How do we respond to the right wing chorus over Brexit and the threat of Farage to organise a 100,000 strong march? Should we line up with the pro-EU centre of British politics that would like to overturn the referendum result? Seb Cooke argues here that we can only undermine Theresa May’s ‘Brexit for the rich’ by creating a movement for a ‘People’s Brexit’ that places pro-migrant anti-racist anti-austerity politics at its very centre.
The racist right is trying to radicalise. One of its key figures, the millionaire Leave funder Aaron Banks, gave an interview last week in which he criticised each of the UKIP candidates for trying to move to the centre. Banks was unsure about the viability of UKIP if it headed in this direction and clearly felt that instead of trying to gain broad appeal, the party needed to radicalise in the wake of the referendum result. This week we have seen just what that looks like, with Banks and Nigel Farage announcing a demonstration outside the Supreme Court when it rules on whether or not parliament should trigger Article 50. This new strategic direction by the hard right is one we should take seriously and consider carefully how we might combat it.
One response that was on offer over the weekend but which was totally inadequate came from the pro-EU centre of British politics. They were reacting to the right wing press’ attacks over the high court decision that parliament should trigger Article 50.
First of all, we should be completely opposed to the hysterical and homophobic reaction from the likes of the Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Express towards the three high court judges involved. However, it’s doubtful whether or not this represented some kind of qualitative shift from those papers’ regular gutter attacks on, for example, Muslims. Also, the reactionary offensive against Corbyn (which was been supported by the likes of the pro-EU Guardian) is arguably more of a threat to our democracy than the headlines that appeared on Friday morning. Regardless of the finer points though is how we actually deal with this serious threat from the racist right.
Several figures from the centre of British politics have tried to deal with it by being outraged mainly at the treatment of the judges and little else. They complain in a fairly abstract way that our wonderful democracy is under grave threat. In doing so they forget that this wonderful democracy is failing so many people in Britain today and as a result isn’t cherished in the way they imagine. By making this their main point of contention with the right, they leave themselves open to being attacked as part of an establishment that is seeking to overturn the result. Of course, we have to oppose the right wing attacks that we’ve witnessed, but we need to do so with a focus on the politics around Brexit, instead of being pinned against a wall and forced to defend the very highest sections of the British state’s judiciary.
The dangers of not doing this were highlighted by Keir Starmer’s appearance on the Today Show last Monday morning (1 November). The shadow Brexit minister talked about everything but what’s at stake with a Tory Brexit, getting stuck instead on sticking up for the apparently divine process of UK democracy. In the end, he was unable to give a coherent response on how Labour would oppose the Tories over Brexit. He seemed far more concerned with standing up for the legal system than he did in standing up for ordinary people against the government. This position is of no use in combating the right.
Our response to the likes of Nigel Farage, Aaron Banks, the Daily Mail and The Sun has to be much better. Instead of rushing to the defence of sections of the establishment that find themselves under siege, we should be hounding the racist right over the kind of Brexit they want. Revolutionary socialists should be the ones saying that the reason the hard right oppose the high court decision is that they want a Tory Brexit of less workers’ rights, more attacks on migrants and further deregulation and privatisation. It is by fighting on this terrain that we can win the argument and weaken the far right’s ability to build broad support for their reactionary agenda. We also need to pull away their potential support by demanding a different type of exit from the EU and reject moves by those who want to overturn the result by demanding a second referendum.
There are signs that The People’s Assembly Against Austerity will look to organise an event around the theme of a ‘People’s Brexit’. This could be a very good initiative and hopefully can be mirrored where I am in Wales and elsewhere. As well as focussing on the big political question thrown up by the referendum, the events can also focus on concrete issues such as housing, the NHS and anti-racism.
It is the demand for a ‘People’s Brexit’ that must be raised in response to the Leave.eu demo and those who are behind it. Farage has said that he hopes to mobilise 100,000 people for his march. We should take that claim seriously, but not so seriously that we treat it as a forgone conclusion. The far right have had trouble mobilising in Britain recently, so let’s not lift them to a position that’s totally out of step with reality. If Farage gets much less than 100,000 it will be a total embarrassment, seeing as he has set out his stall on that figure. With that in mind, we should be thinking about how we can delegitimise the demo and reduce the turnout as well as how we respond on the day. His audience is clearly the Leave vote, and with those kind of numbers in mind (and to build the kind of movement he wants), he isn’t thinking about the Leave voters form the Tory shires: he’s targeting the working class section of the Leave vote who feel massively failed by our political system. This has to inform our response.
There is a temptation to have a broad, anti-racist demo and campaign with whoever is opposed to Farage. This by its very nature could include several figures from the pro-EU centre. To be so broad, this movement would at best be non-committal about the idea of Britain leaving the EU and at worst have several elements seeking to overturn the vote. If we were dealing with a march that was called against a Mosque for example then this kind of very broad response would probably be called for. But while Farage’s march will be racist, it has been called over Brexit and that is an important distinction we should make.
An approach that runs the risk of linking up with Lib Dems out of mutual disgust with Nigel Farage would be a mistake. I can’t think anything more beneficial to the racist right than if the left were to link up with the joint architects of austerity. We may as well open the door and allow the disenfranchised to walk straight into the reactionary arms of Aaron Banks.
Politics and ideology have been thrown into a state of flux since the referendum. We need to respond with a pro-worker, anti-austerity, anti-racist message that forms around the idea of a People’s Brexit. This has to be contrasted with the Tory Brexit that Aaron Banks want to see. We need to do everything we can now to say that Bank’s march is a march in support of Theresa May’s Brexit, a Brexit for the rich. Our vision is much different.
In developing this programme, we need to build the broadest possible support right up to the Labour leadership (who have been shown to be vulnerable to pressure from the right but who are key allies).
A lot of people who supported Remain are not in favour of overturning the result, and will be open to working on the basis of a left wing exit from the EU even if they remain pro-EU. There will be those however who can’t support a People’s Brexit platform because they simply don’t want any Brexit ever. While I sincerely hope those people would join in with such a campaign (and we should constantly be having friendly arguments for them to do so), we can’t allow ourselves to be compromised by a position that seeks to overturn the result. It would be a big mistake to fudge the question of whether or not Britain should leave the EU under the guise of unity. To do so would be to seriously weaken our ability to fight against the right and pull away their support.
No to a Brexit for the rich! No to a Europe for the bosses! For a Brexit and a Europe for the people!