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Brexit is a reaction to the rise of left-wing populism

Bruce Oliver Newsome
January 14, 2018

Far from being a right-wing populist conspiracy, Brexit is a repudiation to an ever-encroaching left-wing populist orthodoxy.

Lord Adonis and Tony Blair are now a double-act, taking turns in successive weeks to support each other in barmy Brexit-bashing. Adonis and Blair are portraying Brexit as a populist, right-wing conspiracy of recent years, but they are diverting attention from the populist, left-wing conspiracy of their years in government.

In fact, "populism" means anti-elitism; thus, it is naturally more left-wing than right-wing, if it is partisan at all. Consistently, Blair has always offered a left-wing populism in opposition to an imagined right-wing "establishment."

Early in Blair's government, he offered ever closer union with the EU as a solution to the supposed "forces of conservatism, the cynics, the elites, the establishment", the "old elites, establishments that have run our professions and our country too long", "the old prejudices, where foreign means bad".

He wanted to "choose this destiny" of closer union with Europe – "giving us the chance to defeat the forces of conservatism, economic, and political, that hold Europe back too." New Labour wanted help to impose the EU's standards of "equal rights" and "multi-culturalism", which – according to Blair – the "old order, those forces of conservatism" had held back in Britain.

Blair's populism was popular then, because he persuaded Britain's articulate classes that they were enlightened if they assumed a right-wing establishment that was never proven. Whatever "establishment" existed then, the Labour Party soon replaced it with blatantly politicized appointments across the civil service, QUANGOs, police, Crown Prosecution Service, and judiciary, even before the Labour Party stacked the House of Lords with Labour politicians (including Adonis) and supporters from the news media – using annual honours over 13 consecutive years of government.

The Labour Party controlled government from 1997 until 2010, by when the majority of Britons were dissatisfied with the EU and the Labour government. Yet Blair's conspiracies did not end – he mixed supra-national and corporate interests on lucrative globe-trotting missions. At the same time, his conspiracy theories did not end: he blamed criticism on an impossible conspiracy of left-wing news media and a right-wing "establishment."

The vote for Brexit in June 2016 was a repudiation of the EU-Labour conspiracy, by non-partisan or multi-partisan campaigners, who drew more votes from former supporters of the Labour Party than any other party.

Nevertheless, Blair led the trend to describe anything popular with which one doesn't agree as a right-wing populist conspiracy. For instance, Blair wrote in an American newspaper blaming both Brexit and the inauguration of President Donald Trump on populism. Blair squared this circle by differentiating right-wing populists as anti-liberal, and left-wing populists as anti-wealthy. Since he is both wealthy and liberal, this is a convenient avoidance of real populism, which is opposed to the hypocritical wealthy-liberal minority that benefits most from uncontrolled globalization but denies the social-cultural and micro-economic costs.

In the last week of 2017, Adonis echoed Blair by describing Brexit as "a populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald Trump," when he wrote to the Prime Minister to blame Brexit for his resignation from an advisory role on railways. He blamed populism on "crises of housing, education, the NHS, and social and regional equality." This is partisan misdirection – he is pivoting from popular dissatisfaction with Britain's role in the EU to popular dissatisfaction with Britain's public services, which are over-stretched in part because of a surge of demand from millions of low-skilled EU citizens from low-capacity countries – whom the Blair government permitted into Britain.

In the week following Adonis' letter, Blair launched a new campaign blaming Brexit on emotional avoidance of the evidence, but, hypocritically, asked Britons to adopt his strong emotions on the subject, then referred his readers to data that did not prove what he claimed.

In the week following Blair's new campaign, Adonis wrote an opinion in The Guardian newspaper. Here he concedes that "We cannot threaten or pronounce our way to victory", and "We won't win unless we deserve to, unless we show voters that we have listened"; he wants "a fairer and more democratic Britain within the EU" to win over those "who voted to Brexit out of legitimate anger and despair".

Yet he contradicts himself: his writing goes on to ignore why Britons voted for Brexit, and to threaten them with the same conspiracy theory that he has offered before.

His excuse for writing at all was Nigel Farage's off-hand allowance of a second referendum that would "kill" opposition to the result of the first referendum. For this metaphor, Adonis accuses Farage of "violent language".

Adonis continues his mischaracterizations by claiming that Farage's statement was a "concession from the UKIP establishment that a single referendum does not, after all, mark the beginning and the end of this debate."

Adonis ends by mischaracterizing Farage as "this country's de facto prime minister – pulling the strings of a weak and directionless prime minister". Earlier, in his letter to Theresa May, he accused her of "allying with UKIP and the Tory hard right". Nowhere has he offered any evidence, so his excuse for this wild conspiracy theory is difficult to divine. UKIP has no political representatives in either the House of Commons or Lords, where Adonis sits. Farage sits in the European Parliament, not the British Parliament. Moreover, UKIP and Farage are opposed to the slow, contradictory, disingenuous Brexit that Theresa May's government is pursuing.

Adonis, like Blair, invents right-wing populist conspiracies in this decade to distract from the Blair government's left-wing populist conspiracies in the previous decade. Invading Iraq in 2003 – on the excuse of fake intelligence of weapons of mass destruction and terrorism – was only one of the Blair government's conspiracies. It was over-confident then because of its earlier success pulling off a conspiracy to surrender sovereignty to the EU in order to further disenfranchise its domestic political opponents.

Brexit is popular, non-conspiratorial, and a-partisan; Blairites are unpopular, conspiratorial, and partisan – they should not pretend otherwise.

Bruce Oliver Newsome, Ph.D. is a lecturer in International Relations at the University of San Diego
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