The Extreme Centre are never to be trusted especially when they mobilise under the banner of democracy, argues Lindsey German
I spent a little bit of time in Parliament Square on Saturday being interviewed about the People’s Vote march. I have always opposed the demand and to be honest, nothing I have seen or heard about the march has made me change my mind. It was a big march, that is true - not surprisingly given that it caught a mood with many of the remain voters who have always been in denial about losing the referendum campaign two years ago and who are in despair at the complete dog's dinner which is the Tory government’s attempt to create a Brexit deal. But it was not a march which will advance the left in Britain or elsewhere.
While one can sympathise with their opposition to the Tories on their version of Brexit, the campaign for a second referendum is totally misguided. The demonstration showed that this campaign is dominated by the rich and powerful, and was a vehicle for middle class protest, not the empowerment of the most radical sections of society.
It was a demo enthusiastically promoted and reported by all sections of the media. The figures from the organisers may or may not be correct. It looked to me considerably less than the 700k so dutifully reported. But the claim that it was the second biggest demonstration in British history is almost certainly false. It says more about the organisers and their determination to get beyond the Iraq war demo than it does about making an accurate assessment of history.
They have to admit it was much smaller than the Iraq war demo of 15 February 2003. Are they seriously also saying it was bigger than the mass demonstrations of CND in the 1980s, those of the suffragettes, the Kill the Bill demos of the early 1970s, the miners' support demos in 1992? Even if we compare demos in the 21st century, it was not bigger than the first demo after the Iraq war broke out (over half a million), the major TUC demo in 2011 or the mass people’s assembly protest just after the election in 2015.
The composition was not remotely connected to the organised labour movement or to the radical left. Many of its supporters and sponsors hate the left. Nick Clegg announced the day before the demo that he is now going to a high flying post working for multinational corporation Facebook in California. Labour MP Chuka Umunna is going to chair a think tank where his generous salary will be augmented by a very comfortable £400 an hour for the work done.
Does anyone think that Umunna and Clegg, who back every neoliberal policy going and who detest the idea that Jeremy Corbyn could be in Downing Street, are interested in improving the lives of ordinary people? Their main concern is to ensure a smooth path for British capitalism and they cannot conceive of this happening outside the EU. It is this identification of the EU with progress and prosperity which has led them, along with the war criminal Alastair Campbell and the Tory Rebel who never rebels, Anna Soubry, to launch this campaign for a people’s vote, which cannot end well.
The demand itself is flawed - if we want to give rocket boosters to the far right in this country then a second referendum would be exactly the way to do so. The argument that the politicians get us to vote and vote again if we don’t get the right result the first time would be overwhelming. In any case, what would it achieve? Another narrow vote one way or the other which would only continue divisions.
But even more flawed are the politics behind the march. It is clear, as it was for the one in the summer, that one of its main aims is to attack not the Tories but Corbyn’s Labour. From the awful Delia Smith leading chants of ‘where’s Jeremy Corbyn’ to David Miliband and Peter Mandelson paying for coaches to bring demonstrators to London, this demo was as firmly of the centre elite as it possibly could be. It was a demo funded, organised and promoted by the rich and powerful to service its interests. Just one example: last week the London Evening Standard carried a wraparound ad for the demo on every paper (cost £500k) and its Friday front page itself was on the demo. Their aim is to create a new centre since they believe Labour is lost to them under its left leadership.
It seems to me that this is not a march the left should support. Obviously, a number did, including people who I know do not support the politics of its leadership but who feel strongly about the remain issue. Here is not the place to rehearse all those arguments again and I obviously respect their right to hold their opinions and to demonstrate. But I think they made a mistake supporting this march. You may feel happy marching in a left bloc and you may feel immunised from the likes of Campbell and Clegg. But no one took away from that demo that there was a left bloc on it, no one heard any criticisms of the neoliberal EU, no one could escape the nature of those leading it and many who attended it.
And if the actual takeaway is more criticism of Labour than the Tories then you’re on the wrong demo.
It is time class entered centre stage into the debate
What the demo actually represents is an intervention in a ruling class row which has simmered since the referendum and which is now threatening to explode - although despite the dangers posed by her Brussels summit, May managed to yet again hang on - at least in part because the EU and most of the British ruling class don’t want a no-deal Brexit. As I said last week, however, even with extensions of time and promises of deals, May is running out of road and this is becoming increasingly clear to her party.
Rumours are again swirling that there are more MPs willing to demand a leadership challenge to her, and the Westminster talk is how few of her MPs actually support her. If this happens, there is only one demand - not a second referendum but a general election now. It is this the centre fears, as do the Tories, because the most likely outcome would be a Labour government. It is time that those on the left who voted in different ways in the referendum began to overcome those differences, and fighting for a left Labour government is the best way of beginning that process.
I fear that the demand for another vote allows the real class politics which need to come to the fore to be subsumed. The choice for British working people is more austerity in or out of the EU - or the change to reshape the economy and their lives by fighting for an alternative to privatisation, insecurity, low wages and war.
Only by bringing those class politics to the fore can we mount a real challenge, not just to May but to the pro-capitalist bipartisanship that has dominated the Tories and Labour for so long. To tie ourselves to one wing of the ruling class is only to abdicate any chance of this happening.
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
- Brexit, Boris and the battle ahead - weekly briefing
- An insurgent right can only be fought by an insurgent left – weekly briefing
- Theresa’s Titanic can’t be rescued by Labour - weekly briefing
- Solidarity with Palestine is needed now more than ever
- An election we thought we wouldn’t have, and a vote we shouldn’t have – weekly briefing
- It’s badly wrong when whistleblowers rot in jail but war criminals walk free - weekly briefing
- Referendum: first time farce, second time tragedy – weekly briefing