It’s time for our side to reassert a People’s Brexit and quash the creeping Remainers and their anti-socialist EU allies, argues Lindsey German
There is growing unreality in the debate round Brexit. The British establishment may be obsessed with the question but it isn’t getting much closer to achieving it. The Tory party remains as split as ever with even the cabinet divided into two working groups to discuss the issue. Theresa May is no closer to dealing with the rifts in her party over this, attacked as she is now by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Her repeated claims to ‘take back control’ are fairly meaningless given that she can’t even control her own ministers. The arch Brexiteers are still intent on a hard Brexit which means they hope a return to a mythical Britain of old, one which relied on free trade, kept out migrants and was economically self-sufficient. It has never existed. Their trade deals would care little for workers’ rights, ecological or ethical concerns, and although they are being posited as cutting the cost of food and so benefiting workers this is highly unlikely given that the main reason for expensive food lies with the profiteering of supermarkets and the big farmers - and in or out of the EU this will continue.
The other failure to look at reality lies with the continuity Remainers who regard leaving the EU as a complete disaster and who are trying desperately in a number of different ways to reverse the decision of the referendum nearly two years ago. They ignore the fact that the EU is showing, not least through its negotiating stances, that it is a ruthless entity which is increasingly determined to drive a hard bargain with Britain against the interests of the majority of its population.
The cat was out of the bag in a Times article last week which made it clear that the main reason for this hardline over trade and relations with the EU 27 is fear of the policies a Corbyn government would bring in. It says ‘Senior European officials have told The Times that concerns over Labour’s economic policies are the main reason for the EU’s insistence on a tough “level playing field mechanism” in a future deal after Britain leaves.’ They want to avoid public ownership in particular which they believe will be punitive for European companies now involved in running privatised areas such as utilities and railways and making huge profits for their shareholders.
The logic of Remain is to accept all of these strictures while denying that they can happen. At the heart of their campaign lies the embittered Blairites and their friends. Sunday’s Observer led its front page with the story about 1 million students wanting another vote on Brexit - in fact, it was 120 student union officials. And the House of Lords has played a role, with a major defiance of the Labour whip spearheaded by among others Lord Kinnock to vote for continued membership of the European Economic Area. Kinnock then launched an attack on Corbyn and made clear that he encouraged Labour MPs to defy him, calling his attitude a ‘serious evasion of duty’ and left opposition to the EU as ‘infantile leftist illusion’. You would think Kinnock would have a bit of self-awareness about attacking failings of other Labour leaders.
His record as Labour leader is second to none. He spent nine years as one, failed to win an election in 1992 which should have been an open goal, spent those years attacking the left and then went to an unelected position as EU commissioner followed by an unelected position in the House of Lords, similar to one of his allies Lord Mandelson. This week they will be joined by David Miliband, and no doubt a range of right-wing Labour figures, in continuing their attack on Corbyn over this.
They have little shame over their inability to convince their own former voters to support Remain. Indeed they simply ignore the reality of many Labour voters in a stance which almost certainly damaged Labour in some places in the local elections and which amounts to a denial of democracy. That is what a second referendum would mean, as would staying in the single market and as, in my opinion, would a customs union acceptable to the EU.
But they are not going to stop. They have money, power and influence and they are using it. Time to reinstate the idea of a People’s Brexit, one based on creating jobs, building infrastructure and widespread nationalisation. Because this whole debate is about what sort of society we want to see - one where there is far greater equality and where there is greater political control by working people. It would be disastrous for Labour to take any other position than this. In the event of a Corbyn victory, the EU Commission and Council would treat Britain in exactly the same way as it has treated Greece, and the only way to stand up to that is to reject its assumptions and membership of its club.
Union organising: what we do next
I was on the TUC demo last weekend in London. I thought it had a great atmosphere and met some new and old friends on it. But I do ask myself some questions, the main one being why wasn’t it much bigger? The TUC says it was the largest demo of many years. But that isn’t true. Demos on austerity, refugees, the NHS in the last two or three years have all been bigger, and it had little impact in mobilising beyond the official union machine. I think that’s partly the slogan - a new deal for workers - which is just too general and non-focussed to get people out of bed at dawn in Hull or Manchester.
In addition, it seems very driven from above, with lots of money but not enough grassroots organising, too little liaising with groups outside the TUC, and too little appealing to the large majority of the workforce who are not in unions.
Nonetheless, it did bring tens of thousands onto the streets and it got loads of publicity. Now we need to build on it in two ways: first to ensure that upcoming demos on the NHS and for Trump’s visit have a major trade union contingent. Second to find an answer to the question over why, if Jeremy Corbyn got 13 million votes in the election last year, there are only around half that number of trade union members? At least part of that lies in mass recruitment of young people. In my experience there is lots of talk about this but not always much happening. But we know when there is an effort, let alone when there are strikes such as in the universities or McDonalds, there is no shortage of recruits.
Trump and Netanyahu: conflict ahead
This week marks 70 years since the establishment of the Israeli state - and 70 years since the Nakba, or catastrophe as the Palestinians call it. It is 70 years since they were driven off land they had lived on for generations as a result of the formation of the new state. They have long demanded the right to return to their homelands, a right denied to them by the Israelis. Those demonstrating for this right at the Gaza border have been shot by Israeli troops, with many injured and killed. The history of that 70 years has been one of both hopelessness and resistance for the Palestinians. They are a huge refugee population, many in exile and often living in miserable conditions. Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan Heights have been illegally occupied since the 1967 war which resulted in Israeli expansion.
Netanyahu represents the right of Israeli opinion, and supports continued occupation and repression of the Palestinians, as well as the illegal settlements which are growing rapidly. His domestic political problems lead him to take an even more aggressive stand, not just with the Palestinians but over his growing conflict with Iran, in which he is backed by Donald Trump.
This week too, Trump is moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, again in defiance of international agreements; a move designed to appease the settlers and to further alienate the Palestinians.
What a tragedy this all is. Israel was seen as a haven for many Jews following the horrors of the Holocaust and the Second World War. But the original injustice of the Nakba has prevented that from being the case. Whereas Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together in the Middle East for hundreds of years, that has been eroded and is no longer the case. Cities with a major Jewish history and contribution such as Alexandria in Egypt no longer have a sizeable Jewish population, for example. The aim of a two state solution for the Palestinians is, it seems to me, dead. The only solution is a democratic secular state.
Trump and Netanyahu are pursuing policies which are not in the interests of anyone in the Middle East, regardless of their race or religion. They will bring more division, more likelihood of war, more injustice for the Palestinians. We should not forget that many Israelis themselves oppose these policies and have made stands in favour of the Palestinians. Much more may be needed from us all in the coming months
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
- Testing times, but no trace of a government strategy - weekly briefing
- No country for old men? – weekly briefing
- Trump goes viral - weekly briefing
- When Towering Inferno meets Groundhog Day - weekly briefing
- Protecting war criminals and torturers: the Tory bill and Starmer's shame
- Second time farce, but it will lead to tragedy - weekly briefing
- Where next for the left? - Lindsey German