Roses and Thorns
Like many, I’ve struggled to come to terms with the result of Thursday’s vote.
But as we try and pick up the pieces and make sense of the situation, here are some thoughts on Brexit:
1. No one on the left knows how to react, because almost no one saw this coming. Almost all the polls predicted a Remain win. All the betting companies predicted a Remain win. Every party – including UKIP – predicted a Remain win. The ramifications aren’t yet clear, but they are of course huge, and fairly terrifying.
2. This was a vote both against the ‘establishment’, and against immigration. It was a protest vote, and one with huge consequences, a ‘working class revolt’. Many who backed Brexit are said to already be regretting their decision – after doing it to feel some semblance power in a politics that feels distant, undemocratic and elite-driven. This is a result of alienation.
3. There is a gaping generational divide that was made clear on Thursday. The Remain side probably would have won had Cameron agreed to letting 16 and 17 year olds vote. He rejected it to his own demise. And 75% of 18-24 year olds say they backed staying in the EU, compared to just 39% of over 65s.
The sad fact is this: the baby boomers took the Millennials out of Europe – despite the latter being the main ones to face the consequences. However, far fewer 18-24 year olds actually voted than older people – meaning we partly have ourselves to blame. The Remain side did themselves no favours (see the cringe-inducing ‘Votin’ push and the total lack of youth issues discussed in the referendum), but regardless: Britain’s generations are at war with each other.
4. The Greens should back re-joining the EU at the earliest opportunity. The Liberal Democrats have already pledged this. Many feel like the referendum result was won on the back of an extremely poor debate – and one arguably based on false pledges on the Leave side – both on cutting immigration and investing in the National Health Service (Leave claimed Brexit would put £350m per week into the NHS). Those pledges have already been back-tracked upon.
Nearly three million people – almost a tenth of the number who voted – have signed a petition calling for a re-run of the referendum. So re-joining the EU would be a vote winner for the Greens. With a leadership election currently going on, this will no doubt be raised.
5. At risk of stating the obvious, British politics is now in turmoil – if it wasn’t before. Cameron has resigned and we are facing a Conservative leadership contest – one which will be led by the pro-Brexit, right-wing of the party. The next two years will be full of tortuous negotiations. And the Labour Party are facing their own leadership election, with around half of the Shadow Cabinet expected to resign this weekend over Corbyn’s alleged lukewarm support for the EU and lack of campaigning during the referendum. Many believe it was Corbyn who lost the referendum – as someone perceived to be a long-term Eurosceptic. And he is now facing a very serious leadership challenge.
So while Britain is locked in a constitutional crisis – not least given the fact that Scotland, Northern Ireland and London all voted to remain in the EU – the main parties face their own internal crises, and struggle to come to terms with the ramifications for Britain’s place in the world, and their own visions for the future.
6. Another Union is breaking apart. Scotland and Northern Ireland are drifting away. Both voted strongly – by around two thirds to one – to stay in the EU. The UK is divided, and it appears we face (again) the prospect of the breakup of these nations.
Nicola Sturgeon pledge for a second independence referendum has already met strong support, support that is likely to be far higher than last time. Polls are already showing a significant chance of a pro-independence victory (although polls are arguably no longer to be trusted after Thursday’s vote…).
Either way, the consequences of Thursday’s vote are immense when it comes to the future constitutional state of the UK as a unit. And while Irish unification appears off the cards for the time being in NI, tensions are rising there too.
7. English (and Welsh) politics is moving to the right. The Brexit win has vindicated UKIP — who are not going anywhere, contrary to some expectations. With the Conservatives also moving to the right, the ‘centre ground’ has shifted. It is highly likely that many of the hard-won rights won through the EU will be torn apart — including many elements of the social chapter and key environmental protections and business regulations.
But Thursday’s vote has made me realise something depressing: England is actually rapidly becoming a conservative nation. This was a right-wing populist vote, led by reactionary forces and which will benefit and embolden reactionary forces. How does the left respond?
8. The left is, understandably, in a state of mourning. It will take time, but we have to to rebuild and recover. This is a defeat that is felt deeply and has knocked the left for potentially years to come back – but we have to start trying to now. And to get some ideological clarity in a deeply confusing post-Brexit context.
With Labour in turmoil (not least following Hilary Benn’s sacking), it is left to other movements and parties to begin the fight-back to the rightward shift that we will now likely see. And we must work with the social movements likeAnother Europe Is Possible, which campaigned for a progressive Remain vote, to do this. The left is in a poor place to fight the attacks on workers’ rights and environmental protections — but it is in our hands, and we have to get back on our feet and redouble our efforts as soon as possible.
9. We are still European. It’s vital progressive movements across Europe continue to keep their arms open to the UK. We have to keep working together cross-borders.
Of course, it will be much harder without the EU, but we have to try – the crises we face are international. But as a progressive movement, we must deal with them internationally, despite this huge setback: we are still stronger together, and have to keep working as such.
For now, we are lost and saddened. But we will do all we can to ensure the solidarity we had through the EU isn’t completely lost. We have to.
Thousands of people around the world have paid tribute to Labour MP Jo Cox, who was murdered yesterday outside her constituency surgery.
Over 150,000 people have now signed an online statement by Avaaz called ‘Jo Cox: We Will Fight For Love’, with messages of heartfelt thanks, sadness and compassion.
Later today, Jo’s friend’s and family launched a fundraising drive for three charities ‘close to her heart’, the Royal Voluntary Service, HOPE Not Hate, and the White Helmets (volunteer search and rescue workers in Syria). It has raised over £30,000 of its £50,000 target in just three hours.
Meanwhile online activism group 38 Degrees have launched a ‘Thank Your MP’ action, with thousands writing to their MPs after Cox’ killing to appreciate the work they do to help their constituents and their areas, while the group are also collecting hundreds of comments online to create a card of condolence.
The statement aims to counteract the hate that was shown yesterday with messages of hope, and is filled with comments from almost every country – including around a third from outside the UK.
Here are some of the tributes:
The Avaaz statement says:
‘Jo Cox was a mother, a campaigner, an MP, an advocate for the voiceless and those in poverty, and a passionate fighter for people and principles. She was also a friend to many in the Avaaz team.
‘Jo was passionately campaigning for Britain to stay in Europe. Not just because it was smart, or advantageous. Because she spent her life caring for Syrians, and Africans. She was a beautiful light of love for all people, for humanity. The man who took her life, stabbing her and shooting her over and over, screamed “Britain First”. Her life was taken by a kind of hate and selfishness that she devoted her time on this earth to fighting.
‘How would she want us to honour her? By coming together, sharing love for each other, and picking up the banner for love, for a truly Great Britain, that is great enough to love immigrants, and all people in our one human family.’
EU campaigning has been suspended until Saturday, while some MPs such as Rachel Reeves have temporarily closed their constituency offices. Flags are being flown at half-mast across the UK. British politicians have been paying tribute to Jo Cox.
The Avaaz statement, which has been shared over 7,000 times, also draws attention to the statement from Cox’ husband, Brendan, yesterday:
‘Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.
‘Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.
‘She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.’
‘Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.’
Tonight there are vigils in in honour of the MP in Parliament Square in London at 7.30pm (details on this Facebook page), in Edinburgh for 6.30pm, in Manchester at 7pm, and at similar times in Birmingham, Glasgow, Brighton, and Cardiff.
The Greens’ London Mayoral candidate Sian Berry has said that the Labour and Conservative teams refused to meet with the party to discuss who Green supporters should back as their 2nd preference on May 5th.
Speaking to me for NovaraMedia, Berry claimed that ‘neither of the candidates wanted to meet with us to talk about them’ – despite the fact that 2nd preferences have been decisive in every single Mayoral election since the London Assembly’s first election in 2000.
She said that “Sadiq specifically turned [a meeting]…down’, while Zac Goldsmith simply “didn’t arrange” one. Labour’s response was apparently dismissive – “[Sadiq said] he didn’t want to seek the 2nd preference recommendation.”
It follows a meeting of the London Federation of Green Parties on Monday to debate and vote on who the party should recommend Green supporters back as their 2nd choice. In 2008 and 2012 the party asked members to vote for Ken Livingstone after Jenny Jones.
Under the capital’s Supplementary Voting system, Berry’s voters’ 2nd choices are counted if she doesn’t win enough support to make it into the final round – a likely scenario.
It was widely thought that the Greens’ would back a 2nd preference Labour vote this time. However, statements from Sadiq Khan on various issues and a refusal to meet have frayed relations between the parties: “You’ve got some real red lines there – Sadiq’s [pro-expansion] position on Gatwick, and Zac has been appalling on the Silvertown Tunnel [i.e. in support]. Those are things that either of them could easily have given way on.”
Berry stated that two candidates are “really hard to tell…apart – [Khan] visited the City and said he’s going to be a mayor for big business – that’s not what you expect from someone who says he going to be a mayor for all Londoners.”
This election the party put forward four ‘red lines’ to the two lead candidates, which they would need to give ground on to win official 2nd preference support – an end to road building, airport expansion and enforced council estate demolitions, and to reduce London’s inequality.
Discussions outside of official meetings had proven unhelpful. “We’ve had chats with them, including during debates. One example is [council] estate demolition – I’ve challenged them a number of times during hustings to condemn the councils that are doing it and they’re doing it on Labour and Conservative councils – and they haven’t.”
Berry also hinted she is against the system of recommending Green supporters back a 2nd choice – “This whole idea that we should instruct our voters who to vote for anyway is a bit wrong – they can think for themselves what kind of campaigns the others are running.”
Outgoing Green Assembly Member Darren Johnson wrote for MayorWatch that ‘London’s Greens have grown over the past 16 years, it’s no longer appropriate to endorse rival mayoral hopefuls’.
Around 50 members of the London Federation of Green Parties debated the Mayoral race on Monday, at the final ever meeting in the party’s traditional North London HQ Development House, with members voting unanimously not to back a 2nd preference.
Members also voted on whether to make a statement against the Goldsmith campaign, which has been viewed as ‘divisive’ on Khan’s faith. Members voted by around 4-1 to not officially condemn the Conservative campaign, in what may be seen as a boost for Goldsmith. Berry was among the minority voting to condemn the Tory campaign.
With Berry battling it out for third place with the Lib Dems’ Caroline Pidgeon and UKIP, last Monday’s vote may turn out to be a key moment in the Mayoral race.
Green Party members have just today left to support the crowdfunding campaign to help elect Wales’ first Green Assembly Member.
Amelia Womack, Green Party E&W Deputy leader, is standing for the proportional list seat of South Wales Central – which covers Cardiff – and is aiming to raise as much as possible of the £2,000 needed to run the last six weeks of the campaign that remain. So far she has raised over £1,000.
The crowdfunder ends at midnight on the 29th March, with the flexible funding model meaning that the money raised will fund a campaigns officer, leaflets and materials, as well as potentially billboards, and could make all the difference in what is a tight race for the last list seat in the region. The seat that could come down to either Greens or UKIP winning it, with UKIP expected to surge this election from zero to up nine AMs.
South Wales Central is seen as the most winnable seat in Wales, alongside Mid and West Wales, and Greens from across the country are targeting it hard.
Crucially, a Labour vote on the list in South Wales Central is effectively a wasted vote, given their high support in the constituency ballot, under the Additional Member System form of PR.
The crowdfunder states that “We have seen the difference just a handful of Greens make in institutions across the country. We have Greens in Westminster, the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Irish Assembly and the London Assembly – now it’s Wales’ turn to get the Green representation our nation deserves by electing Amelia Womack to bring our Green vision into the Senedd.
“Unlike other parties, we don’t have millionaire donors, donations from big business, or financial support from trade unions. We rely on you – our members and supporters to fund our grassroots campaigns.
The party has calculated that just under 6,000 extra votes are needed on top of last time to ensure Womack is elected on May 5th, as the candidate at the top of the list.
Womack grew up in local Newport and lives in Cardiff. She is also standing for the constituency seat of Cardiff central.
Can you support the crowdfunder? Chip in what you can here and help Wales Green Party shake up the Senedd.
This week the government will formally announce final plans to slash public funding for opposition parties in Parliament.
According to the Independent today, the formula for calculating how the money is given to parties with fewer than six MPs will be ‘reworked’ – in other words, their money will be disproportionately cut. It’s an incredibly backwards step.
UKIP received nearly four million votes last year, but ended up with only one MP. The Greens received over a million votes and likewise ended up with just one MP. Slashing their funding is an affront to those millions of voters who were not fairly represented.
Currently, Short money – allocated in large part on the basis of number of votes rather than just seats – partially compensates for our woefully disproportionate voting system. Making it less proportional is hugely regressive given that we are now a pluralistic, multi-party democracy, with a need for a strong and diverse opposition.
Polling for us by BMG Research at the end of last year showed that 57% of the public think a publicly-funded political system would be fairer than the big-donor dominated one we have now. And this cut will do nothing to improve people’s perceptions of politics being stitched-up by the big parties.
Short money is designed to level the playing field and ensure that opposition parties can hold the government of the day to account, so this cut could be deeply damaging for accountability. Indeed, an OECD report recently released shows that Britain already has one of the lowest proportions of public funding for parties among developed countries, spending just a tenth of the European average.
The whole party funding system is a complete mess as it is, but this measure risks making it worse. By reducing public money from the mix, this cut risks making parties even more reliant on big donors – with all the potential for corruption that entails.
Until we see a cap on donations and a lower spending limit, taking away public money from opposition parties will just make things worse.
Let’s hope the government think again and stand up for the millions whose voices were ignored last May.
If there’s one thing true of the EU debate, it’s that it’s been pretty uninspiring so far, to say the least. Even the most hard-core of politicos can’t get themselves particularly worked up about it.
That doesn’t mean it’s been without its controversies and battles. But in-fighting doesn’t generally equal exciting and stimulating debate. The leave side seems to be in turmoil, with people dropping like flies from the two main campaigns, Vote Leave and Leave.EU. Labour Leave has just broken away from the former, and a new ‘Grassroots Out’ campaign aims to hit the doorsteps where it sees the other two campaigns have failed. Headed by Farage, it already risks being seen as a UKIP front.
In contrast, the ‘remain’ camp has been relatively stoic – less EastEnders, more BBC Parliament. The arguments hurled around seemed to have been, predictably, more of a wrestle between statisticians than positive visions of the EU: “We’ll lose x jobs if we leave the EU,” “our GDP will fall by y” or “big businesses will be less likely to come to the UK”. All potentially true, but hardly rabble-rousing stuff.
The gist among some already-weary progressives seems to be that Britain Stronger in Europe – the apparently monolithic representative of Europhiles – follows Cameron’s renegotiations with either approval or complacence, while free movement, welfare and workers’ rights are traded away.
With Corbyn staying out of the EU debate (he’s leaving it to the Big Beasts of Brown and co.), and with Labour Leave headed by Kate Hoey, seen as on the right of the party, it all begs one thought:
Where is the left?
It’s with that question in mind that I headed to the launch of the first major attempt to give the left a voice in the EU debate: ‘Another Europe is Possible’. While the name is a bit of a mouthful, it’s fairly obvious what they want – a progressive EU (with the UK in it).
This ‘critical in’ vote is something that resonates with basically everyone I know who’s vexated by Eurozone austerity, TTIP, deregulation and the ‘neoliberal’ politics of Juncker et al…but who also have an instinctive attachment to the European project, expressed through things like environmental protection, a maximum working week, holiday pay and all that other nice stuff.
Needless to say, the critique of the EU as it stands was unrelenting. ‘EU institutions have been implicated in broken economics’, founder Luke Cooper told the two hundred-odd who packed out a former brewery in Brick Lane, Shoreditch – a venue just opposite where BSE held their launch a few weeks ago. ‘But we have to ask – what would Britain look like after Brexit?’ The answer was fairly clear to most of the young crowd: not a socialist Britain, that’s for sure.
It turns out it’s a theme. ‘There are huge problems with the EU. But is leaving the EU a better bet?’ asked Asad Rehman, a Senior Campaigner for Friends of the Earth. ‘The arguments on the pro-side are too much about fear rather than a positive vision’. Vision was talked about a lot. We certainly need one.
The left leave camp have of course slammed the EU’s rightward turn. In the same way though, they’ve slammed every European government’s rightward turn – free market dogmatism isn’t exclusive to the European Union. ‘Can you name an institution not dominated by neoliberalism?’ asked Marina Prentoulis. ‘National governments are pushing a neoliberal agenda too.’
The elephant in the room was that Prentoulis represents Syriza, a party that has done the same – with a Commission-shaped gun to its head. But what of the new Portuguese socialist government, and movements in Spain, Italy and elsewhere that are threatened by EU institutions? Will forced capitulation become a trend?
The question made for a less enthusiastic atmosphere than would have been the case say 10 years ago, when progressive legislation was being passed all the time. But there weren’t many champagne corks popped for the ‘bosses club’, as the NUS’ Sahaya James put it, in the room on Wednesday. There was more of an overwhelming and understandable fear that out of Europe, the right of the Tories would be given free rein to dismantle what’s left of the welfare state.
Above the fear however there was something else. A willingness to try and shift the debate – and to build not a network of politicians but of grassroots activists across the UK: activists with few illusions about the EU, other than a genuine belief that there is some hope in the left-wing movements emerging across Europe. That there could be a truly ‘social’ Europe if we fight for it – across borders.
The challenge now however is to not just talk about a vision, but to actually come up with one. In the midst of a campaign seen by many socialists as dominated by stat-throwing and cosying up to business, such a positive and values-based vision for a reformed EU – albeit one ‘two million miles from Cameron’s’, as Caroline Lucas MP put it – could be a game-changer. Wednesday’s launch may have been the start of something very interesting indeed.