Socialist Worker

A ‘people’s vote’ is a bad alternative for Labour

Issue No. 2633

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell

Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Jeremy Corbyn is inching towards backing a second referendum over Brexit. His ally shadow chancellor John McDonnell said that a so-called “People’s Vote” was inevitable if Theresa May’s Brexit deal is voted down.

At a shadow cabinet meeting only Richard Burgon and Ian Lavery warned against Labour supporting a second referendum.

Previously McDonnell accurately said that Labour was “walking its own tightrope” over Brexit.

Labour’s first balancing act over Brexit is electoral.

While around two thirds of those who voted Labour at the last general election voted Remain, a significant minority voted Leave.

And, amid Corbyn’s impressive gains in the election, Labour did lose Mansfield, Walsall North and Stoke-on-Trent South to the Tories. They are all working class, Leave-voting constituencies.

A left wing manifesto and class politics helped Corbyn’s Labour cut across the Leave/Remain divide.

Yet now it looks as if Labour is about to shift decisively in favour of a second referendum with “Remain” as an option.

McDonnell is performing a second, much more fundamental balancing act—between the interests of workers and bosses.

Who would gain from a ‘People’s Vote’?
Who would gain from a ‘People’s Vote’?
  Read More

Labour seeks to implement progressive reforms, but its method for winning changes is based on using the existing capitalist state. So Labour comes under pressure to prove it’s responsible to run the state and rule in the “national interest”.

That’s why McDonnell was meek in front of City fat cats last month. “What you’ll get from us is certainty,” he told them.

“If you don’t like the policies we’re using to achieve our objectives, if there’s another way of achieving those objectives, let me know and we’ll discuss them.” Big business is desperate to remain in the racist, neoliberal European Union (EU) because it protects its profits. The EU’s single market rules on competition and state aid can block left wing policies such as nationalisation.

So hinting that Labour will support a “People’s Vote” is part of McDonnell’s charm offensive on business. This is a disastrous strategy for the left.

Many people want a “People’s Vote” for legitimate reasons. They are disgusted at reactionary Tory Brexiteers, such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

They fear for their EU migrant workmates and see the far right mobilising on the streets.

Yet the leadership of the “People’s Vote” campaign is made up of big business and right wing liberals. Blairites such as Chuka Umunna offer no alternative to austerity and racism, and nor does the EU.

Labour should not tie itself to a campaign led by big business—which will seek to undermine a Corbyn government.

The left should fight for a general election to dump the Tory regime and for a Brexit that benefits working people.


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