Photo: Pixabay Photo: Pixabay

The left should be the champions of democracy, but Labour backing a second referendum lets the right claim it instead, argues Lindsey German

The people most happy with Jeremy Corbyn’s statement today which commits Labour to a second referendum (not in all circumstances yet but that will come) must be Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. The Tories will portray themselves as the democrats and respecters of the referendum, and Farage will make his pitch in those areas such as Doncaster and Sunderland where the Tories cannot win but where the Brexit party certainly could.

There is little good to say about the decision. It makes it harder for Labour to win an election and serves to demoralise those Corbyn supporters, of which there are many, who – even if they voted Remain – do not want the result of the referendum overturned. Many of these people understand that if Labour is seen as overturning the referendum result it will lead not just to a haemorrhaging of Labour voting support but to a level of disenchantment and anger which can be channelled in all sorts of direction, including to the far right. 

The writing has been on the wall for some time now, not just with the egregious People’s Vote campaign, funded and led by the Westminster elite who don’t give a damn about ordinary people’s lives, but by whole swathes of the left whose obsession with a second referendum above all else blinds them to its consequences. 

The call to overturn a democratic decision is by turn patronising and contemptuous. Patronising because its constant refrain is that Brexit will be bad for Britain economically. Maybe it will, but these people don’t seem to have noticed that the auto and steel industries face problems internationally, that there are many signs of an international economic crisis brewing (look at the Deutsche Bank sackings). Wherever Britain ends up vis a vis the EU, that is not going to change – nor is the austerity which Leave and Remain politicians have both signed up to. 

At the heart of this on the part of many Labour lefts is a shoddy piece of triangulation which goes like this: only a minority of the votes Labour lost in the EU elections (a highly unrepresentative election btw) were from Labour Leave supporters, so we need to worry more about those who voted Remain. In addition, polling shows the people who feel most strongly about Leave are likely to vote for the right, and Labour Leave voters care more about other issues such as austerity and education than they do about Brexit. Those who deserted Labour over Remain, on the other hand, care more about this than every other issue. 

So that’s ok then? Those who make the loudest noise, who sneer at the stupidity of Leave voters and who have less to worry about materially (and we can assume that all three categories are represented here) get their way, while those who voted Leave and won, let’s not forget, are told to suck it up. 

I wonder how many of the union members in the major unions who have endorsed this voted to Leave- we never hear the figures but my hunch is that many in the north, Midlands and south Wales did so. Certainly, I know anecdotally that substantial numbers of union members voted Brexit. These are people who were on miners’ picket lines or support the NHS and who have been ignored and disparaged by Labour. It doesn’t bode well for the election which is surely coming. 

There is a great urgency here which the 2017 manifesto of a People’s Brexit began to address. Now it will take far more than warm words and promises to end austerity to deal with the grievances so many feel. 

We need to foster the individual strikes going on, build movements against austerity and organise for real change among working class people, whichever way they voted. The left also has to be the champion of democracy, and not allow that mantle to be stolen by right wingers.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.