A vote to leave the EU seems a distinct possibility, and anti-capitalists need to ready for what lies ahead, writes Chris Bambery
The mood in Westminster is one of panic as Britain’s politicians awake to the prospect of a referendum vote to quit the European Union. Labour MPs are reporting back from their constituencies that Labour supporters are planning to vote to go. Pro-Remain Tory MPs are already criticising David Cameron for mishandling the whole thing.
Worries will be fuelled by polls like that carried out on line by the Bury Times showing 73 percent in favour of going and just 27 percent backing Remain. One Labour MP in the East Midlands said his experience on the streets was 90 percent support for quitting.
If the referendum is a vote to quit it is hard to overestimate what the fallout will be for Britain’s elite. Let’s just remind ourselves that big capital and finance, whether British or overseas, wants a vote to stay, as do the bulk of the political elite. But a large swathe of the population in England, and probably Wales,, not just are not listening to their masters, they are actively voting the opposite way from what they are being instructed because of their political alienation.
It is hard to see what the Remain camp can pull from their hat to secure anything more than a narrow vote to stay. A lot depends on whether Jeremy Corbyn can rally Labour voters to the party’s line of supporting the EU. Project Fear, the attempt to scare voters into remaining within the EU with all sorts of dire economic warnings of what will happen if you dare to leave, will continue up until the polls close. It hasn’t won over quit voters, and has angered many. The plan seems to be it can win over waverers who haven’t yet made up their mind – but there is also evidence that the politics of fear puts people off.
If it’s a vote to leave the EU we enter uncharted waters. Something incredible will have happened; big business will be detached from the majority of the population in England and, probably Wales. The preferred party of big business, the Tories, will have slipped its leash and looks set for civil war. Few in Westminster think Cameron can survive a vote to leave.
The possibility of the Conservatives going the way of the Liberal Party during the First World War, splitting and then entering steep decline, is there. Even if Cameron secures a narrow win sections of the Tory backbenches are so enraged by his conduct of the campaign it’s hard to see the party pulling together. If Cameron goes it is hard to think who will succeed him. George Osborne is yesterday’s man. An exit vote might usher in Gove or Johnson but they would face an embittered Cameronian rump.
The Blairites in the Labour camp hate Corbyn so much they will not miss a chance to turn on the leadership, blaming him for a quit vote. The leadership has got to be ready to come out fighting for its agenda.
A fragile economy
Further, a nightmare scenario opens up for Britain’s political elite. Whoever governs Britain will be consumed for two years with negotiating the terms of departure. Widespread predictions of a run on the pound and of an economic downturn are not just scare stories. The global economy is fragile and despite claims to the contrary so is the British economy.
One big worry is that investment, which has already dried up because of lack of returns will suffer further. Big state investments, like those on the railways, also rely on EU money. A paralysis of government and economic turmoil would be the perfect storm.
Political problems would also mount. If Scotland and Northern Ireland vote to stay but the majority is to quit what happens then? Personally I don’t think the SNP government in Edinburgh is confident of winning a second referendum but might be best advised to play a waiting game to see if the economy takes a hit, and if a Tory government headed by Gove or Johnson arrives. Then a referendum becomes a possibility.
On a wider front the usual scenario for a Brexit is that of the UK negotiating with a united, stable EU. But that is something else which can be thrown into the mix. Anti-EU sentiment is growing across Europe. A Brexit could fuel support for Marine Le Pen in next year’s presidential election in France. In Italy the frontrunner to win the mayoral election in Rome this weekend hails from the anti-EU Five Star movement. Last month the European Central Bank warned of the rise of extremist parties – of the left and the right.
Italy itself faces a banking crisis no-one seems to have a solution too, while nothing has been sorted out in Greece where the European Commission and European Central Bank have just been given power to appoint directors of the country’s banks. With a migrant crisis showing no sign of going away, and with a growing conflict in which Western forces are being drawn in likely to lead to more refugees trying to find safety in Europe.
So what is the point of this cheery tale? The left is not in a great state, in Britain, and across Europe but there has to be some thought of what lies ahead after 23 June. Anti-capitalists desperately need to come together not just to resist racism and austerity but to offer a vision for the future which offers hope. Whatever the result across Europe we need to start talking about a different Europe, one which is democratic and pro-welfare. That means ditching the current political structure of the EU and creating a constitution which empowers citizens.
Here in Britain we need to start promoting an economic agenda which rebuild a sustainable economy based on growth, investment and the rebuilding of an industrial base. Neither the Remain nor Leave camps have a strategy for that.
We also need to grasp what all this means for UK PLC. Incredibly, no-one in ruling class circles seems to have a plan in place for a Britain outside the EU, if that’s the way the vote goes. If the Tory party implodes that is of immense importance because since the beginning of the last century that has been the party of the ruling class.
The sense of panic in ruling circles about a possible Leave vote is very real. No wonder. Anti-capitalists need to ready for what lies ahead.
Chris Bambery is an author, political activist and commentator, and a supporter of Rise, the radical left wing coalition in Scotland. His books include A People's History of Scotland and The Second World War: A Marxist Analysis.