VoteIn might have better arguments, but it is failing those it needs to reach

High Street, Chipping Barnet, October 2015. Wikicommons/ Philafrenzy. Some rights reserved.At last the
lineaments of the argument in the Brexit/Bremain debate are becoming scrutable.

So far, I have maintained that the referendum is a dispiriting
conundrum. The clinching arguments were elusive in an opaque campaign thick
with venom and misinformation. Until openDemocracy joined with Another Europe
is Possible to get Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM25 to London to launch a Vote In
campaign this weekend, calling for a new, social Europe.

Varoufakis spelled it out simply: “Sovereignty is and ought
to be paramount.” A sovereignty that resides in the people making decisions
democratically, to be fought for at all levels – from the local, to the
European level.

Meanwhile,
a vote to leave would not result in any of the promised benefits, and Brexit
might precipitate the disintegration of the EU. The ensuing “vortex of
deflation” would unleash forces of reaction that would “consume all of us
progressives”.

So, said
the rally, it is up to us to make the case in the coming weeks and campaign
like hell to persuade people.

But I am
doubtful about the strategy. On the day, my sense of the In campaign alienating
the people it needs to reach strengthened.

“Our
campaign engages honestly with all sides of the argument,” said Varoufakis.
Much sanctimony was aired in the room about respect for Brexiteers’ points of
view. However, as John McDonnell admitted: “We think they’re wrong”. Working
class objections to mass migration were countered, denied, dismissed. Never
countenanced: never acknowledged: never respected.

Throughout, the depredations of mass
migration were couched in distancing academic language, used as a springboard
for a lecture of how good it really is for us, and how xenophobic to decry it.

Varoufakis
said: “I think we should be concerned
that the undisputed net benefits of migrations are very asymmetrically
scattered throughout society.” 

Caroline Lucas
MP managed this: “It’s perhaps easy for politicians to forget that rapid
changes in population can cause localised pressures on services and that
employers can drive down wages when the workforce expands rapidly. But do you
know what? That’s true whether people are moving from Leicester to London just
as much as from Krakow to Coventry.”

It’s easy
for politicians, perhaps, because they have not gone up and down their high
street handing their CVs to the shopkeepers in a last attempt to get work and
never gotten a call back. So let us challenge all politicians with the
following thought experiment:

Put yourself
in the shoes of a local man unable to get even a van driver’s job. Not because
the pay doesn’t add up; though wages haven’t risen in years and it is standard
practice to demand unpaid hours (this should be illegal surely but is publicly
known – see Will Self’s column). But because the boss knows you
won’t accept the terms, and he can offer the work to migrants off the coaches
at Victoria station, and advertise in Poland to fill filthy jobs. Leicester
blokes would be just as ineligible as you. And you know it. You don’t need to
be patronised with talk of “localised pressures” and “a rapidly expanding
workforce”.

But you
are, and then you’re lectured on the “net contribution of £22 billion in the
last 10 years” made by migrants who strengthen the economy (that’s Clive
Lewis).

Where is
that “asymmetrical scattering” argument when you need it? Once your
plight is depersonalised and trivialised, it is soon denied entirely and you
are, backhandedly, branded a racist. Clive
Lewis again: “I’m clearly not saying that all Brexiteers are racists”. But the
Brexiteers’ position “exposes the immigration argument for what it is: a
xenophobic political tool to enable the UK to opt out of the most modest
protections that the EU offers. That’s it.”

Put
yourself in the shoes of a London nursing-home carer whose daughter can’t live
nearby because there is no housing for her. An option in Luton is offered by
the council; take it or leave it.

Lewis
will tell you: don’t blame migrants for a housing shortage, “blame a Tory
government that forced the selling off of council homes and never allowed them
to be replaced.” Wait a minute, you might think, what of the 13 years of a
Labour government in there somewhere? 

You will
notice that problems with public services, housing, and pay are all blamed on right-wing
Tory austerian xenophobes with whom you are summarily lumped.

Put
yourself in the position of a widow who has lived on the same street all your
married life. Now you don’t recognise most of the people around you, the
languages spoken at the bus stop are unfamiliar, and your sense of displacement
is real. What do the Vote Inners offer you?

An
admonition. From John McDonnell: “I’m proud of being the grandson of a migrant
worker! […] The nature of British people is to be extremely welcoming to incomers.
People want to get on with each other and live in peace and harmony.”

Well
hooray for that, and Amen!

But the
Vote In campaign could do so much better than vilify those who harbour
legitimate grievances about the damage they see to their livelihoods,
neighbourhoods, and services resulting, quite obviously, from mass migration.

Heterodox
economist supremo Ha-Joon Chang doesn’t beat about the immigration bush (23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism Penguin books, 2011. Thing one and
Thing three):

Wages in rich countries are determined more by immigration
control than anything else, including any minimum wage legislation. … the
‘free’ labour market, which, if left alone will end up replacing 80-90 per cent
of native workers with cheaper and often more productive, immigrants. (p5) All
societies have limited capabilities to absorb immigrants, …. Too rapid an
inflow of immigrants will not only lead to a sudden increase in competition for
jobs but also stretch the physical and social infrastructure such as housing
and healthcare and create tensions with the resident population… If there are
too many immigrants coming in at the same time the receiving society will have
problems creating a new national identity without which it may find it
difficult to maintain social cohesion. (p27)

But we
could try.

Noone at
the rally did. John McDonnell for instance: “Of course migration on any scale
presents problems of integration and pressure on public services,” he intoned. “But
all of these problems can be readily overcome.” And that was that. He did not
say how. His next sentence was: “The vast bulk of the evidence demonstrates
that migrants pay more into the economy than they take out.”

Where
were the promises of stringent enforcement of a higher minimum wage? Of strong
measures to expand unionisation to all workplaces? Of the requirement that
companies employ directly not through agencies and gang masters? Of a helpline
to dob in exploitative employers?

Where
were the proposals to end the free market in housing that has turned much of
London’s new-builds into investment vehicles for laundered money and offered no
rental protection at all? Where the promise to end the artificial limits on
council house building and retention? 

Where was
the promise to flood the health and education sectors and local authorities
with resources to meet increased demand? Nowhere! 

My
anti-austerity hero Paul Mason suggested modest attempts at some
of these measures
this week. To be propounded by Labour after the referendum in the event of a
Bremain vote. In which case, he said, “the plebeian end of the Leave campaign” would
“react badly” to losing the referendum.

Why wait until
then? Why wait for the plebs to rebel?

By
blaming Tories, and smearing the victims of immigration we are shovelling
thousands into UKIP’s distasteful camp.

A nasty,
neoliberal Establishment might be carried to a successful Brexit by the working
classes. Whom should the Left blame then?

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