Harmer’s response on Facebook to the UK referendum result blames “the sclerotic elderly” and “an angry working class” for what he considers to be a catastrophic decision. He predicts it will soon result in “prime minister Farage, President Le Pen and a right-wing surge across the continent with a rise in racist violence and the gradual growth of intolerance and misunderstanding.” Harmer expresses “a profound loathing for the people who have led this despicable isolationist and backward-looking movement.” While these loathsome people hail “a new dawn”, Harmer sees “nothing but a great darkness settle over the land.”
Nearly 5,000 people “Liked” Harmer’s text and I think it’s curious that while nobody raises any objection to Harmer’s declaration of “a profound loathing” for the leaders of the “Leave” campaign, many strongly object to my repeated criticisms of the style and content of Harmer’s writing. That aside, I suggest that Harmer’s “Apology to Europe” is over-emotional and badly argued. It’s highly unlikely that Farage will become UK prime minister, or that Le Pen will become President of France. If there is “a right-wing surge across the continent, … “, etc., etc., it won’t be the fault of those in the UK who voted “Leave”, but rather of the racists themselves and of the economic conditions which provide fertile ground for the spread of such beliefs. There’s been a spike in race-hate complaints since 23rd June, no doubt because racists feel emboldened, and thus there is some justification for fears of the right wing surge, etc. which Harmer predicts. I can understand why so many ordinary people are very upset by the result, and I think there are certainly reasons to be worried about what happens next. But we don’t know what will happen, and in my opinion Harmer’s reaction is simplistic, unreasonable and unhelpful.
It’s also worth pointing out that not everybody who voted “Leave” was a racist, or old, or working class – many wanted to leave the EU because there are a great many things wrong with its institutions and because the policies carried out by the unelected EU Commission and the Council of Ministers, with little control from the European Parliament, have caused a great deal of hardship. The Common Agricultural policy, at one point responsible for 60% of the total EU budget, was for decades a wasteful disaster which did much to damage good farming practices. The budget deficit limits imposed by the 1992 Maastricht treaty, triggered a wave of unemployment and welfare cuts across the continent. After that, the financial sector was increasingly de-regulated, and, with increasing pressure from Germany and France, the euro was introduced as a common currency, making it impossible for weaker members to use their own currency as a tool to manage their economic affairs. During the first decade of monetary union, weaker European economies were subjected to a wave of cheap credit from banks of the most powerful states. When the global crisis erupted, banking bailouts, rising social spending and sharp declines in tax revenue sparked a debt crisis in countries such as Greece, Portugal and Spain. The EU Commission responded by imposing severe austerity on Greece and doing everything possible to bring down the Syriza government, a demonstration of the Troika’s determination to maintain a system of austerity across the region. The recently passed European Fiscal Compact further limits state spending across the euro zone.
So the EU is a deeply undemocratic organisation that promotes and protects the interests of its members’ ruling classes. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that the UK “Leave” campaign was fuelled by ugly racism and absurd “Little Englander” propaganda, and there’s no obvious reason to think that things will be better in the UK or anywhere else as a result of the decision of the UK to leave.
Rather than react as Harmer has done, we should surely concentrate on promoting grass roots democratic organisations that fight for people’s rights wherever they are. The gap between rich and poor is widening, and there’s little reason to believe that if the UK had remained in the EU things would have improved for most of its inhabitants. In the UK today, 63 per cent of poor children grow up in families where one member is working. More than 600,000 residents of Manchester, are “experiencing the effects of extreme poverty” and 1.6 million are slipping into penury. The situation in other EU countries is even worse and the inability of EU members to use their own separate currencies as a way of dealing with economic problems, coupled with the policy of austerity imposed by the Troika, makes it likely that things will get worse before they get better. What’s done is done; however regrettable you might think it is, I suggest that it can be seen not just as a worrying threat, but also as an opportunity.
I apologise to those who wrote the works below for not citing them properly in my text.
Observations on Brexit http://www.wsm.ie/c/anarchist-observations-brexit-lexit-uk-eu-referendum
The left wing case for quitting the EU http://londonprogressivejournal.com/article/view/2300
John Pilger: Why the British said no to Europe http://johnpilger.com/articles/why-the-british-said-no-to-europe