Brexit on Track & Unexpected Consequences

There are many lessons to be drawn from last week's election result. One of these is that the print media no longer matter very much any more except as fodder for social media comment and argument.

Although the broadcast media are still powerful (Prime Minister May damaged her prospects by not engaging with it), the main forum for voting decisions is increasingly to be found in a myriad of overlapping networks on social media. The mobilisation of voters and of their enthusiasm for action is generated not passively through reading but through direct debate and discussion.

Politicians who have no immediate power pretend to power by being seen in the print media. The latest iteration of this is the post-election effort by a range of liberal centrists to try to bounce the Government into a 'national consensus' which is clearly little more than cover for an attempt to soften Brexit and return to the soft corporatism desired by the Labour Right and the pro-business element in the Tory Party. In fact, some party collaboration is likely but it is going to be a matter for the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Labour Party and not the has-been old elite.

The decisions of these two Leaders and their advisory structures are what matter. The rest is mere bleating until another election takes place. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the last few days is not the radically enhanced position of Jeremy Corbyn but the survival of Theresa May. Instead of being knifed in a dark alley for her failures, she has been re-endorsed by the Cabinet and by the 1922 Committee as the best person to see through the forthcoming negotiations. Indeed, the Tories have affirmed not Brexit but austerity as that which should give them pause for thought.

You would think that Labour, which benefited from a surge of protesting urban liberal Remainer votes, would take a stand for a substantial softening of Brexit but not a bit of it. Within days of the result, the big beasts of Labour (McDonnell, Corbyn, Starmer and Gardiner) ralled around a very simple position absolutely accepting Brexit as the democratic decision of the people and then going further to question the liberal shibboleth of the Single Market. It took time for this sink in but it means that Labour is not suddenly going to become the Liberal Democrats. Quite the contrary.

Corbyn was given unparalleled authority and Labour saw recovery not just on the votes of southern liberals but also on the return of those working class people outside London and the South East who had distrusted him and yet who were critical to Labour's national recovery. Labour threw back an assault of the Tories on its Northern and Welsh constituencies. May's bid to use Brexit populism to get a national landslide was broken on the back of a working class return to what was unabashed old-style socialism. There was no 'Red UKIP' but these Labour voters did not cease to be Brexiters.

Similarly, the youth vote was not a middle class liberal anti-Brexit vote but a vote by a generation mobilised in its own interest by very clever activists engaged in classical class-based tactics. These are people who are not going to be happy if the Labour Leadership decides to shift its emphasis from defeating austerity to the defunct business of trying to spoil a decision made democratically a year ago. And so Labour now has its distinctive socialist position on Brexit, It is not a liberal one and not necessarily a soft one by any means. Brexit may now be the creature of class politics but it will happen.