Dismaland. That was the ‘holiday resort’/art installation created by Banksy in Weston-Super-Mare. It needed no explanations, no careful curation, to ensure that visitors got the message. Dismaland is where we live.
For we are all dismal now. From Ranty Remainers, desperate in fancy dress, to Rabid Leavers foaming at the mouth, from Northern plebs in our deindustrialised, disinvested shells of once great municipalities, to Southern metropolitans paying penthouse rents to share sub-standard hovels, unhappiness stalks the land like a manic Skeletor. Even the wealthy and secure middle classes feel terrible discontent, as their privilege feels puny compared to the staggering wealth of the plutocrats, kleptocrats, and oligarchs now living in the London homes that were once their birthright. As for our political leaders, who range from the robotic to the bathetic, their capacity to offer hope – not as a tone, but as a programme – seems much diminished.
To be fair to the Labour leadership, they really are trying. The last manifesto was a glorious, and effective, dog’s dinner; part nostalgia, part hard-headed retail politics. That it didn’t result in a Labour government is an inconvenient truth, but anyone who denies that the campaign pulled a kind of, if not victory, a vindication, from what looked like being an historic defeat is really being unfair. The boy Jez done well.
But doing better by failing to address the Brexit pachyderm in the chamber does look bathetically unambitious to the point of wilful myopia. I keep hearing loyal Corbynistas repeating, as truth, that the referendum happened, a decision was made, no point fighting it now. Corbyn himself said as much to Jon Snow on C4 News last night. And it is not good enough.
I could go with a Brexit fudge for a little longer, if I believed it was part of a greater plan. That plan would be a version of John McDonnell’s scenario-planning for a run on the pound in the event of a radical Labour victory in the very near future. For a victory night speech calling for a revocation of Article 50, and a resetting of the clock on Brexit would have a different kind of effect on the markets. That might be fiendishly clever. I can see Keir Starmer coming up with something like that. (What followed such an announcement could take many forms, but it is unlikely that Brexit would be one of them.)
The trouble is, I have no sense that this is Labour’s direction of travel. Like much of the British public, the Labour leadership, and swathes of its too loyal membership, are dealing with Brexit by pretending it isn’t happening.
As a result, Labour is being too timid, too unambitious, too un-radical.
At present, there is a penchant in the media, and on social media, for framing politics in the UK as Tory/populist right, Vs Labour/populist left, with a gaping centrist hole. Realign the Centre, call many siren voices. But this is no time for ‘centrism’. There is no centre position ‘between’ Brexit, and not-Brexit. There is no centre position between white supremacism and civil rights. This is a time not for ameliorating putative extremes, but for restating, defining, and creating programmes for action based on philosophical first principles.
Yes, Brexit is a distraction from such an important job as redefining politics (and our whole constitutional settlement) in an age of globalisation and insecurity. But it is also a real thing that must be fought and defeated before anything else becomes possible.
Fight Brexit as the first stage in a programme of real, long lasting, ambitious radicalism! Dreams need not be broken.