24 January 2019

The remarkable identity politics of the People's Vote

In my book I wrote quite a bit on how efforts to keep the United Kingdom in the European Union have mobilised what I call 'the system of diversity', by aligning to a view of the world in which certain identity groups like women, gay and non-white-skinned people appear as victims of unfavoured groups like men, white-skinned people and the ethnic English.

Seemingly every day brings more remarkable evidence of this.

Via Twitter, James Mendelsohn has kindly sent one of the best, most concise examples I have seen so far - a video by a campaign group called Our People, Our Choice which calls itself, 'A group of young people campaigning for a #PeoplesVote on the Brexit deal!'



In its two minutes, the video evades any discussion about the EU, the Four Freedoms and the relative merits of national democracy against this legalistic rules-based pan-national regime. Instead it concentrates on how the 'we' of young people are against "this fucking mess" of Brexit because their futures are being put at risk by it, how it is apparently going to increase inequality and also reduce social mobility. Quite how this is going to happen we are not told. Rather we must trust the authority of the writer Antonia Cundy and those who dictate this 'poem' (more a series of slogans) to us.

It also associates their anti-Brexit cause explicitly with favoured identity groups, as victims of unfavoured groups. Towards the end we read and hear the lines:

“We stood outside for Grenfell,
We stood outside cos Black Lives Matter,
We chanted for Me Too
We chanted for gay pride”

Grenfell no doubt appears because of the explicit politicisation of the Grenfell Tower disaster as one in which a predominantly poor, non-white, immigrant population died and suffered as a result of the neglect of a predominantly male, white, non-immigrant governing class. The Black Lives Matter and Me Too campaigns respectively show off black-skinned people and women as victims of white-skinned people and men (both originated in the United States, with its identity wars on a much higher pitch than over here, albeit we're clearly catching up). To round it off, we have a tick-box nod towards LGBT politics.

Quite what it all has to do with Brexit is not explained. But it all appears as a continuity - as part of the same messaging, presenting a younger generation that is apparently immersed in these forms of identity group favouritism and victimhood and associates them explicitly with Brexit.

There is an historicist, authoritarian element to it too, for the video ends with a slogan, ‘Be on the right side of history. Join the movement for a People’s Vote.'

History here appears as something that we need to be on the right side of, like a kind of entity which judges and whose judgements are unquestionable and absolute - so like a God in other words. In this way the People's Vote campaign appears as a movement that has privileged knowledge of these judgements of history, being able to see into the future and relay history's judgements back to the rest of us.

This is not entirely remarkable given that the People's Vote organisation is dominated by progressives of various stripes, and notably New Labour types, for whom this authoritarian historicism is a staple part of their politics. The video gives this sort of a messaging an assertive, radical, youth-driven edge, but it's basically the same old thing.

People's Vote has a record with this sort of thing.

Launching Women for a People's Vote in September, the feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez laid down a similar authoritarian message, saying, “Women no longer want to leave the European Union. The failure to listen to their voices is a national scandal and it stops now.” The LGBT for a People's Vote group's strapline is that “Brexit is a threat to the LGBT+ community”.

Last week I spoke on this subject at a well-attended event at the Spread Eagle pub in Camden, North London. As I said then, identity politics has been a core part of Remain campaigning - and it is certainly not going away.



Thanks for James Heartfield for the photographs, taken at the Spread Eagle on 17th January 2019.


'The Tribe: the liberal-left and the system of diversity' is available at a discount via imprint.co.uk/tribe for £12 (RRP £14.95) with free postage to UK addresses. Use coupon TRIBE. It is also available via online retailers. For Amazon reviews, see here.

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