The EU referendum has been an upheaval for British politics. The predicted market uncertainty has already begun its inexorable crash through Britain. With each wave taking with it a little bit from the rich and a lot from the poorest. The poorest who quite sadly voted for Brexit.
This will not be an accusatory post, there's really no point except catharsis, but it must be acknowledged that the decision about our nation's future was fueled by two things: disconnect from their representatives, anger at their loss of living conditions. Every other reason descends from these two problems. It is now a chance to work out where we go from here, how we buttress ourselves and those who are most vulnerable from their decision. I'll try to break this down by group and timeline.
Our first step should be to fight the worst forces unleashed by this referendum. The mud-slinging rhetoric and demagogic fury is enough to scare even some of the leave campaign. The signs are already springing up: “support repatriation,” “poles go home,” and “England for the English” have all been seen and shared around the country. These sentiments terrify me, and they should terrify others. This is not to say, or imply, that the leave campaign is racist but those who are racist have felt legitimised by it, legitimised by the rhetoric and by the constant demonisation of the “other.” Nor is this sentiment entirely confined to the leave campaign. For too long our leaders have legitimised the worst of humanity through dog-whistle politics. It's Cameron's refugee “swarms,” Boris's “picanninie smiles” and Goldsmith's accusations of “extremism.”
These forces are currently buoyed by the thought the nation is behind them. It is up to the leave campaign to make it clear they are not and up to all people to fight this fascist uprising. We must demonstrate solidarity with our immigrant comrades and offer them our support even where it is politically difficult. We must organise counter demonstrations to show the forces of hate that we are not with them. And we must hold our politicians to a higher account about the way they speak. This is not about “political correctness” it is about what we expect from those who wish to represent us.
Our second step should be to try and rebuild the international spirit of our movement. To work on bridging the perceived disconnect between immigrant communities and the working class boroughs where they live. This should be possible if difficult. Many communities with high levels of immigration report higher levels of comfort with immigration, a fact that suggests it's a lack of knowledge driving a wedge between the communities. At a grassroots level: public meetings, social gatherings, and cultural exchanges should be encouraged where possible. Understanding is the key.
At a policy level we should look to reinstating the migrant impact fund. A policy scrapped in 2010. It is apparent to many of us that our true claims that “immigration provides a net economic and tax benefit” and “immigration does not change population to a significant degree” are not felt in many areas. This isn't to say we should reduce immigration or change it or anything. It is instead about mitigating any feelings of animosity by letting those benefits be felt locally. If immigration brings in £20bn in taxes it is only fitting those taxes should support the communities immigrants move into, anything else is exploitative and damaging.
Our third step is perhaps the most complex. We must change the narrative. If you ask people around the country for their concerns they will point to high class sizes and long NHS waiting times. They will then tell you this is because immigration has overwhelmed our services. This simplistic narrative may seem convincing but when the impact of immigration is compared to the impact of Tory cuts it falls apart. Austerity is the reason for failing public services, not immigration. The numbers even back this up. In a year where immigration increased the population increase by 0.5% sixth form colleges saw their funding cut by up to 24%. One of these will make a significant difference to services. Part of these worries can be balanced by the immigration impact fund I've already mentioned but that isn't going to be enough.
The seeds of Brexit were sown long ago when Labour began to ignore its working class base in favour of appealing to a centrist crowd. My Mother, middle class but from a working class background, points to her excitement in 1997 at the election of a Labour government. She tells me of the warm sunny day on which she went to vote and of taking me, then age 2, to the polling station. She also tells me of her disappointment at what came next.
That disappointment has been writ large by this vote. A betrayed and politically dispossessed working class have delivered a blow to an enemy that they were told was to blame. In 2 years, as the dust settles and Austerity rumbles on they will be angry again and this time we must be there. We cannot pretend that a nation where the wealth of the poor stagnates whilst the wealth of the richest doubles is in any way fair. We cannot hide behind our wealth and forget to tackle inequality. We can no longer accept that food banks are acceptable in one of the world's strongest economy. We must listen to an angry voice screaming for a solution, any solution. A voice so desperate it would listen to Boris Johnson rather than Jeremy Corbyn.
This may be a fake revolt but we can turn it into a real one. We can show people that there is an alternative, that they must punch up at the rich and not down at migrants, that they have been lied to and that we are sorry. We are sorry for abandoning them as politically non-viable. We are sorry for ignoring their legitimate worries and letting demagogues play with their illegitimate ones. We are sorry for letting ourselves forget out purpose.
The only way forwards now is solidarity. We must band together and fight to maintain every last right that Europe has previously guaranteed. We must refuse to let the poor and the vulnerable be written off as the cost of Brexit. We must present unity with our comrades on the continent and with immigrant communities in Britain. We cannot give into reactionary forces.
We will not give an inch on working rights.
We will not abandon refugees and migrants.
We will offer the working class a better option.
We will make the best of Brexit.
Because there's no other option.