Massive demonstration against Tory Brexit
From Parliament Square to Trafalgar Square an estimated 700,000 people filled central London on Saturday October 20th protesting against the Tory Brexit writes Andy Stowe. It was the largest demonstration the city had seen since the march against the Iraq war in 2003.
The marchers were demanding a second referendum on Brexit now that the electorate has a clearer idea what it might actually mean in reality. The demonstration was organised by The People’s Vote, a group which mostly comprises sections of the Labour right. Some of its most prominent supporters like Chuka Umunna and Tony Robinson make no secret of their hatred for the Corbyn leadership. They invited the Tory MP Anna Soubry and the Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable to speak but there was no significant figure from the Labour left involved.
To carp on about this is to miss the point. 700, 000 people marched in support of freedom of movement in Europe and in opposition to the racist nationalism that pro-Brexit politicians encourage. As with previous and smaller anti-Brexit demonstrations there was the usual mish-mash of home-made placards, EU flags, union jacks and a lot of those rather distressing blue berets with the EU flag’s stars.
If you think this is problematic, consider what a pro-Brexit march would be like. It could only be an alliance of the hard right of the Conservative Party, Ukip and the emerging neo-fascist organisations. Pol
As on previous demonstrations on this theme the participants were mostly from the more affluent sections of the working class, the people who identify as European as much as British. If they are travelling to London to show that they reject Tory chauvinist nationalism that’s something for socialist to welcome.
If the People’s Vote demonstration had been small the campaign for another referendum would now be dead and the right would be triumphant. The turnout means that there is now a real pressure on MPs to support the demand for a second referendum. Should it happen, the left must call for the electorate to include those EU citizens who are currently able to vote in local government elections and everyone aged sixteen or older. This extension of the franchise to people who will be affected by the outcome of the vote is a basic democratic demand.
This was not a routine demonstration. The organised left was largely absent, there were very few Labour Party banners and only one union banner that I saw. Most of the marchers were not the usual marching sort. That’s an encouraging sign that the fight to stop the racist Tory Brexit isn’t lost yet.
This is not a reasonable analysis: the different reports and interviews with people on the march show that they are not people in the habit of going on antiracist demonstrations, but rather those who, following the lead of the vast majority of business owners in Britain, support the policies (even if in a confused manner) of the European Union. The crucifying of the Greek people by the European Union is enough to show the problems with this. The EU represents a certain, defined, speed of the march towards more neoliberalism and a purer dictatorship of profit, less and less sullied by social concerns. Leaving the EU, May hopes, will mean even more neoliberalism than that. Corbyn (and me) hope we can win much less neoliberalism. But defending the EU neoliberalism as if it it was internationalism is not correct, and is bound to attract organizations completely devoid of principle, like the Liberal Democrats.
“Consider what a pro-Brexit march would be like. It could only be an alliance of the hard right of the Conservative Party, Ukip and the emerging neo-fascist organisations.”
No socialist in their right mind would be seen dead on a pro-Brexit march along with UKIP and the Tories.
Yet you seem to be implying that Labour left and unions should have been on this one.
Since Socialist Resistance supported the march, can’t see that they are only implying that the Labour Left AND leadership should have been on the march.
The majority of Labour supporters and members, according to many polls, oppose Brexit, and are unhappy with the Labour leaders’ fence-sitting on the issue.
This is a separate issue to the problem of the referendum result and the democratic content of ignoring this.
When you get 700 000 people on a demonstration it’s self-evident that most of them are not in the habit of going on any sort of protest, particularly when many of them have travelled into London for that mobilisation. We normally take that as a measure of organisational success rather than grounds for complaint. In any case, Saturday’s demonstration was in practical terms a much more important protest against the hard right than the routine affair of a couple of thousand people the week before.
Equally most people don’t have a revolutionary socialist critique of the EU along the lines of “Socialist Resistance has long held the view that the EU is a reactionary anti-working class neoliberal institution and we are in principle in favour of exit from it.” Those who oppose Brexit appreciate that in the actual political situation we have today in Britain it’s exclusively a project of the xenophobic right. They are correct in that appreciation. In fact it’s pretty hard to find any socialist or progressive person outside the orbit of a handful of left currents who thinks otherwise.
“Saturday’s demonstration was in practical terms a much more important protest against the hard right than the routine affair of a couple of thousand people the week before.”
So it was more important to join a demonstration whose slogans and leadership come exclusively from Umunna, Soubry, Campbell et al, than to join the ‘routine’ protest confronting a violent far-right street-gang that has organized some of the biggest fascist demonstrations in decades over the summer?
I see absolutely no evidence that the ‘hard right’ in Britain feel any loss of self-confidence because of Saturday’s march. They already know that large numbers of people aren’t happy about Brexit, they just don’t care. If you consider the current Tory leadership and their media backers to be ‘hard right’ (fair enough), they’ve been working on the assumption that supporting Brexit will help them more than it hinders them, since they can get enough votes from people who either voted Leave, or don’t care enough about the EU to abandon the Tories. They will assume that the people who marched on Saturday won’t vote for them anyway. Let’s see one piece of evidence that the London march has given them pause for thought, a single statement where they even pretend to show some interest in what people on that demonstration think.
On balance I think they’ll see it as a net gain: by far the greater part of the bile from PV spokespeople (politicos like Umunna and Soubry, plus their social-media outriders like Jolyon Maugham, A. C. Grayling etc.) is directed against Corbyn and Labour, not the Tories. We’re looking at an ‘anti-Brexit’ movement whose leading figures all care far more about preventing a left-wing Labour government than they do about stopping Brexit.
“Those who oppose Brexit appreciate that in the actual political situation we have today in Britain it’s exclusively a project of the xenophobic right. They are correct in that appreciation. In fact it’s pretty hard to find any socialist or progressive person outside the orbit of a handful of left currents who thinks otherwise.”
This conflates people who voted Remain in 2016 (the vast majority of the British Left, indeed) with people who want a second referendum now to overturn the 2016 result. In fact there are only a handful of left currents demanding that Labour get behind the People’s Vote movement. There’s lots of talk about the position of the Labour leadership being at odds with the grassroots, but very little sign of any organized pressure or protest against that position from Labour supporters.
As the report above says, ‘the organised left was largely absent, there were very few Labour Party banners and only one union banner that I saw’. There’s a reason for that. From what I can tell, the great majority of people on the Left a) didn’t vote for Leave in 2016 and would be happy if the referendum had gone the other way, but also b) don’t think stopping Brexit is so important that it comes ahead of any other political task (such as electing a left-wing government). Brexit under long-term Tory hegemony would be a disaster. Britain outside the EU with a left government would be a different matter. I know full well the PV leadership would be happy to see the Left smashed into pieces for a generation if that was the price of stopping Brexit (in fact they would see it as a two-for-one bonus). Socialists are going to have different priorities of course.
You can also add to a) and b) a third factor: disbelief that a second referendum would deliver what anti-Brexit campaigners want. There seems to be a general attitude from PV supporters that Brexit is self-evidently wrong and foolish and people will just see that and vote to Remain by a landslide second time around. Where is the evidence for that? Not in the polls, anyway. More than two years since the referendum and ‘Bregret’ is still wishful thinking. Unless things change significantly, I’d be fairly confident that a second referendum would result in a Leave victory (and if the people leading the Remain campaign are the same as the ones leading the PV campaign, I’d be even more certain of that). Even a narrow victory for Remain would be a mixed blessing at best (what’s to stop Leave campaigners demanding a third go?). A second referendum resulting in a Leave victory would destroy any chance of softening the impact of Brexit, and destroy a left-wing Labour Party (much to the delight of Campbell, Umunna and co, I’m sure).
I think Phil Burton-Cartledge was spot-on in these two posts:
“Bits of the organised left are involved. Progress had a wee contingent. The AWL were on the march. And there were plenty of other Labour people as well. They were nevertheless politically marginalised, were not given the opportunity to make a left case for a second vote, and are airily ignored by the movement’s elite organising nucleus. Those bits of the left who marched, for whatever reason, are effectively hangers on on a movement they have no input into or hope of influencing. When your literature is basically “Brexit is bad and we need to pressure Jeremy Corbyn into a second referendum”, that’s not about to contest the leadership of your Chukas and your Woke Soubz. Again, this isn’t to say a left wing position on a second vote is impossible, but that whatever it can say is smothered by the simple and straightforward demand of the movement’s leadership.”
(And this is coming from someone who attacked the ‘Lexit delusion’ just before the referendum: http://averypublicsociologist.blogspot.com/2016/06/the-lexit-delusion.html).