Historian Thum Pingtjin has critiqued the Workers’ Party’s (WP) statement on Brexit. He said that it was well meaning, but drew incomplete conclusions from the British Referendum to withdraw from the European Union.
WP in their statement said that Brexit was a “sobering reminder about the shortcomings and limits of globalisation, the scale of immigration, how quickly the poison of racism and xenophobia can shape the public discourse, the perceptions and prospects of locals losing good jobs to foreigners, the extent of change people can stomach, the importance of a strong social compact, amongst so much more.” And that “Singapore is not alien to such emotions.”
Thum Pingtjin popularly known as PJ is a Research Associate at the Centre for Global History and co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia, University of Oxford. PJ said that immigration was the precipitating factor, but not the fundamental cause.
“The underlying issue with Brexit was the nature of the European Union,” the historian said. Adding: “It is an intrinsically anti-democratic institution.”
PJ explained that the laws and policies of the European Union are worked out behind closed doors, at meetings between ministers and civil servants from the member states. And that such discussions between them are kept almost entirely secret.
“Once a decision has been made, it is then presented to voters as fait accompli (have been decided before those affected hear about it), leaving them with no option but to accept it,” he clarified; and added, “in this way, politicians seeking to evade political accountability for unpopular decisions can blame European diktat (an order or decree imposed by someone in power without popular consent).”
The historian believes that the more relevant interpretation of Brexit for Singapore is to ask what happens when a comfortable and complacent political class loses touch with the voters and retreats into the state and other elite institutions; when unaccountable governments continually impose unpopular policies on an electorate, while evading responsibility for its decisions; and when voters become disenchanted, frustrated, and angry but have no recourse or alternatives.
He said that if the Worker’s Party wishes to avoid Singaporean xenophobia of the sort that drove Brexit, it must fight for an alternative to the conservative and neoliberal status quo.
“That means formulating a coherent and comprehensive policy platform with a wide appeal that reconnects with disaffected citizens,” PJ said.
Adding: “It means fighting for reform of the system, arguing for ideas, and mobilising people to achieve one’s ends, rather than implicitly accepting the existence of undemocratic institutions and rules which work against the people’s stated preferences. It means fighting and campaigning to win elections, not merely to be the best loser.”
The historian tagged the Assistant Secretary-General of WP, Pritam Singh to his Facebook post and said that if the Worker’s Party cannot do these things, it will remain irrelevant to Singaporean voters.

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