A million on the streets of London

There’s no doubt that some of the most high-profile people involved in organising and speaking at the March 23rd People’s Vote demonstration comprise a real rogues’ gallery writes Andy Stowe. Michael Heseltine, Alastair Campbell and Anna Soubry all have a lot more in common with each other than they do with the Corbyn leadership and the overwhelming majority of Labour members. Quite how many of the million people who filled central London to reject the racist Tory /UKIP Brexit were drawn by the prospect of hearing the likes of Jess Phillips or Vince Cable is open to question. Very few is the most probable answer.

A hint that the demonstration was going to be massive had been given in the days running up to it. Millions of people had signed an online petition to parliament calling for a debate on revoking Article 50 and remaining in the European Union (EU). At the time of writing more than four and a half million have signed it.

Most of the demonstrators were there with family and groups of friends. This wasn’t the typical left protest with stewards shouting out the approved slogans. As is now standard at anti-Brexit events, EU flags vastly outnumbered Union Jacks and this can only be understood as a conscious rejection of the British nationalism which drove the Tory / Ukip Brexit. We don’t share this uncritical view of what the EU actually is and have said so repeatedly over many years, but in the given circumstances the gesture is intended as a progressive one.

Hostility to Corbyn was noticeable. The people carrying the main banner at the front of the march were happy to be filmed for TV news chanting “where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” Several marchers had produced homemade placards holding him and Theresa May jointly responsible for the potential hard Brexit. They are certainly right to be frustrated.   He should be loudly championing the call for a second referendum and arguing with voters who voted Leave last time to support Remain. 

Saturday’s demonstrators were almost all potential and actual Labour voters. They were socially liberal, pro-freedom of movement and anti-racist and if Corbyn had turned up on the day and announced he was going to do it he’d have put himself at the head of both the Labour Party and a progressive mass movement. Instead he’s demoralising his own supporters.

It was left to Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader to make the case for a new referendum. Under normal circumstances a deputy would be assumed to be speaking with the authority of the leader, but everyone understood Watson was conducting a hostile factional manoeuvre and aligning himself with the Labour right.

One sign that a left group of MPs has coalesced in favour of a second referendum was the participation of Kate Osamor, Clive Lewis, Marsha de Cordova, Rachel Gaskell, Lloyd Russe]l- Moyle and Chi Onwurah in the left bloc co-organised by Another Europe Is Possible. They all identified themselves as Corbyn supporters who disagree with him and want him to stop equivocating. Theirs are the voices he needs to listen to if he wants to be prime minister.

In the interests of balance, it should be pointed out that there was a march in favour of Brexit happening at the same time. Nigel Farage’s tragi-comic version of the Jarrow crusade was continuing its 270 mile trudge from Sunderland to London. He orated to an audience of about 200 in a pub car park and you can be damned sure no one dared mention migrants’ rights or defend freedom of movement.

Under a different leadership the London demonstration could have united the struggle against the Tory government with the campaign against Brexit. But it’s obvious, whatever the intentions of the organisers, that having a million people on the streets protesting against the Tories’ main project weakens them. Labour needs to press home that advantage.

6 Comments on A million on the streets of London

  1. ‘In the interest of balance’it would add to this article and the analysis of yesterday’s march if mention had been made of the fact that the First Minister of Scotland addressed the Rally, and that probably most of the people who travelled from Scotland would not be Labour voters(as a result of Labour’s position on Scottish Independence). Nicola Sturgeon as the leader of the third largest party at Westminster, rightly called out the leaders of the Tory and Labour parties for not listening to the voice of progressive people.

  2. Dave Whitney // 24th March 2019 at 6:54 pm // Reply

    The EU referendum campaign of 2016, and the outcome of the vote, stirred up xenophobia and racism, effects with which we are still living. It seems to me that a second referendum campaign would strengthen the far right, as would the outcome, whichever way it went.

    A second referendum would provide an opportunity for the nasties to conduct more racist propaganda, and even if they lost, they would gain traction by crying “foul” and claiming to stand for democracy.

    I did not like the result of the referendum, but we have to accept that it was democratic.

    Furthermore, it seems to me profoundly anti-democratic to sign the petition calling for the revocation of Article 50. Those signing are calling for the government to ignore the result of a referendum, the decision of the House of Commons, and the Manifesto pledges of both the Conservative and Labour Parties, to ignore the existing democratic processes, a call which provides grist for the propaganda mills of the far right.

  3. Good point, Joan. SR needs to do more to get coverage from a Scottish left viewpoint.

  4. The ruling class don’t feel troubled by BREXIT it is proving a useful distraction for them from
    Tory austerity, from food banks, from the run-down of public services including the NHS, schools and the massive cuts to council budgets and the social services they provide.

    It has got nothing to do with the working class, BREXIT is a fight between opposing factions of the ruling over laws made by their representatives not ours. The fisheries are not our fisheries they are theirs the land is not ours, it is owned by a tiny very rich minority who are part of the ruling class. BREXIT has people cloaking themselves in national flags, symbols of
    national chauvinism.

    BREXIT is not a workers fight, why should Jeremy Corbyn be walking about with centrists and Torys? I voted remain as I saw BREXIT as did Socialist resistance as a project of the far right but the anti BREXIT show is now a vehicle for centrists inside and out of the Labour party, to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s very modest reformist political program.

  5. Alan Thornett // 26th March 2019 at 9:41 am // Reply

    Dave Whitney argues that is ‘profoundly anti-democratic’ to sign the petition calling for the revocation of Article 50 – a reference to the current petition currently approaching 6m signatures. Those signing, he says, are calling for the government to ignore the result of a referendum, which also Theresa May’s principle mantra. The same arguments would apply to a second referendum.
    The problem with this is that it reduces the democratic process to a snapshot on a particular day and under particular conditions, and after that you are stuck with it whatever happens and however much the circumstances change. Surely the right of people to change their minds is as much a democratic right as taking the decision in the first place. Democracy has to be a process and not a single event, not a single vote and then ‘hard luck, too late, you took the decision three years ago and you will have to live with it’.
    It is true that the 2016 referendum campaign, and the outcome of the vote, stirred up xenophobia and racism – massively in fact. It is also true that the xenophobic right would be furious if the decision of 2016 was overturned. But there is no way out of this situation without a very nasty confrontation with the xenophobic right other than to stand aside and let them complete their deeply reactionary project. Nor should we be intimidated by their threats.
    There is another reason as well. The 2016 referendum result has lost all credibility. There is now a huge credibility gap between what people were told in 2016 and what has now become extremely clear in the course of debate. The British border in Ireland was not an issue in 2016 yet it soon became clear that Britain cannot withdraw from the EC and become a part of a different regulatory regime unless Ireland had been reunited in advance. Bravado statements about this does not resolve the problem.
    At the same time two million young people (who have by far the biggest stake in all this) have come onto the electoral register since 2016 – enough some argue to change the result in and of itself. There is a huge demographic scandal taking place. Old people (those over 47 to put a figure on it) are deciding the future of young people whilst blocking them from having a say.
    The importance of a second referendum (whichever way it might go actually, although the indications are that it would go for staying in) is that whatever direction it sets starts with a public endorsement – either a re-affirmation or a change. Without such a vote the debate will go on for years as to what people really wanted when the decision was taken.

  6. Patrick Black // 26th March 2019 at 9:50 pm // Reply

    The Left is very divided on Brexit.

    Yes, Brexit is a move by and from The Right due to a split in the British Ruling class about the future direction of British capitalism and imperialism.

    It nevertheless affects and involves us all.

    However,You cannot turn a Brexit into a Lexit.

    The Far right are attempting to capitalise on it by trying to divide working class people by using racism, Nationalism, British patriotic bollocks, widespread alienation and the deep disillusionment with politics and politicians that exists in British society.

    The Left,the anti racist/anti fascist movement must unite and challenge and oppose them at every turn.

    The Tories have used Brexit to bore the public and millions of voters and non voters to death while at the same time it has conveniently served to obscure, distort and camouflage the full extent of the massive scale of damage and destruction caused by this Tory Government’s brutal and insipid privatisation and austerity cuts programme across the board and across the country.

    The Labour leadership in my view has had to be pragmatic and has been been wise to play ‘Brexit’ the way it has, given the split in the Labour vote with the largest number of Labour voters voting Remain but also the large numbers voting Leave.

    It can little afford to divide and alienate any voters or potential voters, nevermind alienate and divide Labour voters.

    It must try to hold it’s support base together and inspire and encourage many many..many more people to vote Labour to WIN the next General Election which could be happening very soon.

    It has made it’s agreed party conference policy and strategy clear and consistent and has been very clear and responsible about opposing any kind of No deal Brexit which would clearly be disastrous for millions of jobs and the economy.

    It is now clearly saying that if there is a majority for one of the non binding ‘indicative’ votes in The Commons then if ‘accepted’ that should have to be ratified by The People in a vote. How that can come about is impossible to say given the chaotic fluidity of this particular moment and the perilous unchartered waters we are in.

    The not fit for purpose Theresa Thatcher May and this disastrous and dire Tory Government are teetering on the edge and are close to falling.

    Clearly the best outcome obviously is for a snap General Election to be called and for Labour to unite and mobilise it’s huge membership and it’s vast voter base and take this brutal, failing,inept and negligent, chaotic ,callous and corrupt and crisis ridden, vile neo liberal, austerity driven tory shower of shite outfit to the fucking cleaners !

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