The SWP campaigned for Britain out of Europe and even launched a chimera called ‘Lexit‘ promoting the ludicrous idea that a ‘left wing’ exit was possible.
Stand Up To Racism is an SWP front organisation (that the likes of Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn should have nothing to do with – but that’s not my point right now). Last week it put out the following press release:
PRESS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Diane Abbott MP and anti-racist campaigners round on Conservative’s ‘Hard Brexit’ Fortress Britain ahead of national conference this Saturday.Saturday 8th October: Confronting the Rise in Racism: Stand Up To Racism National Conference 2016
Friends Meeting House Euston, London NW1 2BJ
More information at: www.standuptoracism.org.uk/
Following Theresa May’s speech today, anti-racist campaigners have rounded on the ‘nasty party’ policies of the Conservative Party who this week have announced a number of ‘hard brexit’ policies by Home Secretary Amber Rudd which target international students, migrant workers and doctors.
These proposals have been criticised cross-party representatives, business leaders in the CBI and by teaching union UCU for ‘pulling up the drawbridge’ regarding overseas students.
A broad alliance of MPs, Faith Communities, Cultural Figures, young people and students will attend the Stand Up To Racism National Conference to challenge the spike in racist incidents that has occurred in the aftermath of Brexit
Stand Up To Racism will bring together campaigners to present a powerful message that rejects the racism of recent months, opposes anti-migrant and anti-refugee rhetoric and unites communities against racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
Diane Abbott MP said:
As the Pound slumps and NHS waiting lists spiral out of control, the Conservatives engage in a blame game against migrants. ‘Hard Brexit’ is unleashing UKIP-style reaction from the Tories who are intent on creating a ‘Fortress Britain’; a distraction from the real problems we face. At a time when racist attacks are soaring, it is irresponsible to target international students, migrant doctors and to force businesses to publish lists of foreign workers.
Such proposals will create division, tension and only make us poorer. Migrant workers are a benefit to the economy and to essential services like the NHS.
Theresa May should be debunking myths, not pandering to them. This is why I’m proud to be speaking at the massive Stand Up To Racism Conference on Saturday
Sally Hunt, UCU General Secretary said:
We urgently need to show the world that the UK remains a place where people should want to study, work and settle.
The social and economic contribution from foreign nationals is a positive. Pulling up the drawbridge will be wrong for us in education, health, agriculture and industry. It will damage community relations in this country. I would urge the government to think again
Kevin Courtney, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers said:
Politicians have a serious responsibility to conduct debates about public policy in ways which do not divide people. We see the divisive comments amongst children in our schools. Stereotypes about race and ethnicity are deeply entrenched and lead to real harm- they fuel exclusion and narrow opportunities for BME communities.
Politicians must lead the way and ask us all to aspire to be a country where everyone is valued and all people of goodwill challenge racism, Islamaphobia and anti-Semitism.
Edie Friedman, Jewish Council for Racial Equality Executive Director said:
We face a global refugees crisis in which child refugees are paying a terrible price. 10,000 children have already disappeared. We look forward to hearing what concrete steps the government will take to alleviate their plight as children are right now languishing in the camps in Calais and elsewhere
Sabby Dhalu, Co-Convenor of Stand Up To Racism said:
Now is not the time for a resurgent ‘Nasty Party’ like the one on display at Conservative Party Conference. Theresa May should be taking affirmative action on the post-Brexit spike in racism: An Islamophobic attack on a pregnant Muslim woman who miscarried, attacks on Ethnic shops, assaults on the Polish community. Instead, this Government has overseen the deportation of Jamaican people who have been here for generations.
In response, hundreds of anti-racists from all walks of life are coming together this Saturday to reject the rise in racism. The Government is offering no solutions, no leadership on how to tackle this division and hatred. On the contrary, their policies on immigration and ‘hard Brexit’ will only serve to exacerbate an already hostile climate.
Weyman Bennett, Co-Convenor of Stand Up To Racism said:
“Under Theresa May’s government, all forms of racism and discrimination have increased. A better society for everyone is one without scapegoating immigrants and Muslims.”
Notes for editors:
Stand Up to Racism is a national organisation, dedicated to opposing the rise of racism, supported by major trade unions such as Unite and Unison.
Stand Up To Racism are the organisers of the annual march for UN Anti-Racism day which this year attracted over 20,000 people to take a stand against racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and welcome refugees. Next year’s demonstration, supported by the TUC, will take place on 18th March.
Stand Up To Racism plays a central role in the refugees welcome movement including the massive demonstration in September 2015 and convoys of aid and support to Calais from around the country.
For further enquiries, email us at email@example.com
The day after the Momentum steering committee voted to remove Jackie Walker as vice-chair, the Morning Star , a newspaper closely linked with the Communist Party of Britain, published an editorial condemning the decision as part of the Labour “witch-hunt” and accusing the steering committee of “political cowardice and confusion”. The editorial contained a number of factual inaccuracies (for instance, claiming that four of the seven votes to remove Walker were from the AWL – a claim now removed from the online version), but more seriously, seemed to deny the possibility of antisemitism existing on the left – a reality that an earlier, more thoughtful M Star editorial had recognised.
Yesterday’s M Star published a response from Momentum chair Jon Lansman, which can be read here. It also published a letter from a leading and long-standing Communist Party member, Mary Davis. As letters do not appear on the M Star‘s website, we publish it below:
I am writing to express my concern and dismay at both the tone and the content of the editorial in the paper (M Star October 5). On Sunday we will be marking the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. A rare victory made possible by the mobilisation of the East End Jewish community together with the inestimable role of the Communist Party.
In 1936 the party did not have a problem in understanding the nature of antisemitism and the need to fight against it. The Labour Party today is clearly making a similar effort. Hence it established the Chakrabati inquiry and seems determined to tackle the issue.
Given this background, I would have expected our paper with its full support for Jeremy Corbyn, to have welcomed Momentum’s decision to suspend its vice-chair, Jackie Walker. Instead it has taken precisely the opposite position.
It may be that Walker has not found an acceptable definition of anti-Semitism, but that should not, given our history, preclude us from having one and acting on it.
Walker had been suspended (although re-admitted) to the Labour Party for her comment that Jews were the “chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade.” Other of her comments on the Holocaust and the misuse of security at Jewish schools have been criticised by Momentum as being “ill-informed, ill-judged and offensive.”
The comments in the Star’s editorial writing off the Jewish Labour Movement (because they attacked Walker) as a zionist organisation would correctly incur criticism from Chackarbarti, who in her section on “zionism and zionists” makes the following observation: “Crucially, I have heard testimony [about] … the way in which the word ‘zionist’ has been used personally, abusively or as a euphemism for Jew.
“My advice to critics of the Israeli state and/or government is the use the term ‘zionist’ advisedly, carefully and never euphemistically or as part of personal abuse.”
Manual Cortes, the general secretary of the TSSA and a strong backer of Corbyn, called on Walker to resign from the Labour Party immediately. I concur with this view and counsel our paper to support the left Labour position on anti-semitism.
MARY DAVIS, London N4
Jill Mountford (writing on her Momentum blog) on the removal of Jackie Walker:
Momentum Steering Committee’s removal of Jackie Walker as Vice Chair – how I voted and why (part 1)
On Monday 3 October I voted at the Momentum national Steering Committee to remove Jackie Walker from the position of Vice Chair.
Jackie was elected by the Steering Committee to serve as Vice Chair, with Jon Lansman as Chair, in February. In fact, originally the two of them were appointed only as Chair and Vice Chair of the Steering Committee, not of Momentum as such (this was made quite explicit), but somehow over time these positions morphed into supposedly leading the organisation as a whole.
After Jackie’s removal, she remains a member of the Steering Committee without portfolio (she is not the BAME rep; Cecile Wright is), as well as a member of the National Committee which elected her to the Steering Committee (on the National Committee she is one of the two LRC reps).
I want to make two arguments: one about the left and antisemitism, which I will focus on in this article; and another about the problems with the way Momentum is run and its general political orientation, which I will touch on here but also publish something specific about in the next few days.
Why I voted to remove Jackie; her defence and what it tells us
For a longer article I would recommend on the politics of this controversy, focusing on antisemitism, see here. I would like to quote it at length to explain my position:
“Walker said Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January, which principally commemorates the Nazis’ planned, industrialised mass murder of Europe’s Jews, should also refer to other genocides. In fact, it does; and, anyway, as someone pointed out, the objection is like going to a funeral for a murdered family and complaining that the ceremony does not give equal attention to all other murder victims. Or like responding to “Black Lives Matter” by saying it should be “All lives matter”.
“Walker also questioned people being concerned about Jewish schools having to organise extra security, saying that all schools have security. After such events as the murders at a Toulouse school in 2012, by a killer who said he did it just because the children were Jewish, this was at the very least obtuse.
“Violent antisemitic incidents in Europe ran at about 150 a year in the 1970s and 80s; since the 1990s they have risen to between 500 and 1,000 a year. In France, for example, 51% of all the racist acts recorded in 2014 targeted that country’s 0.8% minority of Jews.
“Walker’s response, and that of many of her supporters, has been to say that the issue of antisemitism is being “exaggerated for political purposes”.
“The response shows an underlying problem. When other victims of prejudice complain about racism, anti-Muslim behaviour, sexism, homophobia, the first reaction is to examine the cause of complaint.
“Too often, and including on the left, the first reaction to complaints of antisemitism — unless they are about gross neo-Nazi-type acts — is to impugn the motives of the complainers. They are assumed to be powerful people with no real grievance, using the complaint to deflect criticisms of Israeli government actions…”
Now, I’m not saying Jackie’s statements were clearly antisemitic; but they were statements which Momentum could and should reasonably be concerned about when they were made and defended in public by its Vice Chair. They show serious insensitivity and even indifference to questions of antisemitism (which is not changed by the fact that Jackie has Jewish background). The idea that something is either out-and-out racist or there can be no issue at all makes no sense.
To be clear, I’m not into the common habit on the left of condemning people on the basis of half-formed thoughts or off-the-cuff remarks with no opportunity to clarify. The point here is that Jackie has defended her comments, that she has repeated them very publicly and that they form part of an ongoing pattern – note her comments about Jews and the slave trade earlier this year.
Jackie was not removed from the Steering Committee, let alone suspended or expelled her from Momentum. Deciding to remove her from a position which she was originally elected to by the same committee seems to me perfectly reasonable and proportionate.
Free speech on Israel?
To continue quoting from the article above:
“Supporters of Walker picketed the Momentum committee meeting with placards saying “Free speech on Israel”. Momentum was doing nothing to limit her free speech… And none of Walker’s complained-about statements mentioned Israel.
“The Facebook post for which Walker was suspended from the Labour Party in May this year (then quickly reinstated) did not mention Israel either: it complained about insufficient attention to African suffering through the slave trade, and said: “Many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade which is of course why there were so many early synagogues in the Caribbean”.
“Walker explains this as a meditation on her personal background. It is hardly just that. In any case, it is not about Israel.
“But when Jews complain about antisemitism, they get the reply: “You are just trying to stop criticism of Israel”.”
The statement Momentum put out after the meeting, explaining its decision, is weak on at least two levels.
Firstly, it fails to say that we oppose Jackie’s suspension (as opposed to potential expulsion) from the Labour Party. I proposed including this, but lost.
Secondly, and somewhat bizarrely, it fails to even seriously attempt to educate anyone on the political issues involved, in particular the relationship between the insensitive and politically bad remarks Jackie made and the problem of failing to deal with antisemitism and even perpetuating antisemitic ideas. This is typical of the way Momentum nationally is often more concerned with political positioning and manoeuvring than stating things clearly, promoting discussion and educating the movement.
At the time of the controversies leading to the Chakrabarti Inquiry, there was – at my instigation – debate in the Steering Committee about antisemitism. In the end, despite repeated arguments, no statement was issued because people were afraid of political controversy on various sides.
This time I also lost the argument for including a statement that Jackie was not being removed for her views on the Israeli state and Zionism per se. While I think her views on those questions are linked to her weaknesses on antisemitism, I think it was also important to draw the distinction. (I thought we had agreed to include this point, but it was not in the final statement. I may have misremembered or it may have been agreed but not included, deliberately or not.)
There have been some suggestions that I and others voted the way we did because of pressure from the Labour right and from the leadership of Momentum, in particular Jon Lansman – ie that it was not a genuinely believed and principled stance, but an act of opportunistic positioning. This is wrong, but also simply makes no sense.
I felt no serious pressure at all from the right of the Labour Party or the right of Momentum – not because there was no attempt to exercise pressure, but because it did not bother me. I did feel pressure from Jackie’s supporters on the left, in particularly because I was concerned about taking a position on this in the context of Jackie’s suspension by the party. Obviously, no one is under obligation to believe me when I write that. However, my record in Momentum and the movement speaks for itself.
I have consistently criticised the undemocratic, politically conservative, accommodating-to-the-right way Momentum operates and sometimes made myself quite unpopular in doing so. The idea I suddenly became a follower of Jon Lansman, after months of criticising and clashing with him about Momentum’s functioning and direction, is ludicrous; though less ludicrous than the idea I am trying to placate the Labour right, who have expelled me from the party for being a class-struggle activist and revolutionary socialist!
I have a lot more to say about that, but will do it in my second article on this controversy, to be published over the weekend or early next week.
Back in May, when Jackie Walker was suspended from the Labour party for alleged anti-semitic remarks, this blog called for her re-instatement, whilst making it clear that we had serious misgivings about the Facebook comments she’d made.
Like many others, we were prepared to give Ms Walker the benefit of the doubt at the time – especially as the right wing seemed to be using all sorts of pretexts for suspending leftists without due process.
But I have to say that the more I’ve seen and heard about Ms Walker since then, the more I’ve become convinced that she is, in fact, an anti-semite.
Her latest outburst at a training session on challenging anti-semitism, run by the Jewish Labour Movement, is the final straw. Not only was she offensive, but she demonstrated her extraordinary ignorance by criticising that Holocaust Memorial Day for (supposedly) excluding non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust and other genocides. She also claimed that there was no particular reason for Jewish schools to have security measures in place, and that she had never “heard a definition of anti-semitism that I can work with.”
All decent people must now surely agree with Jeremy Newmark (Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement) when he says:
“I am appalled that somebody who has already caused great hurt and pain to so many Jewish people by promoting an anti-Semitic myth would come to a training session designed to help party activists address anti-Semitism and use the occasion to challenge the legitimacy of the training itself,” he said.
“To denigrate security provision at Jewish schools, make false claims about the universality of National Holocaust Memorial Day and to challenge recognised definitions of anti-Semitism is provocative, offensive and a stark example of the problem facing the Labour Party today.
“As vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker has consistently failed to demonstrate any sensitivity to the impact of her words and actions upon the Jewish community. She must now consider her position, show some sensitivity and contrition or resign.”
Walker’s initial reaction to her comments being publicised was to tweet:
Raises issues on the safety of JLM training for Labour
— Jackie Walker (@jjackiewalks) September 28, 2016
Since then, she has issued a mealy-mouthed, hypocritical non-apology beginning “If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I want to do.”
This won’t do. Walker’s increasingly obvious anti-semitism is intolerable. She should immediately resign as vice chair of Momentum, and if she fails to do so, must be removed (I understand that senior Momentum people now agree that she must go – though I fear a lot of Momentum members will see nothing wrong in what she’s said).
Coming just before Corbyn’s closing speech, in which he (for the first time as far as I’m aware) specified anti-semitism in particular (ie not just lumped in along with racism and Islamophobia, etc) as unacceptable within the Party, Walker’s words, attitude and dishonesty amount to an an embarrassment to Corbyn, Momentum and Labour as a whole. As well as further alienating the vast majority of Jewish people from the Party.
Above: police in Nice force woman to remove burkini
Some of the liberal and liberal-leftist opposition to the French burkini ban (eg in the Guardian) has slipped over into positive support for religious dress and “modesty” as a female virtue. This article argues that opposition to the ban should not mean offering any degree of support to religious obscurantism or misogyny.
By Theodora Polenta (very slightly edited by JD; this article also appears in Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website):
On 26 August, the Supreme Court of France ruled against bans on the “burkini” by some south-of-France municipalities. The ruling was greeted with relief by women, by Muslims (including those opposed to religiously-imposed dress rules for women), and for the millions of women and men outraged by seeing four armed policemen on the beach of Nice publicly humiliate a Muslim woman in a burkini. The Court concluded that the ban is a “serious and illegal violation of basic freedoms”, and that local authorities may take such measures only if the burkini is a “proven risk to public order”.
The “burkini” is a swimsuit invented in 2004 by the Australian-Lebanese designer Aheda Zanetti. The big fashion houses saw the potential of a new “market”, and took it up. It is a swimsuit that covers the entire body except the face (unlike the burqa, which covers the face, and is compulsorily loose-fitting), and is similar to diving suits and other garments for watersports. While the diving suits have never bothered anyone, and the burkini has bothered few in Australia, where many wearers are non-Muslims concerned about skin cancer risks, some French politicians have branded the burkini as a major threat to the morals and values of French society.
For readers of Solidarity, the burkini will seem reminiscent of periods we want to leave behind, when women were forced to remain invisible and silent to demonstrate that they were modest and humble. Personally I find abhorrent any suggestion that there is something inherently wrong with the body and hair of any woman or any human being, or that anyone should be condemned never to feel the sun and the air on their body in order to be considered a “woman”. Or that to cover our bodies is the answer to the voyeuristic culture that objectifies women’s bodies and imposes elusive and sometimes cruel beauty standards. However, the burkini bans bring to mind the French army operation in Algeria in May 1958. In order to add pressure for the coup in France which would bring De Gaulle to power and block what the army saw as a drift to conceding Algerian independence, the army organised a demonstration by some Muslim Algerian women to remove their veils and burn them.
Moreover, the right-wing politicians pushing the bans are instrumentalising women’s bodies and rights as a diversion and a pretext for divisive policies. Banning the burkini as “associated with terrorism” is an invention based on Islamophobia, racism and sexism. The bans are part of the official response to the murderous attacks by Daesh in Paris in 2015 and in Nice this summer. In the name of anti-terrorism, instead of promoting more equality and democracy, the government is fortifying a permanent state of emergency and targeting and stigmatising sections of the already most oppressed parts of the population. Several mayors have said they will appeal.
According to Marine Le Pen, leader of the fascistic National Front, “the soul of France itself is at stake,” because “France does not imprison a woman’s body nor hides half the population under the pretext that the other half will be tempted.” Socialist Party Prime Minister Valls has written on Facebook that “the decision of the Supreme Court did not close the debate”. “Denouncing the burkini is not calling into question individual freedom… It is denouncing deadly, backward Islamism”. Women’s rights minister Laurence Rossiynol has declared that the bans help fight against “restriction of the female body”! However, education minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem has stated that “there is absolutely no connection between terrorism and what a woman wears on the beach.”
The National Front and Marine Le Pen expect to make gains in the upcoming presidential elections. Ultra-rightists are feeling daring and are behind the proliferation of attacks against Muslims, who are 7.5% of France’s population. Among Muslims in France, who generally follow religious dress codes much less than Muslims in Britain, the ban was considered as a camouflaged attack not only on how Muslim women dress but also on how they self-identify.
While opposing the ban on the burkini, we should not slide into supporting the burkini and burqa under some postmodernist reasoning. For a large number of women in the Middle East, Asia, and North Africa, and sometimes in the Western world, religious dress codes are not their free choice, but a brutal coercion. They are an extreme symbol of obscurantism and repression of by hardcore Muslim Islamists. But opposition to religious compulsion is not served by such bans. The hypocrites who want to ban the burkini have no problem with the French State financing private Catholic schools. Or with the fact that in adjacent Belgium, much of the education is Catholic. Or with the mandatory religion classes, morning school prayers, and so on, in Greece.
The bans on burkinis has caused a 200% surge in sales. And such prohibitions can drive people into the open arms of fanatical Islamist organizations, which appear as the only defenders of their rights. To gain the trust of these women and engage them in the struggle for decent jobs and wages, against cuts, for a socialist society, we must defend their freedom of choice of dressing, of religious self-identification and of freedom of religious expression and exercise of religious beliefs.
Leave a Comment
Anyone who seriously believes that there could be something – anything – remotely progressive about Brexit, or who harbours illusions about a possible “lexit” (like these idiots), should watch this:
The Guardian‘s Lucia Graves reports:
“On 23 June, the people of Britain voted to declare their independence – which is what we’re looking to do also, folks! – from international government,” Trump told his audience in Jackson, Mississippi.
Jackson is a place where the memory of the Confederacy is still fresh, and as such a curious one in which to be touting a second independence day, of sorts. But such white nationalist fervour seemed to play well with the overwhelmingly white crowd assembled in the largely black city on Wednesday night.
The architects of Brexit like to frame the vote as a righteous backlash against powerful elites. As Farage put it on Wednesday: “You can beat the pollsters. You can beat the commentators … Anything is possible if enough decent people are prepared to stand up against the establishment.”
According to this oft trotted-out framing, Trump’s reviled Washington establishment is a parallel for Farage’s European Commission. But the hyper-focus on anti-elitism obscures the far less righteous xenophobia, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that were also elements of the leave campaign
See also: Left Foot Forward, This should end the claim that UKIP is not racist
BBC Radio 4 The Briefing Room on Trump’s shock troops, the ‘Alt Right’
Her ‘Brexit’ material is not yet available on Youtube – so her ‘Ant’ material will have to do for now
I’ve long been a fan of Bridget Christie, and her words (quoted in the Guardian) about her current show in Edinburgh merely confirmed me in my admiration:
“I totally reject this notion, which is coming from a lot of people on the left, that we mustn’t criticise leave voters,” said Christie. “Everybody has to admit that there were a lot of people who voted leave for not noble and legitimate reasons. Just look at the 500% increase in race hate crimes after Brexit.”
She continued: “And people saying that the middle classes and the educated elite are demonising the working classes as racists. Well, I’m working class and I don’t accept that at all. Racists are being demonised; it doesn’t matter what their socio-economic background is. We have to talk about it – in the media and in comedy.”
I put it a bit more tactfully in a (so far unpublished) letter to the Morning Star:
A number of articles and letters in the Morning Star over the past few weeks have objected to anyone mentioning the plain fact that the Brexit vote has been followed by a “spike” in racist incidents.
The pro-Brexit left seems to object to having the consequences of their irresponsible foolishness pointed out to them: this denial reached its apogee with the editorial of August 1st, which stated “”Singling out anti-EU and labour movement campaigns for blame is even more reprehensible”: I can assure you, comrades, that those of us who warned about the consequences of your reactionary stance will continue remind you of your shameful role in encouraging racism and backwardness for the foreseeable future.
Workers who voted “Leave” must be approached with sensitivity: the “left” who pandered to backwardness and reaction must never be allowed to forget what they did. As for the fantasy that a “left exit” is on the cards: get real and face reality, comrades!
That was written before this steaming pile of reactionary/idealist shite appeared … at first it made me very angry, but I guess I’d be better advised to follow Ms Christie’s lead, and just take the piss out of these stupid arseholes.
By Alan Thornett (from the Socialist Resistance website)
It was clear, long before it was launched, that the EU referendum held serious dangerous for the left and for multiculturalism and anti-racism in Britain. The campaign itself was always going to be a carnival of racism and xenophobia and an outcome in favour of Brexit would trigger a major shift to the right in British politics—both at the level of government and in terms of social attitudes. Racism and xenophobia would be strengthened and the left thrown onto the defensive.
And now we have it. The Theresa May government, established within a remarkable few frenzied days, is the most right wing in modern times, not just in terms of Brexit but across the board—and she is playing all this to the full. Osborne is gone (replaced by Phillip Hammond), Nikki Morgan gone (replaced by Justine Greening), Michael Gove gone (replaced by Liz Truss), Amber Rudd is home secretary, Jeremy Hunt remains at Health—for confronting the doctors no doubt.
Possibly the most frightening, hard line Brexiteer, Andrea Leadsom goes to the environment (DEFRA). She is not just a climate denier, and in favour of bringing back fox hunting, but she has close links to the Tea Party movement in the USA!
Leadsom would have been to the right of May had she been elected to the Tory leadership—which she might well have been had the vote gone to the Tory ‘rank and file’—and the way she was removed from the race in advance of this might well reflect divisions in the ruling class over how far Brexit should go.
The change of leadership to May, however, is still a big shift to the right and has left the Tories in a stronger, more united, and ideological coherent position, that they were under Cameron—despite the problems they face in implementing Brexit. UKIP has been sidelined, at the moment, by what is in effect, the partial UKIPisation of the Tory Party.
Most significantly, the key positions in terms of Brexit—the issue that will define her administration—go to hard-line right-wing Brexiteers:David Davies as minister for Brexit, Liam Fox as the newly created Minister of foreign trade and Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. It means that these people have been handed the power to reshape Britain’s place in the world for the next generation if they get their way.
There are big changes in the structure of government as well. Most significantly the Department for Energy and Climate Change has been abolished and merged with Industry—which is a disaster for the environment and the struggle against climate change.
The Tory right, who have been skulking in the background and sniping about the EU since Cameron won the Tory Leadership from David Davis (and also Liam Fox) in 2005, are back with a vengeance. They are now in charge and are running the show.
It is these people have now been handed the opportunity, by this referendum vote, to reshape British politics (and Britain’s place in the world) on the scale that Thatcher was able to reshape British politics after the defeat of the miners in the 1980s—and they intend to grasp it with both hands. It is not going to be easy and there are many pit-falls in the Brexit process, but unless the May leadership is stopped at next election (and only Corbyn can do it), this is the very dangerous direction of travel.
Even if May is inclined at any point to make concession on Brexit, there will be plenty on the right ready to step in and stop her. UKIP will be waiting to capitalise on any back sliding and there are plenty on the Tory back benches ready to rise up against it.
This whole situation is not just a blow to the left in Britain but it is serving as an inspiration to right-wing forces right across Europe. Le Pen is already welcoming it with both hands and promising a similar referendum in France if she wins the Presidency next year.
Young people in British, who have lost the most under recent governments and who, for the first time face a reduced standard of living in comparison with the previous generation are the most hostile to all this, and were the most pro-remain section of society, and once again have the most to lose.
Three million EU citizens in Britain, who were denied a vote in the referendum, are left wondering what their status in Britain is likely to be after they have been used by May as a bargaining chip in the negotiations with the EU elites.
This was reflected in the 100,000 strong demonstration of mostly young people that took place in London immediately after the vote—organised through social media. It was not a demonstration organised by the left or of the labour movement but it was organised on a progressive basis and was strongly pro-immigration.
The situation of the left
Socialist Resistance argued for a remain vote on the basis that the referendum would be a carnival of reaction leading to a major shift to the right in British politics, and we have been right on both counts.
Those far-left organisations—the SWP, the Socialist Party, and Counterfire, along with the CPB—that agued for exit from the EU on the basis that such a vote would bring down Cameron, push the political situation to the left, and open up new opportunities for radical politics, even increase the chances of a Labour government, got it dramatically wrong. In fact, some are still arguing that there has not been a shift to the right a week after the formation of the May government.
A Brexit vote was always going to bring down the Cameron government, but its replacement, as Socialist Resistance argued throughout, was always going to be well to its right. It was always likely to open the way for dangerous realignment of the hard right—either within the Tory Party or as a part of a wider realignment. In the event it has been the former, and even worse and quicker than most of us predicted.
Those taking SR’s position in the referendum—of a critical remain vote to fight xenophobia—were accused by the Lexiteers of being ‘liberal leftists’ or of departing from basic principles on the class nature of the EU. John Rees accused us (on the Counterfire website) of practicing what he called ‘the linear school of historical analysis’:
“There will not be an automatic lurch to the right even with a figure like Johnson or May as Tory leader. The Tories will just have suffered their biggest reverse since the defeat of Thatcher. Their backbenchers are split down the middle. They only have a 17-seat working majority. They are under investigation for electoral fraud in more seats than that. They have just had to make a series of policy reverses… Only someone entirely wedded to the linear school of historical analysis could fail to see an opportunity for the left in this situation.”
Alex Callinicos was in a similar mode in International Socialism just before the vote. He argued—whilst accusing the ‘Another Europe is Possible’ campaign of “a slide into class collaboration”—that a Brexit vote would shatter the Cameron government just a year after winning a general election. Yes indeed! But what comes next?
In the event they were both wrong. The Brexit vote has not brought about a shift to the left but the biggest shift to the right in British politics since Thatcher took office in 1979—and, unless it is reversed, it could have equally disastrous long-term consequences.
The Lexiteers, however, were still defending the same position three weeks after the vote. This was the position argued by Peter Taaffe three weeks after the vote in Socialism Today: “The vote to leave the EU has rocked capitalist institutions—in Britain and internationally. It is yet another reflection of the anger at mass poverty and savage austerity—and of the growing anti-establishment mood… It is totally false to draw the utterly pessimistic conclusions which some small left groups have done that this result could lead to a ‘carnival of reaction’ in Britain and encourage right-wing forces in Europe and elsewhere.”
Playing the race card
It should be clear now, if it was not clear before, that this referendum was not, at the end of the day, a referendum on the EU but on immigration: i.e. ‘are you in favour of the free movement of people—yes or no?’ This scenario was played out in interview after interview, on the streets, the response was overwhelmingly: too much immigration—end free movement. And the uncomfortable fact is that given Britain’s imperialist and colonialist history, decades of bi-partisan institutionalised racism practiced by both Tories and Labour, and the disgusting xenophobia of the tabloids—the Sun, the Mail and the Express in particular—over many years, it was always going to be thus.
Since the vote racism has been strengthened, racist hate crimes have doubled, the political situation has moved to the right. The Tory Party has also moved to the right, and we are heading for an exit process from the EU that will be shaped by the xenophobic right in which ending free movement of people and cutting immigration to the bone will be the order of the day.
Not that the referendum can be reduced to immigration. There were other important factors involved—not least poverty, alienation and an anti-establishment backlash. In the end, however, it was racism that put the energy (or the venom) into the Brexit campaign. It was the driving force of the Brexit turnout.
Richard Seymour puts it this way: “It was the question of the free movement of labour within the European Union that that harnessed the energies for Leave”. He continues: “Not that most of those who voted Leave had much experience of migration—the areas with the highest numbers of EU nationals living in them were also those with the strongest Remain votes. But that is how it usually works with race politics in the UK.” There are exceptions to this but it is broadly true.
The racist dynamic, however, could not have been clearer. Immediately the mainstream Brexit campaigns took the decision to concentrate almost exclusively on immigration the Brexit vote went into the lead in the polls. There was indeed an anti-establishment backlash. The problem with this is that such backlashes are not necessarily progressive. In fact much of UKIP’s support has been based on it.
In fact the mainstream Brexit campaigns ran the most openly racist campaign in modern times, and they were very effective. What used to be known as playing the race card now passes for ‘normal’ politics. Unless this is reversed quickly they will have done serious damage to British society. The most damaging long-term damage that the referendum campaign has done in Britain has been to make racism ‘respectable’.
The answer of the Brexiteers to the dispossessed and the alienated was that immigrants were taking British jobs, driving down wages and living on benefits. Their campaign broadcast featured a map of Europe with arrows streaming towards Britain from across Europe—representing a flood of immigrants on the move, mostly from the East. During the campaign a Labour pro-remain MP Jo Cox was assassinated by a fascist shouting ‘put Britain first. It is hard to separate his actions, at least at that moment, from the politics of the mainstream Brexiteers. It was a warning that some very unpleasant forces were at work.
Worse than that, the findings of the Ashcroft poll immediately taken immediately after the vote found that by big majorities, voters who saw multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, and immigration, as forces for good voted to remain in the EU, whilst those who saw these things as forces for ill voted, by even larger majorities to leave. It is a frightening picture.
There has been another remarkable development as well. Lexit organisations with long histories of anti-racism have been talking down and seeking to minimise the racism and xenophobia involved in this referendum both before the vote and after. The same has been the case with the situation of the 2.4 million EU citizens living in this country who are set be used as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations with the EU.
The Lexit campaign refused to regard the fate of these people as any kind of problem right through the campaign and has said nothing about it since. When I raised this issue at the launch meeting of the campaign earlier in the year I was told that ‘it was very unlikely to be a problem’.
The possibility of an early general election is very dangerous for Labour because the Brexit vote has pushed the situation to the right. One of the reasons that May stresses ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and that a big reduction in immigration is her red line in the negotiations with the EU, is in order to claim to speak for the Brexit vote for the next general election whenever it comes.
She will only go for an early election if she has a big lead in the polls and feels confident that she can tap into the Brexit vote effectively. Labour needs time to tackle the Brexit effect and start to turn the situation back towards the left before it can be sure of winning an election.
Those in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) who are ganging up with the Tories to remove Jeremy Corbyn on the basis that his departure is essential to winning the next election could hardly be more wrong. The key to defeating the kind of government that May is constructing is precisely the kind of radical anti-austerity and anti-racist alternative that Corbyn represents. It is only this approach which has a chance of cutting through the xenophobic fog of the referendum, give real hope to the dispossessed and the marginalised, and build the kind of movement necessary.
The argument of the PLP plotters that the best way to win the next election is to go back to the politics that lost the last two elections makes no sense. It is a complete misunderstanding of the dynamic of politics in Britain today.
Winning the next election for Labour will require, not a reversion to past failed policies, but a radical programme of austerity busting measures that can mobilise the deprived the alienated and the forgotten. Another thin gruel of Tory policies will not mobilise the movement necessary.
A majority Labour government could become increasingly difficult to achieve, particularly if, as is likely, the boundary commission proposals to reduce the number of seats at Westminster goes through by 2018. Labour needs to call for a progressive anti-austerity alliance in Parliament with the SNP and the Greens now and in the run up to the next general election, whenever that comes.
One way that Labour can boost its chances at the next election is a pledge for radical electoral reform. First and foremost getting rid of the notorious first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system. This would not only win votes in the election itself but would reshape the system for the new realities of British politics. It would also increase the turnout in elections since every vote would count—which was a factor in the high turnout in the referendum.
The political structure in Britain that prevailed throughout the 20th century has fallen apart with the rise of multiple parties. The voting system that sustained it has become a byword for everything undemocratic and corrupt. Smaller parties (of both right and left) have been emerging with substantial votes—the Green Party and Ukip in England and the SNP in Scotland in particular. We now have what is effectively a six-party system. Under these conditions the FPTP system has gone from the undemocratic to the outrageous.
In the last election we had parties of both the left and the right winning millions of votes but getting minimal representation. Scotland, quite rightly, is heading for independence—though whether the May administration will agree to it as Cameron did is an open question. It any event Scotland will still be not be independent in 2020, but after that who knows.
Jeremy Corbyn has to grasp the nettle over this and come out strongly in favour of electoral reform. John McDonnell, Clive Lewis and others have already called for it along with Caroline Lucas and Owen Jones. It would be a big mistake for Labour to go into the next election whenever it comes without radical proposals for a proportional voting system that would ensure that every vote counts and not just a few marginal constituencies. PR is not just a vote winner in itself but it is crucial with the situation so volatile and the old consensus breaking up. To this should be added the proposal to give the vote to 16 and 17 year olds.
This as part of a manifesto that deals with the housing crisis, the decimation of our NHS, with the growth of zero hours contracts and food banks, the rise of racism and other forms of inequality is the path that we need to go down – a path that will inspire even greater numbers that Jeremy Corbyn has already done over the remarkable last year.