british politics

As we pick up the pieces: 9 thoughts on Brexit

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.  

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With Labour in open revolt against Corbyn, I’m sticking with the Greens

Originally published on the Norwich Radical

It’s now three months since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. For Greens, it’s posed some interesting questions.

For a start, Greens didn’t really know how to respond to the new political context. The party positioned itself as the left party for so long (and rightly), but few had thought about what might happen if the Labour Party actually turned left. Suddenly, the political space for the Greens appeared to shrink dramatically. And for a while, there was silence.

But when the time came, Greens welcomed the election of Corbyn – albeit in varying terms. Both Natalie Bennett and Caroline Lucas praised his election as a boost for progressive politics. Members were cautiously pleased.

There remain, though, some crucial distinctions. While membership fell back slightly, most Green Party members have thus far stuck around. Why?

  1. Greens are in it for the long game. It says something that it’s a truism, but few in the Labour Party think Corbyn will last the full five years. Even many in Corbyn’s camp think he’ll be out before 2020. The Greens are pretty solid on their feet – it’s serious business being in a party, and it’s a choice people don’t make lightly. Many in the Greens are adopting a ‘wait and see’ approach to ostensibly left-wing Labour. It seems like a wise move. Years of the Greens being socialist won’t be undermined by a few trembling months of a progressive Labour Party under Corbyn.
  2. Only the Greens are pushing hard on issues like democratic reform and environmental action. Labour has thus far remained silent on policies such as reforming the House of Lords, introducing proportional representation or keeping 80% of fossil fuels in the ground, as is effectively mandated by the science if we are to keep below catastrophic levels of global warming. Given these are policies that few in Labour – including Corbyn – appear to feel strongly about – and that they are policies Greens feel very strongly about – the lack of overlap is clear.
  3. The Labour Party machine appears un-reformable. Any attempts to deselect right-wing MPs will be struck down before they get off the ground. The 91% non-/anti-Corbynite Parliamentary Labour Party remains the most influential part of the Labour machine – after all, it is they who vote on our laws. So a shift there looks unlikely anytime soon. Just last week, the Labour right triumphed in the influential backbench committees of the PLP. They are not going anywhere. Talks of a coup are not even behind the scenes – Labour are in open revolt against their own left flank – and the potential upcoming vote on Syria will bring the crisis to the fore.
  4. Westminster Labour is not Labour in Brighton, Glasgow, Manchester or Cardiff – council chambers are, needless to say, not echoing with Corbynite speeches across the country. Politics, for most people, is not party conferences. It is the local. And at the local level, Labour has a lot of answer for, if you’re services are being outsourced in Hull or your housing estate is being sold off in Lambeth.
  5. Political traditions matter a lot in politics. And the Greens have a fundamentally different approach to politics. In next May’s devolved (and proportional!) elections in London, Wales and Scotland, it will be the Greens pushing for radical grassroots democracy, for real public engagement, for direct action against housing evictions and climate change, and for a new way of doing things.

The Greens aren’t blowing in all directions like a weathervane – and they certainly aren’t going anywhere.

The Labour Party is in a period of flux, and the Greens are still navigating a new and confusing political terrain. But there remains a place in British politics to praise the good and challenge the bad from outside the Labour Party. The Greens aren’t blowing in all directions like a weathervane – and they certainly aren’t going anywhere.

What it comes down to one is thing: Labour is far too broad a church to remain a consistently left-wing party. Under First Past the Post, it is a party of both neoliberals and Marxists – a contradiction that can’t be reconciled.

All the best to socialists in Labour, but my place is in a party that’s comfortable with being radical.