Manuel Cortes: Brexit? No pasarán!

Manuel Cortes

The growing working-class disillusionment with Brexit can no longer be dismissed as a figment of the imagination of the 48%. Last weekend’s Hope not Hate and Best for Britain poll showed 112 parliamentary constituencies who voted Leave would now prefer to Remain. And so the alt-right’s British pet project finds itself facing a potentially serious threat from voters in Labour heartlands, who are now rising sharply and decisively against Brexit. Anger is visibly growing amongst working people at the disinformation spread by the Toff collective of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg. These aristo-class charlatans’ arrogant attempts to con working people are being shredded as the true facts of post-Brexit life presses home. And I predict it will be the working people of Labour’s heartlands who will yet be the nemesis to Ukip/Tory Brexit hubris.

It’s not just this poll that gives heart to those of us fighting Tory Brexit. A new movement of resistance is springing across our towns and our cities. Local groups are coming together to defeat the alt-right’s Brexit baby. Mass meetings and rallies against Brexit are becoming the norm as I tour the country with our strong Left Against Brexit message. Make no mistake: the battle to defeat the extreme right’s choice for our country’s future is now intensifying.

I am reminded of the response to Margaret Thatcher’s imposition of her hated poll tax back in the late ’80s. Opposition to it was first dismissed as fringe. As resistance grew, so did the political confidence of our heartland communities where Thatcher began her neoliberal, lay-waste project that now earns them the moniker “left behind”. Thatcher was toppled because she misjudged our heart for a fight and our heartlands willingness to engage in it. The Tories have never fully recovered from the decapitation we dealt them then. They have managed to scrape just two slim parliamentary majorities since. And the legacy of our poll tax victory still haunts them.

Those with me in the battle trenches against the poll tax will remember vividly how weak our party was on this front. A mass movement grew in its shadow because our leadership mistakenly decided not to head the fight. A small number of Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn included, were of course on the right side of history. As the struggle gathered pace, Jeremy and I both called on Neil Kinnock to summon the courage to join our ranks. Had he done so, Thatcher and the Tories wouldn’t have just been defeated over the poll tax – it’s likely too that the movement against it would have delivered Kinnock into office in 1992.

Jeremy is no Kinnock. He is a man of great courage – as we see day-in, day-out, when he is constantly vilified for his long and deeply held principles. He is a rarity as a political leader because he is a truly seasoned campaigner. Fearless and relentless in speaking out against the oppression of working people and the consequences of austerity, he despises the racism that has grown since the referendum. He feels keenly the dreadful blood price paid by our very own Jo Cox for Brexit. He is a man who believes in peace, not division, nor giving political oxygen to the right. I strongly believe he won’t let the opportunity pass to lead a growing movement against Brexit as it expands itself to become a beacon against the rising tide of racism and fascism.

Working people’s dismay is turning to anger as our jobs, our livelihoods, our rights and our environment look set to be the sacrificial lambs on the alt-right alter. The economic repercussions of Tory Brexit were always going to be catastrophic for Labour heartlands. So too will its political effects if we don’t fight Brexit tooth and nail. Our party must be at the helm of the protests to stop the profoundly reactionary, deeply anti-working class Steve Bannon, Farage and Boris getting their way.

Jeremy may bide his time. But he will not shy away from the fight as Kinnock did over the dreaded poll tax. Groups against Brexit are now springing up across our country, and our party’s national leadership must join with our local anti-Brexit brigades and together charge on this most brutal of Tory policies. No one – and I mean no one – is better placed than Jeremy to lead this fight. Now is not the time for in-fighting in our party. It is the time for solidarity in the face of the grave threat facing our class. It is time for clarity of purpose. The alt-right are on the rise and they are coming for us in their Brexit battleship. Together we can sink them before they sink us.

To those of you within our party who prefer to pick a fight with Jeremy Corbyn, I say wake up and smell the coffee. Do not blight the future of our next generation by keeping Labour from power. So many of our people badly need us in government. To those of you who argue that membership of the European Economic Area is a safe shore, it’s time to up your game. No one voted for the worst of both worlds. Vassal statehood wasn’t on the ballot paper in the June 2016 referendum, and creating a new party didn’t form part of any manifesto you stood on in 2017. You say you want us to retain the benefits of European Union membership, well, start arguing for that and stop bashing our leader.

To those of you who consider Lexit an honourable socialist position, again I say, please, wake up and smell the coffee. Re-evaluate what is going on in the battlefield before us, then come and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us against the alt-right. Jo Cox was taken away by a self-identifying neo-Nazi. Sadly, she is not the last casualty of the Brexit referendum. Britain has grown nastier. Across our country, racist attacks against all creeds and colours are on the rise. And the fascists are emboldened. That 20,000 alt-right thugs marched through the streets of London last month is something that concerns us all. The deliberate targeting of Bookmarks, one of Britain’s most prominent socialist booksellers three weeks ago in broad Bloomsbury daylight, is a matter that concerns us all.

No one said the EU is perfect – far from it. Hold your nose if you must, but understand that beating Brexit is now part of the struggle to defeat the rise of xenophobic populism and dog-whistle racism. We all know the ending of the Pastor Niemöller’s poem, which begins “First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out”. The fascist creep in its rebrand alt-right guise is on the rise in the United States, in Europe and here too. It’s why understanding the Trojan nature of Brexit is so vital. It’s no gift horse for the working class and must be to be put down before it unleashes the economic chaos within it that is fascism’s fertile ground. It’s why the only tactical response to Brexit for the left is now: no pasarán!

Manuel Cortes is general secretary of the TSSA.

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