Brexit has, it is fair to say, completely altered the political landscape of the United Kingdom. Speaking less circumspectly, you might say that it has absolutely fucked it. Everything from healthcare to education to (inevitably and depressingly) immigration to the price of a can of beans can now only be perceived through the lens of Brexit. Any attempt to address political issues without reference to it, or to argue that, for example, the rampant xenophobia that has increasingly characterised civil society since the referendum was still there bubbling away – and often erupting – even during the opening ceremony to the London Olympics that has come to represent the apex of an ostensible contented pre-Brexit tolerance within the liberal imagination, is to be treated with the sort of frothing opprobrium usually reserved only for celebrity nonces. Anything but a full-throated advocacy of the hardest Brexit/fullest Remain possible (delete as applicable) is seen as heresy in many quarters across the political spectrum. If Jeremy Corbyn were to announce tomorrow that a secret Labour Party project had developed a vaccine that can cure cancer, heart disease and that awful sensation you get when you’re about to fart and then the air goes back into your bum, his Twitter mentions would probably still be filled with middle-aged men in Lightning Seeds t-shirts seething, “BUT HOW WILL THIS STOP BREXIT, JEMERY???”
So I am fully aware that you are all probably thoroughly sick of the way in which Brexit has suffused our nation’s discourse like the taste of banana suffuses the rest of the fruit salad, whether you are a Brexiteer who thinks the question of the backstop could be so easily and neatly solved if we simply annexed the Republic of Ireland, or a #FBPE type fervent in their belief that if we just revoke Article 50 then everything will be fine and racism will end and that beastly Mr. Farage will slink off to drink himself to death in a Sevenoaks Wetherspoon’s. I get it. I’m sick of the whole stupid, pointless, intractable mess too.
But Brexit is so much more complex than even those of us plugged firmly into the news cycle can fathom. There are so many relatively minor but deathly significant aspects to consider. Do you know if arrangements will need to be made for a Dunkirk-style evacuation of British retirees from the Algarve? Do you know what parents of paediatric cardiac patients in Northern Ireland are going to do if they can’t travel across the border to Dublin for the surgery? Do you know what GATT 24 is and what its importance might be? Do you know why the fuck Priti Patel is Home Secretary? I don’t. So I’ve decided to start thinking through some of these burning questions. And the one I’ve decided to focus on in this article is one that I’m sure will be bothering a lot of you as well.
Is Antonio Inoki a Remainer?
This may seem an odd conundrum on which to expend my cognitive efforts. But hear me out. Inoki has served his country inside and outside of the squared circle, changing parties and policies as frequently as STARDOM changes its trios champions. If one man can be said to have run the ideological gamut of a nation’s politics, it is he. His mind is as changeable as the wind, as capricious as a hornet’s flight. And that’s what makes him fascinating. Forget your Guy Verhofstadts and your Michel Barniers and your Jean-Claude Junckers. We know what they think. It’s been plastered all over our papers for three years. But by examining the turbulent and inscrutable mind of one such as the former IWGP heavyweight champion, we may perceive the human psyche in microcosm. Those of you who think Remain would win a second referendum, and those of you convinced that a majority of British people still back Leave: come with me on this journey, and maybe you will learn better to divine the Brexit-ness of your fellow humans without them ever explicitly telling you which side of the Great Divide they fall on, so that when the time comes for you to put your money where your mouth is, you can stand by your assertions with confidence or – and this is the bit we so often struggle with – hold up your hands and say, you know what, I fucked up. I was wrong.
Because there’s the rub. If it were as simple as reading Inoki’s speeches, I could just tell you whether he’s a Leaver or Remainer, in the same way that Donald Trump’s claim to be “Mr. Brexit” gives you something of a clue as to which way he sways. But if Inoki has expressed an opinion on Brexit, I cannot find record of it in my mother tongue. Thus, in this article I will present nuggets of information gleaned from Inoki’s storied career, grouping it into: evidence that (in my opinion) suggests that he would advocate Remain; evidence that suggests he would prefer the deal negotiated with the EU by Theresa May; and evidence that he is a No Dealer. I have left aside a hypothetical Labour deal for the simple reason that it is not currently on the table in the same way that the other three options are. I don’t know how many of you need to be told this, but Labour are not in power, Jeremy Corbyn does not command a Commons majority he can whip to his will, and Mr. Seumas Milne has not taped up the big red “Stop Brexit” button at Party HQ. Okay?
Right. On we go.
Oh, one more thing before we begin.
The politics of other countries are different from those of England and the UK. You would think I wouldn’t have to make this point, but bear in mind that alleged intellectual A.C. Grayling used Twitter this week to demand that Sinn Fein take up their seats in the UK Parliament to help stop Brexit, so it seems that awareness within the general population is not as high as it could be. Accordingly, I feel compelled to explain, for the purposes of effectively comparing Japanese and UK politics, that the British Liberal Democrats (a centrist party known for its opposition to Brexit and…actually, I’ll get back to you if I discover a second policy) differ from the right-wing Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, which has been in power virtually uninterrupted since the mid-1950s. If you want a Japanese equivalent of Swinson, Cable, Farron et al., I would suggest the Komeito, an ostensibly mild Buddhist-influenced party which publicly advocates for “a politics based on a humanitarianism that treats human life with the utmost respect and care,” but which in governing coalitions has tended to go along with whatever awful shit its conservative partners mandate.
That’s it. Preamble done. I promise.
- Inoki is, at his core, an internationalist. He sees it as his mission to use the great sport of professional wrestling to spread peace throughout the world. This is a man who has been repeatedly suspended from the Diet (the Japanese Parliament) because he will not stop taking unauthorised trips to North Korea to build bridges with the government there. And while this activity is explicable as a tribute to his Korean-born mentor Rikidozan (about whom I hear this very handsome chap has recently released a novel), we cannot dismiss the additional World Wrestling Peace Festivals held in Pakistan, the Soviet Union, and even America. Not to mention the time Inoki personally negotiated the release of three dozen Japanese hostages with Saddam Hussein himself (look it up!) If many Japanese politicians practise a lack of diplomatic engagement that would not have been out of place in the isolationist Tokugawa shogunate, Inoki is assuredly not one of them. This is why I like my friend Jose’s suggestion that he would be just the man to sort out the dispute over Gibraltar between Britain and Spain. If White Wolf Wrestling or RCW were to defy their government and recognise the territory’s sovereignty for long enough to stage a five-match card and a meat raffle, Europe could have a World Wrestling Peace Festival of its very own.
- Inoki’s Wikipedia article lists his most recent parliamentary affiliation as something called “The Independents Club”. Now while this most likely simply means that he sat as an independent MP, can we truly be a hundred per cent certain that this wasn’t one of the many names the artists formerly known as Change UK went by before settling on whatever it is at the moment? Can we say for certain that Antonio Inoki did not enlist as an international affiliate of Chuka and Soubz and Gapesy and the racist one and the homophobic one and the lads? And if there’s one thing we know about everyone’s favourite crypto-Lib Dems, it’s that they are driven primarily by opposition to the Labour Party’s official stance that the UK must leave the EU, not by an animus towards redistributive socialist policies or a slavish adherence to a brand of neoliberal managerialist politics whose time passed around a decade ago, no sir.
- If Antonio Inoki Thought is characterised by one thing, it is elasticity of belief. This would seem to fit with our nation’s political moment. All sorts of public figures have undergone Damascene conversions from one side to the other since the referendum: from former Prime Minister Theresa May, who campaigned for Remain but became an ardent proponent of a “red, white and blue Brexit” as soon as she took office, to more peripheral chancers like the journalist Ian Dunt, who tweeted in 2014 that “[t]he idea any left winger could support the EU is a constant source of bafflement” and now hosts a pro-EU podcast which is actually called Remainiacs. If Inoki isn’t a Remainer yet, I’m sure you could easily persuade him of your argument’s merits over a few highballs, especially if you convince him there’s money to be had in advocating it. Look at self-proclaimed #EUSupergirl Madeleina Kay, who has rather brilliantly realised that if you plaster yourself with EU flags and say you’re doing it to fight Brexit, you can persuade a legion of centrist dads to crowdfund your interrailing trip. An old-school carny at heart like a lot of wrestlers-turned-promoters, Inoki respects the hustle.
- Inoki is also a pragmatist. He will stand in solidarity with whatever cause he is espousing this week, warts and all. No friend of purity politics, he is thus well equipped to make the “Remain and reform” argument that, while the EU isn’t perfect, the UK is better off inside the tent pissing out. People have criticised EU migration policy for leaving thousands of refugees to drown in the Mediterranean and cold-heartedly shutting the doors on millions of people fleeing climate change and conflicts that European nations and their capitalist systems have done a huge amount to contribute towards, but if Inoki accepted $15 million from the Korean Workers’ Party to stage a show in the DPRK in the middle of the most serious famine in the country’s history, I doubt he’d let a trifling thing like that put paid to any Europhilia he might possess.
I’ll be honest, this section is probably going to be the shortest one. Theresa May’s deal may not quite be dead in the water, but the lifeguards seem too busy chatting up some attractive bathers to leap in and fish it out. I’m struggling to come up with arguments why Inoki might support it for the same reason I’m struggling to come up with arguments why anyone would. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a go.
- Like all great political thinkers, Inoki has his own eponymous philosophy. It’s just that his, unlike Blairism, Corbynism, Thatcherism and Opikism, happens to concern wrestling. Often characterised as an absurd dogmatism that brought his New Japan Pro Wrestling promotion to the edge of ruin, a more charitable interpretation might deem Inokiism a noble compromise between his original pro wrestling vision and the seemingly unstoppable onrushing forces of MMA; one which might have found more takers were it not for the intransigence of fans of both who found themselves repelled by what they saw as an uneasy marriage of the two. What could be more like May’s deal than that? However, unlike May’s deal, Inokiism actually has vehement defenders on Twitter, and when it resulted in gold like Bas Rutten vs. Osamu Nishimura and a Bob Sapp IWGP title reign, it’s easy to see why.
- The number of times Inoki left JWA to found new promotions (Tokyo Pro Wrestling, New Japan), almost left New Japan to found a new promotion (UWF), left New Japan to found a new promotion but only in storyline (UFO) and actually did leave to found new promotions (IGF, NEW) suggests an instinctual Brexiteer. However, to leave so many times, you first have to return. Even now, long after his last involvement with New Japan, you still sense that Inoki’s spirit pervades the organisation, from the presence of committed Inokiist Katsuyori Shibata as head of the L.A. Dojo to the large volume of Inoki matches you can find on the company’s streaming service. Inoki’s career suggests a man caught between two warring impulses: to cut the cord and set himself free, and to stay and fight to reshape what he has built. A man whose ideal solution to the dilemma, as the UFO angle demonstrates, may well be to leave without ever having left at all.
- Inoki, as I have said, is a political chameleon who has represented many parties in the Diet. When elected for his second spell in the House of Councillors in 2013, he ran on the ticket of the far-right Japan Restoration Party. I’m sure there are people sitting on the political far right in Britain who voted Remain, but you could probably fit them all in a Skoda Octavia. When you look at Inoki’s time as booker of New Japan, it’s possible to infer a certain strain of xenophobia from the fact that he de-emphasised the role of foreign wrestlers. The odd Vader or Bam Bam Bigelow or Salman Hashimikov aside, many more main event matches were all-Japanese affairs than in Rikidozan’s day. Did he adopt the policy more likely than any other to give Middle England some serious wood: an Australian-style points system? Add five points if you’re a washed-up judoka willing to put the boss over.
- Inoki may be an internationalist, but a large plank of the Leave argument before the referendum stated that “we can trade with the world again” once shod of our ties to the Brussels Eurocrats. Don’t believe me? Here’s Mike Read with the “UKIP Calypso”, a catchy ditty that is in no way barely distinguishable from a Black and White Minstrel show. We must therefore ask: would Inoki’s commitment to spreading peace to all nations through wrestling be better served with unfettered access to all markets, free of the shackles of European common policy? And to those of you who heard Boris Johnson argue that Brexit would enable us to open ourselves up to our Commonwealth brethren, but remain sceptical of the idea that people voted to reduce the numbers of Poles and Lithuanians in this country so that they could be replaced by similar numbers of Nigerians and Bangladeshis, I say: you cynical, cynical souls.
- Inoki is of the Muslim faith (having converted in 1990 and taken the name Muhammad Hussain Inoki), and 69% (nice) of Muslims backed Remain in the referendum, a greater proportion than any other religious group. However, this still leaves 31% of British Muslims who backed Leave. To take one notable example, consider our new Chancellor Sajid Javid, a man perfectly happy to align himself with institutionally Islamophobic organisations such as the Conservative Party and Vote Leave in the name of getting Brexit through (or, as this article shows, to practise a wee bit of Islamophobia himself). Additionally, the man refers to himself in the third person as “The Saj,” which suggests a personality that the egomaniacal Inoki would rub along very well with.
- The far left is not known for being kindly disposed towards the EU, on account of all the neoliberalism, the harsh treatment of refugees on the border and what have you. Although Inoki has never to my knowledge sat with a far-left grouping in the Diet or espoused any form of revolutionary communism, we must not discount the malign skills of North Korea’s crack propaganda units. Operating one of the largest networks of re-education camps in the world, the DPRK apparatchiks are dab hands at the dark arts, and it is very much possible that they got to Inoki during one of his many trips across the Sea of Japan and primed him as an ideological Manchurian Candidate, ready to be activated at any moment. If he starts talking about how good Kim Jong-Il was at golf, it’ll be time to worry.
- As Scott Steiner so famously said, the numbers don’t lie. Just over 55% of voters in rural England voted Leave. While Inoki has been resident in Tokyo for most of his life, his passion for engaging with remote areas can be seen in the legendary Ganryujima Island Deathmatch, a gripping contest fondly remembered by all wrestling fans, and by local residents as well, or at least it would have been if there had been any. Inoki’s mission to use wrestling to spread peace to all corners of the globe extends, of course, to his own country, and it’s this concern for those left behind outside the metropole that the globalist Remoaners sipping avocado lattes in their Islington mansions would do well to remember.
So, that’s it. Now I leave the final judgement to my readers: what do you think? The power is completely in your hands. No (real or imagined) Russian bots are coming to tamper with your thoughts, and not just because this site doesn’t get enough hits to attract them. It’s up to you to decide: is Antonio Inoki a Remainer, or isn’t he? And remember, whatever you decide, make sure to act like a gigantic twat about it. It seems to be the done thing.