As the thermometer hits the mid-80s Fahrenheit across the North of England, the tundra burns across the Arctic, and Boris Johnson takes his first grip on the reins of power in Westminster, it feels timely to remind ourselves of Donald Tusk’s “special place in hell for those that promote Brexit without even the sketch of a plan”.
It is scant comfort that Boris and whatever horror show of shysters, creeps, nutters and full-on sociopaths he assembles for his cabinet tomorrow, have a place reserved for them in hell. Because they will be taking us down with them. If we plough on with No Deal Brexit on 31 Oct – and who at the moment can say that the EU won’t simply lose patience and kick us out – the North and all its people will assuredly be going to social and economic hell, either as a slow descent or as a rapid nosedive. And that’s not even the worst of it…
The Euro election results in the North
The worst of it is that in the North, Boris will be doing this with the keen support of very large numbers of our fellow citizens.
The next post on this site will be an analysis of the Euro election results across the North. It will show that, although the North as a whole was (marginally) less taken with Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party than the Midlands or South West of England, and although as a whole it would (probably) narrowly vote for Remain were there any second referendum, overall a very substantial fraction of the North’s voters have stayed resolute for Leave.
Unlike Wales, there is no clear signal in the election result data that the North has fundamentally turned against Brexit. Despite three years of unavoidable, staring-you-in-the-face evidence that Brexit will be a disaster for the UK – and within that disaster, a particular industrial catastrophe for the North – not nearly enough people have changed their mind about Brexit to make the project no longer politically tenable.
The Brexit pilgrims
So the UK is now, more than ever, divided into Scotland, Northern Ireland, London – and now Wales – against Brexit, and England outside London still substantially for it. The Brexit faith, a self-contained belief system impervious to the real world as it is, was identified some time ago by Fintan O’Toole as primarily a matter of ‘English-British’ national identity. Hence the remarkable opinion poll showing that Tory members would be perfectly content to see the break up of the UK if that was the price of getting their Brexit.
In the Brexit faith, the criticism or ridicule of others only strengthens the faith of the believer. Whilst, as O’Toole points put, for the Brexit faithful, national humiliation is something almost to be masochistically actively sought out.
Nobody says it better than John Bunyan about the psychology of the North’s Brexiters and their faith:
Who would true Valour see/ Let him come hither;/ One here will Constant be/ Come Wind, come Weather./ There’s no Discouragement/ Shall make him once Relent,/ His first avow’d Intent,/ To be a Pilgrim.
Who so beset him round,/ With dismal Stories,/ Do but themselves Confound;/ His Strength the more is./ No Lion can him fright,/ He’ll with a Giant fight,/ But he will have a right,/ To be a Pilgrim.
No true Northerner is going to disagree with those sentiments – in theory (we’ll see how we get on when actual hardship is spread to the more comfortably off). Rupert Murdoch and Nigel Farage’s genius was to sell Brexit as the promised land, the destination of the pilgrimage.
What is Boris Johnson going to make of this? It was never Boris’s plan to actually win the referendum. The plan was to become the next leader of the Tory Party after David Cameron on the back of being the valiant but defeated Brexit campaigner. It is highly doubtful that Boris believes Brexit is a good idea. The objective was only ever to get the job of being Prime Minister.
The irony is in many respects quite amusing. But Boris is unfortunately no joke for British Muslims and many others who are upset and alarmed that a man who is so cynically willing to ‘play the race card’ for political advantage should make it to No. 10 Downing Street. As the former Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum Mohammed Amin pointed out as he resigned from the Tory party today, Boris’s racist dog whistles are not funny when they lead directly to an upsurge in racist abuse and attacks.
Behind the façade of buffoonery is a gang of really nasty people, and few nastier than his old campaign supremo Lynton Crosby. For the people hiding behind Boris, there is only one political objective: to keep the City of London going as a place where the rich can make easy money, safely. There’s little they won’t stoop to in pursuit of that objective.
It goes without saying that they don’t give a damn about the North and its Brexit supporters, except perhaps as a source of pensions wealth and health service spending they can rake off and rip off. Stalwart Northern Brexit pilgrims are just grist to Boris’s mill.
It gets worse. The evidence of Boris’s behaviour during the leadership hustings, for example over the Kim Darroch affair, and Trump’s comments about him, seem to point to there having been some kind of deal with Trump. Boris has been signalling to Trump that he will be his appropriately subservient disciple, and Trump has been tweeting back his approval. Who knows what understanding has been reached between them. But you’d better believe that the North’s Brexit-voting pensioners, as well as the rest of us, are on the menu.
For all his success in the leadership election, out in the real world Boris is in a precarious position. Pundits are saying that whichever way he moves leads to checkmate against him. But he must have a plan. Despite the claims of some that it would be quite in character for him to indeed have no plan and no clue, it just seems so improbable that he should have waited his whole life to be Prime Minister, and not now be ready to pull some kind of trick to try to hang on to the job for more than a few weeks.
Northern Umbrella’s guess is that Boris’s plan is a general election. One called in response to parliamentary deadlock, with 31st October looming. The EU will grant a delay for the election to take place. Boris will call an election not a referendum because he thinks he will win a general election, and secure a five year term.
The prediction here is for a surprisingly bold stroke: an electoral pact between Boris’s Tories and Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. Farage’s party will be given a free run against Labour remainers in Northern seats. This was the game plan that was being teed up back in 2017 for UKIP under Paul Nuttall. They will also run against Tory remain rebels who baulk at the plan.
The numbers from the Euro election show that this plan can win the election – the next post will set this out. Basically, whichever side of the Brexit divide can unite their vote will win the next general election, and whichever side splits their vote will lose it.
Beating Boris with a Remain Alliance
Whichever side unifies wins, and whichever side stays split loses, and this works both ways. This will be demonstrated in the Brecon & Radnor by-election on 1 August when a Remain alliance candidate (in this case a LibDem) will win, against a split Tory/Brexit Party leave vote. But beyond rural Wales, and particularly in the North, the Euro election results show that a Remain alliance could only win if Corbyn’s Labour is part of it.
Sadly, there is nothing currently visible in the Remain world to suggest that the #fbpe centrist Remainers and the Corbynistas are capable of coming together in order to keep a Boris/Farage alliance out – indeed the LibDems’ lacklustre new leader Jo Swinson has already ruled it out. Meanwhile, the Blairite and Brownite old guard in the Labour party will revert to their despicable 2017 position of a general election being well worth losing, if it allows them to seize back control of the party.
Corbyn and John McDonnell’s Labour, for all its faults, is doing a lot of very interesting and useful policy thinking about how we might address some of our social, economic and environmental predicaments, and do so whilst respecting democracy and human rights. For example: this. But, sadly this means nothing to LibDem and ageing New Labour and ex-New Labour Westminster MPs, whose only vision is the impossible dream of a return to the way things were 1997-2016.
Without some kind of Remain alliance being formed, the Corbynistas, the Labour Old Guard, the ChUKkas, the ex-ChUKkas and the Liberal Democrats will all be defeated. So will the poor old Greens.
The Corbynistas may hang on to the Labour party, or Tom Watson and his dirty-fighting old guard may seize it back. But it won’t matter either way because post-Brexit the predators will descend and the welfare state will have been killed and picked clean by 2025. No doubt by then the climate crisis will then be beyond the point of no return, causing serious wars and deaths. The big money may well have decided by then that what England needs is a dose of fascism. And Boris will then head off into retirement, and the opportunity at last to make some serious money, on the payroll of Blackrock, or whoever.
This doesn’t have to happen, but it will happen, unless grassroots Remainers can see clearly enough to realise that Corbyn is not their worst enemy, and falling for the crude demonisation of Corbyn is exactly what the forces of evil want them to do.
The only glimmer of cheer in this sorry prospect is the thought of the Scots taking their independence and walking away from the whole shitshow. For the North of England there will be no hope, unless we urgently start talking to each other, understanding each other’s positions, and finding out what magic ingredient can bring Northern voters back to their senses. We have approximately three months to do it.