Fear and loathing on the referendum trail 2: Is Brexit any better?

The media take on the referendum: it's all about two Eton and Oxford chaps
The media view of the referendum: it’s all about two Eton and Oxford chaps

Here’s a question that’s being ignored by a media that prefers to focus on the spat between old Etonians. Which option, in or out, is most likely to reverse the reliance on a failed neoliberal ideology? This ideology, backed by intense lobbying, has the political class firmly in its thrall. Centrist politicians from Ireland to Estonia stumble along in a collective stupor as they busily shovel the earth’s wealth into the pockets of the super-rich.

As they wait for the long-promised crumbs to fall from the rich man’s table, they repeat the magical mantra. ‘There is no alternative.’ We have to make ‘hard choices’, although the choice always seems to be for everyone else to work longer, get lower pensions and put up with declining services. ‘We have no money’, they say, strangely ignoring the fact that the UK economy is five times bigger (even allowing for population growth) than it was when our parents and grandparents could afford to set up the NHS in the 1940s.

There’s clearly a case for radical reform of the EU. There’s also a respectable socialist case for leaving a neoliberal EU that has been thoroughly captured by corporate interests. Not that you’ll hear much about either of those from the BBC or the press. The really curious thing is that the case for reform has instead by default been ceded to the far right – elements of the Tory party and the obsessives of Ukip, whose simple solution for all ills since the 1990s has been to blame the EU.

The differences between that part of the political elite who want us to stay in a neoliberal EU and that part who want us to exit is marginal, to say the least. Brexiters assure us they’ll stay signed up to the single market for example, and therefore to the ‘free’ movement of labour, ignoring the contradiction between this and their call for more border controls, which we already have anyway.

The UK has one of the most deregulated labour markets even though it's supposed to be in the EU
The UK has one of the most deregulated labour markets even though it’s supposed to be in the EU

Brexiters are also keen to forge new trade treaties. How likely is it these will be less friendly to the mega-corporations than the TTIP and TISA? They’ll continue with a bonfire of regulations, indeed pour oil on the flames. What they rarely mention is that those detested regulations include maximum working time, maternity rights, right to time off work for family reasons and minimum paid holidays, for example. The UK already has one of most ‘flexible’ and least regulated labour markets in the EU. Those arguing for Leave want it even less regulated.

The result is a rather narrow choice. On the one hand, sign up to Cameron’s shabby deal and retain our semi-detached relationship with the EU. On the other, give up any direct influence on EU decision-making, but, like Norway, adopt its market regulations in order to retain trade agreements. Stay within a neoliberal EU or be a neoliberal UK outside. A choice neatly summed up by one commentator as “This game is being played between deluded austerity monomaniacs touting their non-solution to capitalist crisis, and a bunch of xenophobic reactionaries whose political-economic strategy will be equally toothless in either diagnosing or addressing systemic economic problems“. No wonder a lot of people aren’t exactly enthused, even if they can’t articulate why. So is this a reason to ignore the whole pitiful circus, to sit at home on the 23rd and watch while the British (or is it English) ruling class squabble among themselves?

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