I put a status update on Facebook expressing my frustration about all these EU experts around me thinking Brexit is a more important issue than all the lives that are falling apart and being lost around us right now. A couple of my friends, one with a headful of Brexit-rules-related disasters ahead, another with a particular reputation for ‘no-nonsense’ thinking, objected. Famously not good at quick thinking, I decided this needed a few days thought.
It’s not enough
In the meantime, I came across a poll on Facebook asking whether we should stay in or out of a particular bit of the EU. 55% said in, 44% said out, only 1% said what I would have said – “don’t know”. I am becoming very sarcastic about this pantomime life I’m leading lately, where I seem to be one of a tiny minority who don’t have detailed and far-sighted knowledge of all the laws and institutions of the EU, and what precise affect they will have, in or out, on this and that, ten years down the line.
It’s not enough
As far as I’m concerned, our government, the EU, NATO, the US – the lot of them – are so utterly in thrall to corporate interests that they are in the fast lane to not just genocide, but speciesicide, and the species they’re killing off fastest is us. I can count the politicians I confidently believe are not in the pockets of corporations on the fingers of one hand. If you let me use both my hands and my toes, I can probably include all the ones I think might be okay. That means most of our government, most of the EU and most of all the other organisations are the problem, not the solution.
There’s a metaphor – was it created by Milan Kundera? – where a character in a novel watches all his friends enjoying a traditional circle dance and, dancing away with skill and grace, they all spin off into the sky and leave him behind. Always give some thought to the person who’s left standing alone – one day it might be you.
While I was having my long think about how I might be sure whether corporate-induced death in or out of the EU was preferable, and whether there’s a significant difference between “hard” or “soft” corporate-induced death, we went to the Tate, to see “Art in the Age of Black Power”. There was (as always) some amazing stuff in that exhibition, and some graphic and appalling reminders of what black people in the US faced in those days, and what they had to do to survive. It reminded me, a little bit, of the teachers who enthusiastically teach Beatles songs to kids thinking they were being really modern and radical – but it was jolly good, go and see it.
There was a man standing outside the Tate doing an exhibition of his own. And you tend to think, can he be standing all on his own and be right? I looked at his web page when I got home. Ooh er. It asked me whether I’d voted for the people running the Tate, or if I knew who had voted for them. It asked me why I accepted what they put in front of me as art. Yes, yes, yes. And a lot of other stuff. It’s not enough, but that man was right when he said that the Tate have time and space to hold private, corporate beanos in their gallery space, THEREFORE they are not justified in saying they have no time or space for his art. I’ve had some fantastic days at the Tate and seen some breath-taking works but…
It’s not enough
We went to the gallery shop after our cup of tea and a biscuit, and I spent ages trying not to buy all the books that looked as though they explained everything – there were quite a few on the problem of corporations running everything, and a few on the fact that so far, we have never really had democracy, just opportunities to vote for things that look more or less like it. Part of me was still thinking about the Brexit discussion, about a bitter little comment someone made about me thinking Corbyn was going to save the world. No, one man is never enough. Then I saw a book waving from a shady corner that I thought said…
It’s not enough.
A couple of days ago, browsing around on the ever-apocalyptic Facebook, I learned that Bill Gates has put a rush on to finish his survivalist bunker, and advised his long-term staff to leave the country by the end of the week. Africa and Russia are probably the safest places to be, he said. The End is Nigh! I’d forgotten that feeling. I had that feeling back in my teen years, growing up during the Cold War. That’s probably why I couldn’t even be bothered to go and check the Bill Gates story on snopes.
But last night coming home on the train, I was thinking about it as I eagerly read my way into Naomi Klein’s latest – “NO is not enough: defeating the New Shock Politics”. It’s good, it’s clear, it’s inspiring – as Naomi Klein’s words always are. She acknowledges the darkest of the darkness, then manages to guide you onward into light and inspiration. I realised I was reading quickly, hoping to finish Naomi’s wonderful book before Bill’s apocalypse unfolded.
She says Trump’s United States is in shock. Klein is an expert on shock and its uses. Now, she says, as the people of the US gradually pick themselves up, and work out what to do next, what they are thinking of is a defensive action. They want to get back to how they were before Trump got elected President. They are wrong, she says, “because the ground we were on before Trump was elected was the ground that produced Trump. Ground many of us understood to constitute a social and ecological emergency.”
In that argument about whether Brexit was the big issue for us now, one of the things one of my friends was afraid of losing was “free trade within the common market”. Free trade – that system where corporate bankers rule, unregulated and unwatched, the system that allows our railways to be handed over to non-UK profiteers for asset-stripping? Another said we’d be vulnerable to TTIP without the EU – what, the EU that reduced MEPs and journalists to taking occupy-style direct action in an attempt (with only limited success) to be allowed to study the documentation of the TTIP negotiations they were supposed to be voting on – That EU is going to save us from TTIP?
Corbyn’s line pre-referendum was to stay in the EU and reform, wasn’t it? Yes, it was, because that’s one way to do it but we’d need such ground-up reforms they’d be a whole lot like breaking it and starting again. Last week Corbyn whipped his MPs to vote to come out of (or was it not to) the common market, didn’t he? Is that what everyone’s in a state about? I don’t know – I wasn’t concentrating, because other things were more important to me that day but answer me this – wasn’t that a vote in which a fair few Tories were looking to rebel against their side? Wasn’t that a vote where, if the Labour MPs had stuck with Corbyn, the Tory/DUP government would have been on its uppers before the summer recess, which would have pre-empted their latest (enormous) NHS sell-off?
Isn’t it conceivable that Corbyn had his eye on something more urgent, more important, than hanging onto this or that bit of a Tory-led Brexit negotiation which we all believe is going to fail anyway? If only the Labour MPs had had their minds on getting the Tories out and saving our people from austerity but no, they were all chasing after their preferred version of Brexit.
My mood during the US presidential elections was much the same as my mood during our EU referendum. No, Obama wasn’t a nice man – he was a killer. No, Clinton wasn’t a safer alternative – she was probably more of a killer than Obama. Why are US people getting so nostalgic about those two? US people are also getting wistful about Corbyn – apparently a crowd at a democratic convention recently broke out in a chorus of the Jeremy Corbyn song. They should be asking why they let Bernie Sanders slip through their fingers. Not that Sanders was enough – just as Corbyn isn’t enough. One man is never enough to save the world. I believe both men are unusually honest politicians, attempting to lever a little democracy into the system, to allow the millions who DO have the power to do something to do so before it’s too late. But every impromptu chorus is started by one voice. You have to start by paying attention to, and probably supporting, those who will stand alone and say, “no, not that way – let’s try THIS way.”
I stand by my belief that we should not all be running around thinking Brexit is the big political issue of the day. In or out of the EU is not enough. The Corbyn manifesto is not enough, either. Policies got watered down to suit the less radical Labour MPs. Trident came back. We Labour party members need to forget about Brexit for a while, and push members’ views on social, economic and environmental issues harder. The Labour conference coming up in September may help. In the meantime, I recommend you read “NO is not enough”, by Naomi Klein, and discover her “yes” – discover what each and every one of us can do, what families can do, what communities and local organisations can do. It’s bigger than what governments can do, and much easier to have a properly informed opinion on.
The lone protester: www.alexander-art.biz/performance
Naomi Klein books and other works: http://www.naomiklein.org/main
The MEP who took part in a direct action in the corridors of the EU was Keith Taylor http://www.keithtaylormep.org.uk/