This week, the electoral commission fined the right-wing, pro-big business ‘Vote Leave’ campaign £61,000 for breaking the law.
This organisation, which was fronted by Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, was the body which won the bid to be considered the official leave campaign by the electoral commission in the lead up to the referendum.
Their designation as the official campaign ensured that they would have access to millions of pounds in public funds to carry out campaigning on the basis of their racist, pro-capitalist agenda.
Here, we republish an article carried on our website and in The Socialist on 30 March 2016, outlining the campaign led by the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition to prevent state funds being provided to pro-big business forces in this way, and outlining the case for an anti-racist, internationalist, and socialist leave campaign.
The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has written a formal letter to the Electoral Commission asking them not to give millions of pounds of public resources to Tory and Ukip EU campaigners in June’s referendum.
The Socialist Party, a key component of TUSC, will campaign to leave the EU but we will not sign up to a common political platform with reactionary leave supporters, explains Socialist Party executive committee member Clive Heemskerk.
The Socialist Party opposes the European Union because at bottom it is an ’employers’ union’ of 28 capitalist governments, acting as a continent-wide agency of anti-worker and pro-austerity policies.
The EU’s laws and institutions impact on the day-to-day struggle to defend working class interests. Public ownership and other forms of state intervention are restricted by EU treaties.
Even local councils, for example, have to sign off everything they do against EU state aid regulations.
While the EU treaties ultimately could not stop a determined workers’ government supported by a mass movement from carrying out socialist policies, they are another legal obstacle to overcome. Why should workers give a vote of confidence to a set of agreements between different capitalist politicians that would be used to try and block socialist policies?
Socialists oppose the EU in order to defend working class interests and take forward the fight for socialism, in Britain and Europe.
In contrast, that minority of capitalist politicians who oppose the EU – Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage et al, organised in the Vote Leave and Grassroots Out campaigns – do so the better to try and divide the working class.
There can be no unity with them by socialists campaigning for a Leave vote in June’s referendum.
A referendum by its very nature, however, creates pressures to blur the conflict of interests between workers and capitalists.
It reduces a range of issues to one binary question, with the capitalist rulers of the day setting the wording and, they hope, the terms of the debate.
This pressure is amplified by the legislation governing referendums, passed under Tony Blair’s New Labour government in 2000, which builds in the expectation that cross-class campaigns will be created to conduct the debate.
Under the legislation all organisations that want to campaign are required to register as a ‘permitted participant’ with the Electoral Commission, including political parties and trade unions.
The Commission, an unelected quango, then has the power to decide which of the permitted participants become the official Leave and Remain campaigns, bestowing them with political authority and millions of pounds of public resources.
When the legislation was being drafted the government White Paper explicitly stated that “the benefits available to a designated organisation will constitute a powerful inducement” to create a common campaign.
The Electoral Commission’s application form for lead campaign status requires them to show “the breadth of campaigners’ interests” they involve, “for example, parties, trade unions, registered companies” – class collaboration institutionalised!
That is why the TUSC campaign against the EU, including its call for the Electoral Commission not to make a lead designation for Leave, is so important.
To show that what is involved in the referendum are class interests and that the working class is not ‘all in it together’ with big business politicians, whether they oppose the EU or not.
Pushing for a fake ‘unity’
The TUSC letter to the Electoral Commission lists some of the irreconcilable divisions that exist between socialists opposing the EU and the reactionary Leave campaigns on various policy issues that arise in the EU debate.
But it also makes the more fundamental point that what is really being “asked of Leave campaigners in demanding that they produce a common position, is that they effectively agree an alternative governmental programme”.
The letter gives as an illustration of this the Electoral Commission’s “apparently straightforward request that organisations applying for lead status provide a page ‘which should include their opinion on what will happen in the event of either referendum result’.”
TUSC, the letter explains, “believes that a victory for the Leave outcome would be a devastating defeat for the Conservative government, and could presage a split in the party similar in character to the schisms over the Corn Laws and Tariff Reform, opening up the possibility of a general election and a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government before the end of the year”.
But, it goes on, “we assume that is not necessarily a motivation for many of the politicians and big business representatives in the reactionary Leave campaigns” and so would not feature in their ‘what will happen’ assessment.
The letter asks if what the Electoral Commission actually requires is “a discussion of article 50 of the Lisbon treaty on the mechanics of withdrawal? Or ‘what will happen’ to the world economy? Or the impact on governments, and opposition movements, across Europe?”
But “whatever the intention, it is clear that it would be politically impossible to get an agreed position even on this basic request”.
“So how is it possible in any meaningful sense to speak of a common Leave position?” it asks. “And on what basis would the Electoral Commission make what would be a purely political decision to decide between the different political positions?”
A political choice
The deadline for lead designation applications is 31 March, with the Electoral Commission making its decision by 15 April.
The most likely outcome is that the Commissioners, sensitive to the requirements of the capitalist establishment, will appoint an official Leave campaign, probably the Vote Leave organisation.
Vote Leave involves all the Tory cabinet ministers backing exit, the Ukip MP Douglas Carswell and, for ‘Labour’ decoration, is co-chaired by the Blairite MP Gisela Stuart who notoriously supported the idea of a ‘grand coalition’ with the Tories before last year’s general election.
As the TUSC letter says “designating one of the reactionary campaigns as the official voice of Leave would be a political decision favouring the Remain campaign”, fitting in with the narrative “being created by the government to try and portray those who oppose the EU as one reactionary lump”.
The pro-EU Guardian commentator Martin Kettle summed up the tactic last year when he argued that a Remain victory is more likely “if voters come to see the Brexit option as a step towards a Nigel Farage universe.”
On the other hand, a refusal by the Electoral Commission to appoint an official Leave campaign in response to trade union and socialist led protests would smash that lie. Building that protest is the task for the next two weeks.
TUSC has a petition to the Electoral Commission calling on them not to give taxpayers’ money and other public resources to the reactionary-led exit groups.
Founding signatories include two trade union national presidents and 16 union national executive committee members.
- To read the full letter to the Electoral Commission check out the TUSC website at www.tusc.org.uk
Exit left is not exit right
The TUSC letter lists some examples of policy issues that arise in the EU debate which show the irreconcilable differences between a working class, socialist opposition to the EU and the reactionary Leave campaigns.
EU treaties on public spending
TUSC, and the wider anti-austerity constituency, oppose the EU treaties that have embedded what can only be described as a neo-liberal economic framework into the EU. But the reactionary Leave campaigns do not oppose an austerity agenda.
While 750,000 people from our constituency demonstrated against austerity in March 2011, six weeks later individuals who have become prominent figures in the reactionary Leave campaigns organised a ‘rally for cuts’ (pictured above), in May 2011.
They included Nigel Farage, Bill Cash, Priti Patel, Toby Young, and the Taxpayers’ Alliance, whose founder, Matthew Elliot, is now the chief executive of Vote Leave.
If we march in opposite directions how can the reactionary Leave campaigns be said to “adequately represent” us?
The EU and privatisation
A similar dichotomy exists in attitudes to the EU treaties and service directives driving the liberalisation of markets in energy, transport, postal services and other public services, and the EU’s state aid rules.
TUSC’s core policies include bringing privatised public services, industries and utilities back into public ownership, including transport, Royal Mail, the NHS, and the justice system, and democratic public ownership of the banks and major companies.
None of these policies are compatible with the EU treaties – but they are policies which the reactionary Leave campaigners would also stridently oppose.
The EU and workers’ rights
TUSC includes as one of its constituent organisations the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) workers’ union, which comes up against EU directives and European Court of Justice rulings as it defends its members.
The reactionary Leave campaigns, on the other hand, are dominated by the same politicians and big business interests that are behind the new Trade Union Bill, showing they have no real differences with the restrictions on rights to collective bargaining and other workers’ rights that flow from the EU treaties.
The EU and international trade treaties
Another TUSC core policy is to oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) “and all secret austerity treaties”.
Some reactionary Leave campaigners have referred to TTIP but they have no principled opposition to the institutionalisation of privatisation that the treaty negotiations are aimed at or the investor-state court mechanism to enforce this.
The EU and migration
TUSC has a clear core policy of defending the right to asylum and opposing racist immigration controls.
Our criticisms of the recent EU agreement with Turkey to trample over the right to asylum, for example, have nothing in common with the reactionary Leave campaigners.
Our prescriptions for dealing with housing shortages – rent caps, nationalising the building monopolies and handing over their land banks to local councils to build homes etc – and the other pressures on public services that are often raised in this policy area would contradict EU state aid rules and directives but they would absolutely not be supported by reactionary Leave campaigners.
The EU and defence
Some reactionary Leave campaigners have opposed the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy – but only to counterpose to it their support for NATO.
TUSC is opposed to “moves towards a militarist United States of Europe” but also opposes all “imperialist wars and occupations” as well as the renewal of Trident and the increased defence spending agreed by the government to meet its commitments to NATO.