This year’s round of conferences by the British labour movement have been forced to put Brexit on the table. Has it produced more smoke than fire? Will those who voted for Brexit be given more respect: I mean the voters who did so because they have felt the full effects of the neoliberal agenda heaped on them. It doesn’t include the privileged Tory right and UKIP leadership which hasn’t suffered from endless austerity and falling living standards, loss of benefits or homelessness. They meant it. So did the fishermen and women of Brixham who once again speak of yet more betrayal remaining in the hands of the E.U.
The TUC Congress opened the debate on what should happen post-Brexit at last. While TUC leader, Frances O’Grady’s call for “a people’s vote” gave us little to go on it provoked a reaction from others. The Morning Star reported Mick Cash of the RMT giving a “warning against joining the Blairite’s call” to support the proposal. Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey pointed out that the people’s vote “had already happened.” Dave Ward, General Secretary of the CWU preferred “a people’s government” to another “people’s vote”.
Now the Labour Party are at it. “We will honour the peoples’ vote expressed in the outcome of the July 2016 referendum” the leadership declared. Not at Conference. Shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, laid out the stall. Labour’d prefer a General Election, but if not there’d be a vote. Whether this was on the terms of the deal, as some, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell amongst them, stated, or one that would override the first referendum so we could remain in the EU was declared. Clearly there was deep division in the hall as some stood to applaud as others remained firmly in their seats in utter despair.
This begs the question whether any deal achieved would make the slightest difference to the EU’s neoliberal agenda of austerity, privatisation and general attitude to pay conditions, not least putting profit way above decent working conditions and health and safety measures. This affects everyone, not just the workers campaigning on our behalf. Any deal is certain to lead to surrendering to the EU agenda. Surely it’s clear by now that the EU is fundamentally anti-union and no champion of workers’ demands. Unions and their members are seen simply as a major threat to the operation of free markets and the competition required by international capitalism, fundamental to the EU modus operandi. As Prof. Costas Lapavitsas has noted there appears to be a general ignorance on what the EU is actually about. (Morning Star 11.09.2018)
The Nuffield Foundation at Oxford University undertook research on why people voted as they did in the 2016 Referendum. They gave four reasons to choose from:
“The most frequently selected reason among Leave voters––ticked by 45%––was, ‘to strike a better balance between Britain’s right to act independently, and the appropriate level of co-operation with other countries’. The second most frequently selected reason among Leave voters––ticked by 26%––was, ‘to help us deal better with the issue of immigration’.”
The impression given by countless published reports is that immigration was key. Clearly it is a poor second to the question of sovereignty – an issue of concern to all shades of political opinion. Yet it is asserted that racism and xenophobic views are spread across those who voted leave.
17,410,742 voted to leave the EU in the referendum held on 23rd June, 2016. Who were they? In the campaign itself air time and column inches were dominated by right wing parties and their leaders such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. Brexit appears to have been achieved by them and their relatively few supporters. In the 2015 General election UKIP had secured 4,376,635 votes (falling to just 594,068 in 2017). This leaves in excess of 13,000,000 leave voters whose views and motives are unknown and untested.
In an article “Why they Left” published in the Jacobin (jacobinmag.com) Prof. Costas Lapavitsas describes in more detail the characteristics of the voters on both sides in a description of two rifts, minor and major, among the elite and in wider society. He says “according to the Ashcroft poll 64% of the C2, D and E categories (i.e. class classifications) voted for Brexit; these are basically skilled and unskilled manual workers, casual workers, those who depend on the welfare state for their income and so on.” This is followed by a detailed breakdown area by area. It articulates how the confusion arises in a description of a “minor rift” between leavers and remainers in the “British ruling class” contrasted by much more serious a “major rift” in the wider society. How much the elite Brexiteers, relatively small in numbers, have with the majority is doubtful from the description of who they are. The first group are highly articulate, wealthy and with ready access to media outlets, the others at the sharp edge of austerity, cuts to their “essential service”, withdrawal of benefits etc. It may be the case that the leaders of the Brexit campaign display races and xenophobic ideas and attitudes. It by no means follows that the 13,000,000 who have not been identified concurred.
Another Greek commentator, Takis Fotopoulos, has written about “The Systematic Effort of the Transnational Elite to Crush the ‘Brexit Revolution’.” (www.antiglobalization.org). He states that “the apparent collapse of the ‘Brexit revolution’ far from reflecting the feelings of the victims of globalisation, which, if anything, gets stronger all the time, it simply reflections the vicious attacks of the elites against any political expression that the Brexit revolution has taken….either in the UK, the USA or France. Therefore through suppression and mostly deception, they may have successfully temporarily succeeded in suppressing the growing anger of the victims of globalisation.” He notes that the left, associated with “societies’ victims, has clearly changed sides in the globalisation era…..”
Recent events have brought the current situation into stark focus in the wake of the visit of the US President, Donald Trump. It had appeared that many of those active in the referendum campaigned had melted away, but there they were associating themselves with individuals and groups even further to the right than they had appeared earlier. Steve Bannon, a one time associate of Donald Trump, closely involved in his election, came to Europe. Both Bannon and Trump recommended Boris Johnson as next PM! (Bannon’s activities were not confined to the UK it should be noted. He consorted with some far right leaders including Austria, Hungary and Italy.) Significantly he was interviewed by Nigel Farage. “Tommy Robinson” the jailed English Defence League leader was discussed and hailed in glowing terms by Bannon as “the ‘backbone’ of England”. A prominent Union Leader, member of RMT, Steve Hedley, was injured in a vicious attack by his supporters taking part in a violent demonstration on behalf of the EDL.
Other reasons why the “victims of neoliberalisation” voted to leave could well be the neoliberal agenda itself. Seen as uneducated and lacking understanding it is considered, it seems, that voters would lack the sophistication to vote for this as a reason to leave the EU. Of course the neoliberal agenda is shared by the current British government as well as many other administrations across Europe. It is of great concern that many who consider themselves on the “left” have bought into this ideology.
Neoliberalism itself has been the subject of considerable discussion while its world-wide progress shows little sign of abating. “Neoliberalism: the Idea that Swallowed the World” ….(18/8/17) ”the reigning ideology…that venerates the market and strips away the things that make us human.”; “Neoliberalism has brought out the worst in us” (19/8/17) and “Neoliberalism-the ideology at the root of all our problems” (19/8/17) are articles on the subject, all published in the Guardian in the space of a couple days last summer, seem to have made little impact, including on the Guardian itself still supporting a rearguard action to remain. Likewise the Independent and Mirror. For me the article that sums it up was printed in an International Monetary Fund paper in June 2016 which lays bare its inhuman origin. In the article headed “Neoliberalism Oversold?” it is stated:
“Milton Friedman in 1982 hailed Chile and an “economic miracle.” Nearly a decade earlier, Chile had turned to policies that have since been widely emulated across the globe. The neoliberal agenda – a label used more by critics than by the architects of the policies – rests on two main planks. The first is increased competition- achieved by deregulation and the opening up of domestic markets, including financial markets, to foreign competition. The second is a smaller role for the state, achieved through privatisation and limits the ability of governments to run fiscal deficits and accumulate debt.”
There are a number of other possible serious reasons why people voted against the EU given its current rightward drift.
One such is the EU’s adherence to policies of austerity and privatisation. This has deeply affected the victims of globalisation/neoliberalism with stories about the effects of cuts to benefits, health and social services, education services, the criminal justice system, transport reported daily. Homelessness, the proliferation of food banks are the results that many have endured, This is more frequently seen to be the fault of the Westminster government rather than Brussels, yet if we look across Europe we can see that Brussels “diktat” affects many countries, those in the south suffering the most. Many look to Brexit as a sign of hope for themselves. Could it not be the case that leave voters realised this all along?
It was Tony Benn who asserted that “The EU has the only constitution in the world committed to capitalism. It destroys the prospects of socialism anywhere in Europe, making capitalism a constitutional requirement of that set up.” He and others were campaigning against the EU in 1975, including Arthur Scargill and Jeremy Corbyn. It was repeated when the Maastricht Treaty defined the so-called “four freedoms” underlying the way the European Union would proceed. If it wasn’t clear then it is abundantly so now in the light of experience. “Freedoms” referred to free trade allowing powerful organisations to move their operations around in order to make use of the cheapest labour available.
NATO’s role inextricably linked with the EU is a cause of concern for many. A reason to vote against the EU? In 1999 78 days of bombing by NATO resulted in the deaths of 100s of people including those in hospitals and schools. Some wanted this investigate along with other “war crimes” in the former Yugoslavia, but this was rejected because of pressure from Washington and London. Involvement in other military expeditions involving widespread bombing together, backing EU intervention in countries like the Ukraine, setting up military bases on Russia’s doorstep. This is something US Presidents have avoided for years, perhaps with the memory of a time when they were faced with a threat in their own backyard during the Cuba missile crisis. Many recognise this as provocative and a significant threat to world peace. They’re unlikely to want to stay in this E.U.
In 2016 NATO joined EU in hunting for refugees fleeing persecution (because of the countless wars across the region). The “militarisation of a human crisis” is abhorrent to many. Not a reason for voting leave?
The wish to rerun the referendum campaign ignoring the outcome of the ballot is itself a threat to democracy and can be seen as an act of treachery by those advocating it.
Arthur Scargill, Leader of the Socialist Labour Party made this statement:
The statement by the Labour Party Leadership that they would support a second referendum is an act of treachery for which they will never be forgiven. The ruling class have used and will continue to use every means including a media which has sought to overturn to overturn the decision of the British people in the 2016 Referendum. Tony Benn warned that membership of the European Union would mean that Britain would governed by a Constitution which is committed to Capitalism. The ruling class and the EU will demand another referendum and another until they get the result they want. As a socialist I call for all those who call themselves socialists to condemn this act of treachery by the Labour Party Leaders and campaign for withdrawal from this bastion of Capitalism.
We had the vote. Leave the EU Now.