The Brexit Party’s theft of Corbyn’s anti-establishment thunder cannot be allowed to stand, argues Lindsey German
Who would have thought it? After three years where there has been little movement on the decision to leave the EU, a party which is campaigning for that to happen, and which calls itself the Brexit party, is climbing in the polls and may well beat Labour into first place in the Euro elections on 23rd May. Headed by the far-right politician Nigel Farage, the party is projecting itself as an honest, democratic outfit, fielding non-white candidates and some from the erstwhile left in order to appeal to voters across the board who voted leave.
No one should be fooled by that. Farage has a long history of racism and cheap demagogy, and his policies would do nothing to help working people, combining scapegoating and prejudice with support for privatisation and austerity. He is no ‘man of the people’ but public school educated and a former stockbroker. He looked finished after the 2016 referendum, but has been revived by the increased perception that MPs and the majority of the establishment are trying to sabotage the Leave vote and many of them are campaigning for a second referendum (or confirmatory vote as it is now euphemistically called).
Given that many of the conditions such as austerity, deindustrialisation and distrust of politicians which led to the Leave vote are still there and have in many ways got worse, however, Farage has seen his moment and gone for it. His party looks set to push the Tories into 4th place or even lower in the Euros, and he is also taking some votes from Labour voters including those who regard themselves on the left.
Those who have been pushing for a second referendum seem particularly perplexed by this but it has always been obvious that treating the 2016 result as if it simply hadn’t happened, or treating the result as the work of ignorant and stupid people, would help to strengthen the likes of Farage. He has approached the question very differently from his former colleagues in UKIP who have moved even further to the right, and campaign on an openly Islamophobic and racist programme. Their standing in the polls is very low, and hopefully will remain so, but they are hardening up a far-right politics, as is the fascist ‘Tommy Robinson’ who is standing in the North West.
Farage has understood that he can appeal to a wider electorate on the simple ‘Brexit betrayal’ argument, and that is paying off. But he has not changed his spots and will use any electoral success to further his reactionary and racist politics. And any success that he has will be used to further his far-right political project.
Where does this leave the two main parties? The Brexit party is a catastrophe for the Tories. All accounts suggest mass temporary desertion of its voting base to Farage, and according to some polls, this might become permanent. Given the already weak local roots of the Tories, this would mark its demise in some places, with major implications for its future as the established party of the British ruling class. Brexit’s success will further deepen the Tory crisis and lead to the rapid departure of May.
Labour too has problems with Brexit, but not in the same league as the Tories. You wouldn’t think so from the media, which is claiming that both parties are in equal trouble. This is rubbish. In general, Labour’s projected vote in the Euros may be behind Brexit, but it is about the same as the Tories and Lib Dems combined, in an election where it never does particularly well. It is going to come first or second and this in itself is a major achievement when it is trying to devise a position which talks much more about class politics and so is losing votes to both leave and remain parties.
The calls for tactical voting should be dismissed for the chicanery they are. There is only one party that can beat Farage and that is Labour. Those who call for an alternative vote for the Lib Dems or the miserable Change UK – or even for the Greens, who have been too willing to get close to the Lib Dems for my liking – are ignoring this fact. No surprises that the latest to spout this is Tony Blair, who has called for discontented Labour voters to support alternative Remain parties in the election. (This may be one of the lesser of Blair’s crimes, but this surely should mark the point at which he is thrown out of a party which he has done so much to damage.)
The best way to counter Farage is not by giving him airtime on the BBC, not by urging a vote for Lib Dems or Change UK which backed the kind of austerity policies that have led to such anger and despair, but by coming out fighting for a left Labour alternative. Jeremy Corbyn’s speech last week which defended migration and talked about some of the issues facing working class people was a step in that direction. The best thing for Labour is to take these issues into the local areas, with big rallies to match the size of those being held by Farage, but with a message that is the complete opposite – one of equality, workers’ rights, and against scapegoating.
The problem is that Labour has been looking less and less like an insurgency. That’s bad enough, but now Farage is claiming the insurgency mantle. Labour needs to get back out on the streets, arguing and campaigning across the country.
It could start with campaigning over the report that many of the country’s richest people – all of them billionaires – are threatening to leave the country if a Corbyn government makes them pay more taxes. It says a lot that this is the headline around the publication of the new Rich List, rather than the scandal that so many people are so rich while we have issues of inequality, housing, poverty and crumbling public services. This will not harm Corbyn as long as Labour fights back. You can bet your life that Farage will have no problem with the rich.
Trump, Pompeo, Bolton, Netanyahu: armed and extremely dangerous
Being on the demo with so many in solidarity with the Palestinians, and with the brave young Ahed Tamimi there in our midst, was a boost for all of us who have campaigned on the issue for so long. It is clear though that it was not a moment too soon, as the leaked ‘deal of the century’ between Trump and Netanyahu made clear. It is going to further annex Palestinian territories, control Jerusalem, and deny the Palestinians any control over their land, lives and future.
It underlines finally the death of the idea of two separate equal states. That is not going to happen and we have to say so. It’s no good implying that these are two alternate options and it is just a question of preference which one we choose. The only way that can bring justice for the Palestinians and ensure full equality for all regardless of race or religion is one democratic secular state where everyone has the same rights in every area of life.
This is anathema not just to Netanyahu but to Trump and his two top foreign policy crazies, Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. They are determined to press ahead in support of Netanyahu, while at the same time turning the screws on Iran through withdrawal from the nuclear deal signed four years ago, and by ratcheting up sanctions aimed at destroying Iran’s oil industry and thus bringing about regime change.
While the EU leaders don’t like this, they will not stand up to the US and so are stopping much trade with Iran. Trump has now sent two warships to the Gulf to intimidate Iran, and Pompeo, in a remarkable piece of chutzpah on a recent trip, accused Iran of ‘interfering’ in Iraq. All this is a prelude to military confrontation with Iran, and here Israel will be centrally involved. Israel has an estimated 200 nuclear weapons, a fact rarely commented on.
Trump is trying to reshape the Middle East in US interests, with control of oil and other resources, as usual, high up among their priorities. By the time he visits Britain next month, we could have an even more serious situation in the Middle East, with war looming. Time to build on the mobilisation on Saturday and ensure Trump registers our opposition in no uncertain terms.
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
- Tories 3-0 down in the culture wars – weekly briefing
- Better safe than sorry you believed Boris – weekly briefing
- ‘Blame the Muslims’ is the new cry from Labour – weekly briefing
- What a HanCock up! – weekly briefing
- Tories fail, Starmer flails - weekly briefing
- The Ratline and The Good Germans - book review
- Trans rights, women’s rights and open debate – weekly briefing