In the third of our Brexit posts, our Publicity Officer Owen McArdle writes why he thinks supporters of a People's Vote should be more concerned about another Leave win, and work to soften Brexit instead. CULC's Brexit panel event will be taking place at 18:30 on Tuesday.
Few things in political discourse rile me up like the phrase ‘a People’s Vote to stop Brexit’. My dislike of the phrase might be partly brought on by the fact that my final exams are a scary five months away and I would really not appreciate having the distraction of a referendum campaign alongside them. But more fundamentally I find the whole concept to be disingenuous. Clichéd though it has become to say it, we have indeed already had ‘a People’s Vote’, which turned out a victory for Leave. And ‘to stop Brexit’? Well, I presume there are going to be two options on this ballot.
And supporters of a new referendum as a proxy for cancelling Brexit would be advised to have a little more caution here. It is far from guaranteed that a referendum would produce a Remain vote. I will leave the question of whose support is softer for people who are much more familiar with the data than I am, but ultimately whilst the majority of polling places Remain in the lead, it is the proportion of ‘don’t know’ answers – generally between fifteen and twenty per cent – that should still be of concern. The softness of support for the EU in Britain should be clear enough from other polling on the topic of Europe: such as when more voters would oppose than support re-joining the EU even if Brexit caused our economic situation to be ‘a lot worse’ – and that in a poll which otherwise showed a nine-point lead for Remain. I expect that Leave would win again, but polls like that shock even me.
In CULC it is very easy, in a city that voted nearly three-quarters in favour of Remain, to forget that most Remain voters do not feel that strongly. The people that raise Brexit with us on doorsteps at the weekend and the people who go to marches in London are but a small and particularly passionate part of the sixteen million who voted Remain. Most people are far less bothered. On a recent CULC canvassing visit to Leave-voting Peterborough, the poor quality of repairs to the pavements was raised with me on the doorstep by twice as many people as brought up Brexit (either favourably or not). As much as ‘Project Fear’ (a term that it is easy to forget was first employed by the SNP and their fellow Yes campaigners in 2014) is discredited, it was probably actually quite effective in keeping the Remain vote as high as it was.
So where exactly is the plan B of the People’s Voters if Leave does indeed win again? Their lack of support for those in Parliament and elsewhere who are trying to mitigate the adverse effects of Brexit is infuriating. They seem so confident of victory that they appear to have given little to no thought to the possibility of a Leave outcome. The best-case scenario in such a situation would be a return to the chaos we are currently in; more likely would be a very hard or no-deal Brexit, brought about because the very politicians who could right now be softening Brexit will have instead chosen to take a gamble on a failed plan to try to end it altogether. Nobody can seriously claim that all Brexits are equal in their impact on the economy; a new referendum would be a reckless gamble with people’s living standards.
What is clear enough is that the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign is just a front for people who want to cancel Brexit. That is a perfectly legitimate position to take, even if I disagree with it, and I would have an awful lot more respect if they jettisoned the referendum and the talk of democracy and were upfront about that. But that is politically impossible in the mainstream, given even the Liberal Democrats cannot bring themselves to promise that in the (shall we say unlikely?) event that they were to win a majority.
And if that is not reason enough, just imagine waking up the next morning to a Conservative government, which should no longer be in office as it is, given a (perhaps literally) vital shot in the arm. That on top of a hard Brexit as well. As Labourites we should do everything we can to stop such a situation ever happening. Luckily there is a Labour government that has already been doing that: the Welsh Government produced Securing Wales’s Future, alongside the late Steffan Lewis and Plaid Cymru, which set out a plan for a Brexit that would keep Wales and the UK within both a customs union and the Single Market. Sadly under Adam Price, Plaid have drifted towards the referendum option (albeit they and the SNP could probably be drawn back towards the ‘Norway plus’ model), but this is the policy that has been adopted by the Labour frontbench at Westminster, in practice if not verbatim. In a sign of the unusual alliances that Brexit can forge, I find myself on the same side of an internal Labour debate as Jeremy Corbyn, possibly for the first time ever.
There will be people who would be unhappy with the new setup, in particular the requirement to follow Single Market directives and enforce common tariffs from outside the political institutions of the EU. However, is it not clear by now that there is no solution to the Brexit crisis that pleases everyone? This is a question of priorities, and I merely propose a solution that fits my priorities – leaving the political institutions of the EU (remember how they handled Catalonia?), and avoiding large-scale economic disruption – and that I think has a good chance of passing through Parliament if the will is there to find a solution at all. But I do caution those who might have eyes on a bigger prize, and ask them to consider the risks too.
Many people are thoroughly fed up with the whole Brexit process. Not everyone is as interested as those of us who write blog posts like this, but I would be very cautious in assuming that people see Remain as the option to end the arguments. I voted to Remain in 2016, and I would probably do so again in the likely context that a second referendum would take place in. However it is not enough to say that there is ‘a good chance’ that Remain would beat hard Brexit, ‘a good chance’ that exporters would be able to sell their produce to Europe without tariffs, ‘a good chance’ that the Irish border could remain open. Unlike working within Parliament for a softer Brexit, a referendum can by definition never offer more than ‘a good chance’ – and ‘a good chance’ is simply not good enough.
In our second Brexit article, our Co-chair Lara Parizotto sets out why she thinks Labour should continue to support staying in the European Union. Our Brexit panel event will be happening this Tuesday at 18:30 at Emmanuel College.
I guess you could call me one of those macchiato-drinking, London-centric young liberals who strongly believe in Remain. But then I guess you could also call me one of Theresa May’s ‘citizens of nowhere’; perhaps an EU/Brazilian migrant who’s ‘jumped the queue’ and, who, like many others, found in London a home. One thing I would disagree with, however, is the claim that I am ‘pseudo-left’.
I have not only shared a house with migrants from Brazil, Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania (yes, all in the same house) but I have also shared working class experiences with them. Stories of difficult working conditions and poor resources from management to stock shelves, clean tables, kitchens and toilets. Not necessary to say, of course, that we were all well underpaid for the work we were doing to afford our expensive living costs. (It is no secret that rent in London is expensive, right?)
These conversations were not confined to my shared flat, but were replicated many times on the doorstep of council estates when canvassing with the Labour Party in my home constituency of Bermondsey and Old Southwark in London. While it is true that many working class people voted Leave, I beg that we explore a more nuanced view of who our working classes are as I find it disingenuous to say that the ‘London liberals’ don’t understand experiences of hardship when many of them are the same people living in overcrowded accommodation and likewise struggling to make ends meet.
Ethnic minority groups voted Remain en masse. Only a quarter of the BME populations voted Leave. Even the groups who have not benefited from the EU’s visa-free movement largely voted for remain. Perhaps because equality legislation, which have been greatly supported by the EU, including laws around equal pay and fairer treatment for those on part-time, temporary or agency contracts could be at risk outside the EU. And ethnic minorities, largely concentrated in London, are actually more likely to be in insecure or zero hour contracts. So I think we can say with ease that these are not necessarily the groups basking in the great wealths of London.
But enough with the demographics. We could cut the vote in thousand different ways, include gender, race, education and region and create a million new stories. It is clear it is not easy to provide easy and simple explanations for the vote. If we wanted to add property to our interpretation of class, for example, we would see that among private renters and people with mortgages, a small majority (55% and 54%) voted to remain; those who owned their homes outright voted to leave by 55% to 45%.
One thing we can all accept, however, is that a large group of the population has not been satisfied with the country’s situation for a while now. They are in no way stupid to identify that. It would certainly be irresponsible to call them naive for expressing their discontent when their experiences and concerns are absolutely real. Unfortunately, these comments do exist. These comments are not necessarily from the London-liberal elite but have actually been uttered by the Prime Minister saying that ‘there is no magic money tree’.
Leaving opinion of our electorate to a side, one thing we know well is that elections are won on message. Of course other factors do come into play but no wonder we spend so much time and effort in coming up with convincing slogans and attractive headlines. Vote Leave worked with a message of a better future that spoke to the heart of many. Reality has come to bite and Brexiteers will sooner rather than later have to accept that we can’t always get all that we want.
Reports of medicines and food shortages are not ‘scaremongering’ but an unfortunate possibility. Not only that but potential poor regulations with regards to food standards and the environment in a ‘No Deal’ scenario would certainly hurt the poor. The most recent reports show that “demand for NHS staff rises as EU applicants ‘drop off a cliff’” and the reality is that those are all ‘side-effects’ of Brexit that the very rich can avoid. Meanwhile, the poor, NHS patients, are left the suffer with raising prices and poor regulations and unstaffed hospitals. And let’s be honest here, what we have in front of us is not a Lexit utopia but a Tory Brexit with serious calls for a cliff-edge scenario putting the interests of unfettered free market above of any working class interest. That is why I back a People’s Vote and strongly desire for people to make an informed decision on the options in front of them, including proof of over-spending and election fraud by the Leave campaign.
‘Project Fear’, as it has been popularly called, has made the headlines again. The government’s own economic analysis demonstrate Brexit leading to a cut to GDP by some 4%. That’s a loss of over £100bn every year. Less money for public services and the least well-off hurt the most. Perhaps we do put too much focus on what could go wrong. But the reality is that we have already seen companies move elsewhere, car and aeroplane manufacturers show concern over the future of their business and more job uncertainty. Perhaps these are just exaggerated fears, but that is not a gamble the Labour Party should ever be prepared to take on the lives of those who already live in a constant state of vulnerability.
Another area where we require more solidarity as opposed to division is on freedom of movement. EU migrants live and work in this country and don’t know what their future holds. If we, as members of the Labour Party, don’t see that’s a big enough issue, we risk not seeing the privilege unbalances that exist in our workforce. EU migrants have not driven wages down. Austerity policies have done that. Diane Abbott herself said that “If you work in the public sector, your wages weren’t frozen and your pension cut by foreigners. They were slashed by this Government and its austerity predecessors.” As a young trade unionist, I welcome the ‘challenge’, if you so wish to put it this way, that international workers bring to our workforce. Labour has changed and trade unions can and should adapt by producing literature in different languages and informing workers of their rights no matter their backgrounds.
If you are not convinced by this, I would guide you towards this report from CLASS think tank. EU workers are not here as an unfair competition but are facing the same hardship, on top of racism and abuse, as their British working class counterparts. In fact, we are an essential contribution to the UK’s economy and I praise the many nurses who make up the NHS and serve those who need it the most.
Trade unions and trade unionists are also not blind to the damage that Brexit will cause. In 1998, the EU introduced limits on working hours, protecting staff from being overworked. The EU’s Working Time Directive forces employers to give workers sufficient time off, as well as protecting night workers. Women and other minorities who are more likely to get discriminated against at work have similarly benefited from EU rules banning unfair treatment. Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the TSSA union makes a positive case for the EU and a customs union when saying that “we must claim back the right to free movement of people. We must reassert [...] that it’s greedy, unscrupulous bosses who exploit and pay low wages – migrants are as much the victims of this as indigenous workers.” Amongst many other reasons, it is no doubt then why so many unions supported the case for remain and now GMB, Prospect, the Royal College of Nursing and Community join calls for a People’s Vote on the final deal.
It is true that changes need to be made and the Labour Party should not be blind to that and indeed we are not. Jeremy Corbyn reasserted his determined views on that at the Congress of the Party of European Socialists in Portugal. Corbyn did not shy away in saying that “we have to recognise that EU support for austerity and failed neoliberal policies have caused serious hardship for working people across Europe, damaged the credibility of European social democratic parties and played a significant role in the vote for Brexit in the UK.” In our Party, we will not be satisfied until we reach these reforms and this can only be done from within. At the end of the day, Labour campaigned for remain because we know that the rights or working class groups have been advanced within the EU. We are a Party with an international outlook and come a General Election or a People’s Vote, I want to see the Labour Party put forward a positive message for the closest possible relationship with the EU, preferably within.
As we build up to CULC's Brexit panel event this coming Tuesday (29th January), we will be featuring posts putting the case for various Brexit 'options'. The first of these was written by our Graduate Officer, Alasdair Keith, and first appeared in The Cambridge Student.
The EU referendum of 2016 split clearly down class lines. Whilst 59% of those in the AB social bracket and 52% in the C1 bracket (the upper and middle class) voted to remain, 62% of those in the C2 bracket (skilled working class) and a staggering 64% of those in the DE bracket (unskilled working class or unemployed) voted to leave.
Why then do the majority in the Labour Party, and more broadly those on the left, insist that voting to leave the EU is against working-class interests? To say that they know better would be patronising to the extreme, and yet that is exactly what they do.
The reason for this is that the left is no longer working-class. Recent figures show that 77% of Labour Party members are upper- or middle-class, and it’s a similar story for the Greens (77%) and Lib Dems (85%).
Unlike the vast majority of Labour Party members, I actually am working-class. I started campaigning for the party when I was three (yes, three years old) and became a member at fifteen. I bleed Labour, and that’s why I care so much about its destruction from within, by the ‘woke’, macchiato-drinking, London-centric, pseudo-left in this country. Nothing has deepened this dichotomy convulsing the party more than the EU referendum, where the sheer contempt these liberals have for the working class has been laid bare for all to see. Not a day has gone by since the result where I haven’t heard Leave voters being referred to as stupid or racists. It’s total nonsense.
I harbour a hope that this disdain much of the liberal left holds is unintentional and not born out of any real malice. It’s with this hope that I have written this article, to try to convince the reader that Brexit will actually advance working-class concerns.
First, I would like to address the free movement of labour. The influx of labour depresses wages and compromises the bargaining power of trade unions. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with the individuals themselves who come to this country in search of a better life – indeed, I admire them for making that leap. But we must stand up for our own low-wage workers. The Migration Observatory at Oxford recently collated various studies on immigration, which highlighted a common finding that ‘immigration has [a] small impact on average wages but more significant impacts along the wage distribution: low-waged workers lose while medium and high-paid workers gain.’ Specifically, Dustmann et al. found that ‘a 1% increase in the share of migrants in the UK-born working age population results in a 0.6% decline in the wages of the 5% lowest paid workers,’ a conclusion corroborated by the studies of Nickell and Salaheen. Now to those who have never wanted for money, I guess a decline of 0.6% does not mean much. But believe me, it does for those at the very bottom of the pile. I’d also like to point out that recent levels of immigration have been far higher than a 1% share of the workforce (from 1997-2017 the increase was 9.1% according to the Migration Observatory and 7.6% according to the Office for National Statistics) and so the effects on wage compression are most likely far more profound.
Thatcher did all she could to break trade union power, and the EU – with its free movement of labour – is simply building upon her legacy. The premise is simple: in an environment where the labour market is exceedingly fluid, it is increasingly difficult for workers to organise and mobilise. Why would an employer choose a unionised worker when somebody arriving from outside the country, looking for work opportunities, demands much less from them? This is why big businesses are so much in thrall to the EU, and the gig economy – which the left professes to hate – is booming.
Another reason to condemn the EU is that, though it denounces protectionism in any of its member states, it is itself protectionist. Farmers in many parts of Africa and Asia would love to sell their goods in Europe. These are amongst the poorest people on the planet and yet the EU prevents them from trading through the imposition of impossible quality standards and the subsidisation of European farmers. I think we in the UK especially have an obligation to trade with those in the Commonwealth, who we shamefully abandoned when we joined the EU. Opening our trade in foodstuffs up to the rest of the world could be a mutually beneficial arrangement. We could waive the spurious regulatory standards currently imposed by the EU and set tariffs low or nil, particularly on goods not typically produced in this country (such as oranges or bananas) where there will therefore be no impact on farmers and agricultural workers here. That way, food prices in our supermarkets, no longer inflated by EU protectionism, ought to fall. This would especially benefit poorer households in the UK, who typically spend a higher proportion of their income on food. Brexit therefore presents a real opportunity to benefit both the poorest buyers in the UK as well as the poorest producers in the world. I’d love to start buying my grapes, for example, from Namibia rather than from Greece. That would help the farmers of Namibia to sustain themselves and would also reduce costs for the British consumer.
Leftists should also oppose the EU because it is hostile to Keynesian economics. Indeed, the bureaucrats of Brussels don’t believe in member-state intervention into the market economy, even during periods of low demand (which is typically accompanied by a recession). The EU tries to prevent (and can fine in the case of eurozone members) any sovereign government that runs a budget deficit of 3% or more of GDP. So, other than austerity – and we’ve seen how effective that is – how is a government meant to rejuvenate an economy during or after recession? After World War Two, we were able to spend our way out of poverty through a comprehensive public works program – why should we not be allowed to again? The reality of the matter is that the EU could easily block any meaningful reforms that Jeremy Corbyn wishes to enact – such as nationalising and integrating our transport system – should he become Prime Minister.
I am clearly no Tory. And I feel that Theresa May (who supports Brexit like the rope supports the hanging man) has approached these negotiations pitifully. But I don’t trust Project Fear. We were promised an emergency budget even just by voting to leave, and that never materialised.
The Labour Party has historically been against the European project, including leading figures such as Clement Attlee and Tony Benn. The greatest and most effective trade unionist of the past thirty years, Bob Crow, was totally against the EU and even set up a party to fight against it. Back then, the left in this country realised that the EU was heading in a deeply undemocratic direction, and that the concept of a free market and the free movement of labour was designed to smash the trade unions. It’s a real pity that the left seems to have forgotten its roots on this matter.
Perhaps there are those on the pro-EU left who are unconvinced by a genuine, working-class, socialist argument. Well, I believe in the people of this country, especially in the working class of this country, and I believe they got it right when they voted to leave the EU.
 https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/how-britain-voted-2016-eu-referendum, accessed 3/10/18.
 L. Audickas, N. Dempsey and R. Keen, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper No. SN05125, September 2018.
 https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/the-labour-market-effects-of-immigration/, accessed 3/10/18.
 C. Dustmann, T. Frattini, and I. P. Preston, The Effect of Immigration along the Distribution of Wages, Review of Economic Studies, 80(1), 2013, 145-173.
 S. Nickell and J. Salaheen, The Impact of Immigration on Occupational Wages: Evidence from Britain, Working Paper No. 08-6, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Boston, 2008.
 https://migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/resources/briefings/migrants-in-the-uk-labour-market-an-overview/, accessed 5/10/18.
 https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/ukandnonukpeopleinthelabourmarket/august2017, accessed 5/10/18.
 https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/9562, accessed 7/10/18.
Access to justice is a fundamental democratic right which we should all cherish. The severe levels of underfunding plaguing our justice system, however, are putting this core value to the test. The chaos inflicted on our justice system does not end in the courtroom and its repercussions should be a serious cause of concern to all.
Cambridge Universities Labour Club’s (CULC) Justice Campaign was unanimously approved at our Termly General Meeting in November 2018. To develop this campaign further, members of CULC are now taking the necessary steps to educate themselves on the impacts of the cuts to the justice system and, in particular, cuts to legal aid.
The first step we have taken to build this campaign was to visit Anglia Ruskin University’s (ARU) Law Clinic to learn more about why this was set up, how much it has already achieved and what actions it would expect the Government to take to improve citizen’s access to the law.
ARU’s Law Clinic offers free, independent and confidential legal advice to people dealing with family law matters in Cambridge, Chelmsford and surrounding areas. The clinic has been up and running for less than a year and has already given advice to over 300 clients, emphasizing that the increasing cutbacks in public funding for legal aid are causing a serious demand for legal advice. The clinic works collaboratively with local professionals, advice agencies and law students to plug the greatly needed gap of legal support. We all need access to the justice system and even if most of us, as students, may have been fortunate enough to not need to end up in a court hearing, it is undeniable the fact that a fair society with liberties for all must be governed by the rule of law. CULC believes that this is under serious risk as a result of cuts to legal aid and that is why we are passionate about campaigning on this issue this term.
CULC’s visit to ARU’s Law Clinic highlighted in particular the gravity of family law and how severe the cuts to legal aid are in this area. Family law can include divorce, child custody and visitation rights, child support payments, and spousal support. Family law often involves complex issues of domestic violence and child protection and so are cases where people are desperate for support, something which the Law Clinic has been successfully providing, even if recognising the number of people who are still in need to advice and support.
The Law Clinic offers free advice, help with filling in forms and have a dedicated team in the court ready to offer advice to those shut out of the justice system because they cannot afford it. The work of volunteer students in the clinic is supported by lawyers from private firms, ensuring that all advice given out is approved by certified lawyers.
Beyond the issue of affordability, our visit to the Law Clinic also demonstrated that access to the justice system is often restricted by knowledge factors which the clinic also aims to address via outreach work with local organisations like Women’s Aid, Citizens Advice Bureau and more.
Our justice system is underfunded and spending on legal aid has shrunk by more than £1bn in five years. The consequences of this are clear, especially with regards to family law as defendants are walking into courts without legal advice and fair representation, a basic cornerstone of the rule of law.
CULC believes that there needs to be an urgent move towards reinstating the half hour free legal advice which existed before the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) came into effect introducing funding cuts to legal aid.
Legal aid was introduced in 1949 by the postwar Labour government but has been cut by £450m a year since by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition.
Not only do the high costs of legal aid fees act as a key barrier to justice but they have also been leading people into debt and anxiety and have had a negative impact on children’s lives.
CULC is happy to see the work of organisations like ARU Law Clinic plugging the gap but call on the Government to reinstate funding for legal aid urgently.
If you wish to learn more about the Law Clinic or know someone who would benefit from the advice, you can learn more about them here: https://www.anglia.ac.uk/business-and-law/economics-finance-and-law/law-clinic
CULC will be running a series of events and campaign days on the Justice System this term and we hope to have the support of students. If you are interested in getting involved keep an eye on our page for opportunities or get in touch directly.