TUSC banner on TUC demo against austerity
Clive Heemskerk, Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition national election agent
The EU referendum campaign is now officially under way. Although the actual date has still to be announced, the main rules for how the referendum will be conducted have passed through parliament – including plans to potentially give millions of pounds of public money to Tory and Ukip EU campaigners.
Under the rules the Electoral Commission, an unelected quango, has been given the power to choose who shall be the ‘official’ Remain and Leave campaigns in the referendum.
This is important, bestowing political ‘authority’ to a particular campaign but also substantial public resources. The official campaigns will receive grants of £600,000 each, free postage for leaflets delivered across the whole country, TV and radio time for referendum broadcasts and the use of rooms free of charge.
The establishment media has already decided that Ukip, Tory and other reactionary pro-austerity politicians and organisations are the only exit voices they will feature. They completely ignore the millions of trade unionists, young people, anti-austerity campaigners and working class voters who, like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), oppose the EU from a completely different standpoint.
The danger is that the Electoral Commission will follow the establishment media’s lead and appoint either Vote Leave or Leave.EU, or an amalgam of the two, as the official exit campaign.
Until recently the Vote Leave group, which is supported by the sole Ukip MP Douglas Carswell, was led by the founder of the right-wing Taxpayers’ Alliance, Matthew Elliott. Its campaign director is Dominic Cummings, well-known as Michael Gove’s former special advisor behind the Tories’ ‘free schools’ programme.
Such people, representing a section of ‘British business’ interests, oppose the EU not because, for example, its treaties mandate the privatisation of public services, but because they want ‘first bite’ on the contracts.
But Leave.EU is no different, and if anything is more dominated by Ukip figures. It was founded by the former Tory donor Arron Banks who defected to Ukip in 2014 with a £1 million donation – increased from £100,000 after ex-Tory leader William Hague called him a ‘nobody’.
Banks could afford his fit of pique. One source of his wealth is a company, Rock Services, which paid just £12,000 UK corporation tax in 2013-14 on gross profits of £19.7 million after ‘recharging’ services to another company based in lightly-regulated Gibraltar. Not Google-scale tax juggling but a ‘little Englander’ version at least.
Neither of these organisations could possibly represent those who oppose the EU because it is a club that puts the interests of big business and the rich and powerful first. Vote Leave has now brought in Thatcher’s former chancellor and climate change denier Lord Lawson as an ‘acceptable face’ to try and effect a merger of the two campaigns.
This confirms that a unified campaign would also not be an organisation that trade unionists and socialists could give any support to.
That’s why TUSC has launched a petition to the Electoral Commission calling on them not to give taxpayers’ money and other public resources to either the Vote Leave or Leave.EU campaigns, or any amalgam of them, in the EU referendum.
As the petition states, “the Electoral Commission does not have to choose an official campaign if there is not one organisation that adequately represents [all] those supporting a particular outcome to the referendum”. Vote Leave and Leave.EU patently don’t.
If the Electoral Commission can be persuaded not to choose either of them as an official campaign, that will be a significant blow against Ukip and their Tory allies. But it would also undermine the equally pro-big business campaign to remain in the EU.
The ardently pro-EU Guardian columnist Martin Kettle explained the Remain campaigners’ strategy: “If voters come to see the Brexit option as a step towards a Nigel Farage universe” then a substantial pro-EU result is more likely. If working class voters who oppose the EU are forced to line up behind reactionary racist and pro-austerity Leave campaigners, it is a win for the Remain campaign.
The situation will be different the more it is possible to show that a significant proportion of those who will vote against the EU support basic socialist policies of workers’ rights, public ownership, and opposition to austerity and racism. Signing the petition to the Electoral Commission is part of that.
TUSC was co-founded in 2010 by the late Bob Crow, the RMT transport workers’ union leader who was well known for his opposition to the EU as an agency of anti-worker and pro-austerity policies.
TUSC’s core policies, which we have campaigned on since our inception, include the renationalisation of privatised public services, industries and utilities; defending the right to asylum and opposing racist immigration controls; and democratic public ownership of the banks and major companies. All of these policies go against the EU treaties. TUSC also opposes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being negotiated between the EU and the US which will significantly increase corporate power.
These are the reasons why, following a decisive vote at our autumn conference, TUSC is campaigning against EU membership in the referendum.
The conference also agreed, however, to fully respect the right of those in our coalition who don’t support this stand to campaign publicly for their own position.
And the same applies to the petition to the Electoral Commission. There will be socialists, trade unionists and others who may support a Remain vote or abstention in the EU referendum, or don’t agree with TUSC in general, but who still oppose giving political credibility and taxpayers’ money to Ukip and Tory EU campaigners. The petition is for them too.
Please sign the petition here
We the undersigned call on the Electoral Commission not to give taxpayers’ money and other public resources to either the Vote Leave or Leave.EU campaigns, or any amalgam of them, in the forthcoming EU referendum.
There are millions of trade unionists, young people, anti-austerity campaigners and working class voters generally, whose opposition to the big business-dominated EU would not be represented in the referendum by these organisations.
The Electoral Commission has the power to choose who shall be the ‘official’ Remain and Exit campaigns in the referendum. These organisations will then receive substantial public funding, free postage for leaflets, the use of rooms free of charge, and TV and radio time for referendum broadcasts – potentially millions of pounds of public resources.
But the Electoral Commission does not have to choose an official campaign if there is not one organisation that adequately represents those supporting a particular outcome to the referendum.
We condemn the mainstream media for promoting Ukip, Tory and other pro-austerity and racist establishment politicians and organisations as the only exit voices. We call on the Electoral Commission not to follow their lead and instead recognise that a significant proportion of those who will vote against the EU support basic socialist policies of workers’ rights, public ownership, and opposition to austerity and racism.
All names appear in a personal capacity:
Dave Nellist ex-Labour MP (1983-1992); Janice Godrich President PCS civil servants union; Sean Hoyle President RMT transport workers union; John McInally National Vice-President PCS; Peter Pinkney RMT President 2013-2015; Paul McDonnell RMT National Executive Committee (NEC); John Reid RMT NEC; Dave Auger Unison public sector workers union NEC; Roger Bannister Unison NEC; Hugo Pierre Unison NEC; Karen Reissman Unison NEC; Polly Smith Unison NEC; Pete Glover National Union of Teachers (NUT) NEC; Jane Nellist NUT NEC; Stefan Simms NUT NEC; Elenor Haven PCS NEC; Marianne Owens PCS NEC; Paul Williams PCS NEC; Carlo Morelli University and College Union (UCU) NEC; Sean Wallis UCU NEC; Saira Weiner UCU NEC; Mike Forster Unison Local Government Service Group Executive (SGE); Huw Williams Unison Local Government SGE; Gary Freeman Unison Health SGE