Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Brexit Day, the Labour Party and the Left.

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The Actually Existing ‘People’s Brexit’.

“Newly dominant reactionary forces call for the undermining trade pacts and presaging trade wars, denouncing supranational institutions and cosmopolitan elites, while stoking the flames of racism and violence against migrants. Even some on the left, some herald a renewed national sovereignty to serve as a defensive weapon against the predations of neoliberalism, multinational corporations and global elites.”

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. Empire, Twenty Years On.

“It was fitting that the final footage of Nigel Farage inside the European Parliament was of his microphone being hastily switched off mid-sentence by a visibly prickly chairwoman. Farage was told off for brandishing a tiny, 10x15cm Union flag. Put your flags away. You are leaving. And if you are leaving now, take them with you, she sternly instructed with matronly clarity.”

Farage..made a small symbolic nod to the country he has been elected to represent for over a quarter of a century. He was silenced for even alluding to the existence of the nation state. But if the nation state is so problematic, it begs the question of what the European Union is a union of, exactly.

Alexandra Phillips. Brexit Party MEP. Spiked.

Today is Brexit Day, the “dawn of a new era”. Who will greet this triumph? The British People, rising like Lions after slumber? The Brexiteers know how to camp up tat but few can see any emotional rivers about to burst. The Labour Party will not join the festivities or protests. But, “Jeremy Corbyn’s spokesman has told journalists that ‘there will be no tears’ from the Labour leader as Britain leaves the EU this Friday.” (Left Foot Forward) Some Remainers will show their grief; most of the nearly half the electorate who voted to stay in Europe will be quiet.

Without much prompting the sovereigntist left see “possibilities that arise out of leaving the EU”. Lexiteer Larry Elliott claims to see signs in the nationalisation of Northern Rail that the Tories have “tacked left” on public spending, in response to the public shift towards leftwards on the economy (Boris Johnson has shifted the Tories left on the economy. Labour should watch out)

The uncontested leader of La France insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who put down Labour’s defeat to the interference of the Israeli secret services, has made a friendly nod. He suggests that the temporary public ownership of a railway company could only take place outside the European Union. From the Full Brexit and Blue Labour Maurice Glasman detects “socialist economics” in the statements of Johnson’s top man, Dominic Cummings. The “most progressive post-Brexit future” would seem to be one that negotiates within the framework created by the European Reform Group.

How will the Labour Party take on the Conservative Majority in Parliament? Will it become part of, as Tony Blair did, a consensus established by the right? Do contenders for the Labour leadership intend to become part of a post-Brexit settlement? No candidate offers an immediate challenge. The issue is being digested in the party’s guts, as supporters try to come to terms with the end of the Corbyn project. On the wilder fringes the pro-EU stand of Keir Starmer has been blamed for defeat. Taking a short break from posting material against undue ‘Jewish influence’ in Britain Verso, the publisher of New Left Review has published a hatchet job on the candidate, suggesting that he is widely blamed for the electoral disaster…..

Sir Keir broke with the leadership, refused to formulate a Leave programme (aside from his deliberately unworkable ‘six tests’), and steered the party towards a second referendum. As many have argued, this was the perhaps the single biggest reason for the disastrous general election result that followed.

The case against Keir Starmer Oliver Eagleton

Hardt and Negri remind us that more is at stake than an election. Hunkering down to a political strategy defined by the sovereignty defined by Brexit cuts the British left off from international political and economic processes. The authors of Empire (2000) believe that globalisation is still a dominant force in the world. In these conditions, “no nation-state today is able to organise and command the global order unilaterally”. Trump’s “railing against ‘globalism’ “entails a ploy for a more dominant position within, rather than an attacks upon, the global system.” Yet within the worldwide “mixed constitution” the forces of “revolutionary internationalism”, embodied in the “multitude”, the “diverse figures of social production”, a “multitudinous class”, continues to resist. (1)

Without integrating the British left into these international processes and struggles – primarily “through and against” the existing institutions of the European Union – the space is left for the sovereigntists to play in. It is not just the economic and social effects of Brexit, the immediate setback to social rights and standards and the freedoms for capital that the new settlement is built on, that should concern the left. The folk politics of an “international cycle of struggles” and the memory of the “alter-globalisation” movement aside, it’s the multitude, the diverse, “intersectional” groups of people whose voices and interests are submerged by the Conservative triumph. The cultural effects of national populist ideas are deadening. Already parts of the pro-Brexit left dismiss demands they do not like, following Corbyn adviser Andrew Murray’s description of “rancid identity politics”. Some would prefer to concentrate on meeting fears of “white shift”. As Eric Kaufman notes, “What really distinguishes Leave from remain voters is their willingness to sacrifice economic benefits to cut immigration.” (2)

Murray has also said “the preference for individual rights over the collective, which has come to preponderate on much of the Western left, a flowering of the more poisonous seeds of the politics of personal identity and human rights.” Amongst those running for the Labour leadership Keir Starmer has a long history of defence of human rights. Other candidates are less active in the field.

There have been many debates about human rights over the last centuries. Far from being grounded in human nature or fixed by the order of things or gods, new demands have been created by people themselves, as one of the most famous early – unofficial – statements, the Declaration of the Rights of Women shows. Trade unions have been called the biggest human rights movement in history. Many on the left, including the most radical, have developed human rights principles, in theory and in often-desperate movements, over the last decades. Rights are not a political strategy, but a moral area in which Labour can develop a common outlook. With his background and reference to these issues, Starmer has an important contribution to make. (3)

As Paul Mason says,

…..the party itself has to become a mass, open, democratic and election-winning alliance. It has to be a cultural and social movement as well as an election machine. And in that project it is leadership skills and personal integrity that are going to matter, alongside commitment to a decarbonised economy and a post-neoliberal economics.

That’s why I am backing Keir Starmer. Starmer is from the left, but can command the trust of Labour’s various centrist wings, as well as the silent majority of members who just want to win an election and stop the agony of food banks, Universal Credit and in-work poverty. Beyond that, experience on the doorstep suggests he is the only candidate with spontaneous name-recognition and popularity among voters who deserted us in December.

When working class people say “I don’t like Corbyn but I would vote for you if Keir Starmer was leader”, it’s not out of deference to someone with slick hair and a suit. It’s because they sense politics has become a battle of stories, values and ideals and that Starmer stands a chance in that battle, in a way the other candidates do not.

There are risks attached to Starmer. His campaign team is a mixture of the left and centre – with most of the far-left self-excluded – so all the pressure on him is coming from the right. He is cautious on policy: committed to the Green New Deal and to public ownership, but well aware that neither of these properly resonated on the doorstep.

To win again, Labour’s next leader must be honest about the reasons the party lost

We agree, even if this claim is highly doubtful,

Now the leave-remain divide must end. Defining people by how they voted in June 2016 merely upholds a divide that we must overcome. There are no leavers or remainers any more. In 2024 there will be no leave or remain constituencies.

Now Labour must end the leave-remain divide. Another future is possible

Britain, despite Tory carping, remains part of the European Convention on Human Rights and part of its Court. Perhaps it will remind us that despite Brexit Day one of the elements of internationalism already has an – imperfect – institutional, form.

Build on it, the internationalist left will not walk away from Europe.


  1. See also Multitude. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri. Hamish Hamilton. 2004. and A Grammar of the multitude. Paolo Virno. Semiotext 2004.
  2. Page 214. The Fall and Rise of the British Left. Andrew Murray. Verso 2019. Page  201. White Shift. Eric Kaufmann. Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities. Penguin 2018
  3. Page 97 Andrew Murray. Op cit. See: Les droits de l’homme rendent-ils idiot ?  Justine Lacroix Jean-Yves Pranchère. Seuil, 2019

9 Responses

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  1. Andrew Coates

    January 31, 2020 at 5:41 pm

  2. Wasn’t Negri a terrorist? I only asked!

    Dave Roberts

    January 31, 2020 at 7:02 pm

  3. As the Gammon come out to play with their Eton mates tonight we are listening to this:

    “Hello-hurrah, there’s a price to pay, to the Eton rifles
    Hello-hurrah, I’d prefer the plague, to the Eton rifles
    Hello-hurrah, there’s a price to pay, to the Eton rifles
    Hello-hurrah, I’d prefer the plague, to the Eton rifles”

    Andrew Coates

    January 31, 2020 at 7:07 pm

  4. Joanna Cherry, Jo Swinson and Gina Miller have filed an Act of Rescindment to stop Brexit at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Lord McSporran of Brigadoon will issue his Opinion at 10am on Monday 2nd February.

    Sput News

    February 1, 2020 at 3:54 am

  5. […] A personal view from Andrew Coates (first published at his blog, Tendance Coatesy): […]

  6. Katy Balls wrote in the i paper, about what focus groups have found about what those in the north and midlands who switched to voting Tory:

    ”When it comes to these new voters, there is a sense from focus groups that a lot of them hear conversations on trade deals and feel as though it doesn’t help them personally — it’s a preoccupation of the rich.”

    Which is true, but it also true about the reverse. The remainers were all about trade deals too. Which proves my point. In or out of the EU is not a working class issue.

    Steven Johnston

    February 3, 2020 at 10:25 am

  7. Or, there is this:

    We will be a sovereign and independent country,” he told a lunch for British executives at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. “But we’ll always protect the interests of British businesses throughout this process and we’ll maintain high standards — not because we are told to, but because we want to.””

    Cutting through the BS, what he is saying is that nothing will change.

    Steven Johnston

    February 3, 2020 at 10:28 am

  8. Very true, Steven. The working class have no skin on in EU game. Those vociferous on the Remain/Leave sides all had vested interests [hint, hint 😉 ]. The working class should not allow themselves to be co-opted into fighting other’s battles. In or Out the working classes will still be exploited.

    Ms Jones

    February 3, 2020 at 11:38 am

  9. Exactly Ms Jones! Thanks for adding some sanity to this debate.

    Steven Johnston

    February 3, 2020 at 12:29 pm

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