Saturday, 2 July 2016

We're Leaving Europe : Now The Struggle Has Come Home

I campaigned and voted Remain. Most of my political comrades and colleagues did so too.

But the UK did not. By over 1.2 million votes, the decision is to leave.

Among my cohort, to varying degrees, people are disappointed and, in a number of cases though not all, surprised. What will it mean? After all, some of the predictions, on both sides, about the consequences of the outcome were so apocalyptic - if we are leaving Europe, where are we going? America? China? It is after all just a month ago that David Cameron said Brexit would be celebrated by Daesh/ISIS  - what now if that really was the case?

The shamelessly hyperbolic nature of the Tory-led campaigns by both the official camps have predictably provoked extreme reactions, at least in emotional terms. While a small minority of pro-Brexit racists have used the result to validate an appalling surge in hate crimes from verbal abuse through to firebombing a halal butcher's shop, somewhat more peacefully the Remain side has seen an outpouring of grief and angry disbelief - clearly, the people who voted for Brexit were misguided, confused, lied to, racists or, even, OLD!

Genuinely distraught young people interviewed in the street declared their future stolen by people who, by their chronological reckoning, will be dead soon. One viral video showed a woman burst into tears under the misapprehension that she would no longer have a Nandos restaurant nearby, while another was recorded complaining she will now need to pay to travel to France (?). Ignorance aplenty there has been - but far from exclusive to one side.

And ignorance of a dangerous type has crept into the Remain narrative in the last few days: that if enough sign online petitions for retrospective legislation and complain in the street that the result is wrong, well, we can rerun the referendum until people get it right and vote to stay. Or maybe, as it was just an advisory referendum, the House of Commons can vote to throw the result out. One constitutional expert has declared, in tortuous language, that 52-48 is somehow a draw, while others claim that it may not be legal to leave because of provisions in the European Communities Act from 1972 that bar the Prime Minister from activating the Article 50 notice clause.

Yet these all miss the point and the real challenge confronting us now : the majority voted to Leave. However unpalatable, however difficult, risky and even dangerous, in a democracy, we need to honour that.  Obscure legalism in frustration of the popular will has been and will again be the death-knell of a constitutional liberalism that sees voting as nothing more than the masses' periodic and humble ratification of the elite's right to rule. Overturn this referendum and first and foremost you will simply imperil even further what little social peace remains.

Rather than try to quash the vote, the task now is to look at why people choose to vote the way they did. Survey after survey confirms why, and confirms what anyone involved at any level of political activity over the last decade can tell you - immigration was and is the number one issue. It drove millions to the polls to vote Leave and the Left and others who voted Remain ignore this at great cost.

While probably every racist in the country voted to Leave, they were a small minority among those who crossed that box on the ballot paper. Most Leavers are not racist - but they are disaffected, disempowered and normally disenfranchised. That they felt the EU was responsible for a lot of how they feel is unsurprising given the years of relentless propaganda by the mass media that it is responsible for just about every ill imaginable - validated in full by political leaders including David Cameron casting the EU as the villain in every domestic political game they played.

 We can and must remove the perception that immigration and minority communities are the cause of distress among the poorer sections of society and instead point the finger firmly where the true reason sits - with the rich and powerful who have made this, the sixth richest country in the world, the second most unequal on the planet, behind only the USA. We need to show how it is the impact of unregulated globalism, the impact of worldwide capitalist forces, that have damaged communities and marginalised so many people in our own towns and cities. These are forces that exist in or out of the EU and are fostered by the likes of the Tories and their funders as well as being at the heart of UKIP's worldview.

So now, rather than yet again work for the political system to turn its back on the roar of the disenfranchised and isolated, we need to do two things:

1. Work for the best post-Brexit arrangements possible so that we retain the social and employment protections conferred by the EU; and so that we continue the irreplaceable international environmental work done by the EU with Britain as part of it. There may conceivably at one stage be a case for a referendum on the final settlement, but the practicalities make this less rather than more likely. The EU itself has signalled that the Brexit negotiations will be about just that - exit - rather than what comes after. It seems we will be gone before we know what will come after.

So, rather than imagine there will be either another referendum or a snap General Election - there almost certainly will be neither - we need now to campaign for a withdrawal settlement that keeps these protections and avoids what is already happening in the business press, where influential people are fullsomely calling for the ending of the working time regulations, parental leave and anti-discrimination regulations.

2. Ensure disempowered communities and groups are brought fully into the political struggle and debate. The most effective way this has started to happen has been through the Corbyn leadership of Labour, and it is a major factor in the plotters of the coup against him acting now.

And to do this, we must speak again the language of socialism, not liberalism; of equality and internationalism, not the lies of Blair-lite. It is the poorest and most vulnerable who showed their anger and disaffection most in this vote. It is also they who will likely suffer first and most from Brexit. The Left needs to develop real, positive answers with not for them and ensure their voices are heard, or there will only be ever more scapegoating of minorities and a spiral downwards towards really dark times. A priority must be to bring together those in migrant communities now in many cases deeply scared for their post-Brexit future with those who voted for Brexit, to foster a common agenda for a fairer, inclusive and more equal society - the opposite of what the Tory Brexiteers have in their sights for us.

Scotland will almost certainly leave the UK in the next few years, making the electoral mathematics for progressives in England and Wales that bit harder, but not impossible. Greens have called in the last week for a progressive alliance to take on the Tories at the 2020 election. There are many pitfalls and uncertainties to whether and how this could work, but this should now become the priority for all Remainers of a left of centre and leftwing political viewpoint:  however difficult or even sad, we are leaving Europe; now the struggle has come home.


  1. unlikely to happen as a lot who voted to remain are still branding the old to die and being insitant we are all retarded if we voted to leave its quite simple a lot do not care what we think.feel or our reasons for voting that way they have a profound belief of self importance and its never going to change with current atttitudes no matter how much you try negotiate neutrality

  2. Sad indictment of misunderstanding unity of peoples and nation in a reformed club with us all at the table making a unified choice towards what the reality is a society would be for equity, equality and ecological integrity but I am a farseer...what does that count?....No it was only legal terms....
    The BBC for once in a one five minuted spiel gave an excellent piece of information in relationship to the EU, re the Commission the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. If this had been stated twice a day on national radio and TV, for six weeks prior to the EU Referendum there would have been around a 70% remain vote....Amazing what facts can achieve....