Monday, June 20, 2016

Brexit, lexit and Lewisham: why I am voting 'Remain'

Political divisions arising from the EU referendum are shaking all political parties, and a little earthquake has rumbled the Lewisham left with a split in 'Lewisham People Before Profit'.  The group seems to have originally adopted a position of not taking a position on the referendum, but then 'People Before Profit decided at a special meeting on Wednesday 25th May to abandon it's previous "no policy" stance on the EU in favour of actively supporting the Leave campaign' (LPBP website). Among those who resigned as a result was Nicholas Long, the party's parliamentary candidate for Lewisham East in the last General Election. He is a supporter of 'Another Europe is Possible' which argues for a Remain vote on a left wing basis.

The row also seems to have precipitated the departure of another prominent member, the controversial Ray Woolford, who announced on twitter that he had resigned because of the way 'the EU vote was called and key activists forced out!'. Not sure if they've made up since, but Woolford is actually a keen advocate of the Leave campaign.

The precise details of this aren't really relevant, but this is a small local episode in the wider tragi-comedy of the 'Lexit' campaign - those on the left who are arguing for a vote to leave the European Union. By no means all the left beyond the Labour Party is supporting this position - the remains of the SWP following its 2013 rape allegation crisis and splits are pro-Brexit, while some of its more thoughtful ex-members take the opposite view (see for instance respected activist Jonathan Neale's passionate call).

Not sure I believe that the sky will fall in whatever the referendum result next week, the rich will still be getting richer, the poor will still be poor, there will still be housing shortages and refugees will still be dying in the Mediterranean. I can see why some people think it's not worth voting at all. I certainly don't think the EU is some paradise of peace, harmony and human rights, it is quite right to criticise, among other things, its approach to the thousands of deaths of migrants trying to reach its shores. It has played a highly dubious role in the imposition of austerity in Greece, even if technically this relates to the country's membership of the Eurozone common currency rather than the EU as such.

However, I can't see how any of this will change by leaving the EU. In the UK it is precisely the political forces who are most anti-refugee and pro-privatisation who are leading the Brexit campaign and likely to benefit from a Leave majority. In any event, the current state of global capitalism is not the result of a conspiracy by institutions like the EU - a go it alone UK would still be tied into all the other international relations of the market and its crises, like every other country in the world. The notion that a vote against the EU represents some kind of vote against 'neo-liberalism' seems to be a delusion, and as the referendum approaches its real political content has increasingly become about immigration, immigration and immigration.

There is one group of people who are going to be immediately affected in a negative way by a Brexit vote and that is people from other EU countries who have made their lives in this country, doing all the usual things like working, falling in love, sending their kids to the local school. I can think of many neighbours, friends, work colleagues etc. who this applies to, not to mention lots of people working in essential services (like this Dutch GP in Lewisham). I am sure they would not all be kicked out the day after a referendum, but they will be living with insecurity and ultimately if the same rules were applied to them as to people from other parts of the world (based on an income of £35,000+), around 80% of them would not qualify (see 'What Happens to EU Citizens Living in the UK If We Leave?' by Joseph Finlay). While some have hailed anti-EU sentiment as some kind of working class rebellion, the actual working class includes a high proportion of migrants, not to mention the descendants of previous generations who were born outside of the UK.

This applies more so in London than anywhere else in the country, and out of basic solidarity with my neighbours I have decided to vote to remain. 

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