This first of a series, where ahead of Labour Conference, four young members of For our Future's Sake argue why the People's Vote is a necessity.
There is an understandable amount of nervousness amongst the left about the prospects of a People’s Vote.
Some of it is unfair and untrue – that a People’s Vote is somehow a front for a new party. Let me say again that is categorically not true, and a significant amount of people and groups (including For our Future’s Sake – FFS) would never be a part of that.
That’s why we have spent our summer working with groups across the political spectrum to mobilise Labour members in their constituency Labour Parties, because we still believe the Labour Party is the best vehicle to deliver a People’s Vote. If rumours are true, over 100 constituency Labour Parties have made a massive step forward in doing just that.
There’s a reason why there’s so much focus on the left of British politics, and it’s response to the challenge of Brexit – because we’re firmly of the opinion that the answers to those difficult questions have to be progressive ones.
Anger that manifested itself during the referendum was born out of a justifiable feeling that people were being ignored by the Westminster Elite. For lots of people, the only way they felt they could make themselves heard was through Brexit. There is a clear correlation, for instance, between areas that have been hit hardest by counter-productive austerity measures and areas that voted Leave.
If we were to get a People’s Vote, so, the argument goes, the white working classes of England would rise up and punish people they saw responsible for the great betrayal.
I am a young Jewish woman and vocal campaigner for a People’s Vote – to the point where I set up For our Future’s Sake, a youth and student-led campaign – so hate and vitriol are sadly regular features in my life.
I therefore do not say this lightly, when I say I couldn’t disagree more with those who argue that a People’s Vote would lead to a rise in the far right.
Firstly, because Brexit has already empowered those very same people. We see the direct trajectory of the politics of the Brexit which led to the rise of men like Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. The latter of which is currently spending his time trying to set up a movement of the alt-right in Europe, and the first of which is doing his best to destroy the civilised world. And we can see senior members of the Brexit elite – be in Boris Johnson or Michael Gove – meet these men, and make public overtures. Borrow from their Trumpian tactics.
To miss this is to deliberately ignore it – and Labour’s ambivalence is misplaced.
Freedom of information requests showed that in the 11 months after Brexit, recorded hate crimes surged to their highest level ever – a 23% increase on the same period the year before.
The Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services – dubbed the ‘police watchdog’ – have warned that there is a “real possibility” of a massive spike in hate crimes around the time of Article 50, in March next year. On this, I would unfortunately have to agree.
Because in places like Cornwall, where I am from, nothing is more likely to entrench bitterness than making hard-pressed communities even poorer. Nothing is more corrosive to democracy than the sight of a Westminster elite turning its back on young people, many of whom didn’t even get a say in 2016. The people of Cornwall and elsewhere had legitimate grievances which meant they were desperate for change – and they were sold a series of false promises.
Indeed, the left’s answer to the threat of the far-right must never be to hide ourselves away; the answer must be more democracy, not less democracy. To fight fascism, not bend a knee.
And if you believe – as I do – that the roots of fascism and racism lie deep under the surface of bad policy making; by leaders not listening, not understanding to the needs of those most vulnerable – then we need a radical new direction for this country and it’s political system. That means listening and understanding the root causes of why so many people voted for Brexit in the first place, not preaching to them why they are guaranteed a worse life because of it.
The facts are simply this. You cannot take radical action without the funding to do so.
You cannot end austerity, rebuild public services or increase wages for the lowest-paid if the Government loses billions of pounds in tax revenue because the economy is poorer. Indeed, the shadow of Brexit is currently preventing democracy from functioning properly so it can sort out issues like housing, schools and the NHS.
All those who consider themselves progressive or left wing should be chomping at the bit to deliver a People’s Vote. A verdict on this government’s incompetence, an expression of democratic intent and an opportunity to take on the far right.
So to those who are nervous – so am I. But only because a People’s Vote won’t lead to a rise in the far right, doing nothing will.
Amanda Chetwynd-Cowieson is a co-founder of For our Future’s Sake
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