It is up to us

Last week I talked about the need to be realistic and not to chase our own Remain/Rejoin version of sunlit uplands complete with the attendant rainbow coloured unicorns. This week I thought I would address one of the two keys tasks that we have to achieve in order to fulfil our goal of reclaiming our rightful place in the European Union.

That task is to persuade the political establishment in Westminster that we need another referendum, something which is very topical given Kier Starmer’s comments earlier this week about not revisiting the past.

Starmer’s comments show that we cannot just assume that such a referendum will be forthcoming if Labour were to gain the keys to Number 10 in 2024 despite the fact that we repeatedly hear that Starmer himself is pro-European and that the Labour Party membership is overwhelmingly in favour of our EU membership.

The situation within the Liberal Democrats may well be better, but it is still concerning from our point of view. Motions have been passed at both the recent Spring conference and at last year’s Autumn conference that confirm a policy of seeking EU membership. But for some reason the party leadership seems most reluctant to say anything that is even close to being unambiguously in favour of that EU membership. They seem to skirt around the subject without giving any form of clear commitment.

I am sure that I don’t need to say this, but even though until very recently the majority of Tory MP’s supported EU membership, the situation within the Tory party currently appears to be beyond hope from our perspective.  It is difficult to see how any support for our cause would be forthcoming from within the ranks of the Tory party at present given that many of the most prominent pro-Europeans such as Michael Heseltine,  Dominic Grieve and Ken Clarke were thrown out of the party for standing up to the likes of the ERG over Brexit.

Furthermore, I strongly suspect that many, if not most pro-Europeans have subsequently left the Tory party, especially as Aaron banks and Leave.EU have been openly boasting for some time about how they have infiltrated the Tory party and orchestrated the deselection of pro-European Tory MPs. The Tory party is presently firmly in the grip of the far right.

Given these circumstances within the Tory party there therefore seems to be just two possible viable scenarios where we might be able to secure a further EU membership referendum following the next general election, but both scenarios require action from us.

The first scenario is for the Labour Party to win the next election with a commitment in its manifesto for another referendum. That would require us to put forward a motion to a Labour Party conference placing that commitment onto their agenda, something that would no doubt be opposed by many  in the Labour Party.     

The second scenario would be for a hung parliament where the party or parties holding the balance of power insist on a further EU membership referendum as part of some form of deal to govern the country.  Whilst that insistence could come from the SNP, they would understandably be more interested in a further referendum on Scottish independence. That insistence would therefore need to come from the Liberal Democrats if we wanted to be reasonably certain that a further referendum would come about. However, given the current ambiguity and apparent reluctance to openly commit to Rejoining, that insistence would need to be formalised as party policy via a motion put forward by us to a Liberal Democrat party conference. Again, that would no doubt be opposed by many.

In either scenario we therefore need to do two things. Firstly, we need to build up the pro-European community within both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, and secondly, we need to persuade both parties to pass our motions.  

We have made a start on both these issues. Our Labour and Liberal Democrat political sub-groups are active and growing. But we need them to be far bigger and far more active within both parties.  

Earlier today I ran a poll in our main Facebook group. Of the 1250 individuals who took part in the poll only 400 indicated that they were members of political parties, and of those, only 100 were active within those parties.     

We need to improve both ratios if we are to succeed. I would therefore urge everyone reading this to consider joining a political party and becoming active in that party to help us achieve that second referendum.

We also need to start presenting arguments for why we think there should be another referendum.

Those arguments need to convince both the politicians of the need for another referendum and also the wider electorate.  We also need to carefully consider what those arguments should be. Any arguments we put forward must avoid the charge that we just want another ‘go’ because we ‘lost’ the argument the first-time round. Such arguments are easy for our opposition to counter and for wider electorate to ignore.

We therefore need to put forward a substantial reason for insisting upon a further referendum, and that reason needs to focus around the legitimacy of the events of 2016 as our opponents will struggle to counter them, and the wider electorate will find it increasingly difficult to ignore them, as long as were are consistent and persistent.

Whilst we have started building these arguments, the survey that we started earlier this week has already demonstrated how much work we still have to do. For example, the preliminary results show that around a third of our own politically active Remain/Rejoin community are unaware of the fact that the Leave Campaign broke data protection law in 2016 and around 15% are unaware that they broke electoral law.

If so many members of our own politically active community are unaware of such issues, the lack of awareness amongst the wider electorate will be considerable.

We have to change that and we have to change the policy of both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Starmer’s remarks earlier this week showed beyond doubt that there is no cavalry coming over the hill to rescue us.

It is up to us.  

Remain and Rejoin Unicorns

Remainers and now Rejoiners often talk about Leavers wanting their sunlit uplands filled with rainbow coloured Brexit unicorns. Often this colourful narrative appears to have its roots in the lack of knowledge demonstrated by Leavers when they discuss the EU and how it works which rarely bears any resemblance to reality.

On other occasions, this narrative stems from a failure by Leavers to appreciate the realities of a world where Britain is no longer a superpower that can get its own way with the use of gunboat diplomacy. For example,  in a world where the EU has arguably the largest economy in the world, the EU does not ‘need us more than we need them’ and we do not ‘hold all the cards’ in any particular set of trade negotiations, especially those with the EU.

Whilst Remainers/Rejoiners have a much more realistic concept of the UK’s position in the world post Brexit and indeed are often far more knowledgeable about the EU, this does not necessarily mean that there are no Remain or Rejoin unicorns running around in our version of those same sunlit uplands.

Possibly the best example of this to date has been the idea floating around for most of last year that Starmer was just biding his time and had some sort of cunning Baldrick style plan up his sleeve to get us back into the EU. I lost count of the number of times I heard people say give Starmer a chance, or he has to win round his own people or once he has won the election he will take us back in to the EU.

With hindsight most of the Remain/Rejoin community now recognise just how wrong those hopes were with the reality of the situation really hitting home when he instructed his MP’s to vote in favour of Johnson’s deal over Christmas.  

But for many months this was our very own unicorn running happily around our own version of those same sunlit uplands. Consequently, the issue of Labours position on EU membership is only now becoming apparent and for many months we as a movement did nothing to advance our cause within the Labour party. Worse, during that time we also allowed our opponents free reign within the party and we are now faced with the very difficult task of bringing the Labour Party back over to our way of thinking on the issue of EU membership.   

Given the difficulty we will face with that task as our opponents now appear to be very well entrenched in positions of power within the Labour party,  it is important that we do not make similar mistakes in the future. Sadly, however there are one or two other Remain/Rejoin unicorns running around.

Perhaps the foremost of these is the notion that somehow an alliance of progressive parties will be formed to sweep away all opposition before us, including the current Tory Government. For our movement, this notion is concerning in two ways.

Firstly, it ignores the important issue of the cross-party nature of our movement. 35% of Remain voters in 2016 voted Tory the previous year, and although that figure had fallen dramatically by December 2019, nearly one in five Remainers voted Tory in the December 2019 General Election. Put bluntly, a significant proportion of our own support base does not want to see a progressive alliance.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, this notion assumes that Starmer will wish to become involved in a progressive alliance of some sort. Why would he? For Starmer and his advisors to be interested in such a proposition they would need to be of the opinion that the only way they could win an election was as part of such an alliance. Why would they think that?  

The Labour party is a major political force in this country with considerable resources, a developed infrastructure and an entrenched political support base. They will think they can win on their own right up until the moment the result of the next General Election is announced.       

Similarly, another Remain/Rejoin unicorn is that all we need to do is persuade the Labour Party to embrace PR and change the electoral system and all will be well, as in the General Election after next, pro-European parties will sweep into power.

Again, I would ask the same question. Why would Starmer and the Labour Party change an electoral system that gives them an advantage? Yes, PR may be a fairer way of electing a Government, but there are valid arguments against PR and very strong reasons why both our main parties would wish to keep the current system unchanged.

It may well prove possible to persuade the Labour party that they should commit to changing our electoral system however we need to be realistic. There will be significant opposition. Furthermore,  given the cross-party nature of the Remain/Rejoin movement, many of our own supporters will be opposed to any such change meaning we would risk alienating large sections of our own support base by supporting such a change.    

Another example of a Remain/Rejoin unicorn is the popular idea within our movement that Leave voters will all of a sudden see sense because of the tremendous damage that Brexit is inflicting upon us.

That Brexit will inflict such damage is beyond doubt, indeed considerable damage has already been done. The issue however is linking that damage to Brexit in the minds of Leavers, particularly against the background of the pandemic. The pandemic will mask much of that damage and make its cause difficult to ascribe. After nearly three months elapsing since the end of the transition period there is no sign of a major shock to the economy that is directly and clearly attributable to Brexit.

Frankly I do not think we will see such a shock, rather, what we will witness is slow inexorable economic decline. That doesn’t mean to say that a shock will not happen, or that it has to be economic. The break-up of the Union via Scottish Independence could cause such a shock and we may shortly find out how likely that is with approaching Sottish elections.

But even if we see Scottish independence, I am far from convinced that will provide the required shock. Rather disparagingly we often refer to Leavers as ‘Little Englanders’. Whilst we should not be so disparaging there is possibly some truth in such remarks. Looking over data from the last census I noticed that the only areas in the UK where a majority of people declared themselves to be British were certain areas of Northern Ireland with the majority of people in England describing themselves as English.

That makes me wonder just how many Leavers really would be concerned about Scottish Independence to the extent that it changed their views on Brexit.  

The upshot of all of this is that we must be realistic.

We cannot count on the Labour Party suddenly coming over to our way of thinking on Europe, or riding to our rescue as part of a progressive alliance or by supporting PR. If we want the Labour Party to support EU membership, we must work to change their views inside the party and outside.  

Similarly, we cannot count on Leavers changing their views and coming round to our way of thinking because of any adverse effects of Brexit. If we want Leavers to change their views and support EU membership, we must work to change their views by promoting the benefits of EU Membership.

There are no sunlit uplands in our journey back to EU membership, just hard work. Unicorns, rainbow coloured or not, have no place in the Rejoin movement.

Starmer, the Red Wall and Rejoining

Starmer’s decision to chase the Red Wall vote and the expense of Rejoining the EU has caused considerable concern to many in the Rejoin movement. This vote chasing in the long term will do nobody any favours and will most likely backfire on Labour. His stance is probably strongly influenced by his new policy chief and committed Leaver, Claire Ainsley. However, what is really needed from Starmer is some leadership on the issue rather than simply chasing any particular group of voters – Red Wall or Rejoiners.

The nature of the Leave Campaign in 2016 was dishonest beyond anything ever seen previously in British politics. To paraphrase Professor Michael Dougan of Liverpool University, the Leave Campaign was dishonest on an industrial scale on just about every major issue.

I came across one such example yesterday when attempting to ‘discuss’ Brexit’s lack of legitimacy with a hard-core supporter of Farage. The individual concerned claimed that the EU had never had its accounts signed off, a claim on the part of the Leave Campaign that is actually very easy to disprove with a simple Google search. No matter what I said or what evidence I presented, this individual simply would not accept the reality of the situation. The EU’s accounts have been signed off every year it has been in existence.

This is typical of the false beliefs about the EU held by many Leave voters. People in the Rejoin movement talk about ignorance and dishonesty of Leave voters, and whilst this may ring true, one needs to remember that ultimately the problem is with those who lied.

Such deeply held entrenched beliefs did not just happen or come about in the relatively short space of time of the referendum campaign in 2016 itself. In many ways they remind me of the belief’s individuals hold about Brands which are the product of planned and sustained campaigns on the part of brand owners to implant a particular perception of their products in the minds of consumers.

Such deeply held false beliefs about the EU can only have come about as a product of a deliberately and sustained campaign to discredit the EU using falsehood over a substantial period of time.

Starmer’s decision to chase the Ref Wall vote and allow Brexit to stand therefore has serious consequences for the quality of our democracy, indeed the very future of democracy in the UK. It sends a message to individuals and organisations that deliberately misleading the electorate in this way is acceptable in the UK.

Starmer therefore needs to show leadership and challenge that dishonesty for the sake of democracy itself. And that is without even considering the issue of the serious breaches of both data protection and electoral laws committed by the Leave Campaign for which it was heavily fined.

There is however a further reason why Starmer should address this issue which is the subject of some of those lies, specifically immigrants and immigration from the EU, which is often cited as the main issue that caused Red Wall voters to vote leave.

The Leave campaign made all sorts of allegations about EU immigrants and immigration such as a reduction in income, stealing jobs from British people and overwhelming public services such as the NHS.

These claims are false.

Study after study has shown little if any impact on wage levels caused by EU immigration, in fact the only authoritative study I have seen on the issue showing a reduction in income concluded that there was a reduction of just a few pennies, and even then, only in some industries not all. The claims of the Leave Campaign were inconsistent on the issue of stealing jobs with the famous Schrődinger’s immigrant simultaneously stealing jobs and claiming benefits whilst also telling us we had record levels of employment. Various studies have also shown that rather than overwhelming public services, EU immigrants actually contribute more in taxes than they take out in the form of services and benefits to the tune of several thousands of pounds each year.

When challenged over these false and misleading claims, leavers prove to be just as stubborn and often claim that they are based on common sense – if an immigrant is in the UK, they must be stealing a British person’s job. Not only does this show a lack of knowledge of the manpower shortages faced by the UK economy, it is also difficult to understand why they hold such beliefs when many Red Wall areas such as the South Wales Valleys have very few immigrants, EU or otherwise.

These claims raise two further issues that need addressing by Starmer, and indeed in the case of the first issue, by the wider UK society as this is where many of the allegations of racism on the part of leave voters arise.

EU immigrants were and are still being blamed for issues, not because they are responsible but simply because they are immigrants. That is racist and needs to be addressed no matter how uncomfortable it is for Starmer and the Labour party.

Secondly, whilst the cause of the long-term structural problems linked to industrial decline faced in many Red Wall areas is debatable and could include issues such as Thatcher’s monetarism of the early 1980’s, privatisation, militant trade unionism, lack of investment, the nationalisation of much of our heavy industry, or in the case of the coal industry, the longer term need to protect the environment, such problems were not caused by immigration or immigrants. Stopping Freedom of Movement by leaving the EU will therefore not solve the problems.

Furthermore, the desire expressed to rebuild the UK industrial base now that we have left the EU expressed by many in the Labour Party who supported Brexit is flying in flying in the face of the reality of the 4th Industrial Revolution with its digitisation and automation. Mass employment in manufacturing will soon be a thing of the past and the financial realities of the huge sums needed for automation make investment in a small British economy disconnected from the EU unrealistic.

Furthermore, the captive markets of the British Empire that our industrial base once relied upon for customers will not be coming back, indeed many of the countries that made up the British Empire are now emerging as economic powers themselves eager to export the products of their own manufacturing industry. India for example is growing in economic strength and given its size and democratic nature will no doubt become a leading economic superpower, perhaps even the leading economic superpower.

Leaving the EU will therefore do nothing to address the structural issues faced by Red Wall voters which are the ultimate cause of their dissatisfaction.
Starmer’s vote chasing with its implicit failure to show leadership on this issue of our EU membership will therefore not only result in alienating remain voters but will almost certainly also alienate Red Wall voters further. And, of course, waiting in the wings to exploit that alienation is Farage with his hate filled right wing populism.

Starmer needs to show leadership and act. He needs to face up to the issue of the lies of the Leave Campaign and lead Red Wall voters rather than just chase their votes.

We are here to set the agenda not follow the agenda of others

We are here to set the agenda

The last week has been hard for us all with perhaps one of the hardest issues to deal with being the news about Starmers decision on supporting a deal and his comments about what will and will not be on the Labour Party agenda in 2024.

Since that news I’ve seen all sorts of comments in the group and on wider social media about how the Labour Party is no longer worth supporting, the Lib Dems are the same, that we should tear up membership cards, set up a new party ext etc etc.

Whilst I empathise with much of that, and even agree, my answer is that we are not here to follow the agenda of anyone, Starmer and Davey included.

We are here to SET the agenda across the political spectrum.

I could write a long article about why we need to do so – but I will save that for another time and simply rely on this old graphic showing where remain and leave support lies within the political parties.

Every single political party has both leave and remain supporters within it, and you can guarantee 100% that leave supporters within each party will be actively trying to keep rejoin off the agenda of their party.

That is why we must work towards setting the agenda on EU membership in ALL political parties – and that will stay the same even if we start our own party as the existing parties will not just go away just because we start our own.

We must establish strong pro European communities within all political parties and push forward our agenda within them which needs to include putting motions forward to party conferences on issues that will help us achieve our goals and indeed to put rejoining the EU itself onto the agenda.

Policy Statement Regarding Labours Position on the Deal

The issue of what Labour should do over the deal is very contentious throughout the rejoin movement and causing controversy not just within the ranks of labour supporters. Whilst some see labour supporting the deal as a practical issue to avoid no deal, others see it as Starmer legitimising brexit and betraying the remain movement. Please be in no doubt that feelings are running very high on this issue.

However we must reiterate that our overall Campaign policy is that we are here to set the agenda and not follow the agenda of others. That applies across the board including to Starmer.

It is our intention to push all parties to reject the legitimacy of Brexit and support rejoining unequivocally. We are therefore very concerned about Starmer’s actions regarding the deal and of the opinion that Labour should abstain to avoid any impression of giving legitimacy to Brexit.

Furthermore, arguments that Starmer needs to consider the red wall voters do not hold any water with us. We are of the opinion that what is needed from Starmer is leadership rather than following the crowd on the issue, and that he should take a clear stance and then deal with the fallout.

Why we need to push Labour on Rejoin now

There has been a lot of debate in recent months about why Starmer does not come out in favour of rejoin with perhaps the most common arguments being that he needs to bide his time or he is playing a clever game.

Thats not an argument that has any evidence to support it and this article highlights the dangers of those arguments – Labour Leavers are still active and are trying to either remove the issue of Rejoin from the agenda of the Labour Party or move Labour policy into opposition to EU membership.

That is something that we must counter if we are ever to Rejoin.

Articles such as this confirm that we are correct in setting one of our strategic goals as attempting to place Rejoin onto the agenda of the Labour Party.

This article also confirms that we need to be doing so now.

Campaign to Rejoin and Political Parties

A few days ago I outlined a high level strategy as a way forward for the Rejoin movement.

Given the current news coverage and speculation concerning the views of Starmer and Davey on rejoining the EU, I thought it appropriate to return to the subject and expand a little on point three of that high level strategy, which was for those of us who are members of political parties to promote Rejoin within those parties and other issues that lay the ground for that.

The news concerning Starmer and Davey really does highlight the need for this, particularly against the background of increasing calls for a single issue Rejoin party to be established that I have seen in the last few days.

This is an issue that our team have been discussing since last December when we first set this group up and started to develop the Campaign to Rejoin. Initially, after consulting with members, we agreed that it would be best to wait and see what happens with the new leadership and use the intervening time to investigate establishing a new political party.

Establishing a new political party in itself is not particularly difficult or expensive. There are few requirements such a leader has to be nominated and accounts have to be kept to a certain standard and submitted every year (which is ultimately the reason why Furhage set up the Brexshit party as a limited company), but perhaps the most onerous requirement is that the party must convince the electoral commission that it intends to participate in elections – and that’s where the problems and indeed costs, start.

Participating in elections means costs and also a need to adhere to various rules and laws and therefore requires a certain level of funding and expertise, which in turn means more costs.

There are many arguments in favour and against establishing a new single-issue party, not least this need for funding and costs, with perhaps the most common one being the potential for splitting the anti-Johnson and pro EU vote (I’ll explain why I say anti Johnson rather than anti Tory a little later).

Given those arguments and the costs etc. associated with establishing a new party, together with the fact that the next general election is probably around 4 years away, a more pragmatic approach would be to push for Rejoin to be placed onto the agenda of all political parties that have a realistic chance of having MPs elected at the next general election, along with other policies that would help us in our efforts to rejoin, specifically

  1. An enquiry into the conduct of the Leave Campaign and the Brexit related activities of the May and Johnson Governments
  2. Stronger regulation of the press and other media to ensure accurate reporting and the prevention on fake news and a requirement for all news organisations to adopt a politically neutral stance during elections referendum campaigns.
  3. Regulation of advertising by political parties to stop the false advertising such as that undertaken by the leave campaign in 2016 and the Tory party last December.

In addition to these issues there is also the question of changes to the electoral system, however given the cross-party nature of the Remain now Rejoin movement, we need to be very careful to retain cross party neutrality or we could lose support. Whilst I personally am in favour of electoral reform, I am cautious about pushing for it as a campaign goal as it may prove controversial given our need tombs cross party. This is something that we need to discuss as a movement.

As a Campaign we therefore need to be pushing for these issues to be on the agenda of all political parties, including putting forward motions for party conferences.

Furthermore, we need to set the agenda, not follow the agenda of others in the hope that they might just, if we support them, maybe, possibly agree to another referendum.

Another reason to push for Rejoin to be on the agenda of the political parties is that it is a certainty that groups like Labour Leave will be doing their best to keep it off and to place staying out onto the agenda.

To help achieve this we have therefore set up sub groups for the Labour party, the Lib Dems and the Greens for members of those parties, with the aim of promoting and pushing for our cause within those parties. This should include putting forward motions to party conferences.

If you a member of one of those parties please do join the relevant sub-group. You can find details within the group announcements and I will place links to them in the comments.

If you are a supporter of one of those parties, but not a member I would encourage you not only to join the relevant sub-group but also to join the party itself to help advance our cause.

Obviously, there are other pro EU political parties that have the potential to have seats in the House of Commons after the next GE such as the SNP, Plaid, the SDLP and the Alliance. If you are a member or supporter of those parties and would like to help us establishing groups for those parties please get in touch.

Which brings me on to a difficult subject, but one that really does need addressing. Pro EU Tories.

Like it or not it is a fact that 35% of those who voted Remain in 2016 voted Tory in the 2015 General Election. Whilst that figure has fallen quite considerably since, 19% of remain voters in 2016 voted for the Tory party last December. This is why I referred to the anti-Johnson vote earlier rather than the anti-Tory vote.

In other words, 1 in 5 Remainers are Tories. The fact is if we are ever going to retake our place in the EU we need their votes.

We have therefore helped establish a Conservative Rejoin group to encourage pro EU Tories. It is very small currently, but If we are to be successful, we need to help that group grow and get their message out to other pro EU Tories. I will post a link to that group in the comments as well. As much as you may disagree and dislike the Tories, please respect the fact that they are trying to help us achieve our goals. Indeed, they share our main goal of regaining our rightful place in the EU.

When it comes to a new political party, there are two scenarios where I can see a need to establish one, and the first of these relates to pro EU Tories, many of whom may well feel politically homeless at present. A new party would provide a home for them.

The other scenario is where we simply cannot get our objectives onto the agenda of the political parties, in which case we may well have no choice.

So, particularly if you are one of those people who argue that a new party will split the pro EU vote, please help us get our agenda onto the agenda of the political parties!