Episode 21: Morbid Symptoms on Brexit Day, with Owen Worth

This episode comes to you on February 6, 2020, just six days after so-called “Brexit Day.” That is, the day Britain legally departed from the European Union. In honor of this occasion, in this episode we talk to another returned guest, Owen Worth, of the University of Limerick. You may remember Owen from Episode 4, where we talked with him about the 2017 British General Election, and the surprising performance of Jeremy Corbyn, and the British Labour Party. In this episode, Owen is going to help us try to get our heads around not only some of the implications of Brexit but, more importantly, the implications of the 2019 election for the British left.

Now, as you know, in our last episode, we had Lee Jones of the Full Brexit blog on, giving his take on the election. And Lee’s views on the election are complex, but the basic idea I think is that he sees the election as effectively a second referendum on Brexit, and an underlining of the desire of the British electorate to leave the European Union. In this sense, taking his cues from scholars like Peter Mair, Lee sees the election as a kind of revenge of those who feel themselves materially abandoned by mainstream liberal democracy.

Owen Worth doesn’t necessarily disagree with Lee Jones. Yet, as you’ll hear, he traces a somewhat longer history of the decline of the British Labour Party. As we will discuss, this decline isn’t necessarily straightforward our easy to understand. After all, the Labour Party did extremely well in 2017, largely not he basis of a robust manifesto and a commitment to honor the results of the Brexit referendum. In this episode, you are going to hear Owen and I debate the extent to which the Labour Party’s U-turn on Leave was a decisive factor in the election. Listeners to this show won’t be surprised to hear that I tend to agree more with Lee Jones on this point, but Owen does present some interesting figures on the low turnout among young voters.

Leaving the immediate subject of the election, we some of Owen’s recent work, applying an article he wrote in 2019 in the journal Globalizations, applying Gramsci’s notion of the War of Position to the Corbyn left. We are also going to get stuck into Owen’s new book, Morbid Symptoms, just out from Zed Books. As you’ll hear, Owen believes that one major reason for the recent spike in popularity of far right ideas is the left’s failure to mount a radical alternative to the prevailing order.

A quick plug before we get started — many American listeners may be feeling a little stressed out right now about recent shenanigans in Iowa. But look, you can’t spend your whole day reading about Bernie Sanders knifed in the chest by the DNC. So, as a way of bringing a little diversity to your day, next week we are going to bringing Colin Coulter back on the show to talk about this weekend’s upcoming elections in Ireland! Some of you may have heard that Sinn Fein has been surging. And, to say this is unusual would be something of an understatement. So, we’ve got to check in with our resident expert on the Irish left, Colin Coulter, and see what’s going on there. Stay tuned!

Footnote: here is the blog post from Lord Ashcroft Polls cited by Owen, on tactical voting in the 2019 election.

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