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Trump and Brexit are very different phenomena

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_4One particularly welcome aspect of the House of Commons vote to pass the Bill to trigger the Article 50 process is the rebuff it represents to the relentless campaign, in some quarters, and in the Guardian in particular, to equate and conflate support for Brexit with support for Donald Trump.  Trump’s justified unpopularity – in Europe as a whole and in Britain in particular – has proved to be for some a welcome and ever-ready stick with which to beat Brexiteers.

It seems to be an article of faith for some that it is impossible to support Brexit without supporting Trump; this contention takes its place as part of a wider (and equally determined, if unsupported) charge that there can be no legitimate grounds for supporting Brexit.  A vote for Brexit, it is maintained, can be explained only as an expression of bigotry and ignorance – hence, it is argued, the unavoidable identification with Trump and his supporters.

The contention that no one could support Brexit without supporting Trump (a fiction of which I and many others are living refutations) can be maintained only by a resolute refusal to recognise the legitimacy of many of the rational objections that can be made to EU membership.

It also requires that no acknowledgment can be allowed of those voices, particularly from the left, who argue that the EU is not ‘Europe’ but a particular economic arrangement – one which entrenches ‘free-market’ precepts and operates against the interests of the UK and of the British working class in particular, as well as of working people across Europe.  The stubborn refusal to hear those voices means that those arguing for Brexit on rational and pro-Europe grounds have struggled to be heard – and the debate is all the poorer for that.

It is one thing to choose not to share the reservations that others hold; but to deny that they exist, or so thoroughly to misrepresent them, is to do no one any favours.  It leaves those who support EU membership bereft of any proper understanding of, and therefore too ready to dismiss, the real concerns of many of their fellow citizens; and it leaves unaddressed all those real concerns – about the UK’s perennial trade deficit, our manufacturing decline, the almost non-existent net productive investment, the unstoppable inflow of cheap labour from Eastern Europe, and above all the perceived sense of the loss of self-government and the weakening of our democracy – with the result that those who express such concerns, but are then ignored or dismissed, are left with an unappealing option.

If their legitimate and practical concerns are over-ridden – one might say “trumped” – by the “finer sensibilities” of those who lament the supposed breach with Europe (and its food, wine, music, literature and other cultural glories), where else have they to go, if their concerns are to be heard, but to a Trump or a Farage – and they are then excoriated all over again, de haut en bas, by their supposed betters.

It is to be hoped that the Commons vote, and the inevitability now of the Article 50 process and the consequent negotiation, will allow a shift of focus – away from constantly assessing, and campaigning for, the chances of somehow reversing the referendum result, and towards a sensible strategy for achieving the best possible outcomes of a Brexit for both Britain and Europe.

We might now look for a better balanced public and parliamentary debate – one that does not unnecessarily exacerbate existing divisions but allows us to come together in pursuit of a sensible arrangement that meets the interests of all parties; and, with an enhanced appreciation on the part of our interlocutors in the EU that the UK will indeed leave and that the die is now cast, they will, one hopes, no longer be misled by doubts about the British firmness of purpose, so that the negotiations can proceed on the part of both parties on a realistic basis.

We might also hope that we will no longer be encumbered by false trails and unjustified insults.  The new President of the United States can, sadly, be left to pursue his own lonely furrow.

Bryan Gould is a former Labour MP and a former member of the Shadow Cabinet. 


  1. David Pavett says:

    Enough already! Please get Bryan Gould to write about something else, maybe he could tell what is going in in New Zealand and Australia.

    This stream of articles on Brexit is at best pointless. If he dealt with real arguments rather than his take on the arguments it might be different. His undercurrent of dismissal of Remainers as people who believe themselves to be superior and more refined than those who think differently has an unpleasant affinity with the Daily Mail’s style of argument – and, it has to be said, with that of Donald Trump. Please no more of these weakly argued pieces.

  2. John Walsh says:

    Interesting – especially when considered alongside the recent stream of (largely pointless) P B-C posts.

    Having joined the Labour Party I’ve seen a side of human nature I’d rather not have seen. For example, the recent Momentum shenanigans, which should seem outrageous, I now consider as about par for the course within a political Party culture context. It doesn’t take much, then, to wonder if the P B-C and BG postings are part of an attempt to discourage those who (constructively) critique the left.

    If so, it’s an odd set of affairs when considered alongside the route that many people take to Left Futures – via CLPD, a decidedly traditionalist activists realm if ever there was one.

    Maybe, though, it’s what we should expect in the circumstances – hardly encouraging times for the future of the left (or Left Futures).

  3. Karl Stewart says:

    Excellent article and the author makes an extremely important point that needs to be made.

    Sorry that DavidP doesn’t like it, I sometimes wonder if DavidP would prefer to have no articles at all on here other than internal Labour Party committees?

    It’s true that those of us on the left who voted Brexit were bullied and silenced and it’s also true that those of us on the left who voted leave have been equated with Trump as well as being abused, insulted, and threatened.

    Well said Bryan Gould an excellent article

    1. David Pavett says:

      I you think that perhaps my interest is only in LP internal committees you might glance through articles I have written and comments I contribute to debates.

      It remains that a major failing of the Labour left is its lack of input into Labour’s policy-forming process.

      I and others have said repeatedly, here on LF and elsewhere that there are strong points on both sides of the EU debate. Anyone who fails to see that has not yet started to discuss the issues seriously. Bryan Gould hasn’t got that far and still represents remainers as posh types who look down on those who take a different. This is poor stuff indeed.

      I understand that you are pleased to see an article which takes a stance you agree with but judging the quality of its argument is, or should be, a very different matter. I don’t object to articles on Brexit (for or aganst) so long as the make some decent arguments.

  4. Bazza says:

    Yes both are presented as victories delivered by the Left Behind but in the UK it was mainly better off Tory voters (about 60% of Tory voters) plus some of the Left Behind – same in the US -mainly better off mainly republican voters plus the left behind.
    So the ‘great unwashed’ are vilified by middle class liberals whilst the narrow minded self-intereste right wing middle class get off Scott free.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      No, the two are diametrically opposite to one another.

      Trump lost the vote by a three million vote margin.

      Leave won the vote by a 1.2 million vote margin.

  5. Tim Pendry says:

    The situation is far more complex than this polemic article allows. The two countries’ [US/UK] political cultures and traditions are, of course, very different despite attempts of liberal Democrats/New Labour to try and conflate the two. Both are different from European cultures and traditions. Yet there are underlying similarities in overall effects on people, for better or worse, of globalisation. Many of the real similarities in the Trump and Brexit phenomena are down to responses to the globalisation promoted by Thatcherites and Blairites alike.

    Similarly, just as the Brexit phenomenon is over-simplified into a narrative of good and evil and the narrative often taken over by aggressive extremists so is the Trump phenomenon. There were many pretty decent people who voted Trump with their eyes open because their assessment (more or less important to them morally or pragmatically) of the alternative was that it was and is worse. They may well have been right and not reactionary.

    Trump is also poorly reported. There is very little analysis of the underlying tensions and pressures within his coalition and of the full speeches he makes. There is deliberate ignoring of some things that would be positive (his LGBT record is the best of any Republican President to date despite his huge Christian constituency) and close-to-hysterical concentration on his personal conduct and sound bites (which he uses to great effect not so much to mobilise people as to ‘open the eyes’ of others to the intolerant hysteria or irrational behaviour of others).

    Most people in the middle ground now see Trump and the liberal Left as two sides of the same hysterical coin thanks to events in the last few weeks and that works for him and not for them in the long run. he is not going to mount a coup and the NYT’s promotion of a coup against him is not going to happen so, if he lives, he is another fact on the ground for at least four years.

    The real internal contradictions of Brexit in relation to Trump lie elsewhere. Above all, in the presupposition of Tory Brexit that the brave new dawn is simply a matter of the UK slotting itself into a brave new world of expansive liberal free trade agreements just at the time that Trump seems to be moving towards a form of nationalist protectionism which is likely to be mimicked elsewhere.

    The second problem lies in the UK trying to maintain a strong, almost militant, Euro-Atlanticism with a ridiculously redundant nuclear-based military strategy while its main global ally (in traditional terms) is radically switching from a strategy of trying to hold down a trading empire to one of massive force homeland defence which might well include de facto alliances with states that the Tory and Republican Right have turned into bugaboos.

    This is the sort of thing we should be analysing and concentrating on – not a cultural politics where we have no say in the internal affairs of another political tradition other than weak expressions of solidarity (the ‘marches, petitions and Bercow’ nonsense).

    Now that we have sorted Brexit to all intents and purposes (a critical acceptance of an eventual fact on the ground), we need the same pragmatic approach to the US, including a working dialogue with the Sanders wing of the Democrat Party in its attempt to build a programme for change that looks directly at not only the class politics of the Trump coalition but squarely at the class politics of the Clinton/DNC dominance of the so-called American Left.

    Trump is actually less the problem here than the complacency and values of the Democrat Party which played an instrumental role in the construction of the Blairism that did so much damage to our Party and country. Just look around you … it is not just the Tories! Look at America! It was not just Reagan and Bush.

    1. David Pavett says:

      I agree with most of what you say which emphasises my point that this stream of articles on the EU is not contributing to analysis of either the EU or Brexit (or Trump come to that).

      The shock-horror at the Trump phenomenon of the centre-left liberal commentariat, ‘how can anyone say such awful things in such an important position?’ is annoying in that it fails to see Trump as a product of the ‘liberal’ policies which the centre-left supports. The rise of the right in Europe and the US is the product of (failed) centrist politics.

      Having said that though, I think that no favours are done to the left by a superior stance of aggressive anti-liberalism, ‘while you go on your silly marches and sign your pointless petitions I am working for revolutionary change’. This is sectarian leftism which much of the best of the left has still not broken from. It fails to appreciate that there are many stages to political consciousness and that rather than aggressively dismissing the liberalism of the centre-left it would be more productive to recognise the partial validity to the liberal-left reaction to Trump, and the rise of the right more generally, and at the same time to explain its severe shortcomings. Failure to approach things in this way, treating political stances as partial and potentially evolving phenomena rather than hard and fast absolutes takes us rather quickly to the sectarian politics of denunciation of ‘weaker spirits’. There has been quite a bit of that in these columns recently.

      There is nothing wrong with demonstrating against Trump or signing petitions against his visit. Its not enough but for many it can be a first step. It is unlikely to lead to a second step if it is greeted with a leftist chorus shouting against the pathetic liberal delusions of people who take such action.

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