Brexit has made us unwilling combatants in a Tory civil war

Web the nightmare 3

Detail from The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli.

​Brexit has us fighting someone else's battles, says Graham Martin - and the third sector is left to pick up the pieces

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26th April 2019 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

If the sleep of reason breeds monsters then who knows what sort of terrors will confront us when the UK finally wakes from its feverish slumber.

The Brexit process has been a shared nightmare for all of us – whether you believe we should remain or leave the former European Coal and Steel Community.

Chances are that before 2016, it wasn’t even something you had that strong an opinion about, unless you were a member of the Conservative Party or its increasingly far right UKIP outlier.

Because make no mistake – this was a debate few wanted outwith those who are effectively on the fringes of British political thought, though exception has to be made for the concerns of special economic interest groups, such as the fishing industry.

The BBC’s recent excellent documentary Inside Europe spelt it out straight from the horse’s mouth (well, George Osborne’s). The decision to launch this disastrous, binary poll on the nation was taken for narrow, factional, intra-Tory reasons – to quell a revolt from the right inside and outwith the party, after it found itself unexpectedly unchecked by its former Lib Dem partners following its outright victory at the 2015 General Election.

Unintended consequences can be the most tragic – and the referendum became a lightning conductor for all sort of grievances

Unintended consequences can be the most tragic – and the referendum became a lightning conductor for all sort of grievances.

Some of these were and are legitimate – and it’s a crude caricature to say that all leave voters were motivated by xenophobia. Many, in northern English working class communities, were those who felt most left behind – and the impulse to lash out at the political class was real and potent.

These communities were the most primed to be swayed by the arguments of genuine racists, as the desperate have been by demagogues throughout history. We need to condemn but we also need to understand.

The mix was unstable and dangerous – and the volatile agent washing around was the misery people have been plunged into by the years of enforced austerity which followed capitalism’s great lurch in 2008.

2016’s unwanted referendum was a lit match thrown in.

The crucial factor here, as stated, was the banker’s crisis of 2008, which has deformed world affairs. Many recent phenomena – Brexit, Trump, the rise of the far right, the collapse of the political centre – can be attributed to it.

In the UK, austerity has been one of the main consequences - and the third sector has been mopping up and dealing with the casualties ever since.

As it will with the outcomes of Brexit – and the divisions it has opened up in society.

The third sector faces a double fight when it comes to these issues – it deals with its consequences, but it also suffers from them.

As demand for third sector services grow, so the funding streams which keep charities alive begin to dry.

In this month’s TFN magazine we look at what the consequences of Brexit could be for the third sector in Scotland – as we went to press it was revealed that the EU has agreed to a six month extension, but the issues, and all the uncertainty, remain.

Whatever happens, the third sector will be there, in some form, to pick up the pieces. The nightmare goes on – but on this, at least, we can rest assured.

Graham Martin is editor of TFN.