A “People’s Vote” for the people?

27th October 2018


 A people’s vote? Protesters in London march against Brexit

Over half a million people descended upon the streets of London last weekend to demonstrate in favour of a vote on whatever Brexit deal is finally agreed, the hidden agenda clearly being to campaign against any deal and force a rethink on the whole Brexit process.  The People’s Vote campaign brings together Tories, right wing Labour, Greens and Liberal Democrats in a coalition of those disaffected with the outcome of the June 2016 referendum.

The organisers have made much of the lack of media coverage, given the scale of the demonstration and have, justifiably, criticised the BBC for its reporting priorities and adherence to ‘balance’, which saw a minor gathering in Harrogate, featuring Nigel Farage, gain airtime alongside the bigger London protest.

However dubious the BBC’s editorial approach, and they do love any opportunity to give Farage airtime, in this instance two wrongs do not make a right.

The People’s Vote campaign premise is based upon the assumption that the EU is a good thing and the equally questionable presumption that a second referendum would lead to a vote in favour of remaining in the EU.

The June 2016 referendum itself, although close, did result in a vote to leave and there is nothing to suggest that the conditions which led to large parts of the country expressing their disaffection and voting that way has changed significantly.  With millions living below the poverty line, public services crumbling, transport infrastructure in disarray and austerity continuing to bite, whatever Theresa May might say, there is nothing to suggest that turning back the clock to the day before the 2016 referendum would improve life for the majority of people in the UK.

On the contrary, 40 years of EU membership, compounded by the 2008 banking crisis has brought the UK and much of Europe, to the position it is now facing.

The People’s Vote campaign reflects much of the post war social democratic consensus that capitalism can somehow be made to work for all of the people, not just the few at the top and, that by clubbing together in an ever expanding union of European states, this goal will somehow be achieved.  Currently on their third tranche of bail out and having to sack thousands of public sector workers in order to meet payments to the international banks, it is unlikely that the people of Greece would agree.

The 40% of young people under the age of 25 who are unemployed in Spain would probably have a different view.

Having been signed up to a failed consensus it is little wonder that voters across Europe are turning to parties which promise to deliver on their behalf, provide easy ‘answers’ to their problems, such as blaming immigrants for lack of opportunity, and generally take a critical view of the EU hierarchies and bureaucracy.

People know from their own experience that their lives have not improved greatly over the past 40 years.  In the UK alone, we have seen the demise of comprehensive education, underfunding of the NHS, the selling off of council houses, mass unemployment, zero hours contracts, university tuition fees.  The list goes on.  Being in the EU has not stopped any of that. Why should people believe that sticking with the same deal will make it better over the next forty years?

If the demagogues of the so called populist parties, such as the Front National in France, the Five Star Movement in Italy and right wing government in Hungary and Poland, are not to consolidate their positions the Left needs to articulate credible alternatives to their views and those of the EU bureaucracy.

The EU will remain for as long as it suits the interest of the banks and corporations which back it.  As we saw with tragic consequences in the 1930’s they are quick enough to change allegiance if they see a new centre of power emerging.  The only way to stop history repeating is to make that alternative centre of power a true expression of people power.  That will take more than a so-called people’s vote, it will take the people demanding a real people’s socialist alternative to the both the EU and the right wing demagogues.



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