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November 29, 2019

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A Second Referendum is No Route to Socialism

 

As predicted previously on The Full Brexit, in the present general election campaign, Leave-supporting socialists are coming under huge political and moralistic pressure to support the Labour Party, despite its anti-democratic drift into the Remain camp. Some left Leavers seem almost to have accepted that a second referendum is the price one has to pay for a Corbyn government, with one group claiming that “the road to a left transforming government outside the EU must now take that in along the way.”

 

If the price of a “left transforming government” is a second referendum, we wager that we will not actually get such a government. As explained previously on The Full Brexit, Labour’s shift to Remain is likely to be electorally disastrous, alienating four million of its own voters plus many other Leave supporters it needs to win over to capture seats currently held by the Tories. If the polls are to be believed – a big “if”, these days, admittedly – the Labour Party is failing to energise the electorate, despite its burgeoning spending promises. This is because many working people do not accept that free broadband and dental checks can compensate for their democratic power being hollowed out. However much they might need and want the socio-economic changes Labour are offering, they sense that the party is not truly on their side, is not truly trustworthy. Small wonder, then, that one poll shows poorer citizens’ support for the Conservatives inching past that for Labour.

 

Even if Labour can somehow form a government, its transformative potential will be scuppered by a second referendum. Labour’s policy is to negotiate a Brexit In Name Only deal, which most party elites have already committed themselves to campaign against. This is pure chicanery, designed to negate the biggest electoral revolt against the status quo in Britain for forty years, while hoping that no one notices what is actually happening. But British citizens are not stupid. This move will only compound the sense of betrayal already felt by many working-class people towards Labour, and fuel populist reaction. How can a Labour government possibly hope to transform society, which would require enormous popular mobilisation, when it has effectively demobilised and alienated vast swathes of the electorate? How can working people be empowered by a Labour government that has disempowered them, and gifted their class enemies a proven method to block the implementation of any vote they dislike in the future?

 

And how could a Labour government hope to transform society having kept Britain inside the EU, or – in a best-case scenario – so tightly bound to it that we may as well be members? As many articles on The Full Brexit have pointed out, EU membership, or the “regulatory alignment” ostensibly sought in Labour’s “credible Leave option”, effectively outlaw socialist policies. A Labour government threatening to soak the rich and redistribute shares to workers will face immediate capital flight. How can this be prevented in a Union which enshrines the freedom of capital to move across borders as one of its “fundamental freedoms”? How can a “national investment bank” be used to support meaningful industrial policy in the context of EU state aid rules? How can utilities and railways be properly renationalised and made to run for the public good in an EU that insists that state ownership is permissible only in a competitive marketplace?

 

The truth is that the Labour Party has no answer to these questions. When a Rail and Maritime Transport union activist pressed Shadow Transport Secretary to explain how renationalisation could be achieved within the EU, for example, he was leant on to shut up. Labour’s refusal to face the reality of EU membership indicates a profound lack of seriousness about genuinely transforming British society and economy. The left should be pressuring the leadership on these matters, not keeping silent and accepting a disastrous drift towards the status quo.

 

All serious left Leavers know how damaging a second referendum would be to our democracy, and to working-class support for Labour. The problem with the argument that a second referendum is a reasonable trade-off to install a “left transforming” regime under Jeremy Corbyn is that, in truth, it involves sacrificing both of these things. As one article accepting a second referendum points out, Labour’s drift to Remain involves “a sort of Popular Front with forces to its right”, which “never… further[s] the interests of the left”. By extension, anyone who accepts this move is being co-opted by the right wing of the Labour Party and forces to its right. It is their project to thwart Brexit, and their project to curtail the Corbyn project and, so far, they are winning. This deserves not pragmatic acceptance but resolute opposition.

 

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