Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
19 December 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 4:42pm

As a young Unite member, Len McCluskey does not represent me on Brexit

YouGov polling shows that 57 per cent of young Unite members – such as myself – think our union should back a second referendum on the Brexit deal. 

By Elsie Greenwood

There is one thing on which Len McCluskey and I agree: it’s clear we have a divided society.

And no longer is it the binary, simple Leave vs Remain. We now have many on the left calling for a “Corbyn/jobs-first Brexit”, with no indicator of what this really means.

As a young person, I yearn for a cohesive Labour Brexit stance that benefits not only party members but all people, including Unite members like myself.

I’m therefore disappointed, if not surprised, by Len McCluskey and other leading political figures. Those who are meant to represent me and my interests seem to be making decisions on one criterion – the internal politics of the Labour Party.

In his recent article, McCluskey outlined his concerns regarding a second referendum, claiming we cannot undermine a “decision taken by a clear majority just two years ago”. Aside from the fact that this majority clearly no longer exists – with most polls showing a clear lead both for wanting a People’s Vote and staying within the European Union – what about the members he is meant to represent?

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

YouGov polling shows that 57 per cent of young Unite members such as myself think our union should back a People’s Vote. Four out of five of us would vote to stay within the European Union if such a vote were held. I therefore ask the leader of my union – why should our voices be ignored?

While neither the European Union nor a People’s Vote should be absolved from criticism – I worry about whether Unite’s leadership truly understand the reasons why people voted Leave. When McCluskey refers to Mansfield – a town just 15 minutes away from my home – he argues that the core constituency there was to vote against the “the neo-liberal elite”. I’m not convinced Mr McCluskey has spent much time in Mansfield, as it’s clear from speaking to anyone there that this is not the case.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

Under the Conservatives, the cuts to policing and social security have decimated much of Mansfield’s community. The average income is way below the national average, alongside a high unemployment rate and few opportunities for young people in the area. It is issues like this that caused 71 per cent of people in Mansfield to vote Leave, not a faceless political faction. But, in an area neglected under the Tories, the last thing young people need is the uncertainty and risk that the current Brexit will bring to their jobs and livelihoods.

McCluskey and I would also agree on the answer to what must done about tackling austerity. We need a Labour government to rectify the wrongs of the past decade – to be radical and rebuild an economy to work for the many, not the few.

The reality is that this cannot come about with a weak and incohesive stance on Brexit. As shown at the recent Labour Party conference and in recent polling, both Labour members (87 per cent) and young Unite members (57 per cent) are seeking a People’s Vote.

This isn’t just about winning: without a People’s Vote, a future Labour government has no real opportunity to implement progressive, socialist legislative change, as we will be working to clean up the current Brexit mess.

It’s clear that decisions regarding Brexit go past party lines. Unite jobs are at risk, a fact that it is time people recognised. As one of Britain’s largest unions, it is essential that at this time of national crisis, we stand in favour of workers, not internal party politics. Recent reports show we will be worse off with Brexit, a result that will disproportionately affect the young and the poor. We must stand tall against the hard Brexiters and say that no one voted for this deal.

While we must address concerns of Leave voters, we cannot do so by playing into the hands of right. The likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage want to convince us that this is what people want, and we cannot be fooled. Unite workers did not vote to lose their jobs. Labour members did not vote to be worse off. British people did not vote to be poorer, internationally isolated and to be told what they believe.

That’s why I say again. As a young woman and a Unite member, I ask Len McCluskey: support the voices of your members who are asking for a chance to be heard. Recognise that a People’s Vote is what the majority wants, and is in the interest of your members – including myself.

This isn’t about putting country before party – I strongly believe the only way we can get a radical Labour government is by backing a People’s Vote. Polling shows this consistently. Even if I were to be proven wrong on this count – a Corbyn-led government in this entirety would be doomed to the same failure as Theresa May’s.

Elsie Greenwood is a young Unite member and a supporter of For our Future’s Sake