The successive resignations that have struck the Conservative Party in the UK this week have heralded the same cry, again and again, from the left-wing media: Brexit has failed. No one can deny that Brexit has been, generally speaking, a resolute failure, but I can’t help but feel like the finality of so much of this week’s political commentary is wishful thinking.
The solution, they cry, is to hold a general election. The possibility of this occurring certainly seems to be increasingly likely, but to what end? Will that cauterise the “failed” Brexit project? Will it occasion accurate use of the past tense rather than limiting temporal references to a never-ending omnishambles? Surely no one believes or expects Brexit to “end” so soon but still the suggestive cry continues to echo around the web. Brexit has failed.
We are living in the midst of a perpetual political failure — “the normalisation of crisis”, as Fisher called it — and there remains no end in sight. Like the financial crash of 2008, this week is (apparently) yet another watershed moment, but the anticipated major change that should follow it will likely never materialise.
This isn’t some rerun of “the end of history” but there certainly seems to be a crisis of narrative; the end of linearity. Paul Mason, to my surprise, has acknowledged the fragmentary nature of contemporary geopolitics quite explicitly in a new article for iNews. This blog has been focussed on this tendency for months and so it feels unusual to hear it acknowledged in the mainstream media, which tends to balk at any acknowledgement of present fragmentations.
Mason highlights the fact obvious to anyone since 2016: the main reason Brexit has been such a failure is that those within the Conservative Party have been too busy playing political games from the very moment the referendum on EU membership was announced.
Mason describes Boris Johnson’s personal “three-phase plan” as follows: “exit the European Union, take over the Tory party, destroy what’s left of the welfare state in pursuit of a new, primary relationship with the USA.” Then, he continues:
[Boris] Johnson has invited comparisons between himself and Churchill, not least by writing one of the worst biographies of Churchill ever published. Like Churchill he was a journalist. Like Churchill he switched sides. Like Churchill he’s had a classical education and understands rhetoric.
Unlike Churchill, history is against him. For history is breaking the globalised world economy into chunks, and stimulating new military rivalries. In a fragmenting world you need to be part of, or close to, something big, friendly and efficient. That is the continent on our doorstep, not the failing democracy of the USA.
Mason likewise goes on to argue for a general election, in the face of May’s crumbling cabinet, but this point about the fragmenting world economy drifts off, unaddressed.
Perhaps this is because it’s an obvious point. Brexit is likewise a symptom of a fragmenting globe but, at the same time, it is so often defined by the new alliances that it might occasion.
Farewell, EU… Hello, America? Hello, China?
Europe is, in itself, threatening to fragment even further as its individual member states wrestle with their own internal problems and rifts. With that in mind, is it accurate to call Europe efficient? That’s a strange sort of compliment, especially for Mason — a journalist whose career remains defined, in my mind, by his reporting on the “economic war” between Greece and the European “troika”.
I reject Boris Johnson’s woeful foreign policy opinions on principle but are the UK left’s any stronger? Britain seems totally bemused by its own position on the world stage, from all angles, and it is true that that position will be defined by its future alliances. But as the “special relationship” wanes and EU relations continue to sour and the UK’s internal makeup threatens to shift, will a general election solve anything? If Jeremy Corbyn were to become PM, on his well-established anti-austerity platform, will relations not sour even further, to the lows previously experienced by Greece?
I hope this says more about the EU’s neoliberal core than Corbyn’s potential leadership skills, which I’m still keen to see if only for it providing this country with a long-overdue shake-up.
The Conservatives certainly seem incapable — now more so than ever — of delivering what was unconvincingly promised. Could the Labour Party change things for the better? The biggest obstacle to major economic change nonetheless remains the same.
The EU would undoubtedly be a thorn in the side of a pre-Brexit anti-austerity Corbyn government. A mid-Brexit government of any flavour will likely continue the new status quo. Will a post-Brexit Corbyn government fare any better? Perhaps there is only one way to find out.
That could be a general election, but a general election seems inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things, whilst Schrodinger’s Brexit continues in its limbo. From here, yes, the possibilities are infinite, but these possibilities are meaningless until the box on the world is opened or — better yet — smashed to pieces.