STEVE SWEENEY says by joining calls to overturn the decision of the majority Owen Smith shows contempt for the 52 per cent who voted to Leave
TIME to “dissolve the people and elect another” seems to be the Brechtian response by many to the EU referendum result that saw 52 per cent vote for Britain to leave the European Union.
Unheard of until last week, Labour leadership contender Owen Smith has made a “second referendum” one of the central planks of his election campaign.
Almost certainly an act of political opportunism, Smith’s pledge locates the former Pfizer lobbyist firmly in the camp of the political elite.
Already outed as pro-austerity, pro-privatisation, pro-Trident and having spoken in favour of the Iraq war, comparing it to the International Brigades fighting Franco’s fascists in the Spanish civil war, Smith’s refusal to accept the outcome of the referendum result underlines the contempt that has been displayed by many toward the 17 million that voted to leave the EU.
Oona King was recently rebuked for her contribution in a House of Lords debate where she claimed that the population did not know what they were voting for — saying that it was only “fair and democratic” to hold a second referendum on the Brexit deal.
A legal challenge to Brexit is underway to prevent Article 50, which starts the process of withdrawal from the EU, from being triggered.
It is instructive that the lead case mounting the challenge is from an “investment manager and philanthropist” and is also supported by a group of businesses and an organisation styled “Fair Deals for Expats,” representing a number of Britons residing in France with no obvious sense of irony.
An online petition that gathered 4.1 million names calling for a second referendum has been rejected by the government on the basis that 33 million people participated in one of the biggest democratic exercises seen in this country and that the outcome of that “should be respected.”
Despite the result, like Owen Smith, there are still some MPs who have stated that they will use any vote to try to block the government from starting the process of leaving the EU.
One of the most prominent voices has been Tottenham MP David Lammy. In a display of contempt for the electorate, Lammy stated that “the referendum was was an advisory, non-binding referendum” calling for “an end to this madness” and for a vote in Parliament.
Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, who nominated Smith in the leadership ballot and represents a constituency where 73 per cent voted in favour of Remain, has also stated he would use any vote to block Brexit.
In a message following the referendum he tweeted: “Let me be clear. When the vote on the EU comes before Parliament, my vote will reflect the overwhelming result in Cambridge — to #REMAIN.”
This disdain for democracy displays an elitist “we know best” attitude and shows a total disregard for the electorate.
However, ignoring the result in such a way would be a dangerous mistake and could lead to something far worse and far more grotesque than Ukip.
Having been dismissed by many as racist or stupid, there has been a common theme that those who voted Leave must have been “duped,” whether on immigration or by the now infamous promise that leaving the EU would mean an extra £350 million a day that could be spent on the NHS, a charge that could easily be levelled the other way as many Remain voters believed the EU was a progressive force that protected workers’ rights, public services and was a bastion against racism.
But the statistics reveal something very different.
It was not racism or stupidity that was central to the Leave vote.
It was class — 77 per cent of areas where high numbers earn less than £23,000 voted Leave.
Forty-seven out of the 50 areas with the highest proportion of semi-skilled and unskilled workers also voted Leave. In fact by any measure the statistics show the class nature of the Leave vote.
Racism does not appear to be the principal driver of the referendum result, with the main reason at 49 per cent being “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK.”
In other words, a matter of democracy.
According to the Ashcroft poll, almost one-third of those who described themselves as Asian and one-quarter of those who describe themselves as black voted Leave.
This was the working class voting against the Establishment and an elite that has ignored them and left their communities without a voice while bearing the brunt of Tory austerity.
A failure to understand the nature of the Leave vote and ignoring the will of the people in such a way could have some disastrous consequences. At best it underlines just how out of touch they have become.
This would not be the first time that such a vote has been ignored.
France was the first country to reject the European Constitution in a referendum in 2005.
Following the “Non” vote, the EU Constitution was repackaged as the Lisbon Treaty and ratified by the French government.
The disaffection felt by the population helped further fuel the rise of the Front National under Marine Le Pen, following in the footsteps of her fascist father.
The same happened in the Netherlands, which also rejected the EU Constitution, and when Ireland voted against the Lisbon Treaty the EU threatened to withhold bailout funds if it failed to ratify in the second referendum.
We should reject calls for a second referendum.
The EU result gives the whole of the left and the labour movement an opportunity to mobilise for policies that would have been impossible as a member of the EU.
This means backing Jeremy Corbyn and his policies of renationalisation of the railways, of People’s Quantitative Easing, of building council housing, investing in our NHS, in securing terms and conditions of workers, of opposing wars and Trident.
In the leadership race only one candidate offers vision and a future for the 99 per cent.
Owen Smith offers a return to the politics of the old, the politics of war and austerity, the politics of soundbites and opportunism.
Like a snake-oil salesman, Smith’s attempt to force a second referendum is a false choice and would rightly be rejected by the electorate and would condemn Labour to almost certain defeat in a general election.
In order for a people’s exit from the EU, we need Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party and prime minister of a radical Labour government.