David Cameron has handed his fate to the Labour Party. According to the Financial Times newspaper, he is “passing the baton to Labour’s leading figures to try to lure back working class voters veering towards Brexit”.
In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Gordon Brown and other Labour figures were deployed to save the British state. Now Cameron hopes Labour will stave off a vote to leave the European Union (EU).
It isn’t only Cameron who is desperate for a Remain win.
The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported, “Labour Party officials have been reduced to tears by a surge in support for Brexit, prompting emotional staff inside Labour's London headquarters to break down.”
Some Labour figures love the EU because it delivers pro-business policies and camouflages drives towards privatisation and cuts with talk of social rights. They also see it as a barrier against migrants from outside the EU and a boost to British military power.
On Monday shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn argued for a Remain vote because “Britain never stopped being great and can be greater still in the future”.
The more serious argument from Labour supporters is that a Leave win will strengthen only the right. This is what Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell say.
The mainstream Leave campaign has certainly been a disgusting mix of racism and reaction. But that doesn’t reflect all Leave voters.
The poll that showed a ten-point Leave lead also indicated that a clear majority of working class people back Leave. And the poorer they are, the more likely they are to be for Leave.
Almost two thirds of the DE category (semi-skilled and unskilled workers, unemployed, people on benefits) back Leave. Some 62 percent of skilled manual workers and 52 percent of white collar workers are for Leave too.
Only managers and professionals back Remain—by a large margin.
Do we really think that the working class is overwhelmingly right wing? Some workers will vote Leave because they have accepted the myths that migrants cut pay, and take jobs and houses. But millions who are not racists will vote Leave.
One poll showed that 44 percent of those who voted Labour in 2015 and 35 percent of those who voted Green now back Leave. Many Leave voters distrust the EU for its lack of democracy, its support for corporate and economic elites, and its failure to defend working people. They are absolutely right to do so.
Labour Remain supporters say, “Don’t unleash the really nasty Tories, keep our protection from the EU”. But people look at the devastation that Cameron and George Osborne have created and, rightly, want to hit back at the establishment.
The left should shape this feeling, not contemptuously dismiss it. Labour is turning its back on people it could win to left wing ideas.
There is intense pessimism in large sections of the trade union and left movements in Britain.
According to this, it is brilliant that Jeremy Corbyn is Labour leader, he represents a big section of working class feeling, and he’s doing very well. But we are too weak, too small and too isolated—and vast swathes of working people are bitter reactionaries.
Therefore choose Cameron over Boris Johnson, choose the EU’s neoliberal straitjacket in case the unleashed Tories deliver worse.
Nobody sensible can underestimate the strength of racism in British society, but ideas are not uniform or fixed across the working class. A Leave vote, and the turmoil that follows, can be the spur for resistance and the shattering of the Tories.
It is a huge mistake that Corbyn and Labour are not fighting for Leave too. They could have shifted the debate and gained from Cameron’s demise.
In the fights against austerity and racism to come we need unity whether we voted Leave or Remain. But Socialist Worker supporters should vote Leave on 23 June—and Labour voters should do the same.