In, out, shake it all about: David Cameron in 2013, shortly before committing to an In-Out referendum. Photo: Getty Images
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The complacency of the Yes campaign may yet lead to a European exit

The In-Out referendum isn't a foregone conclusion - and complacy could win it for No.

In the climax of the general election campaign, Tony Blair made a strong case against holding an EU referendum. “Nationalism,” he said, “is a powerful sentiment. Let that genie out of the bottle and it is a Herculean task to put it back. Reason alone struggles.” 

He is right. Even if – as many predict – we vote to stay in ‘the club’ in 2016-17, the echoes of this referendum will continue for years afterwards. Furthermore, as long as the Eurozone remains unstable – which it will for at least a decade – the flame of Eurosceptism will keep burning and the possibility of ‘Brexit’ will linger.

Despite this there seems to be a growing complacency amongst pro-EU supporters that the referendum is a done deal. This is a complacency I hear all the time and at all levels: That when push comes to shove Brits will side with the stability of European membership as opposed to risking economic instability.

Talk to any pro-European politician or business leader and they will tell you - with a wry smile - that the electorate won’t, even can’t, leave Europe. Instead, they will remind you, the electorate will vote with their head, not their heart, when jobs are concerned.

I believe this view poses a greater threat than anything else to Britain’s ongoing relationship with Europe.

If history teaches us one thing, it is that there is nothing inevitable when nationalism is involved. People said Scotland would “inevitably” remain in the union when they voted in their referendum last year. And yes, unionists may have won that day –saved by the last minute interventions of a revved-up Gordon Brown – but, independence now seems more probable than ever.

It is an uncomfortable truth, but Euroscepticism was neither born overnight or with the birth of UKIP. Rather it is an emotional conclusion based on half a century of social turmoil which has forced many to question their place in the world.  For most, European membership is in turn intrinsically tied to immigration, perhaps the most sensitive issue for our country. 

Explaining their confidence, Europhiles tend to cite two facts. First, the idea that people voting in referendums stick with what they know, and secondly, a growing early lead for the Pro-Europeans in the opinion polls.

Both these arguments are shaky. The first is just factually wrong. Since 1846, separatists have won 51 independence referendums around the world. Yes Quebec and Scotland demonstrate voter prudence in national referendums, but people regularly vote en masse for un-tested ideas. Nor is it correct to assume that people see themselves better-off as EU members. For those working in domestic industries, like construction or trade, the threat of cheap migrant labour usually outweighs any benefit they feel from the free movement of goods across the European markets.

And what do the polls really tell us? Whilst the ‘stay-in’ camp commands a hefty 22 point lead at the moment, it was only as recently as 2012 that a majority wanted to leave the EU. Britons tend to be more pro-EU when they feel prosperous and more anti when times are hard. This is mirrored in the upswing in anti-EU support during the early 2000’s and 1980’s. Today, global economic recovery remains sluggish and UK living standards linger well behind 2008 levels. Furthermore there are complexities within the opinion polls. Although the ‘yes’ campaign currently has a comfortable lead in simple ‘leave or stay’ questions, when you ask voters whether they would stay in the EU on current terms, a majority would actually vote to leave (41%).

None of this is to say us pro-Europeans are not in a favourable position to win the referendum. Clearly there is a growing lead for the business focused, outward looking arguments the ‘Yes’ campaign is putting forward.

Instead it is a warning that unless we resoundingly defeat the ‘No’ camp’s ideology of anti-immigration and isolationism once and for all, Euro sceptism will live on well past 2017. In the long term, without addressing growing pro-EU complacency we may be sleep-walking into calamity.

Photo: Getty
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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.