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Vote Leave, Vote Trump - we must promise voters a better kind of change

Voters in Teesside are no different from those in Pennsylvania. 

As I stayed up through the night watching the US Presidential election, I felt like I was living the film Groundhog Day, because it was like everything had happened before. Big voter turnout, people who had never voted, early voting.

At first, the commentators said this was good news for Hillary Clinton, the Democrat nominee. I wasn't so sure. It felt too familiar, and I no longer trust the pollsters. And then slowly, as the states on the electoral map turned red, I realised this was completely familiar. I had been here before.

On 23 June 2016, the day of the EU referendum, I was the campaign director for the Remain campaign in the North East of England. That night, I watched as the towns, cities and regions of the UK turned blue for Leave. Marginal areas we expected to win, we lost. The reasons for defeat were hinged on the issues of immigration, nationalism, patriotism, separatism and a sense of our own greatness and strength to go it alone. Sounds familiar? Welcome to Brexit 2.0 - US style.

Until Clinton won the Democratic nomination, I was on Team Bernie. As a feminist, I want to see a female president, but the more I observed the populist vote for Donald Trump, the more worried I became that an establishment figure like Clinton would not be enough to cut through his simplistic “Make America Great Again” mantra.

But even for those who consider themselves apolitical, one thing was clear. The American dream, just like The Third Way in Britain, is failing to deliver. Towns and cities are locked in unending cycles of deprivation, poverty and hopelessness. Wage levels have stagnated, public services have been cut and great industries have disappeared, to be replaced with zero-hours contract service jobs. On top of this is the constant threat - at least according to the right-wing media - of an unknown enemy. The Muslim who hates the West, the foreigner who wants to take what is yours - your security, your identity, your job, your home. The stage is set for simple solutions. 

Vote Leave. Vote Trump. These slogans are the same. They represent a vote for change, but one driven by fear, poverty, nationalism, greed and division. During the EU referendum it was the forgotten northeastern towns where the cry for “Leave” was the loudest. In Teesside, the area I grew up in, the anger of the people was apparent. The steelworks that employed thousands of people, and had done so for generations, closed months before the EU referendum campaign began. Campaigning there was difficult. People there had discovered a place to take their anger, someone to blame. They wanted out. It seems that in the US, it is the white working class from post-industrial communities who are similarly angry. They wanted Trump. 

Hate-based politics is working, and it’s powerful. That’s why I was Team Bernie.  We need more radical change. Business-as-usual politics isn’t strong enough to stand up to that narrative of fear and nationalism. It isn’t honest enough to talk about what is not working in our system. It isn’t hopeful enough to offer any sense that things will get better. The EU campaign failed because it was based on keeping things the same. The Labour party’s 2015 campaign message of "the same, but a little better", didn’t work. Clinton’s campaign of the same but better also didn’t work. 

Teesside and Pennsylvania cannot take more of the same. If the US really wants change, why not give voters a real choice of what that change could be. Give them an alternative vision for greatness, one based on free education, on children getting enough to eat, on people having more power than corporations. Could this have been a different vision for making America great again? Could this have stopped a Brexit 2.0? We will never know, but I think back here in post-Brexit UK, we need to ask ourselves whether a more hopeful, radical, and compassionate politics could save Britain from years of fear-based rule. Maybe I am an idealist, but I would really like to think so. 

Jessie Jacobs was a Remain campaigner and is the founder of the charity A Way Out. 


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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