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The risk of Brexit and the Labour’s lost referendum

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it looks like Labour will have lost. There’s a lot of righteous sound and fury on the Brexit-left, but socialism is not about winning a moral argument, or punishing institutions for their actions. It is about finding a better way of living for as many people as possible

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it looks like Labour will have lost. While we can hope that over the remaining days of the campaign, a new head of steam builds and the national conversation shifts from a discussion of which Tory faction will be ascendant on June 24 to how we can build for a European future that places egalitarian cosmopolitanism and radical conceptions of citizenship at the centre of the world’s most complex democratic institution: at this point it seems unlikely to happen.

The soundbites and speeches coming from Corbyn and McDonnell have broadly the right sort of content, but they mostly address a divided left not a confused and misled public. And that left cannot be addressed in the same way as the mainstream ‘in’ campaign is fighting its campaign, unsure as the former is about the European project, torn between an impulse to resist the neoliberal bureaucracy that is destroying Greece and sleepwalking us into TTIP and the desire to support the social democratic tendencies that promote workers rights, civil liberties and environmental protections. This kind of hedging – we should stay in the EU and reform it – is the right policy and speaks best to left concerns, but for a wider public battered by contradictions in the media-friendly internecine Tory civil-war, it just deepens the confusion.

Following the argument made by Anthony Barnett, if ‘remain’ wins, the story will go, that this ‘win’ was despite Labour’s feeble efforts. In a Brexit vote, Labour will have been on the losing side and perceptions of a deliberately half-hearted effort for the losers will offer no moral high-ground. A positive, energetic campaign that broadens the political conversation and sows the seed for future debate (in the manner of the Scottish ‘Yes’ campaign), would be the only way Labour could come out of this vote looking good – and this hasn’t happened. The best efforts of Compass with their Good Europe project and the well framed Another Europe is Possible campaign have been admirable, but these campaigns haven’t had any significant impact on the national debate, which has instead taken the form of a daily diet of questionable and competing facts from antagonistic front bench ministers. The Tory party may look bad, but they are completely dominant.

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