Bastani: why won’t you debate Brexit?

Submitted by SJW on 30 May, 2018 - 11:12 Author: Keith Road
Aaron Bastani

Aaron Bastani, co-founder of online news platform Novara Media, has responded to an article in the Guardian on 26 May about calls for a debate on Brexit at the 2018 Labour conference... by trying to witch-hunt the AWL.

The article quotes three anti-Brexit Momentum members in support of the call for a debate.

On Twitter Bastani accuses the AWL of being behind a “plot” with the Labour right to destabilise the Corbyn leadership through a debate on Brexit policy.

To build up his ludicrous picture of an AWL plot, Bastani says Rida Vaquas, one of the activists quoted in the Guardian, is a member of the AWL. Rida has written articles for many publications, including Solidarity (but also the New Statesman). A glance at her output would reveal that she does not share Workers’ Liberty’s politics on quite a few issues. However, unlike Bastani, Rida does value democracy — hence her support for a conference debate.

Worse than not taking a young activist seriously enough to read her opinions, it is clear that Bastani wants to get her, and the also-quoted Omar Raii (who is a supporter of Workers’ Liberty), excluded from the Labour Party.

He has misrepresented our policy on the Labour Campaign for a Single Market. To be clear, the AWL is neither a part of, nor do we back, the LCSM.

Do both we and the LCSM want to see Brexit debated? Yes! Two years after the referendum on UK membership of the EU, there is a lot to discuss. In the first place, whether or not Labour should support Brexit in the light of the probable “deals” the UK could negotiate with the EU and the likely consequences of Brexit?

And what should Labour say, in or out of the EU, about freedom of movement? It is of course a complex issue, all the more reason for a debate! And for Labour conference to discuss the full range of views on Brexit and Europe.

So why doesn’t a champion of the newly invigorated and open Labour Party accept it would be a good idea for conference to have that debate?

Possibly Bastani doesn’t know what he thinks, having flip-flopped on the issue of the EU. He went into the referendum believing in the “Lexit” miracle, then changed sides and backed “Remain”. He had agreed to speak for “Lexit” in a debate with Workers’ Liberty at NUT conference 2016 and withdrew at a few hours’ notice.

Since the referendum Bastani has been a champion of the “will of the people”, condemning the “remoaners” and “remainiacs” for questioning the unclear and indecisive plans of the Labour leadership.

A debate or democratic challenge to the perceived wisdom of the leadership is worrying for people who are unsure or are scared of the leadership losing a vote. They think it will be a sign of weakness and could therefore lose Labour an election.

The last time we heard this kind of argument Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair were Labour’s leaders. The only difference between now and then is that even under Blair there were debates on contentious issues at conference (but the votes were ignored).

But can a Corbyn-led Labour Party really afford to ignore the majority of Labour members who oppose Brexit? At last year’s Labour conference Brexit was not prioritised for debate, after Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy pushed for it to not to be discussed. We would like to stop something like that happening again.

Twelve months on, there is now widespread disquiet about Labour’s policy on Brexit — from the left as well as the right. Labour is run by people who spent years fighting for democracy in the party, who should be able to see why debating this issue is important.

We are for a pluralist and open party, one that is genuinely committed to democratic debate and discussion. Bastani claims we are disloyal and hostile to Labour. This is ludicrous! Our political tendency has been fighting for a Labour government since our entire existence. The forerunner of Solidarity, Socialist Organiser, initiated the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory in 1978. All of this was before Bastani was born!

In the first place our loyalty is to the democratic traditions of the labour movement, which is why we express our views openly and honestly.

Loyalty to the Labour leadership without the prospect of challenge on issues of policy is dishonest politics, but, that apparently, is the place where Bastani finds himself most comfortable.

We have invited Aaron Bastani to debate us on “Can Labour stop Brexit? Should it?” at Ideas for Freedom on 23-24 June, or at a time he can make. We await his response.

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