After the Leave vote: stand up for migrants, defend Corbyn, fight for unity and solidarity
By Cathy Nugent
The vote to leave the EU reflects deep and growing social distress caused by years of vicious capitalist attacks against living standards, public services and democratic rights. But the vote was also a defeat for labour movements in Europe, for internationalism and for the left. The three million Europeans living, working and studying in the UK will now be fearful about their future. The response of socialists and the labour movement can only be to redouble our fight against austerity, defending migrants and for the socialist vision of a better world.
Any concessions by the left to the mood of national isolationism — such as justifying the strengthening of immigration controls — will be disastrous mistakes. Such policies would lead to more despair and a further shift away from the class politics we want the labour movement to champion and build support for in the working class — the politics of unity and social solidarity.
The referendum result has illuminated and deepened existing dangerous political fault lines and it has created new ones.
Cameron’s resignation will push the “star” demagogues of the Tory Leave campaign — Michael Gove and Boris Johnson — into government. This is a quasi-political-coup. The Brexit camp used the referendum, a vote on a limited issue, to lever themselves into governmental power. By bringing this referendum about Cameron is wholly to blame for his own fate. But getting rid of Cameron is not, as some on the left will argue, a victory for democracy! If a general election were soon held, as some on the left advocate, it would be fought under conditions of chaos, confusion, dismay and reaction. It would not be likely to result in a victory for the left.
The referendum result has already been used by the right-wing in the Labour Party as an opportunity to challenge the Corbyn leadership. We defend Corbyn! The huge democratic mandate on which he stood for and won the leadership of the Labour Party stands. Whatever the shortcomings of Labour’s campaign on the referendum, Corbyn was right not to tail-end the Tory’s big business message on Europe, was right not to appeal to traditional Labour voters on the basis of prejudice against migrants.
On 23 June, majorities in England and Wales, and not Scotland and Northern Ireland, ensured an exit from the EU. That in itself opened up more division in the working class of the “United Kingdom”. It has already given the green light to the SNP to push for a further referendum on independence for Scotland. While a move towards independence may be seen as making connections with Europe, it will also separate Scottish workers from others on this island.
Some of the vote for Leave was based on conservative nostalgia for a UK, or an England, that has never existed. Some of it was expression of outrage by working-class people against long-term insecurity and deprivation. But there was a broader social spectrum than this which saw the vote as a referendum on the general state of society. Not just the older, white working class, but also the younger under- and precariously-employed working class. And, anecdotally it seems, to a limited extent, people from more established migrant backgrounds also saw voting Leave as a way to express feelings of insecurity. And we have to face the uncomfortable truth that many who voted Leave were convinced by dominant racist themes of that campaign — that the way to resolve any and all of these social problems is by stopping or slashing inward migration.
The socialist message, that poverty and injustice can be overcome by working-class solidarity, has for many workers been eclipsed by another, meaner, much less ambitious and utterly false vision, which says that only the most limited improvements can be achieved, and then only by cutting out “foreigners”.
But none of the perceived social problems — crumbling public services, declining standards of living, worsening urban infrastructure, growing inequality — has anything to do with the EU, or the numbers of recent migrants. It was everything to do with capitalism — homegrown, UK capitalism.
Those of us who argued for a Remain vote on the basis of fighting for the working class — in all its diversity — across Europe, did not convince people of our argument. Our alternative — social solidarity and uniting workers across Europe — was not a strong enough message to win the day.
That is why the left that said “remain” must urgently come together in the weeks ahead to plan our response to these difficult times. We will oppose the right-wing attack on the leadership of the Labour Party. We will oppose accommodation to all forms of nationalism. We will defend migrants. We will fight for clear socialist solutions on the real issues facing the working class, whether they voted for Remain or Leave. It is especially important to take that message into the working-class communities which did vote for Remain. We will fight for unity across the working class – for jobs and housing, against privatisation and to rebuild the NHS.
If you want to join this urgent campaign, please get in touch. Or come to our Ideas for Freedom event on 7-10 July to discuss further with us.
Further responses to the referendum result will be posted soon.