What we witnessed in the North of England and the Midlands yesterday was an electoral riot – an explosion of anger from people sticking two fingers up at the establishment having been eagerly invited to do so after being ignored and marginalised for so long.
There are all sorts of reasons why people riot. Some might do it because they are so desperate and bludgeoned by the system they lash out using any weapon available to them, some might be politically motivated and for some it might be because they are simply nasty people who want to cause mayhem.
I don’t blame those communities in the in the North East for lashing out. Those communities where there were once pits and shipyards were handed the blunt instrument and boy did they use it?
But the problem with riots is that, whilst we can understand the anger, they rarely result in anything good for the people who take part in them. You might feel good while you’re smashing that shop window but next day you end up being punished by the full force of the state and have to pay the bill.
This referendum was portrayed as the people v the establishment (the words of Nigel Farage), but it is the establishment that has the upper hand at the moment. Remember the pledge to spend money we would have paid to the EU on the NHS? Within hours of the result Farage was on the telly saying that promise was a mistake. This is not the Lexit storming of the Winter Palace we were promised – it is the morning after when we find Boris Johnson or Michael Gove in charge with the prospect of more privatisation, more cuts, more attacks on the NHS.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the EU. It is a neo-liberal, undemocratic capitalist club, with a shameful Fortress Europe position on refugees. It showed its true colours when it ripped to pieces democracy in Greece when Syriza failed to stand up to its policy of austerity. It will bare its teeth again as the capitalist crisis unfolds in Europe. For that reason I want to see the EU smashed.
But this referendum was not sparked by an anti-austerity government standing up to the EU. The Brexit campaign has successfully exploited the anti-establishment mood but has been driven by the establishment itself. As one socialist commentator said it is like choosing between being eaten by crocodiles or sharks.
When the hangover sets in I hope many of those who gleefully wanted to stick the knife into that establishment realise what they’ve done and help with the clear-up. I saw a little of that today – an interview with a guy who said he voted Leave. He said he wasn’t really sure why he vote Leave, didn’t think for one minute Leave would win and is now quite worried!
As I say, the establishment has the upper hand at the moment, but the situation can change very quickly. What happens next in the Labour Party is vital. Corbyn and the people around him have made some mistakes in this campaign, but the left needs to rally round him more than ever. As I have said before, the most important decision in a generation is not whether we leave the EU, but whether Britain is governed by a vicious Tory government or a socialist government which rejects austerity. Corbyn with all his faults needs to be at the head of that government. What is the alternative? Ask yourself this – is someone like Chuka Umuna and his ilk going to be able connect with those people in the Britain who voted Brexit? I don’t think so. One thing I am sure of though, the Labour movement needs to get its act together quickly, because if it doesn’t, we won’t be seeing electoral riots, but real ones.