This week is already looking like a bad one for the pro-Brexit forces in our party. First, Labour’s most prominently pro-Leave MP Kate Hoey announced her retirement. Then, after a meeting with union leaders, Jeremy Corbyn outlined his new position on Brexit. Labour is now committed to a referendum on any deal, and to campaigning for Remain to stop any form of Brexit that the next Prime Minister pursues. We are getting closer and closer to becoming an anti-Brexit party.
This policy shift was not just the result of soul-searching at the top. It follows many months of sustained pressure from the grassroots, from the same mass membership that secured Corbyn his leadership victories on the promise of listening to the movement. Labour’s rank-and-file, grown and revived under Corbyn’s leadership, has decided to test that promise and take policy into its own hands.
As organisers for Another Europe is Possible and people who joined Labour to support Jeremy Corbyn, we are proud of the role Another Europe has played in coalescing the anti-Brexit mood in Labour. We organised the biggest ever wave of motions to Labour conference in 2018, phonebanking thousands of Labour members up and down the country. We spoke to activists in CLPs that hadn’t sent motions to conference in years, and step-by-step explained the process and helped win the arguments.
While the final composite was a fudge, it set in motion the process according to which Labour would ultimately shift. Almost as important as the policy itself was the story: Labour’s anti-Brexit campaign was led by the grassroots left, not by centrists in suits.
Since then, we have not taken a break. Labour members have been organising to influence the leadership and on their MPs – through lobbying, writing letters, passing follow-up motions and campaigning in their communities. We have called more than 20 national days of action, organised rallies and ensured there was a strong left presence at anti-Brexit marches.
Some will say, in exasperation, that Labour’s change in policy is too little and too late. It is Labour’s job to prove them wrong. Winning back Labour’s lost voters means campaigning for Remain now, with conviction and enthusiasm. Labour cannot wait until a referendum is announced to start making its case. Its message must be an inspiring one: talking not just about the dangers that a Tory Brexit poses, but also about our radical vision for Britain in Europe.
This doesn’t have to mean being rosy-eyed about EU institutions. We can put forward an ambitious programme of reform. Labour could throw its weight behind the movement for a European Green New Deal, stand up to the far right and campaign against the brutality of Fortress Europe. Instead of closing the borders to Eastern Europeans, let’s promote a programme of levelling up wages, workers’ rights and living standards across the continent. This kind of internationalism was sadly missing from Labour’s European election campaign, which focused on local and national issues.
Labour must have the courage to win the argument on immigration. So far, its approach has been timid and has accommodated anti-migrant narratives. Our 2017 manifesto accepted that freedom of movement would end, and Labour was initially reluctant to oppose the Tory Immigration Bill, which threatens to give Boris Johnson’s future cabinet a blank cheque to rewrite migration laws.
If the new Leave campaign is anything like the last one, we must be ready to tackle head-on its agenda of racist scapegoating. We know that it’s years of austerity, privatisation, deregulation and attacks of trade unions that are to blame for poverty and inequality – not fellow working people with foreign passports. We can only beat hate and division by combining a socialist programme with a strong pro-migrant message.
Ultimately, we believe that Labour policy should be decided by members, not in backroom meetings. That’s why, at this year’s conference, we will be ready. Already, 300 CLPs are debating the model motion promoted by Another Europe Is Possible, Labour for a Socialist Europe and Open Labour. If it passes, it will commit Labour to opposing Brexit outright, fighting the nationalist and xenophobic narrative of the Leave campaign, and building transnational alliances to implement a left-wing vision for Europe. It is with this kind of radical, optimistic agenda that Labour can regain the trust of its own members and supporters, win the next general election and start transforming society.