount of money available to spend on other important things like the NHS. The NHS is already creaking under the strain of Tory cuts and when the £350,000,000 a week promised by Leave turns into a cut many times that size, the compound anger will hit critical mass. 

The only problem is likely to be leadership. With Corbyn a closet Leave supporter and considered a joke outside his own group of devotees, and regarded by many as an out-of-touch metropolitan politician like his friend Emily Thornberry, leadership, if it is to be credible, will need to come from somewhere else. One can hope it emerges from the ranks of the impoverished and dispossessed as many capable people would be included in that number. However what is certain is that, without leadership, any revolution could soon become directionless and descend into looting, lawlessness and become easy for the ruling class to deal with. 

What is highly likely however, is that the conditions for insurrection and revolution will soon be created by botched brexit negotiations conducted by individuals who have no idea what they are doing. What is clear however, is that we are going to need better leadership on the left if this is not to descend into chaos, violence and simply result in a human rights crackdown, martial law and institutional oppression.

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