'The sheer vitality of the support for a People’s Vote has been unavoidable.'

People’s Vote: On the march in Liverpool

Cathleen Clarke

Cathleen Clarke reports on the Labour Party membership’s growing enthusiasm for a fresh referendum

24 September 2018 12:10

The 5,000-strong march that swept into Liverpool city centre yesterday, under the banner of ‘People’s Vote for the Many’, was months in the making. It was the result of a national groundswell that has seen Labour party members work from the bottom up to reshape their party’s thinking on Brexit, in an authentic popular expression of pro-European socialism.

What we have seen unfold at Labour’s annual party conference, so far, is nothing less than a democratic upheaval. It has changed the way in which socialists in this country think about both our relationship to Europe and this government’s catastrophic handling of the Brexit negotiations. Both in private conversations and in public, Labour members across the party are waking up to the need for a People’s Vote on the deal, as part of our party’s core mission of implementing a democratic socialist agenda.

My experience canvassing conference attendees this weekend – as a Momentum member and an activist with the pro-European youth advocacy group Our Future, Our Choice – has only strengthened my feeling that we are witnessing a sea change in Labour’s grassroots. This anti-Brexit turn by the movement is being fuelled by the young, by women and minorities, by LGBTQ+ people, by the marginalised. The campaign within Labour for a People’s Vote includes all of the different constituencies who have come together in the revitalised contemporary Labour Party to fight for social justice in the face of an uncaring and incompetent Tory government.

The young faces that I have seen everywhere at left-wing conference events – particularly at Momentum’s ‘The World Transformed’ festival – are a testament to how my generation is leading the fight against this Tory Brexit. Everywhere I went, I met more young people passionate about democratic socialism; positive about halting the calamity that the Brexit negotiating process has become; and keen to bring their concerns to the party leadership this weekend. A new consensus is filling the air of every conference meeting room: that a People’s Vote must be an integral element of our party’s policy.

This anti-Brexit turn by the movement is being fuelled by the young, by women and minorities, by LGBTQ+ people, by the marginalised.

Even at events with pro-Brexit MPs such as Stephen Kinnock speaking, my generation was out in force in the audience, bringing their concerns to their elected representatives and their party members. More than 78 per cent of young people support remaining in the European Union, according to recent YouGov polling published in DRUGSTORE CULTURE. On the eve of conference, we learned that 86 percent of Labour members support a People’s Vote. The sheer vitality of the support for a People’s Vote has been unavoidable, at conference, in my conversations with leaders from constituency Labour parties, activists, and many elected officials speaking in confidence.

The membership is overwhelmingly behind a public vote on the final Brexit deal. They want to guarantee a relationship with Europe that ensures the Labour government-in-waiting will have the strong economy it needs to end Tory austerity. The party leadership, understandably, is seeking foremost to fight a general election to bring an end to the shambles of May’s premiership. But the results of last night’s ‘compositing’ – the means by which the party sorts through the various motions submitted for debate – demonstrate a desire within the party’s rank-and-file for a frank and unambiguous endorsement of a People’s Vote. The party members I talked to made clear to me that a People’s Vote must be included in Labour’s ‘sequencing’ plans once the Brexit deal that May strikes inevitably fails our party’s six tests.

The sheer vitality of the support for a People’s Vote has been unavoidable.

This isn’t to say that there is total unanimity within Labour – conference has illustrated that democratic debate within our party is as vigorous as ever. Members I met voiced concerns that a People’s Vote could widen divisions within Labour, and could reflect badly on the party if a campaign to remain in the EU were once again defeated. The party’s most spirited left-wing voices worry about handing Theresa May a victory in a general election, should a People’s Vote provide her with an escape hatch from her bungled negotiations.

Most members whom I have spoken to agree: we can address these concerns and still enthusiastically support a People’s Vote. Backing a referendum on the deal would shine a spotlight on May’s botched Brexit deal, and give the public an alternative that protects our rights and privileges in Europe.

When, in future years, I reflect on what I’ve seen and learnt this weekend, my fondest thoughts will be of the crowds at women’s conference events. Labour women know that Brexit will hit them and families hardest. Young women like me know that they don’t want to see the Britain of their future hobbled by a blind Brexit that prevents their party from enacting a socialist manifesto.

I saw in my comrades this weekend a desire to take a step forward – by supporting a People’s Vote. We want a public vote on the deal with an option to remain. Our party is a democratic party – and, as such, I strongly believe that we will endorse the views of our members.

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'The sheer vitality of the support for a People’s Vote has been unavoidable.'