Wednesday, 22 June 2016

These Battles Can Be Won

Hats off to Sayeeda Warsi for providing us with some much-needed belly laughs in this referendum campaign. 

She professed to find Ukip’s breaking point poster “divisive” and “xenophobic”, and decided to join the remain camp as a result. 

Lady Warsi is horrified to discover that Nigel Farage is playing the race card. Where’s she been for the last few years? 

This is what Ukip does, and her defection has handed remain a powerful argument against those of us voting to leave the EU. 

I know about this because it’s often been used against me: how can a black lefty be on the same side of the argument as Farage? 

And my response has always been the same? I’m not leave with Farage – I’m leave with Dennis Skinner and a handful of other brave Labour MPs. 

Despite some very nice invitations to get involved in the official leave campaign, I declined. 

It was clear from the start that some elements would be unable to resist turning this debate into a migrant-bashing fest. 

As the daughter of migrants, I refused to get involved in that, even by association. 

Not only is it disgusting in principle, it’s not going to work either; remain are quite right to say that leaving the EU probably won’t affect migration that much, anyway. 

But I believe that migration policy, like all political decisions, should be brought back under the control of democratically elected politicians in this country. 

There’s no doubt at all that some opposition to the EU is racist, and such support should be disowned by any respectable political movement. 

The trouble is, migration has been the most visible index of social change in this country over the past 20 years, and has become conflated with other issues such as housing, jobs, services and pay. 

But no one is really arguing that their local hospital should be shortstaffed to get migration levels down, not even Ukip.

If we get the debate back into parliament, where it always should have been, and if the public feel that their votes count again, these battles can be won. 

The current tactic of telling those who are unhappy about migration “We feel your pain but there’s nothing we can do about it” doesn’t work.

Democracy does. 

This is why, for some of us, the referendum really boils down to a few simple questions. Do you believe in liberal democracy or not? Who holds power and who doesn’t? 

This isn’t a left/right issue, and it never has been. 

During the 1975 referendum, the leave argument was seen as “loony-left Bennite” nonsense; in 2016 it’s “loony-right Kipper” nonsense. 

In fact it’s neither. 

The EU is an undemocratic, unreformable institution that locks the UK into a social, political and economic model that can’t be changed. 

Many may agree with that model, but that’s a matter for voters to decide, not bureaucrats.

Small wonder perhaps that those who have benefited from this model are in favour of it while those who haven’t aren’t. 

Among my liberal, middle-class friends, leave is a kind of blasphemy against the true religion. 

But the many working-class people I know are finished with this way of running the UK, a model that always seems to benefit others and not them. 

Telling those millions without jobs or in insecure employment they’ll be unemployed if we leave doesn’t work. 

Nor does telling communities permanently in recession there will be a recession if we go. 

There’s something deeply unedifying about those doing well telling those who aren’t to suck it up. 

As any MP will confirm, there’s an ugly, anti-democratic mood developing on some doorsteps. “You’re all the same … it doesn’t matter who you vote for.” 

If the Labour party had stuck to its guns on the EU, it could have provided a channel for this widespread anger and used it as a foundation for a programme of democratic and economic renewal.

But that moment has passed.

I fear for the future of the party now as millions of Labour voters are told they’re dupes of racists and xenophobes.

Remain may win on Thursday, but I’m afraid the party I’ve always voted for may end up the real loser.

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