Una Mullally: Future of Britain at stake in European elections
People need to take action to halt rise of right with Brexit party likely to top poll
“Figures such as Nigel Farage delight in debasing political rhetoric, in gaslighting, in lying.” Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
In February last year, in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, I was in a gay bar in New York when a middle-aged white gay man stood on stage and spoke about the murders. He was visibly upset about what was happening in the United States, but heartened by the beginnings of a youth-led gun-control movement emerging in response to the massacre. Maybe the kids will save us, he said. That desire was articulated as optimistic, not despondent.
What was remarkable as an outside observer was seeing this fallacy said out loud, something that is repeated by those with agency in society, time after time, that someone will save them. It brought to mind a line from June Jordan’s Poem for South African Women, which the feminist author Mona Eltahawy has tattooed on her arm: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
It is far more comforting to dream of knights – or kids – arriving over the hill in shining armour than to do the work oneself. I’ve been thinking about this a lot as the European Parliament elections draw closer for the UK. At this point, 2½ weeks out, many people are doing their best to stop the far right gaining an even greater political mandate in Britain. But it is not enough.
It seems that a mass canvassing movement has not emerged. Is the average person opposed to the far right handing out flyers every evening? Are they getting their friends together and knocking on their neighbours’ doors in huge numbers? Has a real movement coalesced? There is still time, but it’s running out. There’s little point at this stage in berating those politicians who “should” be building decent alternatives to the Brexit nuttery. It’s over, they’re not working. You are going to have to do the work yourselves.
A YouGov poll in April, which showed that the recently-formed Brexit Party was leading the polls at 27 per cent, next to Labour’s 22 per cent and the Conservatives’ 15 per cent, was another piercing siren among a cacophony of alarm bells. The latest YouGov poll, last week, showed the Brexit Party is increasing its lead. It is now polling at 30 per cent, Labour at 21 and the Conservatives at 13. Change UK is at a paltry 9 per cent.
If you add the remaining 4 per cent Ukip stands at, then the Brexit Party-Ukip combo is currently polling at 34 per cent, more than a third of the total vote. Does anyone crunching the numbers still realistically think a rerun of the Brexit referendum would yield a positive result for Remain? The wounds are deepening in Britain, not healing.
Maybe you’re sick of the whole thing, but avoidance is not a cure
If the Brexit Party triumphs to this degree in the elections, it will give the far right a far greater national mandate than the European Research Group emerging as a political force, or the Brexit referendum, or Tory bumbling, or Labour being largely useless, ever could. The minute far-right entities achieve what they want in the European elections, they will turn around and use that popular support as a permission slip, signed by the British public, to push for the social change they want to see in Britain, with all of its isolationist, fascistic, Islamaphobic, racist and jingoistic delusions. This is an absolute disaster for progress. The European elections are not about the future of Brexit anymore, they are about the future of Britain.
Thin end of the wedge
There are bigger things than Brexit at stake. Brexit is the thin end of the wedge. While conversations about the far right and dangerous populism in Europe tend to orientate around Italy, Hungary, Poland, fascists in France, and so on, the frog is near boiled in Britain. It is a place that is in many ways primed for its own kind of proto-fascism.
The Brexit referendum was corrupted, yet it has been allowed stand. Soldiers are videoed shooting a target of Jeremy Corbyn. Hate speech has become normalised. Fringe, right-wing politics have become mainstream. Figures such as Nigel Farage delight in debasing political rhetoric, in gaslighting, in lying. Centrist politics – for what it’s worth – has collapsed, and probably contributed to the situation the UK is in right now anyway. Politicians once ridiculed – the Victorian nightmare Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the nonsense merchant Boris Johnson, are genuine contenders for national leadership. There are very few voices – Labour MP David Lammy being one – cutting through in a real way and naming the reality unfolding in front of them.
I have not experienced the extreme mental stress Brexit and the ensuing chaos has caused the average Remain voter in the UK. But I can empathise. There are a tremendous number of people doing their best to reverse this seemingly relentless tide. But it’s not enough. It’s not working. You need more people. And not to just show up to a protest for an afternoon. Maybe you’re sick of the whole thing, but avoidance is not a cure.
To those in the UK doing the work, keep at it. But to those who aren’t dedicating all the time they can to saving their country right now: there is no point hoping without putting the work in. There is no point assuming someone else has things under control. You are the ones you have been waiting for.