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Rachel Reeves MP: Ending free movement should be a red line for Labour post-Brexit

The party has ignored the effects of immigration on wages for too long. 

Two days before the referendum, I visited the largest private sector employer in my constituency. I had spoken to many of the workers during the general election campaign a year earlier. 
 
Although the chief executive works with a community centre to recruit local young people, like many businesses they also hire many Eastern European workers. It was a tough audience, as many blamed the EU for the squeeze on living standards and most felt immigration was out of control. 
 
The people I met believed leaving the EU would mean less pressure on services and more money for them, because the downward pressure on wages would ease with fewer EU migrants.
 
The Remain campaign and the Labour party consistently refused to acknowledge that effect on wages, and more generally had little to say to working-class voters with whom we should have been able to communicate with.  
 
We didn’t offer solutions to those locked out from opportunities. And there was nothing to say about better skills provision to boost wages, or about how we would use industrial policy to deliver more secure, well-paid jobs.
 
I knew in my heart at lunchtime on the day of that visit that we’d lost the referendum. My head had told me - the economist - that we would win because the consequences of leaving were a risk voters wouldn't take. But, by Friday morning, we knew the Leave campaign’s emotional message was stronger than the rational arguments of the Remain campaign.
 
A failure to acknowledge voters’ legitimate concerns on immigration meant we didn’t earn the right to be heard on other issues. We didn't convince those who were uncertain or who didn't vote at all. But we asked the question and so we must respect the answer.
 
So, how do we interpret the vote and what should the progressive left demand from the renegotiation?
 
The challenge for Labour now is how we get the best deal for working-class voters and ensure the best economic settlement. 
 
Ending free movement has to be a red line post-Brexit. Subject to that, we need the greatest possible access to the single market. This will of course involve difficult negotiations because the EU will not be able to offer better terms to countries outside the EU club. We therefore have to focus on our key priorities. 
 
We need tough negotiations to keep exports and imports tariff-free. We must also ensure the fullest possible access to the single market for the service sector. We also need to be clear about what the Chancellor must do to steer the UK through these turbulent times and build a resilient economy outside the EU.
 
This means urgent action to rebalance the economy and to ensure good quality and well-paid jobs in all areas of the country. The Chancellor must be prepared to capitalise on the ultra-low borrowing rates to help fund investment outside London. 
 
To address this, the government must first ensure adequate investment in infrastructure across the country – not just schemes like Crossrail in London.  The investment gap between London and the rest of the country is stark.  The capital received £5,203 more per head in capital investment than in the north-east in 2014. 
 
We must ensure regions in the north and elsewhere get a fair deal when it comes to investment in transport and other key areas like providing proper flood defences – crucial to businesses in my constituency.  
 
As well as environmental, energy and transport infrastructure, we should be doing more to get behind our digital economy.  
 
Our digital infrastructure is crucial, not just to tech firms but also to rural and home-based entrepreneurs. We have some of the slowest and patchiest broadband in the developed world. The network needs more investment to unlock the creative potential of all our citizens. 
 
Second, to ensure we can boost employment rates across the whole country, we must do more to support parents of young children who want to work. We should move towards a system of universal free childcare for all working parents of pre-school children.  The chancellor could fund this by cancelling his predecessor’s regressive and expensive cut to inheritance tax. 
 
Third, we will need to keep a hawk eye on employment protections and rights. The Conservatives have always been determined to strip away workers’ rights with their promised a “bonfire of regulations”, which our membership of the EU made it harder to do. To make certain we avoid a race to the bottom, we should continue to shadow the EU’s employment legislation where they make advances.  At the very least, this will be a vital check on the resurgent right-wing voices of the Tory Party who are now at the Cabinet table. 
 
Everything that has happened since people voted to leave the EU shows that we need to take these actions urgently. Just a few months after the result, we are seeing the impact of Brexit with firms cancelling or delaying investment, and jobs at risk. The Bank of England has cut the base rate and the Chancellor has been forced to promise to replace EU funding after our exit. The government needs a strong and sensible industrial strategy to rebalance the economy and protect jobs and growth across the UK.
 
All this must happen while we still take heed of the referendum result and negotiate our exit from the EU. Brexit must be a wake-up call for anyone who wants government by the people, for the people, of the people. And we on the progressive left must use this to help build a fairer and more inclusive model of economic growth.

This blog is based on a chapter Rachel Reeves MP wrote for the Fabian Society edited collection Facing the Unknown: Building a progressive response to Brexit, published today. 

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear