By Mark Montegriffo
For some reason, the Conservative party have long enjoyed the perception of the 'strong and stable' party when it comes to economics and international relations. This is all despite the Suez crisis, black Wednesday, and the years of post-crash austerity plummeting one of the world's richest nations to disgusting inequality, particularly in urban areas such as Manchester where homelessness is rife. Perhaps the perception of trustworthiness and prudence is merely a result of the arrogance attained through their elite upbringing. As the government in charge of Brexit is collapsing while I write, it is high time this perception is re-evaluated, for the sake of Brexit, Gibraltar, and the political progress of the UK itself.
After the now infamous Chequers meeting, both David Davis and Boris Johnson have resigned. Meanwhile, Tory hard Brexiteers are taking pot shots at the authority of the Prime Minister with more freedom than an Etonian in his first week of boarding school, discovering the delights of swine and convincing the proles that they are genuinely interested in their well-being over the oligarchy that put them in their school in the first place. These particular swines are likely lining themselves up for the leadership of the Conservative party, and therefore prime minister. If Boris Johnson preparing two letters before the referendum tells you anything, one in favour of Leave and one in favour of Remain, it is that Boris is a vassal politician, much like the vassal state that him and Rees-Mogg suggest the UK will become under May's proposals.
Politics is contradiction, even at the best of times. But the Tories have been cunningly capable of somehow managing contradictions. A good way to do this is by not actually standing for anything. The issue of Europe, however, has been one of those niggling ideological strains on the party that have now reached fatal levels insofar as the party as it stands is concerned.
Brexit is such a contradiction, and when do contradictions correct a contradiction? The UK had most diluted EU arrangement out of any member state in consideration of their desires for 'sovereignty' of parliament. Yet that was the argument for getting out. The very fact that they can pull out completely means that they had sovereignty all along. But the only Brexit that is really 'Brexit' in the minds of Brexiteers is a complete pull out...which everybody knows is going to ravage the economy and make the UK a satellite state of Trump's regime. You really can't please anyone and the constructed power of the referendum vote means that the whole thing cannot simply be abandoned. Still, it's a political contradiction. If Boris is right about anything, it is that the government is led by a delusion. These delusions have plagued UK foreign policy and international relations since the aftermath of the Second World War, be it in the Middle East, far East, or on the European continent.
It is also a contradiction for the left. Corbyn's predecessors on the far left of the party are anti-EU in as much as they are sceptical of the single market, the EU enforcement of destructive austerity as seen in Greece in particular, as well as the fact that the EU is basically a neo-liberal project keeping all nations under the same broad economic framework. It is an attempt to keep this form of global capitalism alive, even with the odd sprinkle of moderate social democratic measures to sustain the machine.
For the left, the crises before and since the 2008 crash are finally emboldening them to challenge status quo orthodoxy. But Brexit brings a unique contradiction. The hard left Eurosceptics see Brexit as, in part, a democratic achievement by people who are ostracized by the status quo establishment. Perhaps this is part of the story. But immigration, xenophobia, and English patriotism are also clearly at odds with European values. This is why so many on the left, and indeed so many grassroots collectives like Momentum and Unite are campaigning for an anti-Brexit direction from their party leadership. They see the nation being held hostage by the hard right, not only economically in regards to austerity, but also politically in terms of Brexit. In this way it could be argued that the Labour leader is more radical than its grassroots base, which is rare for the major parties. Idealists will see a Lexit, a left-wing Brexit, as unifying the nation under an anti-austerity banner of one nation socialism. This is not a nuanced or realistic view. Only a small number of Leave voters marched to the ballot box in the view that breaking away from the EU will convince the British public to turn left.
Corbyn's Labour had a non-committal position in Brexit at the 2017 election which appeared to suit them well, avoiding the alienation of either side. The pressure, though, is now on. With a vast majority of the party's membership favouring a challenge of Brexit, Corbyn is caught in a contradiction. His conviction is at odds with the members that voted him in on the basis of the anti-austerity platform. In politics you sometimes have to ride out a contradiction. PSOE did that when they managed to oust the PP on the basis of corruption, when that party is not Mr Muscle clean either. But Sanchez and co are riding it out and, thankfully, they are far less likely to use any veto on Gibraltar than the PP.
Had the PP been in power now, especially if Margallo somehow remained as foreign minister, they would be licking their lips at the ineptitude of the UK Conservative government. While we can lament that the energy that the Gibraltar Government will have spent on Davis and Johnson could be potentially wasted, we must also acknowledge the irony that the PSOE's lack of political interest in Gibraltar is doing half the job for us. The next half is a stable government in the UK, which is certainly not apparent on the right and definitely not guaranteed on the left. If the Labour leadership can embrace pragmatism until March 2019, then the landscape of the Brexit crisis could be turned on its head. It has even been suggested by some on the right that a second referendum with all the options on the table (including remaining in the EU) should be thrown back to the people as neither party inspires sufficient confidence and it may put the breaks on Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.
Although people can contest whether the vote should have been put to a referendum by Cameron in the first place, a final plebiscite on the definitive outcome might worthwhile and possibly necessary if parliament cannot settle.
For now, it is the socialists in the UK and in Spain that could inspire a little bit of hope for a smoother process in the coming months. With Labour being now more Euro-friendly than the Tories and the Sanchez PSOE government advertising itself as keenly European, it could soon be time to remind them of Gibraltar's 96 percent.
Mark has recently graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in Politics and Philosophy. He is also a member of Together Gibraltar.