Brexit: The Left Responds

‘We still believe in each other’ is the message from Hope not Hate, just one of a number of left wing groups and organisations who have responded to the European Union referendum result.

The United Kingdom voted by 52% to 48% to leave the EU at the polls yesterday, triggering Prime Minister David Cameron to announce his retirement this morning and provoking calls for political leaders and parties to work towards uniting a divided country.

HnH Brexit picNick Lowles of Hope not Hate sent a message to supporters calling for support in opposing anti-immigrant rhetoric and expressing fears of a “racist backlash” against European migrants.

“A short time ago, after a campaign tainted with racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric, it was formally announced that Britain had voted to leave the European Union,” said Lowles. “This is a seismic moment for our country and indeed Europe.

“I worry that there is a real danger that the bitterly-fought contest could leave a lasting legacy of division in our country. We cannot allow this to happen.

“As the nation looks towards a life outside the EU, we will need voices that champion our vision of Britain and supports those most at risk from any sort of xenophobic backlash.

“That’s why I‘m asking you to join me in building HOPE not hate into an organisation capable to meeting the challenge.

“One thing is sure. We cannot allow the toxic Referendum debate to spill over into local communities. Speaking to those from eastern and central Europe, and indeed other immigrants, over recent days it is clear that many are worried. They are uncertain about their future and concerned about a racist backlash.

“But let’s also be clear that we need to reach out to those areas which have been abandoned by mainstream politicians, particularly those in often de-industrialised parts of Britain. We need to offer an alternative narrative to those voices wanting to blame immigrants for all their problems, whilst also genuinely addressing people’s real concerns.

“Ultimately, we need to offer more positive channels for people to effect change in their local communities.

“Britain has spoken and now we need to stand together for the tolerant, diverse and multicultural society we want. We need to heal the rifts and try and bring communities together.

“I won’t lie, none of this is going to be easy, but the simple truth is that if we don’t do it then no-one will.

“Hope not hate has prided itself with working in the most difficult of communities. Now we are fighting for our entire country.”

Over the next few weeks Hope not Hate will be organising meetings across the country to consult with supporters and agree a plan. You can sign up for the campaign here.

Meanwhile, Momentum, the Labour Party campaigning group set up in the wake of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory, said the “vote reflected anger in communities which have experienced many years of industrial decline with the subsequent loss of secure employment”.

The full statement reads:

“Momentum, which campaigned to remain in the EU to transform the EU, respects the decision taken by the electorate.

“We recognise that people voted ‘Leave’ for many reasons. Much of this vote reflected anger in communities which have experienced many years of industrial decline with the subsequent loss of secure employment. Many such working class communities have been utterly neglected for years by those in power. Millions appear to have chosen ‘Leave’ to vote against the unfettered globalisation that has seen living standards stagnate or fall, as the cost of living rises. We share this scepticism of big business dominance, austerity and distant elites, be they British, European or global, and share that demand for a country where working people have control.

“Many ‘Leave’ voters usually vote for Labour or are working people Labour should represent. Now the Party and the whole labour movement needs to show the country that it alone can offer working people genuine control over their lives, workplaces and communities.

“Labour must clearly demonstrate how it will improve lives through policies that will increase wages, tackle the housing crisis, and give people a greater say at work and in their communities.

“If we do not, we will not only be failing to advance the policies that will benefit working people but also could enable the populist right, who blame immigrants, not the powerful for the problems in our country. Part of the Leave campaign empowered these racist, reactionary forces, who peddle hatred and offer false hope. We must redouble our efforts to stop migrant scapegoating, focus our attention on the needs and desires of the overwhelming majority, and offer a real programme of hope for our people.

“Although we will leave the EU, our movement remains an internationalist one. We must continue to work with our friends, partners and allies across Europe in the shared struggle against austerity, to tackle climate change and to build a sustainable economy with full employment for all the peoples of Europe.”

In a statement headed ‘Brexit: The silver linings playbook’, Compass described its “shock, bewilderment, sadness, anger” at the result, “not just because the country will now take the extraordinary step of walking its own plank to Brexit, but because of how divided our country, and its constituent countries, have become, and how impotent its political, democratic and party system is in terms of dealing with the one thing it needs to help us do – learn how to live together.”

The statement calls Cameron’s decision to call the referendum “the most monumental act of political recklessness” and claims that “because our democracy is so broken, the referendum became a blank ballot paper onto which so much anxiety and anger was projected. In the days and months ahead we have to unpack this, understand it and know what to do about it.”

It goes on:

“The real story of this referendum goes something like this. Thirty years of neo-liberalism have taken their toll on so many people in our country – a material, physical and emotional toll. People haven’t just struggled financially; they have been made to feel permanently insecure and anxious about their jobs, their home and their futures. Too often when they brushed up against the state they felt humiliated, or when they heard the voices and views of the establishment they felt sneered at or ignored.

“Meanwhile Brussels drifted on in its own arrogant, aloof and elitist way, humbling the Greeks and refusing to heed the siren calls. Then add in to this toxic mix large-scale immigration from a Europe that expanded too fast and in the absence of labour market regulations, public housing, enough teachers and nurses and the rest – you get a situation in which Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson can be the heralds of democracy, the NHS and working people and change the destiny of our country and maybe Europe, if the dominoes start to fall.”

However, Compass also sees hope in the result, not least in the demonstrable ability of people mobilised around “a shared set of values and beliefs” to make change happen.

“Anywhere that hate and fear can win, love and solidarity can create something stronger, bolder and more permanent,” it says. “After fleeting triumphalism, Brexit will not heal the wounds or stop the anxiety. Out of the wreckage of Brexit we will build something new – nothing but ourselves stops us reaching out and forging the bonds we need with the rest of Europe.”

It concludes: “In all this gloom, the silver lining is that we live to struggle another day for a different and better world. We have been shown how bad things are and how much worse they could get. We know so many people think and feel like us – they know that we can and must be better than this.

“The issue is how can we assemble ourselves in a way that makes hope possible because the real darkness lies in not trying, believing and showing that something better is both desirable and feasible.

“As Another Europe is Possible have reminded us today, it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. 

This is the wake up call. We listen and change or we are finished.”

Click here to read the Compass Good Europe report.

Journalist Paul Mason put it a different way. Writing in the early hours of the morning, he said: “Told by the government they could never control migration while inside the EU, just over 50% of the population decided controlling migration was more important than EU membership.

“So the problem for Labour is not, yet, large numbers of its own voters ‘deserting the party’. They may still do so if Labour plays this wrong — but even as late as the May council elections Labour’s core vote held up.

“Instead Labour’s heartland voters simply decided to change the party’s policy on migration from below, and forever, by leaving the EU.”

He adds:

“The task for the left in Britain now is to adapt to the new reality, and fast. The Labour right is already trying to pin the blame on Corbyn; UKIP will make a play for Labour’s voters. Most likely there’ll be a second independence referendum in Scotland.

“Corbyn was right to try and fight on ‘remain and reform’ but his proposed reforms were never radical enough. He was also right to devote energy to other issues — making the point that in or out of the EU, social justice and public services are under threat. But the right and centre of Labour then confused voters by parading along with the Tory centrists who Corbyn had promised never to stand on a platform with.”

Mason goes on to propose a 10-point programme of action for how the Labour left should respond.

To read Mason’s full statement click here.

11 Comments

  1. Kenneth R. Curran
    25 June 2016

    Hello Comrades,

    I have read Mason’s statement and generally agree with his conclusions. What I also fear, in varying degrees all across Europe the appeal of democratic socialism is in decline.

    Another fear is how we in what is now a shattered political union, will be perceived by much of Europe. Perceptions in politics can very quickly become the accepted fact. We have to ensure we are not all regarded as little Englanders, to that end I have sent emails to Paul Blomfield MP, Clive Betts MP, Linda McAvan MEP, Harry Barnes former MP, and John Halstead, former politics lecturer at Sheffield University suggesting we attempt to organise a democratic socialist international conference in Sheffield hoping it could eventually become an annual event.

    I realise it would be a huge challenge. It is vitally important we open up a dialogue and build bridgeheads in order to combat isolationism and remake the socialist vision for mankind in the 21st century.

    Ken Curran Snr

  2. Ernie Jacques
    26 June 2016

    Bomber Benn and the usual suspects think they represent traditional Labour voters gagging for another dose of Blairism and the joys of trickle-down economics and more social exclusion.

    But when the electorate voted Brexit and didn’t listen to these clever Labour sages, the outcome must be down to Jeremy Corbyn whose support for the EU capitalist club was less than fulsome. So the answer is easy, change the leader and Labour will re-connect with the working class again?

    Someone in the party of Labour is delusional and it might be an MP called Hilary!

  3. Matthew Brown
    27 June 2016

    Sergei Stanishev, President of the Party of European Socialists, has posted a letter to all PES leaders in the wake of Brexit committing the PES to “an agenda based on sustainable growth, fair jobs and social justice”.

    You can read the letter here.

  4. Ernie Jacques
    28 June 2016

    Jeremy Corbyn

    Going into the PLP meeting last night to support a vote of no-confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, Lord Mandelson was quoted by the BBC a saying he “wouldn’t miss it for the world”. Nice man.

    Sadly, it seems that many Labour MP,s and grandees are not just self-serving and politically and economically bankrupt but have the morals of sewer rats.

    And you don’t have to be Mystic Meg to forecast that if these political bullies don’t get their way, they will jump ship.

    But I do hope that during this crisis (and it could be terminal for Labour) the ILP does not equivocate and, for what it’s worth, supports Jeremy Corbyn against these political bullies. There is no third way.

  5. Ernie Jacques
    28 June 2016

    IT NOT THE WORKING CLASS WHO DISCRIMINATE

    Mike Carter walked from Liverpool to London recently following in the footsteps of his Dad who helped organize the 1981 Peoples March for Jobs a visible protest against the Thatcherite revolution, industrial decline and the devastation of working class communities.

    Mike Carter says it was an experience that convinced him “Brexit was no surprise.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/27/liverpool-london-brexit-leave-eu-referendum#comments

    It is a powerful, sad and true picture of inequality and social exclusion in 21st century Britain. It brings back painful memories as I was on that same 1981 Peoples March for Jobs, as an unemployed engineer representing the Leeds District of the AUEW (Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers).

    How could it be that politicians of all persuasions, who talk loudly about their one nation credentials and governing for all the people, allowed this to happen?

    Apparently, they were unaware of the seething discontent amongst the have-nots, the very people they claim to represent.

    To add insult to injury many of these same politicians crudely put the Brexit vote down to xenophobia when it is working people of all colour and creeds who live and work side by side in complete harmony and supporting each other through thick and thin.

    While it is the middle classes and the metropolitan elites, celebrities and politicians, who live in gated communities and in the leafy shires and in regenerated areas where the poor and dispossessed are excluded and are very much unwelcome.

  6. Jonathan
    28 June 2016

    Ernie, you are right to blame New Labour for Brexit. It allowed mass migration at a time when workers wages were stagnating and employment was becoming less stable. It did not do enough to offset the huge changes people faced in their local areas, including the transformation of entire neighbourhoods with no by or leave. It was perfectly legitimate for people to object to this.

    But you are not right to say IT IS NOT THE WORKING CLASS WHO DISCRIMINATE.

    The problems and pressures that mass migration bring in some areas became a national obsession, even in areas, like the Welsh valleys, where there is very little migration. Racist incidents are up. Here’s one from this morning, from near where I work. https://twitter.com/channel4news/status/747761311358955521

    Sorry, but I haven’t heard much from you about solidarity or sympathy with the Polish or Romanian working class. That’s discrimination, isn’t it?

  7. Harry Barnes
    29 June 2016

    Ernie : Of course, we have to accept the result of the referendum. But class expliotation is not just restricted to England and Wales, it takes place in Scotland and Northern Ireland who voted to remain in the EU. It also takes place throughout the EU itself. As we move outside of the institutions of the EU, we still need to work with movements inside the EU who attempt to tackle such problems. These may be found (or developed) at local, national, European and at wider international levels. One body we can look to (and push) is the Party of European Socialists (PES). As with the Labour Party in non-EU Norway, we can almost certainly remain a member of the PES. See here – http://www.pes.eu/

    Currently the PES is made up of 33 full members in 27 of the 28 EU nations, plus Norway. Great Britain’s membership is the Labour Party and the SDLP from Northern Ireland. There are 13 Associate Members from 11 nations, including Switzerland, the Irish Republic and Turkey. Eleven Parties in 10 nations have observer status, including Israel and Palestine. This is by no means a perfect body and it seems to be mainly party leaderships who participate in it. (Robin Cook was once President). So we need to open it up so that members of all these parties can influence its direction. But I thought that it produced a worthwhile manifesto for the last European elections. A summary of it can be found here, which also provides a link to their full manifesto –
    http://www.pes.eu/pes_manifesto_adopted_with_clear_focus_on_job_creation

    Labour, however, failed to make use of this at the last Euro elections, although I traced good uses that were made of it in France and Malta. Perhaps it happened more widely.

    You will remember the blog item of mine in which I provided the text of a speech by Corbyn in which he linked in with a PES-type approach. But as he also argued for our retaining EU membership. You dismissed his approach as being like that of King Canute. However, now that we are coming out of the EU, this does not stop us from working closely with other Labour movements in the PES. This is Corbyn’s speech – http://threescoreyearsandten.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/jeremy-at-his-best-that-eu-speech.html

    We also need to work for the development of bodies in which rank and file members with democratic socialist values can at least meet together to discuss political ideas. This can be done locally (e.g. my local Labour Party’s Discussion Group http://dronfieldblather.blogspot.co.uk/ ) and on a wider canvas. Then we need wider links, including connections with similar bodies in other European nations – and beyond. Language differences are a barrier, but in an internet age we can begin to click into translations. Ideally, we could work towards European and international bodies for discussing and pursuing socialist ideas.

    GDH Cole wrote a pamphlet in 1956 entitled “World Socialism Restated” which stimulated the setting up of a body called the “International Society for Socialist Studies” involving thinkers and activists from numbers of nations – a sort of left-wing international Fabian Society. It did not persist, but perhaps after 60 years of more advanced technology its time has arrived. Say initially with a more limited form starting across Europe.

    Now to which of the contestants for the Labour Leadership can we sell the idea? Or perhaps there are better avenues to look for. Any ideas ?

    Ken Curran’s initial comment above is, of course, relevant to my argument about the need for the development of something like a European Society for Socialist Studies.

  8. Kenneth R. Curran
    29 June 2016

    Following on from my earlier suggestion of an annual international democratic socialist conference, I note the comments and the bitterness of some of the contributions.

    While I can quite understand people feeling bitter over recent events and the behaviour of some of the individuals over the past two decades or so, we should not allow our anger or disappointments to obscure the fact that the capitalism of the 20th century, and that of the 21st century are different beasts. My fear is that new variety could form the precursor of a new kind of
    fascism, coercion and control, fascism without jackboots.

    It is the future we must be prepared to influence. The lessons from our past may be of little value in the 21st century.

    Kenneth R. Curran

  9. Ernie Jacques
    29 June 2016

    Jonathan, any racist incident is regrettable and should be condemned. But all those Remain protesters who use these incidents to rubbish working class people who object to mass migration need to accept that these incidents are tiny and not in any way typical or suggestive that UK citizens and working class communities are consumed by prejudice and racism.

    In contrast, hundreds of thousands of working class estates and communities up and down the UK, English, Poles, Romanians, Indians, et al live and work in complete harmony each and every day. Whereas many of the metropolitan elites, professional and middle classes, talk the language of compassion, inclusiveness and humanity, but just let any of the lower classes, from anywhere try to set up house and spoil their views and celebrity and bourgeois life styles, the banners come out and they protest long and loud about the green belt and the despoliation of rural England and their own idyllic villages and communities. Some might think that a tad hypocritical?

    The question you need to answer, and no one ever does, is that with unrestricted free movement (which even Jeremy Corbyn says is a good thing) where are you going to put them? A city the size of Edinburgh and growing) – every year – in a time of austerity and without the resources to build houses, schools, hospitals and to fund community services and modern infrastructure projects, is pure crazy. At that rate you would soon have to concrete over half the UK.

    And please don’t suggest that the people you represent in Hebden Bridge with a population of under 10,000 would welcome an influx of European immigrants that might double the size of their town overnight. And if you would not like that to happen in Hebden Bridge why would working class communities be any different?

    But I know from my experience in York that many of the people who put up banners saying ‘refugees welcome’ don’t want any working or unemployed and penniless down-and-outs living with them, or despoiling their own estates and lovely communities. The Tory/Liberal council supported by some Labour councilors have recently installed bars on seats across the city to stop homeless people sleeping on the public and bus benches and despoiling their lovely city with their presence. A city where thousands of local people cannot afford to buy a home, pay escalating rents for substandard houses, heat their homes properly or feed the families on the slave wages paid to people working in a tourist paradise where minimum wages and zero hour contracts proliferate. Out of sight, out of mind.

    So it’s time to move on from the referendum and to stop bad mouthing and scapegoating good UK citizens for voting for their own perceived best interests. It’s called democracy.

    But the way Labour MPs are behaving by bullying and scapegoating Jeremy Corbyn for their own failings, is to my mind the politics of self-interest and the playground bully. A party in the fast lane towards oblivion.

  10. Barry Winter
    1 July 2016

    Tragically, but not surprisingly, since the Brexit result there have been a significant rise in racist abuse – something which the police have openly acknowledged. Whether it will pass or whether it will increase it’s hard to say. But I worry.

    The Guardian carries details of these developments for anyone who has missed them:
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/29/frenzy-hatred-brexit-racism-abuse-referendum-celebratory-lasting-damage

    A friend of mine recently told me: “The African Caribbean Care Centre in Hulme, a day centre for older people, was shut due to a racist and threatening phone call, with threats of violence towards people who attended. I heard the recording, which was awful. I don’t think that they had a choice but to shut. Unsure how long that will be for.”

  11. Kenneth R. Curran
    1 July 2016

    Hello Comrades,

    This is a very fractious and serious time for the Labour Party and for all those people who for generations voted for Labour candidates. I believe there are very many of them who genuinely feel we are being swamped by immigrants. Certainly in some places that could be the case, however in many other places this is not the case.

    As I have already mentioned in this debate, perceptions play a major role in shaping opinions. I believe that in the whole debate around the referendum, facts and truth received little attention, whereas scaring folk with rumour and untruths was rife. There is a simple truth, sooner or later the amount of immigrants shall have to be managed. That is why, as I have already suggested, we need to maintain and strengthen our links with democratic socialists across the world. The causes of migration are many – poverty, famine, climate change. The richer nations become, is a major driver. The answers lie in the distribution of some of that wealth in order to help build the economies of poor nations across the world.

    At a time like the present we have to hold on to our socialist vision.

    Kenneth R. Curran

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