Tag: EU referendum

The Left Needs to Accept Brexit

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Lexit – Campaign for a left-wing exit from the EU!

Following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union (often dubbed ‘Brexit’ – short for British Exit) on 23rd June 2016, 172 Labour MPs voted no confidence in party leader Jeremy Corbyn, triggering the second leadership contest in a twelve month period. The candidate challenging Corbyn is Owen Smith – MP for Pontypridd and former Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Despite the democratic decision the electorate made to leave the EU, Smith has suggested including a pledge to remain in Labour’s next general election manifesto and holding a second referendum on the matter.

Owen Smith isn’t the only left-wing politician desperate to ignore the referendum, either. The Liberal Democrats have promised to fight the next election on a pro-EU slate and the Green Party’s lone MP Caroline Lucas has called for a second referendum on our membership of the 28-member bloc.

These pledges cause me a great deal of concern as the local authorities with the highest support for leaving the EU include countless Labour heartlands including Ed Miliband’s Doncaster, Dennis Skinner’s Bolsover, and ironically, Owen Smith’s Rhondda Cynon Taf. Most people in these areas still still support the Labour Party, but I fear our popularity would wither if we promised to block Brexit. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) already poses a considerable threat, placing second behind Labour in many constituencies at the 2015 general election, including my home of Doncaster North. Owen Smith is on record as saying his pro-EU fight is worth losing votes to UKIP, but I strongly disagree. In order to survive, we need to put maximum effort into keeping traditional Labour supporters away from the right-wing.

I can sympathise with those who feel Brexit is a mistake, but the public voted for it, and we need to respect their wishes. Remain supporters need to stop being so gloomy, accept the result and demand a say in negotiations in order to achieve a positive future for British workers outside of the European Union!

A common complaint is that the most prominent Vote Leave campaigners were right-wingers such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, stirring up an anti-immigration sentiment. In reality, there was plenty of support for a leave vote on the left, and immigration was discussed very little by those in the Labour Leave and Trade Unionists Against EU campaigns. Three trade unions backed Leave – ASLEF, BFAWU and RMT. Two of the most prominent Brexit campaigners were Labour MPs Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart. Dennis Skinner provided the Morning Star with a detailed explanation of why he regards the EU as a force for bad. George Galloway made multiple speeches for the Grassroots Out campaign and featured alongside other trade unionists and socialists in Lexit: The Movie. There was definitely a strong, passionate, socialist case for leaving. It’s simply not in the interest of the press to give the left a voice.

It is a shame the government chose Vote Leave as the official Brexit campaign as it consisted mostly of Tories and UKIP members, but they most certainly don’t speak for all Leave voters.

Feel free to question whether leaving the EU is the right decision, but making a second referendum party policy would undoubtedly be disastrous unless more than half of the public appeared to support it, and current polling suggests there is minimal appetite for ignoring the result.

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Owen Smith will Alienate Millions of Traditional Labour Voters

jcos
Jeremy Corbyn faces a leadership challenge from fellow MP Owen Smith

I live in the constituency of Doncaster North so Ed Miliband is my local MP and most voters round here consider him a nice man and good politician, myself included. Last year, I was fully expecting Miliband’s Labour Party to win the general election and begin improving living standards for the poor and vulnerable after five years of an abysmal Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, but unfortunately, I was wrong, and so were the countless opinion polls that had suggested David Cameron would be defeated. In the end, Labour lost twenty-six seats across Britain as the party collapsed in Scotland and made very few gains in England and Wales. The Conservative Party ended up winning a majority of parliamentary seats and continued causing distress for the working class.

The election results made it clear Labour had lost touch with much of its core vote since 1997. The party’s vote share got lower and lower throughout the Blair/Brown years, to the point where we received a measly 8,606,517 votes in 2010. Miliband brought almost 1 million voters back and deserves credit for that, but sadly it did not result in parliamentary seat gains. The 2015 election results also showed that UKIP was making advances in traditional Labour areas such as Doncaster, Workington and even Merthyr Tydfil, which used to be Keir Hardie’s seat.

After Miliband resigned, a veteran backbencher named Jeremy Corbyn stood for leadership of the party against fellow MPs Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, all of whom had frontbench experience. I was not a member of the party at this time, but I supported Burnham from the shadows, although I could see the appeal of both Corbyn and Cooper. In the end, Corbyn managed to win the leadership election against all odds with an enormous vote share of 59.5% compared to Burnham’s 19%, Cooper’s 17% and Kendall’s tiny 4.5%.

After Corbyn was elected leader, the right-wing media predictably started an almost libellous campaign against him – taking comments he’d made years ago out of context, accusing him of having no morals and even making up nonsense about various members of the shadow cabinet. I wasn’t sure about him at first, but am very sceptical of the media so started talking to ordinary voters in my community and asking for their opinions on the newly elected Leader of the Opposition. Thankfully, most seemed to harbour very positive views. One man excitedly told me “he’s taking the party of working people back to it’s roots” and mentioned his dislike of former Prime Minister Tony Blair – a man Owen Smith once looked up to with great admiration.

brexit
Britain voted to leave the EU on 23rd June by 52% to 48%.

Fast-forward to February 2016. David Cameron finally confirms the date of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Nearly everybody I know continues to support Labour and Corbyn, but most have been lifelong eurosceptics who had planned to vote leave ever since the government first promised a referendum in 2010, and Doncaster ended up voting Leave by 69% to 31% for Remain. I had predicted a similar result for months prior to the referendum, but Stronger In campaigners on social media often refused to believe me. There were many reasons for the huge Brexit support – not many people here think Westminster cares for our community and simply wanted to stick two fingers up at the establishment, some had legitimate concerns about the austerity imposed on other EU nations, others were unhappy with certain EU legislation, and while it pains me to say it, a small number of people voted leave simply because of immigration.

I honestly don’t know anyone who cast their vote in the EU referendum based on advice from their favoured politcal party, and even if they did, I don’t believe for one second that Tony Blair or Gordon Brown could have put across a more convincing pro-EU message than Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell.

Some Labour voters did not realise the party backed Remain, but I certainly wouldn’t blame that on the leadership. The Labour In For Britain campaign never once knocked at my door or delivered any leaflets on my street, but the official Vote Leave campaign sent me lots of campaign material quoting Brexit-backing Labour MPs including Gisela Stuart and Frank Field.

Now, Owen Smith stood on shaky ground when he admitted it would be “tempting” to block Brexit, potentially alienating millions of voters in traditional Labour areas, particularly in North East England, Yorkshire and South Wales. I initially thought Smith would be quick to change his views on the matter considering his council area of Rhondda Cynon Taf voted leave, but in the first live leadership hustings of 2016, he claimed our party should continue the fight to Remain – effectively ignoring a democratic decision favoured by a whopping 17,410,742 voters.

Polls show there is little appetite for a second referendum, and I cannot see it being a popular policy outside of 60%+ Remain cities such as London, Cambridge, Oxford, etc.

The Liberal Democrats have already taken the “ignore democracy” approach, and if Labour adopted the same stance, a huge number of left-leaning, Brexit-supporting, working class voters would end up with nowhere to turn to. In fact, UKIP MEP Steven Woolfe noted Smith’s comments on Twitter and claimed UKIP needs to “ruthlessly target Labour seats” as a result. This may sound like a petty complaint, but its one of the main reasons we need Corbyn to emerge unscathed from this contest – we must prevent UKIP gains at all costs.

Jeremy Corbyn is certainly not a perfect leader, but at least he is a principled man with popular socialist policies who respects the electorate and has ruled out overturning the Brexit vote.

Thanks for reading!