We live in surreal times. It is unprecedented for a government to be defeated on its keynote policy, delivering Brexit – not once but three times – and still remain in office. The prime minister refuses to go to the country in a general election. So we have the spectacle of LINO (leader in name only) with her European counterparts in the 27 other member states seeking and being granted a short seven-month extension of Article 50 until Halloween, October 31st.
Now the UK will participate in the European election on 23 May. Labour people and all pro EU parties should welcome this opportunity to hammer the Tories and show that there is a powerful pro-European view in the UK. This will be a kind of General Election or referendum by proxy. The far right pro-Brexit groups understand this and are organising hard. The Tories are on the back foot. Labour can and should make it clear we are a remain and transform party. The million-plus demonstration in March for a people’s vote and the six million-plus who voted to revoke Article 50 are a huge active base to build on. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales today back Remain. This is the majority Labour needs to inspire and get out to vote. A recent European Council on Foreign Relations poll found British people second only to Finland in pro-European sentiments.
Polls now show a majority back Remain. While Catherine West MP puts the case for a confirmatory referendum to enable the people to decide whether they accept or reject the terms of leaving the EU, she also questions the legitimacy of the 2016 referendum. The Leave campaigns broke electoral law and were financed by nefarious unknown sources. We know the campaign was based on lies. Whether it is misinformation to farming and fisheries workers, those in manufacturing, particularly car-making, or the whoppers about a Brexit dividend for the NHS, the wheels are coming off that whole bus of untruths. Brexit is a right-wing nationalist project. It is stoking up racist sentiments and a no-deal exit, opposed by a majority of MPs, favoured by the far right, would intensify prejudice and divisions in our society.
Peter Kenyon cites the pro-Remain majority views in the party and most nations of the UK as reason enough for Jeremy Corbyn to come off the fence in the European election campaign, but fears otherwise. Labour signed up to the Party of European Socialists manifesto, parts of which we reprint. It is strong on a new green deal, strong on human rights and combating racism and fascism, strong on tax dodgers. We support going beyond, revising the Lisbon treaty to enable wealth shifts, empowering workers and securing an anti-austerity European recovery programme.
Julie Ward MEP, in rehearsing the benefits of membership, argues that the UK needs a voice and a vote in Europe enabling us to play a leading role for an alternative democratic socialist polity.
Patrick Costello and Glyn Ford argue Corbyn and team (unlike New Labour predecessors) have been deepening our ties with sister socialist and social democratic parties in Europe. Solidarity is critical in combating global capital, the tax dodgers, the corporate polluters, and the far right fascist parties who want to turn the clock back to dark days of the 1930s. As Unmesh Desai points out in reporting on the launch of the anti-racist London United, the national populists and anti-migrant xenophobes are also organising across the continent to realise a deeply conservative, ethno-centric vision of Europe.
Brexit will be the leitmotif of British politics for the next period. It is the front line of battles to combat racism, to build an economy that puts jobs, public services and workers rights first, and a world that puts protection of our planet from global warming at the forefront of an international agenda as Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have highlighted.
Paul Nowak chastises government ministers for warm words on employment and in its Good Work Plan while presiding over the growth of a huge precariat dependent on supplementary benefits and food banks with millions trapped on low pay and insecure conditions. It’s the quality of jobs that counts. Lee Rushton highlights the scandal of growing homelessness on our city streets and the failure of government to tackle the problem.
Alice Arkwright similarly spotlights the way insecurity on our streets, with growing knife crime amongst young people, is amplified by cuts to youth services, drastically reduced police numbers and rising social divisions.
These are symptoms of a sick society presided over by a broken Tory government. Labour has a great opportunity, first in local elections and then in the European to show it has a positive alternative.
In getting Labour campaign-ready and united with a capacity to reach out to new voters the Corbyn-led party also needs to ensure that unsocial behaviour and tribal attitudes are marginalised in the party. Tom Miller and Dave Lister put complementary views on building an inclusive culture within the party. Don Flynn discusses the problem of antisemitism, seeking to clarify ways to eradicate it in the party and wider society as part of education and action against all forms of racism while maintaining international solidarity with oppressed groups like the Palestinians.
Listening to and empowering members was the hallmark of Jeremy Corbyn’s ascendancy. Whilst there are MPs in Leave-voting areas, the vast bulk of Labour’s support comes from pro-European and pro-Remain voters (including Leave-voting areas). The party membership, including Momentum, strongly supports Remain. The party has a big opportunity to inspire, enlist and mobilise hundreds of thousands of supporters in the Euro elections and beyond in pressing for a democratic, green economic recovery agenda allied to a confirmatory vote on Brexit. Let this be the hallmark of our campaigning work.