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Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn, and Contempt for Democracy

July 2, 2016

The July 2, 2016 issue of Other Voices, the Connexions newsletter, is now out.

This issue focuses on Brexit, the British vote to leave the European Union, and on contempt for democracy that has marked the elite reaction and media response to that vote.

Brexit has thrown the political elites into turmoil and confusion. The referendum was supposed to be a safe political manoeuvre, a way to produce an appearance of democratic legitimacy for the profoundly undemocratic structures of the EU. The gambit turned out to be a spectacular miscalculation, as millions of people turned out to express their opposition to a state of affairs that is leaving the majority worse off while enriching a small minority.

What the result will be is not clear. For one thing, it is far from certain that Britain will actually end up leaving the European Union. Ruling elites in Europe and elsewhere have a long history of ignoring referendum results which displease them. Last summer’s referendum in Greece, in which the Greek people voted overwhelmingly to reject the terms dictated by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, is a case in point. Within a few days, the EU, representing the interests of the banks whose Greek loans were at risk, compelled the Greek government to submit to terms that were even worse than those rejected in the referendum. Greece’s Syriza government capitulated utterly, and became the enforcer of the agenda of austerity and looting which it had been elected to oppose. Those who feel tempted to believe the claim that the European Union represents a form of international co-operation from which all benefit might want to consider the case of Greece, and of other countries who have been forced to shred their social infrastructure and sell off their assets to enrich investors and bankers.

A constant theme in elite reaction to the Brexit referendum, expressed especially through the mainstream media, has been a visceral contempt for democracy. Ordinary working people are portrayed as stupid and reactionary, incapable of understanding how wonderful the European Union project is. Again and again, one hears the comment that the great unwashed should not be allowed to vote on issues which they are incapable of understanding. This reaction is not new: ruling classes for centuries have loathed democracy, which is seen as an existential threat to the wealth and privileges of the elite.

The attitudes of the elite have been mirrored on parts of the liberal left as well. The racist rhetoric emanating from the xenophobic UKIP party is seen as reflecting the attitudes of everyone who voted to leave the EU. Never mind that UKIP commands 12% of the vote, whereas 52% voted to leave. Everyone who voted to leave, according to some commentators, must automatically be a racist. The liberal left shares this attitude with the mainstream elite: neither of them is capable of seeing, let alone offering solutions for, the economic devastation caused by neoliberal institutions such as the EU and the various ‘free trade’ agreements, and neither of them cares about the working class.

In Britain, the referendum results have also provided a pretext for the Labour hierarchy to try to remove Jeremy Corbyn, the leftist who unexpectedly captured the leadership of the party nine months ago in another instance of democracy producing the ‘wrong’ result. A majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party (the MPs) are still holdovers from the Tony Blair era, known for their support of the war in Iraq, the intervention in Libya, and their willingness to vote for anti-labour legislation introduced by the Conservative government of David Cameron. These MPs have been desperately looking for an opportunity to get rid of Corbyn, and thought the referendum results would provide an opportunity. Corbyn, however, has reacted to their vote of no confidence by informing them that he was elected by the membership, not the MPs, and that he has no intention of resigning. In this battle, Corbyn represents not only the left-wing majority of the Labour members who elected them, but the hopes of people in other countries who see him as an inspiration and an example to follow.

This issue of Other Voices features a variety of articles and resources analyzing these and related issues. Other Voices is available free via email subscription as well as on the Connexions website at

For more information contact:
Ulli Diemer
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