Tuesday, 12 February 2019

The Biggest Opportunity In A Generation

Katie French writes:

June marks three years since Britain voted to leave the European Union. Friends have fought, families have bickered, colleagues have clashed and last week, Donald Tusk condemned all Brexiteers to hell. 

But I have stayed silent. I’ve watched dinner parties descend into drama, seen a crowd at Glastonbury boo a Brexiteer and smiled tightly as pub discussions turned heated while clutching a gin and tonic thinking of Tony Benn. 

This is because as a self-confessed left-wing millennial feminist, I have committed the ultimate sin. The people I usually break political bread with will be horrified to learn that I *whispers and hides behind avocado stand* voted for Brexit. Or Lexit, as I prefer. 

You probably haven’t heard of a left-wing case for Brexit. This is because for the last three years, the case for leaving the EU has been dominated by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson on the far-right. 

From the beginning, politicians have offered the public just two sides to choose from: the liberal Remainers or the nationalistic Brexiteers. This has left Lexiteers unrepresented in the mainstream debate.

Figures show there is support for a left-wing case for Leave. In 2016, one third of Labour members voted out with two-thirds of Labour MPs now left representing constituencies who want Brexit.

In stark contrast, few Labour MPs have come out in support for leaving the EU. The gulf between Westminster and the electorate feels greater than ever.

It is no secret that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been a long-time sceptic of the bloc. But since the result of referendum, Corbyn has sat on the fence and appeared more concerned with placating his remaining-support MPs than providing a left-wing case for Brexit until he came out in support of Theresa May’s deal last week. 

As Joe Guinan described in the New Statesman, while Brexit has many parents, Lexit is an orphan. Poor little Lexit is the Tracy Beaker of political ideology waiting at the window of the Dumping Ground for sensible left-winger to look after her.

By contrast, the Stronger In campaign has guardians and parents aplenty. From actor Patrick Stewart to Tory MP Anna Soubry, the remain camp has enjoyed cross-party support and celebrity endorsements. 

Against a backdrop of racist rhetoric spewed by the right, it is unsurprisingly 73 per cent of young people sided with remain. 

Carl, a left-wing campaigner who works in the charity sector told me: ‘If you were undecided about how to vote and not a political nerd or a policy wonk, Brexit looked very clearly like a right-wing position. 

‘Remain on the other hand was the sort of position your sensible friends, teachers and business leaders were adopting. It is no wonder it has become the more socially accepted choice.’ 

But in the same way Vote Leavers are accused of being spoon fed their opinions from The Sun and the Daily Mail, Remainers are just as guilty of gaining their evidence from a narrow outlets: a J.K. Rowling thread or another Owen Jones op-ed.  

For me, voting to leave in 2016 was straightforward. Working as a local political reporter at the time, I was being paid to pay attention to politics.

While I have never belonged to a political party, I have always viewed myself as left-wing and feel the European Union as a damaging and failing project that puts businesses over people. 

While some of my remain friends get teary-eyed over leaving Europe, their lack of understanding means they have wrongly conflated the continent with the bloc. For their reassurance, geographically the country will be staying where it is. 

Similarly there is widespread confusion over what the term ‘freedom of movement’ actually means. To the middle-class Remainer, it is that life-affirming year in Paris or the ski season that changed everything. 

In reality it allows firms to move wherever they like, allowing them to exploit cheaper workforces and make use of states with fewer workers’ rights. Jaguar Land Rover is set to move more production from Birmingham to Slovakia for example. 

It also causes high youth unemployment in countries like Romania and Slovakia, forcing thousands to move overseas in search of jobs. Britain benefits greatly from this and often at the expense of other nations. 

I believe people should be free to live and work wherever they would like, whenever they would like. But it is shortsighted to believe intelligent graduates are leaving their loved ones and moving to the UK for the pleasure of ferrying spoilt, drunk Londoners from bar to bar. 

Time is ticking. In less than two months the country will leave the EU and arguing in pubs or pushing for dubiously-named referendums doesn’t seem like a valuable use of time. 

Regardless of how anyone voted, this is undoubtedly the biggest opportunity the Left has seen in a generation to build a fairer society free from the neoliberal constraints of Europe. 

However there is just one problem: unless Labour unites and starts campaigning for a clear vision post-Brexit, the opportunity will be swallowed up by the right and wasted.

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