Many people have tried to analyse the secret of Sir Alex Ferguson’s success as a football manager over so many years, first with Aberdeen, then with Manchester United. What was clear, from many interviews with the man, was that he consistently adopted a siege mentality, suggesting repeatedly that ‘they’ were out to get United, that nobody loved them. To motivate his players and inspire team bonding he didn’t need this to be true, he only needed the players to believe it was true.
Brexiteers would tell you that no-one loves the European Union (EU). It is demonstrably true that the EU’s Premier League rivals on the world stage, like China and the USA, do not want to see a unified economic competitor. Russia, in particular, does not want to be overshadowed by a neighbouring powerhouse. Power not only corrupts, but it also jealously guards its power, as addicts guard their stash, suspicious of all who might steal from it. A major plank of Putin’s foreign policy is to undermine the EU by every means available, whether by sponsoring nationalist movements in individual countries, by paying individual politicians, or by fostering war in the Middle East to mobilise millions of refugees as fuel for nationalism.
Brexit was a cornerstone in this strategy, one Putin set in place both financially, through his oligarchs, and practically, by means of Prigozhin’s St Petersburg troll factory, flooding social media with targeted anti-EU propaganda. Be under no illusion, neither the USA nor China are averse to such subversion; in fact, their strategists applaud it.
If this sounds like a conspiracy theory, it is because UK journalists in mainstream media, with a few notable exceptions, have given scant coverage to the infiltration of Russians into UK politics and the huge part played by them in perpetrating the great Brexit con. The Russia Report was brushed under the carpet and neither BBC News, now a toothless captive of the Conservative Party, nor any of the Tory-aligned ‘newspapers’ have pushed to investigate further.
Why not? Because there is another power bloc intent on undermining not only the EU, but western democracy in general: an amalgam of billionaires and multinational corporations. Corporations, heedlessly inhuman by their very nature, have always flirted with corruption in their single-minded pursuit of profit, and salivate at the prospect of public asset sell-offs and creeping privatisation, particularly of the NHS.
More recently, the wealth of billionaires has increased exponentially with globalised trade and the internet. Wealth of inconceivable proportions that carries enormous power, enough not just to buy individual politicians, but to bend entire governments to their will.
Whether it is BP, Shell, Tata Steel, Rupert Murdoch and the other press barons, or wealthy individuals, like the Koch brothers and Peter Thiel (founder of Paypal), they all share an impatience with constraints imposed by those democracies that attempt to enact laws protecting citizens from exploitation or lower standards. It is hard to influence a union of 27 states whereas, when you peel one nation away from that union, hard right lobby groups (also known, disingenuously, as ‘think tanks’), financed by the anonymous ‘dark money’ of billionaires, can effectively buy the government.
If you measure sovereignty by the power to resist the influence of the super-rich, the UK surrendered sovereignty by leaving the EU.
Witness now Sunak’s supine concessions to the whims and wishes of fossil fuel companies, granting Rosebank oilfield licences and reining back the UK’s net zero commitments. Note, too, our divergence from the EU’s standards for monitoring water quality, shielding multinational shareholders’ dividends at the expense of our health.
The coincidence of Cameron’s announcement of the Brexit referendum with that of the EU’s Anti-Tax Avoidance Directive suggests a motivation more credible than the multiple Euromyths promulgated by Boris Johnson in his Telegraph column. Anti-tax avoidance measures to safeguard public revenue, protection for workers, consumers or the environment do not figure highly on the priorities of corporations or the super-rich, and their antipathy to EU legislation was seized on as a massive opportunity for Putin’s regime. The Tories’ ‘Friends of Russia’ group, later renamed the ‘Westminster Russia Forum’, was set up in 2012 as a conduit for Russian influence.
If the EU doesn’t have a siege mentality, assailed on all sides as it is, as well as subverted from within by nationalist organisations, it most certainly should have. The biggest problem for democracy is that voters are hearing the loudest voices, namely those of the wealthy media proprietors.
How do we convey the fuller picture, the pro-democracy narrative, preferably in terms aimed at a reading age of eight or nine, in the style of the tabloid newspapers? The message their readers are currently receiving is divisive; it is one of an island under siege from asylum seekers, of ‘woke’ liberals going soft. The neoliberals’ voice is strident, not only because it is carried in most newspapers, but because it plays to the emotions rather than to cold reason. What’s still worse is that, because opposition parties need funding in order to campaign and compete, they’re unwilling to convey the true picture for fear of alienating wealthy donors. And because a substantial majority now see that Brexit was a gross error, they see plainly that politicians of all the main parties are fighting shy of that truth.
It is unsurprising that there is a trust deficit, and that it is greater now than it has ever been, but this creates a yawning gap in the market for the little boy to point at the emperor’s bare bum. We need to shout out loud that neoliberalism is an attack on society and that the EU offers protection from that assault. We should explain why corporations dislike the EU and why they worked hard to fool us into Brexit. We must point the finger of blame for the disintegration of public services and the hardships people now face directly at those responsible.
We have to identify precisely which ‘they’ it is who are out to get us – and it is most certainly not the refugees! We have to realise who really does love us and, like the prodigal son, return to the nurturing bosom of our home: Europe.