Oxford in Rebellion

Oxford_university_The_Queen's_College_by_FenlioLast week I was at the Harry Potteresque Queens College, Oxford. I had wangled my way in to getting an invitation from the local dsc to attend a meeting on Brexit strategy, followed by a panel discussion which included Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek minister and co-founder of diem25. Though I disagree with him on Brexit, I find his political analysis, writings and speeches inspiring and was very much looking forward to seeing him in person.

Andrea Pisauro (who is from Rome originally) kicked off the dsc discussion with the view that Diem25 should call for an extension of Article 50 so that we can participate in the European elections and thereby precipitate a people’s dialog on our future relationship with Europe. Yanis on the other hand maintained that the EU would never agree to an extension as they want to wrap things up on the withdrawal agreement before Merkel leaves, the commission changes hands and before there new faces in the European Parliament. In other words the only two options that could happen would be Teresa May’s deal or no-deal. According to him Brexit will inevitably have happened by April and the task now is to provide a message of hope and contribute long-due discussions on matters of direct and representative democracy, constitutional issues and future relationship with the rest of the continent. That might eventually lead to a return to the EU without the goodies such as opt-out clauses and sterling which meant the UK had one foot in the EU and one outside.

A similar view came from Anthony Barnett who wrote the Lure of Greatness. He believed that Brexit is a bit like purgatory that the country and especially remainers must go through before they can recognize home truths regarding the nature of Britain. I made my sole contribution at that point to say that people won’t necessarily become more reasonable after Brexit. It is just as likely that Brexit will usher in even more right wing fanaticism following the complete humiliation of not forcing the EU to capitulate and the likelihood of Scotland going independent. Instinctively I feel that Brexit is bad and that we need to stop the immediate self-harm before we can deal with the issues. But in practical terms it is difficult this coming about at the moment. A lot of Yanis’s logic is therefore sound.

As he was wrapping up Andrea mentioned that deal or no deal March 29th is not the end of Brexit. We have only really been dealing with the withdrawal until now so as one crisis ends another begins…. He also said that Jeremy Corbyn would be finished if Brexit happens. Some people didn’t agree with this, but a woman who was sitting next to me said “he has been sitting on the fence for too long”. I agree with Andrea and her that there has been a lot of week leadership and bad judgement.

Constantly calling for a general election sounded opportunistic and arrogant because it implied that Labour were guaranteed to win and you can’t keep on deferring a decision on a second referendum. The line should have been something like this “If we (Labour) were in power we would cooperate with all parties and the devolved parliaments and find a solution that we can all subscribe to (along the lines of Norway ++) and once that deal has been done we would put that to a multi-option referendum with preferences along with the wto/no-deal and remain options”. Sadly a great opportunity was missed.

As I am about to publish this post, several longstanding MPs have left the Labour Party, mostly on this issue and there is some indication that the policy is about to change. But really this is far, far too late in the day.

The hour quickly passed and we took our seats for the next session. This was a panel discussion with Yanis Varoufakis, George Monbiot and Karma Nabulsi on the future of Europe. see “A Storm Blowing from Paradise: Shaping Europe’s Story” for the whole discussion. Yanis spoke about the rise of the far right on the back of deflationary forces in the same way as in the thirties and the necessity for a pan-european democratic alliance to counter it and put forward a green new deal to solve the major crisis of our time.

A lot of the solutions espoused by all the panel revolved around grassroots participatory democracy. I also promote that on every occasion. But I have some caveats. People don’t always make the right choices. It is highly likely that people would vote for capital punishment if they had the chance. I’m not sure that everybody wants or cares about going to meetings and making decisions. Take for the example student unions – many of them find it difficult to pass any motions because they can’t get the quorum. Isn’t there a danger that a participatory democracy becomes a government of activists rather than truly representative. The Soviet’s were taken over by Stalin by packing out the meetings with his supporters. Finally I would say that participatory democracy would need to go hand and hand with greater education. Why isn’t politics, current affairs and economics taught to every child as part of the school curriculum.

Especially vivid was George Monbiot’s assertion that even at the most green current levels of growth aren’t sustainable. This is an issue that few politicians deal with. I guess depends what growth means. Physical resources will certainly deplete but digital information doesn’t necessarily need to be limited. As infrastructure is built less resources will be needed to maintain them than previously. The population growth isn’t sustainable either but like the other things this could tail off and even decrease in the future if proper policies were put in place. With more prudent consumption habits and a reassessment of our real needs and maybe, just maybe we will survive as a species. That is the more optimistic view anyway.

As we left the hall and I made my way back to the station Andrea mentioned in the context of his friendly tactical disagreements with Yanis that the Romans had conquered Greece and ended up adopting a lot of the culture as their own. I pointed out that the Celts had ransacked Rome and conquered a large part of Greece, but we hadn’t absorbed anything of either culture as far as I know. At least not at that time. Maybe that was our mistake.

Everything wasn’t over for Yanis though. He did a very interesting lecture based on his up and coming book. This can be found here – Yanis Varoufakis at the Taylor Lecture.

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