Guest post: “loyalty of working class people runs deep but betray it at your peril”

In this guest post, South Yorkshire teacher, trade unionist and staunch Labour voter Andy Searson takes EU-fixated Labour back-benchers to task.

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EU-fixated MPs: losing the loyalty of the working class

Having just sat through another interview listening to a member of Parliament calling for a second EU referendum, I’m compelled to write this, if only to vent my frustration at right leaning MPs who don’t seem to get the concept of democracy.

First of all, these same politicians just didn’t see the Brexit vote coming. If they lived in my village they wouldn’t have been shocked. In fact they would have been fully anticipating people would choose to leave the EU.

Not because they hate Europe or Europeans, not because they dislike foreigners, not because they are ‘thick’ or uneducated – but it was because they were sick of being talked down to by a political class that knows little about and seemingly cares even less for the plight of working class communities.

Secondly, the more working class people in these areas are ‘told’ how and what they should be thinking, then the more those MPs will ostracise these voters and in doing so jeopardise colleague’s seats. I know of people who voted remain in the referendum who are now willing to vote the opposite way due to interventions and pontificating by people like Campbell, Blair, Clegg and their ilk.

These right wingers seem to perpetually repeat the mistakes of the first decade of this century which saw millions of lost Labour votes. As Tony Benn put it; ‘When I look at New Labour, I wonder if it wasn’t like trying to light a bonfire on a frozen lake – looked marvellous, bright lights, shining white but you melted away your own support.’ As one ex miner told me, ‘I didn’t walk away from Labour, they walked away from me.’ If the extreme right of the party aren’t careful we will see history repeating itself.

“Pernicious cuts and total demolition of civic society” – in the EU

Leading up to the referendum and after years of the Labour Party offering no alternative to austerity, we were expected to accept our lot, accept that there was no alternative to the pernicious cuts and the total demolition of civic society within our towns and villages. During the referendum we were told to vote for Cameron, Clegg and Osborne’s status quo. Labour HQ at the time presented no alternative EU vision, only the Tory one.

The loyalty of working class people runs deep but you betray it at your peril.

They had also learned nothing from campaigning alongside the Tories in the Scottish Independence referendum. This centrist idea of pluralism saw Labour wiped out in Scotland. The loyalty of working class people runs deep but you betray it at your peril. When the Tories are carrying out acts of community vandalism on a scale that has dwarfed the Thatcher years, only someone who isn’t impacted directly by the suffering that those actions caused would be seen standing on a platform with the guilty.

In doing so, don’t be surprised if you are then judged by the people in those working class areas to be one and the same – no different, of the same ilk as those doing the damage. This, coupled with the disastrous attempt to out-UKIP the real UKIP with the Labour rightist’s shameful immigrant mugs, pandered to the worst lies being perpetuated about immigration being the cause of stresses on our grossly underfunded public services.

Aligning themselves with the Tories

In short we had Labour HQ and Alan Johnson aligning themselves with the Tories, the rightists pushing dog-whistle anti-immigrant memorabilia and an overall message of ‘we want business as usual.’

When you looked around the towns and villages in the left behind, industrial wastelands and working class communities, business as usual didn’t look very appealing.

Project fear

That brings me to the current ‘project fear’  and the mantra that ‘you will be worse off  if we leave the EU!’

To understand why this message is not resonating you need to have a walk around the Labour heartlands that voted to leave the EU. In these areas people truly believe things just can’t get any worse.

When you’ve seen any chance of secure work disappear; when you are living from hand to mouth every month on a zero hour contract; when you are dealing with the mental anguish of benefits sanctions or unsecured tenancies that mean you and your family could become homeless at the whim of some distant landlord or the DWP; when you see the fabric of civic society such as libraries, community centres, youth clubs, adult day care centres and OAP facilities closing down all around you – how can things get worse?

When you see a once thriving high street replaced by boarded up buildings, fast food take-aways, charity shops, pawn-brokers, cash converters and betting shops. When the only hope of breaking the chains of poverty via education will burden you with £50,000 worth of debt; when you have no hope of ever buying your first home; when you see your local NHS services disappearing or chronically under staffed – when this is your reality, business as usual stinks and let’s face it, how can it get any worse?

You’re asking the wrong question

For the majority of people in Britain, the question is not whether we should leave the EU – that decision has been made at the ballot box – but who do we want in power after we leave.

The answer to that question is not a party that offers continued austerity, exploitation of workers or a dystopian world bereft of hope.

They don’t want workers recruited abroad by employers specifically to grind down local worker’s pay and conditions. Nor do these communities want a government that offers the same austerity and neoliberal policies but a slightly different brand of social barbarism.

What they do want is authentic representation in Parliament. They want a voice – and for that voice to be heard. Not to be patronised, lectured or talked down to.

The right question

Whilst Corbyn and his shadow cabinet get this, many other Labour MPs have yet to peer beyond the bubble of a safe job at Westminster, a good salary and pension plan – and many of these right-wingers were parachuted into safe Labour seats – and ask what we’re looking for.

The world that most people inhabit is not concerned with semantics and pontifications from ex-Labour grandees. Let’s be blunt about it: we in the Labour heartlands know all about where centrist appeasement gets you.

It gets you left behind, in an post-industrial wasteland, bereft of hope that your kids will do better or at least have a chance of doing better. It gets your public services annihilated.

So, I say, accept the rule of democracy and party policy. Get behind Corbyn and his team and work for a people’s Brexit.

We have the opportunity to rebuild and transform Britain in the spirit of 1945: a fair, forward-looking Britain. The 2017 Labour manifesto synthesised the bravest of visions in all key government departments into a single tantalising view of the future. Let us face the future and seize it for the many not the few!

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  1. So you and many others do not to like the impact of austerity and extreme rightwing policies that the coalition and Tory government have implemented. Fair enough. Neither do I. None of these policies were forced on our Government by the EU. And rest assured, things can very definitely get worse post Brexit. You may think you’ve nothing left to loose, but at least you still have some level of health care and education although I grant you that even that is currently being rapidly eroded by this appallingly inept Government; but you still do have quite a lot left to lose. When even more people are pushed into penury there’ll not even be food in the food banks either.
    Have you looked at the most pro Brexit people and asked yourself why they are promoting it? Do you believe Jacob Rees Mogg really has your best interests at heart or his own off shore funds? Liam Fox- proven liar and arch supporter of USA and arms trade interested in you and your fellow villagers?

    1. Nor has any of it been prevented by being in the EU. But you miss the point of the article by a country mile.

  2. Please copy the PLP, The Guardian etc.
    Any member of Parliament disagreeing should seize the moment, cross the floor and join the Liberals

  3. An excellent article by Andy Searson. He spells it out plainly and clearly that we need a sea change in this Country. Instead of trying to survive in the ruins of Thatcher’s Britain we need to sweep it away and rebuilt a fair and better land which gives everyone a decent life.

  4. Pace, Steve, but this is now the best article – so far! – on your excellent and lovely blog. Well done Andy – keep putting it out there, mate.

  5. Excellent article. I’m from South Yorkshire but was effectively made into an economic migrant by the neoliberalism of the Tories and then Blue Labour. Labour MPs are there to represent us, not patronise us. If they do not get that then let’s have them replaced by people who do.

  6. My response to the above is all that but I live in a Tory voting wasteland, A seaside town where if your over 60 your fine. Under that who cares about you.

    Where there is NO infrastructure we live in the only county with No motorway. Can you say the same does it take you a hour to drive to a motorway in another county? Where the only jobs are yes 0 hour and seasonal.

    This is the south east the richest part of the UK what a joke! Where the only MP you ever get is Tory that’s life not in a traditional Labour voting area.

  7. Oh so you will accept Brexit whatever it is – good – bad – hard – soft without the people having a say – guess you have never been involved with any trade union negation.

    1. The people had a say. Telling them they were idiots and have to do it again won’t help matters. And the whole point of Corbyn’s position is exactly not to give away negotiating options. But those fixated on Brexit don’t get it. Surprise.

      1. “Telling them they were idiots” is your connotation. It’s not about ‘voting again and again until you get the right answer’ as some would characterise it. It’s about having an opportunity to either stick or change your mind when the situation becomes much clearer, what is so difficult about that?

        Shouldn’t you have said “those fixated on remain”?

  8. All very well chum, but Brexit will be a disaster for Britain because the Tories are in charge of it, and they could hardly care less about the impact on the people of Britain. So long as their money, stashed in offshore tax havens, is safe from new EU tax rules, they are happy. But if the electorate decide to vote Labour into the mess that the Tories leave behind them, guess who will get the blame 5 years later when the effects of Brexit really begin to hurt people…

  9. There is so much wrong with this piece it’s hard to know where to start. Fundamentally it is trying to say that in a fit of pique the working class decided to give the ruling class a bloody nose because they had been told what to think, in fact the exact opposite is true.

    For a start, Brexit is a right wing endeavour, apart from a few exceptions most of the proponents are from the far right. Therefore the question is how come they were able to convince working class people to vote for Brexit? The answer is simple – ‘advertising’.

    We know advertising works otherwise £billions would not be spent on it and for years the right wing media had, with their anti-EU stories and attacks in the Mail, Sun, Telegraph etc, been conditioning the population against the EU. As soon as the referendum was announced they went into overdrive and assisted by the BBC who paraded Farage at every opportunity, without devoting hardly any time at all to explaining the workings and advantages of the EU, they began their campaign of lies and misinformation and like Pavlov’s dogs many of the public responded exactly as programmed.

    The Brexit campaign relied not upon facts but on emotional tugs by telling the public they were being disadvantaged by immigrants and that we could take back control of this that and the other, when in fact, we had not lost control of anything and actually there was nothing to take back. The mantra ‘take back our laws’ was particularly stupid. Since Britain became a member of the EU we, almost more than any other country, had proposed and had won approval for the vast majority of the new laws that the EU had introduced, we very rarely lost a vote.

    We were told that the EU needs us more than we need them – absolute bunkum. Well over 50% of our trade goes to the EU when only 16% of theirs comes here. It’s true that in monetary terms their 16% is worth more than our 50% but as a percentage of our economy, ours is much higher and we are bound to be the losers.

    We were also told that if we lose this bit of trade we can always replace it with that bit of trade which the ‘wonderful’ Liam Fox is going to obtain for us. They said we can develop more trade with New Zealand for example, which is on the other side of the Globe. China, with whom we already have trade deals via the EU, is on target to expand its markets by FIVE TIMES that of New Zealand’s. When we leave the EU we will be on our own and will have to negotiate all over again. Switzerland took nearly three years to negotiate a deal with China and had to give them immediate tariff free access to all of their markets. What did the Swiss get in return? They got only limited access to Chinese markets but have to wait 15 years!

    We have been sold a pig in a poke by Brexiters and their right wing accomplices who keep telling us it was an decisive vote by public. It wasn’t, roughly a third voted for, a third against and a third didn’t bother. Neither was it democratic, with the might of the right wing media bombarding the public with their propaganda, the remain case, which was abysmally represented, hardly had a chance to get through. The result is, unlike being able to change our Government after five years, we could plunge our country into a crisis for the foreseeable future without any chance of remission.

    There is no such thing as a ‘good Brexit’, from Jeremy Corbyn or anyone else and I speak as a fervent Corbyn supporter.

    1. Think you’ve read it wrong. And none of the above comment is relevant to the social and electoral realities of the situation, which is what the article’s about

      1. I’ve read it perfectly, if it’s not about why the ‘working class’ voted for Brexit (at least some of them did) what’s it about?
        The article was trying to imply that they felt they were being ignored and taken for granted, I fundamentally disagree. In fact they were played like a violin by Little Englanders who care more about Britain being at the top table of power instead of workers being at the dinner table with food to eat.

        Using emotive propaganda, the right wing by ‘divide and conquer’ i.e. your neighbour in bed whilst you go to work etc., can more often than not get the working class (of which I am one) to vote against their own best interests, why the heck do you think we get so many Tory Governments???

        I too have spoken to many people over how they voted and the number one reason they give is immigration. A couple I know are school teachers who voted for Brexit and said they weren’t sure which way to vote right up to the day but just took a punt because “well we’ve been ok on our own before”. When I asked them to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USTypBKEd8Y they admitted they’d made a mistake.

        To say my comment was not relevant to the social and electoral realities of the situation is an irrelevance in itself. It was an opposing view to why the Brexit vote went the way it did in certain communities – wasn’t this the point of the article?

        Then for the benefit of anyone who thinks that if Labour is left holding the Brexit baby the situation can be salvaged. I went on to explain how nothing good will come of it.

        Don’t forget, it was Labour’s position to stay in the EU, it was right then and it’s right now. We should not be so childish to say the right wing of our Party want to remain, therefore we should oppose them, we must not let them own the remain case. And don’t go down the democracy bit again I’ve already said I believe it was wrong and it is my and my children’s future just as well as anyone else’s I want to protect.

        Like it or not, our membership of the EU has become the foundation upon which our economy has been constructed. Guess what happens when that foundation is yanked away?

    2. Read your post and think there are a number of problems. I write as someone who voted remain. I voted remain not because the EU was brilliant – it destroyed the Greek economy to force it to pay back debt. It did this by attacking Greek workers living condition – savage cuts to pensions wages e.t.c. I voted remain as I hated the right wingers UKIP Tories arguing for brexit, also I thought brexit would unleash a shitstorm of racism. I was right with a Polish work colleagues child being abused at school within days of the result.The day after the result I travelled from London where I live and voted remain to visit my mother in North Shields near Newcastle a brexit stronghold. I was staying with my mother in her spare bedroom in an extra care sheltered housing scheme. My mother left leaning all her life voted remain. I Was staying for a long weekend and spent most of it discussing the result. Among the residents I found a handful who voted remain the vast majority voted brexit on a soft racist basis. “We need to take back our borders” “No benefits migrants e.t.c.” – When I asked if they felt any of the Polish staff cleaners or carers working there they became More sheepish and said no they are working…….
      Among the carers themselves (the scheme is staffed 24/7 due to residents levels of disability) the carers also voted brexit but not as heavily as residents. When asking them why a lot of the responses were like the article above.
      “It can’t be worse than this”
      Some went down the soft racist line to many people working here, for others it was a vote to give them “Westminster” a poke in the eye.

      I remember one in particular – “I work and its rare where Iwont get enough hours but my husband is on a zero hours contract. Month to month we don’t know if we will be able to pay rent and bills. She had a teenage daughter – she doubted whether she was ever likely to get a council house, didn’t think she or her daughter would ever be able to buy a house. She was worried her daughter wouldn’t be able to go to college as she would be worried about debt. her final comment was it can’t be worse than this.?.
      Unfortunately it can. I also think that most also want to see the decision implemented on subsequent visits north I haven’t seen much change.

      I am and remain a remoaner – I campaigned leafleting and canvassing for remain despite some reservations bout the EU.

    3. What you seem to be saying is that the people who voted for Brexit were conned because, unlike yourself, they were not bright enough to understand the issues.
      I voted remain on the same 7/10 basis as Corbyn. The E.U. has been the main driver of neoliberalism and woe betide any country that votes socialist. If we can stay in and have enough muscle to enforce our socialist manifesto, great. If not, then we are better off outside.
      Until Labour is in the negotiating seat we won’t know what we can achieve, this is why Corbyn is keeping his powder dry. The right wing are happy to surrender to neoliberalism and austerity.

      1. What I said was they were “pre conditioned” to vote leave for years by the constant attacks on the EU from the overwhelmingly right wing media. The conditioning was then reinforced with lies and scares about immigration when the time came for the vote. And by the way, many have admitted they didn’t fully understand the issues, which is not surprising because they were not properly explained by the likes of the BBC which had another agenda.

        Your sarcastic point about me being brighter is not called for. It is about being more ‘aware’ of the methods of the media, not being brighter. Don’t you believe those who follow politics and the methods used to try and control the narrative are more aware than those who don’t?

        I fully agree with Corbyn’s 70% regard for the performance of the EU, however he was 100% in favour of remaining in it! It’s not a question of being in it and whether it allows us to follow our manifesto, the two are entirely separate. Remaining in the EU will not prevent us introducing our manifesto in government. It’s not a case of ‘enforcing’ as you said, but of convincing people it’s the right thing to do.

  10. Yes Labour’s Right seem to support an EC that WAS (social democratic) but this is not the EC that currently IS – it has been captured by Neo-Liberalism and supporting the EC four freedoms is simply to support Neo-Liberal capitalism; THAT IS THE REALITY!
    We need to trade with Europe and should try to find a way of tariff free access to EC markets (Govt. may have to pay collectively rather than individual companies) but we need to democratically control labour supply and capital supply (a democratic right countries had Pre-Neo-Liberalism).
    Migrants needing job offers fulfils this so if we need fruit pickers, academics, Asian chefs etc. then fine but I would argue we should also try to trade unionise migrant workers to build community solidarity as well as addressing issues of unscrupulous employers undercutting wages and conditions.
    We should also bring back Migration Adjustment Funds for local councils to support extra services where there is migration (which were set up by Labour and cut by the Tories and Lib Dems).
    As independent progressive nation states we could still cooperate whenever possible and build internationalism.
    We have nothing to lose but our Right Wing Neo-Liberal Chains!

  11. I don’t trust EU neoliberals any more than I trust Tory ones but what if the EU anti tax avoidance package turns out to be effective?
    What if UK being outside – and a couple more corporate tax breaks – shifts enough inward investment our way to make the Tories look like they have a clue for long enough to win the next GE?
    Worst of all possible worlds surely?

  12. ah that magic roundabout were monies grows on trees ask windy Kinnock and his partner millionaires now goodbye magic roundabout

  13. This is brilliant Andy Searson, it should be shared far and wide. When people find themselves on the other side of the picket line from Denis Skinner and on the same side of the street as Goldman Sachs and Tony Blair, they need to ask some serious questions. I don’t actually believe that May wants to leave the EU anyway; why else would she make such a bollocks of the process? The Labour Manifesto 2017 is being proved right time and time again – just as the decision to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader looks better and better despite everything his enemies, including those pissing inside the tent, can throw at him.

    1. @labreisgalloise I agree. There is a fundamental contradiction in the membership’s rejection of Blair, Mandelson and international finance/corporations …. and trade deals like TTIP… whilst loyally clinging onto New Labour’s obsession with the EU and the neoliberal strait-jacket.

      As you say, there are serious questions to be asked as to why LW heroes like Tony Benn, Bob Crow, Dennis Skinner … and until the different demands of leadership, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn… would have voted for withdrawal. Furthermore, Mandelson even acknowledged (in a speech to Singapore Business School) that Brexit was the result of three terms of New Labour.

      The final irony is … (as you put it) ‘I don’t actually believe that May wants to leave the EU anyway; why else would she make such a bollocks of the process?’. And I would add, the City of London (for the most part) don’t want to leave either and the Conservative leadership always do what’s best for the CoL.

      What a conundrum. Apparently, a majority of the LP membership still want to stay in the EU which will not only hamper implementation of the the LP manifesto but is also alienating the very electorate that is needed to get a Labour govt. to implement that manifesto. Meanwhile, May’s problem is how to contrive staying in the EU without alienating the Leave vote that the Tories need to stay in power. At the same time, the far right are on the rise across the EU and climate chaos increasingly makes itself felt.

  14. I & hubby voted Leave & resonate with Andy’s article but I now regret doing so. I like many others fell for the lies of the Leave campaign but the main reason was immigration my husband works for a company that has a 75% Polish workforce, minimum wage, no sick pay & terrible working conditions, the thing that I found extraordinary was anyone having an interview was asked could they speak Polish, it’s our Country & I personally found that appalling but there is very little industry in the town & surrounding areas we live in so little to no chance of getting a better job.
    We felt he was working for nothing as I’m retired & we practically live hand to mouth, we very rarely manage to save money each month & we thought it couldn’t get any worse BUT boy was I wrong, the prices in the shops have gone up, gas electric up, petrol up, in fact everything has gone up except wages. I if given the chance would vote remain as I am now aware of the consequences of Leaving & now I know the money saved from not paying into the EU will not go to the NHS as promised by the Leave campaign, no mention of the problem it would cause in Ireland because of the customs union, I feel I have been sold down the river big time.

    1. Hilary, I spoke to many people such as yourself when I was campaigning on the doorstep prior to the local elections – totally disillusioned with the Brexit case. I hope things improve for you.

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