Europe

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.  

Young Greens petition against lack of BBC coverage hits 5,000 signatures

2pm Update: an hour after posting this, the petition had reached 6000 – 1000 signatures in an hour!

9pm Update: Nearing 14000 signatures! Look out for coverage in Monday’s Morning Star newspaper…

 

A petition launched by a Young Green against the BBC’s lack of coverage of the Green Party during the elections has already received over 5000 signatures since 6pm on Saturday night. Dozens of Young Greens have also complained to the BBC directly.

 

As you will be aware, much of the coverage over the past two days has been over UKIP’s ‘breakthrough’. However, it was also a good night for the Greens, receiving an average of 9% where we stood and gaining 16 new councillors to become the official opposition in Liverpool, Solihull, Islington and Lewisham (on top of Norwich), while gaining our first representatives in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Epping Forest, Babergh and the Wirral. This means the Greens now have 162 councillors on 56 councils. Yet the publicly-funded BBC has almost entirely failed to discuss the Greens in any meaningful way – focusing on UKIP securing 17% on a low turnout, a so-called ‘political earthquake’.

 

You can view Portia Cocks’ petition here – https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/bbc-news-stop-this-media-blackout-of-the-green-party and can complain directly to the BBC here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complain-online/

 

To see a full breakdown of Green gains in the local elections, go here.

 

Meanwhile, Greens are expecting very strong results in the European elections. I wonder how the BBC will cover it…if at all?

Greens are showing ‘Votes at 16’ is more than a phrase

[Reposted from my Shifting Grounds article here]

It seems like the distant past now, but I was the irritating age of 16 when the race was in full swing for the 2010 general election that brought the coalition government to power. 2010 was also the year that Educational Maintenance Allowance was slashed, the year my college mates had their tuition fees nearly tripled, and the year that sweeping cuts to the education budget were announced. All of this – and I couldn’t have a say over any of it.

Myself and thousands of other students and young people watched the first televised election debates in history, went to hustings, and quizzed the candidates. Some of us even door-knocked, leafleted and stayed up watching the results. But when push came to shove, we had no say over the policies that would be enacted in our name by the most reactionary government since Margaret Thatcher. We didn’t even have a chance of stopping them getting in.

Even those who can vote aren’t turned on by the process, with just 44% of 18-24 year olds voting in the last general election. But it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy – the young don’t vote because they are ignored, and they are ignored because they don’t vote. It’s no shock to learn that the over 65s – while not unscathed – have been relatively cushioned from austerity. 76% of them voted in 2010 – most of course, for the Conservatives. 

That’s why many are excited to see a radical experiment in democracy currently taking place. And, in what will come as a shock to those on the right of the Tory party, it’s happening in Europe. 16 year olds are finally getting a chance to vote.

It’s passed largely unnoticed in the Westminster bubble, but the European Green Party – the fourth largest group in the European Parliament – is taking the radical step of holding a pan-European ballot to determine who their two lead candidates for the 2014 European elections will be.

Funnily enough, UKIP, predicted by some to sweep the board in the upcoming May vote, won’t be joining the Greens in this exercise in grassroots participation. Or any of the other parties, in fact. And it’s no surprise – Green parties across Europe are widely known to be the most participatory. Here in the UK, we’re currently voting on which motions make the conference floor (to which anyone can submit ideas) at the upcoming Spring Conference in Liverpool.  

It’s safe to say democracy isn’t new to the movement, with most Green parties operating on a similar non-hierarchical and bottom-up basis. Democracy, after all, is at its heart about empowerment, and the ‘rank and file’ running the show – including otherwise-disillusioned 16 and 17 year olds unable to vote at their national elections. 

For the first time in history, this model of youth participation has now been extended across the continent, with anyone over 16 years of age who supports Green values able to vote online at www.greenprimary.eu. Free, simple and online, it’s direct democracy in action – something it’s fair to say the EU has been lacking in since its inception.

With austerity ravaging not only Britain but the whole of Europe, it’s time for those hit hardest by the cuts – the young – to have their say and to take part in a new and radical democratic project. One that we hope will spread in the pursuit of a fairer, greener and less market-obsessed world.

Young people’s chances to engage in this age of mass youth unemployment and disillusionment are sadly few and far between. Thankfully, the Greens are turning that around.

Hustings will take place in London this Saturday 18th, 2.00-4.00pm at ICO Conference Centre, 22 Berners Street, London W1T 3DD. The European #GreenPrimary runs until the 28 January.

Josiah Mortimer sits on the National Committee of the Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green Party of England and Wales.

Tariq Ali on the rise of the ‘extreme centre’ in Europe – and the socialist alternative

[This report is based on Tariq Ali’s speech at Marxism 2012 on the ‘extreme centre’]

Since the early 90s, and particularly since the financial crisis, there has been a noticeable tendency for social democratic parties in the face of globalisation to shift to the right, a tendency most clearly seen with the rise of New Labour and the German Social Democrats’ Agenda 2010. Adopting programmes of neoliberal reforms intended to ‘restructure’ the workforce and move towards more deregulated ‘competitive’ markets has been the focus of governments both right and (nominally) left.

Tariq Ali, radical author and journalist, spoke about this at Marxism 2012 held early in July.

Ali described the phenomenon as politics of the ‘extreme centre’, pointing out that in denying choice and opportunities for opposition to neoliberalism, it represents a crisis of capitalist democracy.

Indeed, in Britain, the process began with Margaret Thatcher at the start of the 1980s, with the intention of destroying the institutions of the left – most notably, the trade unions, where membership has halved since 1980 to just 6.5m members today – still a significant force, but much weakened.

Tariq Ali makes clear however that this process has not been opposed by successive Labour governments – ‘we do not see any basic discontinuities from Thatcher, to Blair, to Brown and now Cameron’.

The sad irony of the Blair years is, for Ali, that even John Major, Conservative Prime Minister from 1992-97, was to the left of the ’97 Labour government, an opinion held not just by Tariq Ali but by John Major himself, a comment made while giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.

The decimation of the organised working-class by neoliberal restructuring has resulted in the ability of workers to exercise pressure from below to be significantly curtailed. ‘All the rights that were won…we’re all rights that were fought for from below’. The social democratic gains of the post-war era were, then, concessions, major though they were.

But such concessions are now a thing of the past – after the 1990s, the ‘ruling class’ said ‘no more concessions’. As such, social democratic parties as well as Conservative parties have embraced the ‘extreme centre’.

It is, though, since the financial crisis in Europe that the extreme centre has been universally embraced by mainstream parties, exemplified by the austerity packages of Pasok, Greece’s moderate ‘left’ party, and elsewhere by incumbent social-democratic governments in Spain and Portugal.

Ali outlines the rise of radical left parties, such as Syriza in Greece, in reaction to this anti-democratic merging of political ideology, but at the same time chastises the extremist purism of the KKE who ‘aimed 70% of their attacks on Syriza’ instead of the pro-austerity parties. Syriza, for Tariq, represent a real process of building the alternative to austerity in Europe.

Most shocking however, is not the behaviour of the KKE, the Greek Communist Party, but of the ruling class in Europe as a whole. This is exemplified for Ali by the German edition of the Financial Times just a day before the Greek election, demanding Greeks embrace the discredited pro-austerity parties. The editorial was published in German, and alongside it, Greek.

Working-class politics is under attack not just by the political elite but by a more frightening development – the rise of fascist parties, particularly Golden Dawn in Greece and the anti-Romany Jobbik party in Hungary.

The rise of the extreme centre in the 1990s and fascist parties since the financial crisis has however, as the case of Syriza shows, opened up opportunities for radical left-wing politics to re-emerge. ‘Fascist parties call themselves post-Fascist now. Let’s not be post-socialist.’

That, for Tariq Ali, is the appropriate response then – the clear communication of socialist ideas which put the blame for the financial crisis not on immigrants but on the bankers and speculators who have ruined Europe’s economy. In this, the big question is not which socialist party you belong to, ‘the big question is, what are your politics!’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continental shift: Europe’s unions and students unite

A report published less than two weeks ago by the prominent international free-market body the OECD argued strongly for wide-scale government investment in young people. The news should have hit the headlines. But the publication, Off to a good start? Jobs for Youth has been almost completely ignored by the mainstream press. The organisation which usually campaigns against any increase in government spending is now backing a massive programme of investment across Europe and other developed nations.

Youth unemployment across Europe has doubled in the past few years – from 20% to 40% in Spain, 10% to 30% in Ireland, and double the national figure for unemployment in the UK, at 19%. These are difficult times to be young. And in Cornwall, where unemployment is admittedly fairly low, opportunities outside of further and higher education still remain limited. Moreover, with some of the lowest wages in England it is hard to keep above the poverty line even if one does find a job. This is on top of the problems of accommodation and travel, particularly bad in the county. With housing benefit being cut, it is going to be even harder for young people to find a place to live.

But with the OECD’s apparent temporary break-off from free-market dogma, the EU has stuck to its worn-out deficit-hawk rhetoric. Youth training schemes work incredibly well in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, and it is time for other European nations to follow suit. The EU summit last week was dominated by the right-wing, a vociferous bunch in terms of economic policy who have backed the EU’s ‘Stability and Growth Pact’, which puts sanctions on countries not slashing public spending at a ‘fast enough rate’. The sanctions are then increased if the initial demands are ignored. This false reasoning adds debt to countries already deeply in debt for the sake of fiscal conservative ideology.

Are we to see a shift towards a more Keynesian approach in the coming years? Investment, along with general taxation, is going to be the most effective way of restoring economic stability in Europe. The programmes of austerity already being implemented in Greece and Ireland are causing untold levels of unrest, unemployment and instability. Unions all over the continent need to become much more active in the fight against austerity, and what we’ve been seeing in France is a welcome start. If France, with such a small percentage of workers unionised, can get 3.5m out into the streets to tackle the government’s proposals, then Britain certainly can. Public sector unionisation is at 60% in the UK – more than enough to shock the government to its core. Len McCluskey’s call for a general strike in the Guardian a few days ago should not be disregarded. Unison and GMB need to follow suit and speak out against the cuts with a radical voice. For too long unions have been frightened of challenging the government. Coordinated action, supported by local and national anti-cuts campaigns and the growing student movement, has the power to overturn the disastrous and malicious fiscal policies of the coalition. Remember: Heath was ousted in 1974 largely because of unions. With much lower union membership now, it’s going to be harder: but this time, workers have the students on their side.

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Read Counterfire’s excellent summary of the past month in student action here.