UK Elites Oppose Brexit – Their Party to be Led by a Leader Promising to Leave EU
Bill Black tells Paul Jay that the Conservatives risk political annihilation if they don’t respect the results of the referendum, in spite of the bulk of the ruling class’s opposition to the move
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And welcome to the Black report on The Real News.
Today in the United Kingdom, the race to lead the Conservative Party and become the next prime minister has narrowed to two women, Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom. They both are saying Brexit means Brexit: they will honor the vote to leave Europe. There’ll be no looking back, there’ll be no second referendum. And it’s a kind of weird paradox, which I’m going to talk about now with my next guest, who is Bill Black, of course.
Bill now joins us today from Minnesota. Bill’s an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, a white-color criminologist, and a former financial regulator.
Thanks for joining us, Bill.
BILL BLACK, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMIS AND LAW, UMKC: Thank you.
JAY: So it’s kind of weird, Bill. You’ve got the party of austerity, which a lot of people think–and I know you do–that the vote in favor of Brexit was really a vote against austerity, and it became a way to express that. But the party who actually is the biggest agent for imposing austerity now is going to have a leader who’s for Brexit. But, ironically, the corporate money, the real elite money in the United Kingdom, is not for Brexit on the whole, but the Conservative Party is their party. So what do you make of all this?
BLACK: And May, who is most likely to win, announced all of this saying that we’ve got to be the party against privilege. And the idea that the Tories would be the party against privilege is humorous, since it’s all about privilege, and privilege in the really English privileged way.
So you’re right. The split in the vote is very much along the lines of who were the winners from austerity and who were the losers, with the exception of Scotland and Northern Ireland, where some other issues predominated that we can discuss briefly. But this is why Wales, the former industrial heartland of United Kingdom, voted heavily in favor of Leave, sometimes to the tune of 70, 80 percent, whereas the City of London, which is the financial center and the massive winners in the deregulation-desupervision-austerity-combined regime, voted overwhelmingly in favor of Stay. Scotland has different issues because of independence. And Northern Ireland is, of course, fractured again along religious lines, but the nationalist forces also are heavily influenced by the possibility of a union with the Republic of Ireland.
JAY: There’s been kind of a debate about this, but conventional wisdom is, while a lot of this represented working-class anger against austerity and such, also a lot of this represented anti-immigrant, a kind of undertone of perhaps racism. It’s compared to Trumpism, support for Trump in the United States. What do you make of that?
BLACK: Well, clearly that is part of the issue. And UKIP, which is their right-wing anti-immigrant party, that’s most assuredly how it ran. But I would note that these things overlap tremendously, that you get dramatically greater hostility in terms of immigration when the working class feel that they’re losing their jobs as a result of all of this. So it actually goes back to the austerity in many ways, especially because people shouldn’t be too nostalgic about the European Union.
Corbyn, who is the current Labour Party leader (though he probably will lose power as a result of this referendum), has always warned the E.U. functions in a way that’s quite hostile to labor, and they deliberately want to create leverage to drive down wages through the E.U. And that’s simply true. You can see that in all of their–austerity’s always an excuse for what they call “labor reform”, and “labor reform” means taking away job security. And again, the U.K. vote, everybody agrees, was very heavily–the Leave vote was driven by the economic insecurity.
JAY: Now, do you think the Brexit really happens? I understand the Conservative Party, both potential leaders–which means it’s going to be led by a prime minister that says Brexit means Brexit–are they really going to defy their own corporate allies, masters, supporters, financiers and actually implement or turn on the clock of the negotiations? And even if they turn on the negotiations and exercise that–I forget; is it something called Bill 50 or something like this?
BLACK: It is.
JAY: Yeah. So if they exercise this, it’s still a two-year negotiation. Some people have suggested that could be stretched out into many more than two years. I just find it hard to believe that in spite of the rhetoric, the Conservative Party’s actually going to be serious about this.
BLACK: They’re going to do it, and they’re going to do it, first, because the whole corporate masters thing is overstated in terms of the degree of mastery. You can’t let the puppet strings show quite that much. And in particular their problem is the party needs to win, and the party cannot win if they turn their back on these 52 percent of the voters, including many of the folks that would be essential for many members of Parliament in the Conservative Party, the Tories, to stay in power. There would be an act of extreme revenge against any Tory leader who tried to do the opposite.
And more to the point–and this is why you keep hearing the word “unity” among all these Conservative candidates to take over Cameron’s position as leader of the Conservative Party–is the Conservative Party could easily, five years down the road, split over this issue, and if they were to attempt to unwind Brexit it would split within the next two months. So they’re not going to split.
The dynamic that people are missing is the E.U. The E.U. is pissed, right? So the other nationstates are furious at the Brits, and they want to make it very clear that you’re not going to get a better deal–you can’t, in other words, take the advantages of E.U. membership without the disadvantages of it as well that all the member states’ citizens have to bear.
JAY: Now, one of the underlying issues you’ve raised is the attempt to play the workers off against each other throughout the E.U. zone and lower wages. Is Brexit change that in any way? They’re still going to be competing with products from Europe. And if Europe can drive wages down, it’s going to have the same effect on the U.K. anyway.
BLACK: Well, again, this is the reason Corbyn is in trouble. So Corbyn has warned for decades that the E.U. is a neoliberal organization that is fundamentally hostile to the interests of workers. So what was he supposed to do in this referendum? He couldn’t have a Stay campaign based on Isn’t it wonderful what the E.U. does for us? because that would have been dishonest.
But the strongest supporters of Corbyn–and he came to power in something of a coup against the pro-austerity Blairites that have controlled the party for now almost 20 years, and Corbyn came to power on the basis of support primarily from the young. Well, the single demographic strongest in favor of Leave is the young. So if he went against his base, he would be out. He couldn’t really say the E.U. is wonderful, because then he’d be a complete hypocrite. So he had nowhere to go. He was always going to be collateral damage on this, and all the knives are out.
JAY: And if Corbyn is replaced–that’s certainly not definite yet, but if he is, does he get replaced by someone who’s for Leave or Remain?
BLACK: Definitely replaced by someone who was for Remain. But the dominant leadership group, still, within Labour is the Tony Blair extreme austerity. I mean, these folks are way beyond the Clintons in terms of pro-austerity, way beyond Obama at his worst. These were the morons that the treasury–well, the equivalent of our secretary of the Treasury–when he left office, when the Labour Party lost power to the Conservatives, left a note, handwritten note at his desk saying, sorry, all the money’s gone, which of course has been used by the Tories at every election since to say, here’s how irresponsible the morons–and cavalier the morons at Labour were. Well, that guy was an extreme austerian who actually–you know, it’s just too insane for an economist–.
JAY: I mean, you’d think the opening now would be, if you voted for Brexit, you really voted against austerity, and that can’t be a vote for the Conservatives. You’d think that’s an opening for pursuing the Corbyn style anti-austerity position.
BLACK: That is the position of the base of the party, and you are correct: that is clearly what they ought to do. But in fact, Corbyn is so unpopular, not necessarily with the rank-and-file, but with the leadership, the elite cadres in the Labour Party (so his strength is in the unions), that they desperately want to go back to austerity. They think that they’re not viewed as serious by the people unless they’re pro-austerity.
And then the kicker in all of this is the actual single geographic area that is most progressive in its policies in the United Kingdom is Scotland. And Scotland, there’s now better than 50-50 chance that it’s going to have another referendum on independence. And right now–many things can change, but right now the polls suggest that independence would win. Well, that would be a disaster for the Labour Party–not immediately, because it has virtually no representation in the House of Commons from Scotland. It has, I believe, one seat, because the Scottish National Party just wiped out Labour, and they lost only one seat to Labour and one seat to the Tories, and in the recent local elections in Scotland, the SNP added to its strength, as opposed to weakening it. So the Labour Party fears that it’s going to lose this huge chunk of progressive voters to independence and be consigned to permanent minority status within the no- longer Great Britain.
JAY: Boy, you look around the world, from one elite politics to another, and it’s hard to find anywhere it’s not more or less dysfunctional and in chaos.
Anyway, thanks for joining us, Bill.
BLACK: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.