Alena Ivanova on how the Left is gearing up for a fight on Brexit – and not a minute too soon
There are those – on the left, as well as the right of the political spectrum – that are adamant to tell anyone who’d listen and plenty who won’t that Brexit is a done deal. But having spent this heatwave summer helping put together a programme of dozens of speaker at events across the country, lobbying Labour party members to support an anti-Brexit contemporary motion for conference and stuffing boxes and boxes of leaflets and posters to go out to street activists all over, I am just not buying it. Brexit was never of the left or for the left, so instead of scrambling around to make the best of a catastrophe, we might as well do what we do best – campaign for what is in the best interests of working people and social justice.
Another Europe is Possible has, since it launched to defend the Remain and Reform position in the 2016 EU referendum, established itself as the natural home for unapologetically progressive and left-wing voices fighting the anti-Brexit corner. And it is only natural that we have continued to do so, even after that referendum was lost. Because fundamentally we all agree democracy does not stop at one vote, one election, one historical point in time. Democracy is a constant process, and one where the left is often on the losing end, yet we keep going because we believe it is ultimately better than any alternative.
So where is the campaign to stop Brexit headed and who’s in the driving seat?
Without going into a full-blown analysis of the Brexit vote, it’s vital to take a good look around us and establish several home truths. First of all, there is no single group of Leave voters, just as there is no single group of Remainers. There are battles to be won on many fronts – on immigration, on nationalisation, on regulations and workers’ rights, and they all have a role to play in the overall Brexit battle. If you campaign for remaining in the EU but against freedom of movement, if you campaign for remaining in the EU but don’t have a game plan to change restrictive laws demanding competition in services, if you campaign for remaining in the EU but leave aside the damaging anti-union laws in the UK, then Another Europe is probably not the campaign for you. But if you agree with us that these are all questions we need to face head-on, then read on because we have a lot of work to do.
Home truth number 2: outside of the small world of the British left, Lexit does not exist. In its conception and its implementation during the referendum campaign, Leave was the right-wing option. I would love to see polling that would show where most voters who chose to wave goodbye to the EU got their main campaign arguments, and I doubt the SWP will rank high on that list. However, left-wing arguments weren’t leading the Remain camp either, and this is a mistake we can’t afford to make again.
This time around, we have a remarkable opportunity to build a people’s vote campaign that speaks to people not just about the economic dangers – made evident even just through the process of the failed negotiations, but about the possibility of having a different European Union, a different relationship with our elected representatives, a different way of doing democracy. We could turn this into our version of the Scottish referendum and end up with a general public more aware, more politically engaged and more determined to fight for the social justice we all deserve and that Labour can deliver for us.
So this summer, ahead of the all-important Labour conference in September, and even more all-important vote in Parliament in October, we decided to take the campaign on the road. The Left Against Brexit speaker tour revolves around a simple concept – we had a campaigning network during the referendum, and understandably since we lost it, there has been some downtime for activists. However, the prospect of us flunking out of the EU is ever more present and we desperately need people to stand up and speak out.
The meetings we have had so far have been incredibly successful – speaker after speaker defended the Corbyn project, defended the fight against the Tories, condemned austerity and the anti-democratic processes that do exist in the EU, but they also brought home the truth. For the left, there is nothing to be gained from leaving the Union and still be subjected to the same restrictive global neoliberal framework.
There is neither ambition, nor merit in attempting to build socialism in one country. There is also no hope for success. There is no Brexit scenario that helps us against the rise of the far right. There is no appeasement to be offered to the groups of hate whereby we are left to build our socialist vision in peace. So far, we have held meetings in Manchester, London, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool and Nottingham, and still plan for Glasgow (30 Aug), Leeds (3 Sept), Oxford (10 Sept), Norwich (11 Sept), Sheffield (12 Sept), York (13 Sept) and Newcastle (20 Sept).
This is an ambitious endeavour not purely because of the scale of the tour, but more importantly because it wasn’t set up just to reassure people on the left that others still agree with them Brexit is a bad idea. It is meant to re-build our network of activists, to re-energise people to take the next step and start having the uncomfortable conversations in their Labour branches, in their unions, in their Momentum meetings, and of course with friends and neighbours in their communities. We are using the Left Against Brexit meetings as catapults for street activities, for campaigning within and beyond labour movement structures and for linking people to do all that more effectively.
A key element in the strategy undoubtedly is the Labour party conference in Liverpool this year, as the last chance for Labour party members to have a say in our Brexit policy before the dreaded March 2019. As anyone who has ever observed a looming deadline draw close, by now we should all realise that procrastination is not an option and we need to deliver a tangible result – in this case a policy that the majority of our members and voters agree with.
While the call for a people’s vote may have been picked up by a whole array of unsavoury characters for the Labour left, it is still in and of itself a reasonable way out of the Tory Brexit disaster, and if it manages to rally the party members behind it, it could be the strong left-wing campaign Remain never managed to be.
Labour for a People’s Vote is pushing a contemporary motion at this year’s party conference which calls for a general election demand with a public vote manifesto pledge for the final deal. Crucially, it also calls for a radical government that will tax the rich accordingly, expand public ownership and abolish anti-union laws. What is needed is for the left at conference to rally around that call and not be sidelined into squabbles with the Labour right who may try and use the issue to drive a wedge between Corbyn supporters. The reality is they no longer run conference, they don’t have a hold over the membership and the quickest way to making the likes of Progress completely irrelevant is if we took back the question of our membership of the European Union and gave it the firmly left-wing grounding it needs.
Readers will know the deadline for contemporary motions is the 13 September and what could be more contemporary than the looming exit from the EU? The Labour for a People’s Vote model motion will be discussed by over 150 CLPs and hopefully passed by many of those. The text and guidance on submitting can be found on www.labourpeoplesvote.org
We are under no illusions – another vote could be lost just as easily as we lost the first one. But with an economy in crisis and a political culture continuously making pathetic attempts to pander to the rising far right, it is also not a guarantee that the next general election will come soon enough, or indeed that it will be the Labour victory we all desperately need. What the left needs to do therefore is boldly go on the attack against Brexit, deploying the enthusiasm and confidence that the Corbyn movement brings and convince the public another Britain and another Europe is possible, and so is another world.