The Greasy Pole column from the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Have Your Say was the advice we were bombarded with from both sides in the European Referendum. Meanwhile the argument which raged between the factions Remain and Leave was not just between the main parties; in the case of the Tories the internal rift was sufficiently bitter to be dubbed a ‘civil war’. There was no concealing the fact that the conflict was central to the competing ambitions of Cameron and Boris Johnson, with the prize being Number Ten Downing Street. In a TV clash between a group of Front Bench MPs, Labour’s Angela Eagle blasted Johnson that his group’s campaign bus was touring the country flying a slogan that membership of the EU involved a British payment of £350 million a week, although a clutch of financial experts were definite that this figure was an exaggeration. So Johnson should ensure, Eagle raged, that it was removed from the streets. Another participant helpfully suggested that the figures Number Ten, illustrating Johnson’s inflating ambition, should be on the bus in place of that £350 million. Johnson’s response was to slip his hand into his breast pocket.
At the same time Cameron condemned the Tory Brexit argument about the cost of EU membership as ‘…perpetuating an economic con-trick on the British people’, part of an intention to be ‘reckless and undemocratic in failing to outline an economic plan for Britain outside of the EU’. On the matter of tricking the voters, Cameron should be reminded that from the security of his personal wealth he has led a government which will go down in history for its policies of depressing the living standards of masses of desperately impoverished people – a reality which justified a Eurosceptic MP in his party describing his latest move as ‘crass’ and ‘a slap in the face’. A similarly gruesome incident in the civil war was when ex-Prime Minister John Major, who occasionally appears in public exuding a sleek self-satisfaction, sneered at Johnson as a ‘court jester’ who was running a campaign which in its false claims about the levels of immigration was ‘squalid… deceitful… depressing’ - adjectives which could well have been applied in relation to the policies of the Thatcher government of which Major was so prominent a member that Thatcher favoured him as her most favoured successor.
Meanwhile there was no need for concern about Boris Johnson’s ability to defend himself in the Brexit trenches. On one of the main matters of the Referendum he warned that David Cameron ‘…can’t be trusted on immigration’ and that his regular promises to cut immigration were ‘deeply corrosive of popular trust in democracy’. This attack on Cameron would have been more impressive if Johnson had been able to support it with an explanation of why, and how, he had so recently been so firm a supporter of him from the vantage point of his Mayoralty of London and as a Member of Parliament.
Among the less publicised supporters of Leave was Andrew Rosindell, the Tory MP for Romford. This is a seat he first took in the 2001 election – one of the few to be won back after the 1997 Labour landslide. Part of his campaign then was to parade Spike, a Staffordshire bull terrier, wrapped up in a Union Jack. During the next three elections, with the help of Spike, he increased his majority. Rosindell is one of Parliament’s natural Right Wingers. Among other things he was a member of the Monday Club, until Iain Duncan Smith forced him to resign; he is a supporter of the death penalty; he expressed ‘huge admiration’ for President Pinochet; in 2015 he introduced a Ten Minute Bill aimed at enforcing control over British borders with the European Union. A less publicised feature of the career of this ‘flag fanatic and super patriot’ was in 2010 when he sponsored a fund-raising dinner at the House of Commons for what was known as Erotica House – an ‘adult entertainment show’ – followed by a dinner when it was obligatory to wear ‘kinky fancy dress’ (it is not known whether this requirement extended to any of Spike’s friends). Erotica Ltd is based in Romford and is owned by one of Mr Rosindell’s wealthy supporters.
Less arousing than Rosindell and his dog was Michael Gove, Minister of Justice, one-time close friend and neighbour of Cameron, who took a key role in spouting the case for leaving the EU, spiced with some typical Gove phrases. For example, he condemned Cameron and his supporters for ‘scaremongering’, of treating the British people like ‘…mere children, capable of being frightened into obedience by conjuring up new bogeymen every night’. Gove has had a varied career; there was a time when he might have been within reach of the party leadership but a very public clash with Theresa May caused him to be pushed down the Greasy Pole until his promotion to the Justice Ministry, which led to him becoming one of Boris Johnson’s leading supporters in Leave. He was so keen on this that he was encouraged to reveal that he came from a family of North Sea fishermen, with all that implies by way of hard work in tough conditions. In response a leader of the Labour Party Remain group, Alan Johnson, blasted Gove’s speech as ‘bluster’, part of his need to ‘…wish away reality but the truth is very credible’. Alan Johnson is no stranger to the stresses of politics; at a time when the Labour Party was in one of its spells of deeper disarray he was unwise enough to take on the job of Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer only to be rapidly removed from it. He is however a renowned electioneer, which gave a particular force to his dismissal of Gove.
Have Your Say was the official advice from both sides in the Referendum. A hopeful change from the usual electoral dictate amounting to Shut Up, Believe What We Say And Vote Likewise. Which missed the fact that in this matter as in all others there was nothing to choose between the variously competing groups, even when they themselves were in such confusion. Why should anyone have supported any of them? The EU battle exposed the essential cross-party unity of capitalism’s politics, designed to defend and promote this class society and its inhumane divisions.