The Left Sees That Austerity Has Fuelled The Far Right – But So Do Calls To Undermine The EU Referendum Result



THERE are lots of things I love about the radical left: its compassion, its thirst for justice, its passion and its ability to dust itself off and start again.

But last week I saw a side that makes me feel sad and uncomfortable, and that’s its tendency to judge and hector others without fully trying to understand them.

George Galloway, a stalwart and some would say infamous character of the left and a Lexiteer through and through, has announced he will be lending his vote to the Brexit Party. I’m sure Galloway knew his decision would be met with strong condemnation, and it was. His argument is clear.

He wants Brexit delivered, and he believes a strong performance for the Brexit Party will send a signal to the Remainers in Parliament who either support a second referendum or revocation of Article 50.

The argument for him not to do this is also clear. Nigel Farage is a fascist and a vote for his party legitimises him and his views. I’m not a Lexiteer. I’m a Remain-voting Eurosceptic who can see both sides of the Brexit debate and have found it impossible to settle firmly on one side or the other.

That means, however, I can empathise with people on both sides of the divide. It also means I believe people, whether they voted Remain or Leave, deserve electoral representation.

It would be the utmost naivety not to see the EU elections as a de facto second referendum. Both Remainers and Leavers are selling it as such. Leave parties consist of Ukip and the Brexit Party.

Remain parties consist of the Greens, the Lib Dems, the SNP and Change UK. When it comes to the two main parties, the choice for voters is not so clear cut. The Tories are in disarray and can’t decide which type of Brexit they want and are on the verge of a change of leader.

Labour, which had a clear policy in the last general election to respect the referendum result but to mitigate its impact, now has a policy of supporting a second referendum either as a last or first resort, depending on which MP is being interviewed at the time.

We as members might know what our policy is but it seems we left it open for interpretation depending on whether the MP interpreting it is an ardent Remainer or is opposed to a second referendum.

This leaves Remain and Leave voters at home confused and unclear as to the long-term consequence of voting Labour in regard to EU membership.

Increasingly high-profile MPs like Emily Thornberry are now saying we must have a second EU referendum under all circumstances, including on a soft Brexit deal negotiated by Labour, even if it gets through Parliament.

We have MPs like Jess Phillips, who seems to appear on TV more than any other MP, saying Labour is the party of Remain and now MEP candidate Andrew Adonis is telling Leave voters not to vote Labour if they want Brexit — a comment worthy of suspension, in my view.

This understandably leaves Leave voters feeling that their Brexit vote is under threat if they vote for Labour. I personally believe many Leave voters are happy with a softer Brexit compromise but they are completely averse to a second EU referendum that they see as an Establishment stitch-up, especially one between Theresa May’s widely hated deal and Remain.

We could argue till the cows come home on whether they are right to feel this way, but the fact is they do. So if a voter wants to send a crystal clear signal in the EU elections that they want Brexit delivered, they are left with Ukip and the Brexit Party.

Labour needs to own this and take responsibility for it, the way the Blairites needed and failed to accept how they created a political vaccum that the Corbyn-supporting left filled, or how New Labour needed and failed to acknowledge the part it played in losing us Scotland or millions of voters who went to Ukip or stopped voting altogether.

The left has been excellent at analysing how austerity is fuelling the far right, but has a blind spot when it comes to how its support for a second referendum is doing just that.

The left loves to say: “You can’t appease fascism” — but fascists are not born, they are created. They are human beings who have lost their way, and can be set back on the right path.

My racist nan was not evil or a terrible human being. If she was alive today, I think she’d probably have voted Ukip, but she was a person of a certain generation and saw foreigners as a threat to a way of life she was accustomed to.

If she was born in modern times, she might not have been racist at all. My relative who became scarily obsessed by immigration when she read the Daily Mail, is now happily supporting Corbyn and has lost her obsession.

Just like it’s better to prevent cancer than treat it, it’s better to prevent fascism than deal with it once it’s taken a hold, and the left had the perfect opportunity to do that, by tackling the hopelessness it feeds on by ditching austerity and investing in our citizens and country, and by respecting the EU referendum result.

That’s why, to the shock of everyone, we snatched away the Tories’ majority in 2017. A third of the Ukip vote came to us, instead of to the Tories as everyone had predicted.

That was a huge achievement, made possible by our inspiring manifesto and our pledge to honour the referendum result so many of those Ukip voters had voted for. They trusted us. Now we are standing on the brink of damaging that trust, maybe forever.

Thirty Labour MPs recently wrote a letter to the leadership, urging Jeremy Corbyn not to torpedo any Brexit deal negotiated between the Conservative Party, by insisting it is put to a second EU referendum.

Such an insistence will likely result in the deal failing to get through Parliament because the majority of Tory Remainers are opposed to a second referendum.

I fully support these Labour MPs. They recognise the importance of being seen to have done everything possible to deliver Brexit. People might argue that we will be letting Remain voters down if we don’t back a second referendum, but Remain did not win.

If you lose a race, you are always going to be less sore if someone doesn’t come along a week later to say you can re-run it and next time you may win, than if you won the race and the decision is made to re-run it in the hope you’ll lose next time.

Angry, disaffected, disenfranchised Leave voters will make more prime fodder for the likes of Tommy Robinson than Remainers who didn’t get their way over a second referendum.

This isn’t about appeasing fascism, it’s about preventing it. When Germany was subject to the humiliating treaty of Versaille after World War I, to ease off on that humiliation would not have been appeasing fascism, it would have prevented it.

It would have helped douse the fire. The treaty gave the fascists a legitimate grievance to latch on to. The same will happen if we reverse Brexit. I repeat, fascists are not born fascist, they are created.

To make it crystal clear, I won’t be voting for the Brexit Party. If a party has Farage in it, I could not vote for it. I’m Labour and will be voting Labour as long as it has a socialist leader.

And I understand why people are angry with Galloway and feel he’s legitimising Farage with his decision, though arguably you could say a left presence in this new party might water down some of the Farage narrative the way the Blairites in our party water down ours.

But at the same time we need to ask ourselves why anyone on the left would consider voting for the Brexit Party, and not just shout “you’re legitimising a fascist” at them.

We might consider Farage to be a fascist and understand his wily ways, but the ordinary voter might be less aware. They’ve seen him on TV condemn Robinson and condemn the most blatant racists in his party, and many will see just him as someone who wants control of immigration.

Telling them he’s a crafty jackbooted fascist with a frothing hatred of foreigners is not going to pull them back from the brink of a vote for the Brexit Party, if they feel he’s about as fascist as their great-aunt or granddad who goes on about too much migration, especially as the Brexit Party has framed itself as a single-issue party.

Shaming them won’t work either. Telling them they are stupid or bad will just put up barriers between us and them. Attempting to reassure them as much as possible that Labour is not trying to sabotage Brexit, and that the People’s Vote section of MPs in the party are outnumbered by those who either oppose a second referendum or would only countenance one as a very last resort, will be essential if we are to prevent a Leave-voting haemorrhage.

But be prepared for our reassurances to be repeatedly undermined by the likes of Jess Phillips and Tom Watson.

The truth is, there are very mixed messages coming from Labour over Brexit since conference, and that’s why I cannot stomach this anger and moral outrage towards Galloway when it’s not being accompanied by a huge dose of self-reflection, empathy for the predicament left Leave voters are in, and recrimination towards ourselves over how we as a party paved the way for Farage to have his day again.

Blairites like to blame and shame Labour members for not voting for them. Let’s not make the same mistake with Leave voters.