After a bleak week, Lindsey German surveys the pre-referendum terrain and offers some starting points for future campaigning
We're less than a week before the referendum vote and the political situation is pretty grim for the left. The campaigns on both sides are dominated by the right and the racist genie is well and truly out of the bottle. Whatever the result next week that will not stop on June 24th whoever wins. Indeed I think we can guarantee more calls on Jeremy Corbyn to agree to restrictions on immigration and more Tory policies on race, Muslims on migrants.
The horrible murder of Jo Cox is not only terribly upsetting in itself, it also shows the danger of racism and fascism, and indeed of the way that those ideas can led to an escalation of individual terror and strategies of tension in society.
In this situation we should all be looking ahead at what happens after the vote. The first point is that the left has to get serious about this. We are facing major threats ideologically and politically: of racism, fascism, greater austerity and attacks on workers. Whichever way we vote, we can probably agree that the EU is not going to be a garden party but will renew its attacks on workers particularly in Southern Europe.
So it is disappointing to see some of the comments on social media which sink into a sneery sarcasm, or moralise at those who are taking different positions. As people know, I am strongly for Leave from a left and internationalist point of view. Many friends disagree. We are not going to change one another's minds; indeed in many cases we agree on most things apart from the actual vote itself.
But we have to respect each other as people who have thought through the positions and genuinely come to the conclusions that we have. I know many people voting Remain, and some abstaining, and I know that they are not doing so lightly. They have thought about it. None of us are doing it to strengthen capitalism or racism or side with one lot of Tories against another. So please let's not characterise others like that.
Two other points we should avoid. One is reducing working class people to the role of unthinking racists if they vote Leave. Some people on both sides are racists. But many are not. They are fed up with being ignored, with seeing their living standards fall, with growing insecurity. They want change and they see this as a way of getting it. Nor should we confuse education with intelligence. The majority of people in this country have not been to university. It doesn't make them less able to decide on issues. Often the opposite.
Final point is this. We need independent socialist and working class politics. When I see journalists like Polly Toynbee today make no criticism of Cameron's racism (most recently over Sadiq Khan but he has a long record), I just find it so dishonest. We're not about backing one wing of the Tories against the other. We must build socialist organisation which has something to say to people who are suffering so much, not just tell them they have to put up with it, and vote every five years, as Toynbee does.
This is a turning point in British society whatever the vote. For the left to benefit we need to organise, not tear ourselves apart over this. The convoy to Calais, Chilcot, the teachers and lecturers' strikes. And fighting racism. All the way to build the left, defend Corbyn and defeat all the Tories.
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’.
More articles from this author
- Time for the big picture - election briefing 19 November
- Fire, floods and emergencies: these are what the election is about - election briefing 18 November
- Immigration: it’s not about statistics, it’s about racism – election briefing 15 November
- Unelected judges deny the right to strike - election briefing 14 November
- Bolivia: whose side are you on? - election briefing 13 November
- The nasty parties unite to stop Corbyn - election briefing 12 November
- The world turned upside down - election briefing 11 November