BY SAM HOOPER
Leftists to women: “Don’t you worry your pretty little minds with complicated talk about geopolitics, democracy or the long-term national interest – just think about Brexit in terms of whether you stand to gain or lose government benefits and entitlements”.
It must have seemed like a godsend to whichever scheming left-winger first thought it up – the notion that any proposed government policy should be analysed primarily according to its impact on different identity groups, with any disproportionate impact expected to be felt by minority or designated victim groups providing concrete “proof” that said policy is inherently racist, sexist or otherwise deliberately prejudiced and therefore political Kryptonite.
Here, suddenly, was a super-weapon which could be deployed effectively against almost any policy originating from the right-of-center, and an argument structure which could be adapted and endlessly recycled by lacklustre, uninspired left-wing politicians and activists who would otherwise struggle to string a coherent sentence together on television.
Why does it work so well? Because since right-of-centre policies often involve reducing or re-targeting government programs (or encouraging their future provision through the private or nonprofit sectors rather than directly through the state) and since the Left ostentatiously claims to work and speak for the recipients of many of these services, leftist politicians have been able to insinuate that innumerable conservative policies were not conceived in the national interest but rather out of a burning desire to hurt certain vulnerable communities.
Since women and certain ethnic minority groups are disproportionate consumers of certain government services and benefits, virtually any policy which rolls back government spending in these areas can be condemned not only as misguided or callous but as inherently racist, sexist and discriminatory. And the policy’s proponents, in turn, go from being wrong on a matter of policy to inherently evil. Couple this with a left-wing media which is only too happy to take up the clarion call of discrimination without putting too much actual thought or analysis into the matter and you have effectively built an automatic, reflexive Conservative Policy Smearing Machine.
One need only put the conservative policy du jour in the machine’s slot, crank the handle (sometimes multiple rotations are needed depending on the number of degrees of separation between the policy and being able to suggest a favoured minority getting less stuff from the government) and out flies a prefabricated furious press release, a viral social media campaign and an eager up-and-coming left-wing politician to make their name fighting for justice and equality.
And so it was inevitable that leftists, once their initial shock at the EU referendum result had subsided, would seek to crank up their trusty Conservative Policy Smearing Machine and aim it square at the heart of Brexit. This blog has previously highlighted one such effort being promoted by EU idolatry magazine The New European, in which the author declared:
Let’s get one thing straight. This self indulgent pratting about over Brexit will be stopped. But not by MPs kowtowing to party whips in rapture to the latest autocratic executive power grab. And not because media silence blanks out the protests of citizens, but by women kicking off.
Let’s face it. Brexit is essentially sexist. Those spitting out their dummies need a good slap as my gran would have said, and she would have been only pleased administer. She’d have probably denied them sweets, treats and pocket money until they came to their senses too. Her view would be behave like brats, and get treated accordingly.
The chain of “logic” here is that because Brexit (or specifically a mishandled Brexit resulting in economic damage, not the concept of Brexit itself, though it is not in the author’s interest to acknowledge this nuance) may have negative economic consequences, this will result in a recession, which will result in lower government tax revenues, which would mean that the government would have no choice but to cut spending (though the Left also love to argue for stimulus spending, not cuts, during economic downturns) which would then disproportionately impact women, since women are more likely to claim tax credits or various other taxpayer-funded benefits.
You could be forgiven for thinking that this chain of illogic is rather too long and twisted for the conclusion to justify the premise, being more akin to the Underpants Gnomes from the satirical TV cartoon South Park (in which little creatures busily steal underpants from the town’s inhabitants, feverishly working to the formula Underpants + ? = Profit, with the question mark never being identified). And you would be right. But for Continuity Remainers and leftist defenders of the European Union, any embarrassment at drawing such a tenuous connection is outweighed by the opportunity to smear Brexit as being not only misguided but motivated by a callous desire to hurt women. No matter how implausible, if a line can be drawn linking Brexit to misogyny or racism then that line will be drawn, personal dignity and intellectual integrity be damned.
And now, charging into the debate, we have the London School of Economics’ execrable Brexit blog, an embarrassment to academia which exists primarily as a platform to cast as many aspersions against Brexit as possible without ever once seriously engaging with democratic or constitutional criticisms of the EU.
In a new essay by Julie MacLeavy of the University of Bristol for the LSE Brexit Blog, it is suggested that the goal of gender equality is “adrift in the Brexit backwash”. Good luck trying to decode the following identity politics word soup:
With European legislation and regulation on gender equality framed as inhibiting economic growth, the post-Brexit environment is likely to see the simultaneous intensification and erosion of gender. Should the UK government deregulation fail to enact sufficient legal protection to compensate for the removal of EU laws, directives and charters, the prior neoliberal tendencies of individualisation and the transfer of reproductive responsibilities towards the feminised spaces of communities and families – renewed in part through the implementation of austerity measures in recent years – will no longer be restricted by the promotion and implementation of gender equality policies.
At the same time, deregulation and the reprivatisation of social reproduction are likely to affect not just women, but a number of feminised individuals upon whom the burden of additional care work falls. The dimensions of class, race and ethnicity mean that any change in the gender regime will affect constituted groups differently. In this sense, Brexit indicates the significant intensification of the practices that reflect and reproduce gendered labour and economic inequality.
Making the case for Europe’s democratic values and its commitment to social justice will depend on both the popularisation of a feminist campaign in which gender equality as a main goal is rendered legitimate, as well as the incorporation of a feminist ethic within the auspices of the state. This latter task is becoming increasingly difficult given the support expressed for the repatriation of European powers by previously pro-European factions.
Left Foot Forward has also been promoting the same infantilising line of argument.
MacLeavy’s line of argument is distasteful more for its haughty contempt for democracy rather than its condescending view of women and minorities. The entire operating assumption of the article and the academic “thinking” behind it is that because Britain is a terribly backward and barbaric place, crucial and fundamental human rights have to be imposed on us by a higher, outside authority (in this case, the EU).
Since nasty, backward British voters cannot be trusted to believe in or vote for the right things, we need human rights imposed on us at a European level, so that present and future UK governments could not dial back certain rights or entitlements even if they wanted to. This is predicated on the belief that democracy, popular will, should not trump everything, which is actually a perfectly reasonable position – any good constitution should have checks and balances built in to it in order to prevent the passion of the moment finding its way onto the statute books without due discussion, diligence and consideration of the rights of dissenting minorities.
But the academic Left’s naive approach assumes that the EU will always be a force for the kind of socially progressive agenda that its academics seek to champion. By defending a structure which permanently paints the UK as the authoritarian bad guy and the EU as the right-dispensing good guys, it provides no defence in the event that the EU flips and takes a less expansive view of human rights than is currently the case. And this is more than a theoretical, irrelevant supposition – with the rise of populists and authoritarians throughout Europe, a time may eventually come when some decidedly illiberal policies flow down from Brussels. And what defence would Britain then have, given that the Left trust European voters and politicians over British people to be the final arbiter of rights and freedoms in the UK?
Thus, at best this “resist Brexit to preserve women’s rights” movement is guilty of exceptionally short-term, two-dimensional, narrow thinking in which the policy thought most likely to guarantee certain rights and entitlements today is mistakenly held as the optimal policy for the longer-term, and at worst it is as contemptuous of women as it is of democracy itself.
In truth, women should be insulted by this definition of sexism based on disparate impact, by the suggestion that women are helpless supplicants without agency or power, whose lives and livelihoods are dependent on government largesse. Self-respecting women should reject the condescending notion that their worth or societal footprint is somehow bound up in how many taxpayer resources they consume, and that they are effectively “gender traitors” if they allow their constitutional and democratic arguments for Brexit to overrule the grasping desire to secure government entitlements in perpetuity.
Is anyone else getting tired of the intellectually dishonest, emotionally manipulative “disparate impact” political test to determine the presence of sexism or racism? No policy or political decision will ever affect all identity groups equally, but this fact does not make them all inherently discriminatory. That much can only be determined by considering the intent of the policy – is there or is there not reasonable cause to believe that a particular policy was proposed or implemented with intent to disproportionately impact a specific demographic group for no reason other than an innate physical trait shared by that group?
Under this far more reasonable test for discrimination, the idea that Brexit is somehow sexist rightly appears absurd – one may just as well declare that going to war is sexist and deliberately antagonistic toward women because it would redirect taxpayer resources from welfare to the military, even though men would be doing the lion’s share of the fighting and dying. Brexit, like going to war, is based on a foundation of interweaving ideas and aspirations far wider and more complex than a desire to roll back societal progress toward gender equality. It encompasses arguments about governance, democracy, trade and regulation, almost none of which are even tangentially linked to the relative status of men and women. Even so far as Brexit can be conceived as a desire to roll back employment and other regulations, the idea that the goal of such rollbacks is to harm women because they are women is utterly ridiculous.
If politicians, activists or academics came to me and told me that as a mixed-race man raised in a single-parent family I would be disproportionately impacted by Brexit and should therefore abandon my existing views on the European Union in order to vote in accordance with someone else’s interpretation of my best interests, I would tell that person to take a hike, and none too politely.
As a country, isn’t it time we shut down this growing cottage industry of left-wing wannabe heroes whose loudly stated conception of what is best for minorities always conveniently gels with their pre-existing leftist, Utopian worldview? Isn’t it long past time that the entire country told these unwanted saviours to mind their own business?