Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, speaking on the ‘Marr show’ on BBC television, said that people on the left who argue for a Brexit by saying it will shatter the Tories are being “petty”. He could not be more wrong. Both the Tories and Labour are said to be preparing for the possibility of an autumn general election which raises the potential of a Jeremy Corbyn-led anti-austerity government by the end of the year.
Alongside devastating job cuts, benefit cuts and a war on young people, Tory governments have delivered 343 libraries closures, 34 closures of women's refuges and sent 1,084,604 people to foodbanks in 201415. That's while the richest 1,000 people in Britain saw their wealth increase by nearly £78 million a day! Getting the Tories out of power would be a significant victory in the fight against austerity and to take the wealth off the 1%.
Even before the vote the Tories are split down the middle. They have a wafer thin majority and had the backing of only 24% of the electorate in May 2015. Their austerity policies mean they are hated. As the Guardian editorial put it: "the Conservative Party has not got a lot of electoral credit in the bank". When they sought to enforce ‘academisation’ of schools, the odium Tory MPs faced in the constituencies was a major factor in the partial U-turn, one of 20 since the election.
Now backbench Tory Brexiteers are saying that even a Remain vote would leave the Tories as a zombie government, too divided to be effective in the interests of the 1% which they are in power to serve. Preparations among some backbenchers are underway for a no-confidence vote against the prime minister, increasing the possibility of an early general election.
Understandably many workers and young people are utterly turned off by the referendum. A recent YouGov poll found that only 10% of 1830 year olds trust politicians to make the case for either a Remain or a Leave vote. It is also understandable that many people identify with neither the right-wing anti-working class and racist leaders of the Leave nor Remain sides, nor give them any legitimacy. But it is wrong to argue, as Varoufakis and Guardian writer, Owen Jones, and others in the so-called left Remain camp do, that a Leave vote will automatically propel the likes of Ukip and right populist Tory Boris Johnson to power. Even if a Boris Johnson-led government came to pass it would be weak and divided, facing an onslaught from the Cameron wing. Boris Johnson may have a following among the columnists but not in the workplaces. When he was Mayor of London the capital became an anti-Tory city and, as a measure of how he is seen in the northern cities, he is hated in Liverpool after his 'whingers' comments.
Ukip and the rightwing Brexiteers seem to be aware that they cannot appeal to working class voters with their true position and this is reflected in the left mask they have donned for the referendum campaign. Cameron is a prime minister who is of the 1% and for the 1%. The Panama Papers provided ample evidence , as if it were needed. But this is now being used by another cabinet minister, Priti Patel, who suggested Cameron was too rich to care about ordinary people's concerns. Similarly Ukip campaigned in the Welsh valleys on the NHS and steel not immigration. That Patel, a vile representative of the 1% who has always voted for higher university fees and lower benefits, is forced to make such an attack is a reflection of the limited audience for her, Farage's and Johnson's anti-working class position.
It also shows the potential for an independent working class position on the referendum that opposes the bosses' EU and the bosses' parties. What's more, if a lead had been given to a left and working class Leave campaign by the trade union leaders and left Labour leaders Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, any benefit to Ukip and Johnson et al could have been cut across. Again the potential for a left out voice to gain an echo is revealed by the half of Labour voters who thought Jeremy Corbyn had that position! Instead we see the right wing in Labour trying to take the upper hand. London Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan shared a Remain platform with Cameron, willing to put the Tories' racist attacks on him to one side to defend the interests of the bosses in the EU. He is already pitting Blairite ideas against the anti-austerity ideas Corbyn has raised, saying he is a mayor for all Londoners and the most pro-big business mayor ever. But you cannot defend both the interests of the working class and the bosses. Socialists have a duty to fight for an independent working class position and this will include the battle for Labour's programme to be a working class and socialist one. It should start with a £10 an hour minimum wage, rent control and investment in council housing, free education and no academies and nationalisation of the steel industry, the railways and the banking system to start to run society in the interests of the 99%.