Over 80 people turned out for a “Love Socialism Hate Brexit” meeting in Nottingham on 8 May, despite the Euro-election campaign being already underway. Many were students from the Nottingham Trent University, where the meeting was held. Every speaker from the platform, and almost every speaker from the floor, stressed their support for the post-2015 anti-austerity direction of the Labour Party, but deep concerned about fragmentation of Labour votes and Labour’s failure over Brexit to campaign against rampant nationalism.
Further “Love Socialism, Hate Brexit” meetings are planned in Streatham, south London, Beckenham, and other areas.
Labour for a Socialist Europe (L4SE) supporters have been out doing stalls on the streets with leaflets produced by L4SE arguing for a Labour vote on 23 May combined with a fight within the Labour Party for opposition to Brexit and support for a new public vote.
Labour’s official Euro-manifesto is poor. It talks of support for a new public vote only if the Tories push through a “bad” Brexit deal (as if the public shouldn’t be able to decide on whether the deal is “bad” or “good”), and is bland on other issues. But many Labour European candidates are clearly anti-Brexit.
The aim of the L4SE stalls is both to rally Labour votes against the threat from Nigel Farage’s Brexit party, and to identify and draw in people who will continue the fight within Labour for lower borders; free movement; and social, economic, and environmental levellingup across Europe. L4SE supporters are also using the L4SE leaflets in regular Labour canvassing.
Electoral law says that any organisation can campaign for or against a party in an election. As long as this is done without coordination with the party, this does not have to be declared as party expenditure. The organisation itself does not have to register with the Electoral Commission unless it reaches a certain level of expenditure which (sadly) L4SE falls short of.
The secretary of a ward branch or constituency Labour Party can’t advertise that she or he is using the leaflets at a canvassing session without a laborious, and in the timescale impossible, process of getting approval by the party machine. But if activists turn up with L4SE leaflets to a session, and choose to use them, that is up to them — no problem with electoral law. That activity, too, can help identify and draw in new people.
Despite the limits of L4SE’s resources, it is possible to make an impact, partly for the bad reason that generally Euro-election campaigning is at a low level. A large proportion of Tory activists are set to vote for Farage’s Brexit Party, but the Brexit Party has no established local organisations. In many areas official Labour campaigning is poor because activists are “Lexiters” (“leftBrexit” supporters) and opt out, or just because the activists, like the big majority of Labour members and supporters, are anti-Brexit and dismayed by the Labour leaders’ triangulation.
In some areas members have quit, or become inactive, over the Brexit issue. In Tooting CLP in south London, for example, there were 500 members pre-Corbyn. The figure went up to 2,500 during the 2017 general election. Now it is going down again. 400 members have left this year.
Labour Brexit front-bencher Keir Starmer said on 13 May that he would not be afraid to end the talks with the Tories this week if they do not budge on Theresa May’s so-called red lines. And he declared: “A significant number, probably 120 if not 150 [Labour MPs], would not back a deal if it hasn’t got a confirmatory vote”, i.e a new public vote.
That is an important move towards Labour breaking off its discreditable haggling with the Tories — done as if Tory Brexit would be acceptable with just a bit of tweaking on tariff regimes — and coming out plainly for a new public vote. But the outcome still depends on pressure and counter-pressure at the top of the Labour Party.
Seamus Milne, the chief figure in Corbyn’s “Leader’s Office” and a long-standing Stalinist, is pro-Brexit. And, as Stephen Bush of the New Statesman puts it: “Corbyn relies on Milne heavily — in meetings with the other opposition parties, the Labour leader tends to give a brief preamble and to leave the detail to his aide”.
L4SE is working to mobilise pressure from the base to tip the decision away from a deal with the Tories and towards support for a new public vote and opposition to Brexit. We need that to counter Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party, which now leads in the European election polls.
Farage is a far-right Tory. He himself says there is no difference of policy between his Brexit party and Ukip, only a difference of personnel and presentation. Ukip’s coming top in the 2014 Euro-election was the political jolt which set going this whole sordid story of immigrant-baiting, nationalist recidivism, and Brexiting.
Just on 25 April, an official report summarised the statistics: “Racially or religiously aggravated public fear, alarm or distress” rose 6% in 2018, 19% in 2017, and 17% in 2016. Organise to stop Farage pushing us another turn down that spiral!
Change UK = unchanged Tory
The group around Chuka Umunna, Change UK, had its start with seven MPs who split from the Labour Party in February. Some might think of it as a more anti-Brexit, clearer-against-antisemitism version of Labour politics, even if rightward-leaning. In the European Parliament elections, however, it is aligned with the European People’s Party, the main alliance of right-wing, Tory-type parties across Europe.
The EPP includes France’s Les Républicains, Germany’s CDU and CSU, Italy’s Forza Italia, and Spain’s Partido Popular. The British Tory Party was long a member of the EPP, until David Cameron pulled it out in 2009 as a sop to the Brexit-minded Tory right. Change UK’s one sitting MEP, Richard Ashworth, who is standing again, is an ex-Tory and a member of the EPP.