images-2Brexit, the vote for Britain to leave the European Union was a huge shock for the political establishment in Britain and across Europe.  All the major political parties in Britain, the Tories, Labour, the Scottish National Party, the Lib Dems and the Greens called for a vote to stay in the European Union. Practically every bosses’ organisation and international finance body, thousands of “top executives” and the leaders of dozens of states, including the US, called on Britain to stay in the EU.

Yet 52 percent of people voted to leave!

Left wing Labour member of parliament, Diane Abbott was right to say it was a “roar of defiance against the political elite”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “One clear message from last Thursday’s vote is that millions of people feel shut out of a political and economic system that has let them down.”

Labour left group Momentum, said, “Much of this vote reflected anger in communities which have experienced many years of industrial decline with the subsequent loss of secure employment. Many such working class communities have been utterly neglected for years by those in power”.

During the campaign much of the talk was about immigration.  One of the main arguments was that leaving would allow greater restrictions on immigration into Britain. Last year roughly half a million people came to live in Britain and a quarter of a million left.  About half of the net immigration to Britain was from other EU countries and half from the rest of the world.  The migrant camps in Calais on the French coast and the experience of many Nigerians is that Britain already had strong border controls that stopped many people who wanted to visit or live in Britain.

Since the vote there have been many demonstrations against racism, but also a 50% increase in racist incidents.  The racists and the far right have gained great confidence from the vote.

Unemployment, poverty and inequality and cuts in government services can have two results.  If socialist parties provide a credible alternative then they can grow very fast – as happened with Bernie Sanders in the US, Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain.  But the right wing reactionaries can also benefit, as demonstrated by the support for Donald Trump in the US, fascist parties across many European countries and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain.

The two main political parties in Britain are in chaos.  Cameron the leader of the Conservative Party (Tories) resigned as he had called for the referendum and then lost.  But most of the Labour Party members in parliament are not using this opportunity to exploit the weakness of the Government and to fight austerity.

Over 170 Labour members of parliament have used the referendum result to turn on the leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.  Jeremy is a life-long campaigner and a left wing member of parliament.  He was only elected leader of the Labour Party nine months ago – gaining almost 60% of the vote of the members.  This was the highest vote ever achieved in the election of the leader of any major party in Britain.

This has now created deep divisions in the Labour Party and there is a fight about who controls the Party, is it the 242 members of parliament or the 500,000 members (half of whom joined the Party around the election of Jeremy as leader)?  There is likely to be another election for the leadership position and Jeremy is quite likely to win again – a quarter of a million people recently signed a petition in his support.  If Jeremy does win again will the right wing members actually break from the party – as a group did 35 years ago?

The Brexit vote weakened an already fragile world economy and specifically the European economy.  But it also reduced the power of the European Commission and so they will be less able to push austerity and government spending cuts on member countries like Greece and Portugal.

There are a great many uncertainties, but as with politics everywhere, what socialist do matters.  If socialists in the British Labour Party manage to retain or re-elect Jeremy Corbyn this will give greater confidence to workers and the majority of young people who voted to stay in the European Union.  If workers in France manage to defeat their government’s attempts to weaken the labour laws this will boost the confidence of workers in France, but also across Europe.  The Brexit vote provided a boost for racists in Britain, but it could also provide much needed support for the fight against austerity.

by Drew Povey