How radical Remain can win

Jamie Insole reflects on the referendum campaign in working class areas in Wales, and considers what could be done differently

Responding to what must strike many as Theresa May’s success in securing a time-limited mandate to renegotiate the impossible, on Wednesday January 30th, Labour and Plaid Cymru AM’s backed a Senedd Motion outlining a series of alternative proposals. Stopping short of immediately calling for a second referendum, the first Minister reiterated his position that if negotiations “finally run into the sand, we have said that decision has to go back to the people”.


Putting aside the objective legislative barriers, anybody with an interest in winning a second plebiscite would be well advised to consider the official Remain campaign’s catastrophic failure to engage with the motive factors underlying the Welsh working-class leave vote in 2016.


It then becomes clear how a majority could be successfully sought in 2019.


Whether in Ely, Gurnos or Bon-y-Maen, my point of departure is that the leave vote was driven either by immediate domestic economic grievances or their indirect proxies. In referencing both the work of Roger Scully and conversations I have had with community activists, one concludes that low pay, welfare reform and local stagnation all combined to generate a particular lived experience.


Many Remain activists have described to me how they were dissuaded from canvassing working class areas during the 2016 referendum. I have heard accounts of teams being directed to Radyr or Mumbles at the expense of Ely or Bon-y-Maen. Subsequent conversations with activists in Swansea, Merthyr and Cardiff suggest a belief on the part of those directing the campaign that people in working class communities simply would not vote – with one group being told that “Town Hill isn’t worth the effort”. Of interest, whilst academic interest has tended to focus around the factors motivating voters, to the best of my knowledge, no work has occurred around the experiences of those who canvassed the 2016 referendum.


Nor is it enough to pin this on some nebulous notion of ‘austerity’ – rather one must appreciate the process whereby the Welsh Government is compelled to invest limited resources into ever more strategic projects whilst Local Authorities are forced to slash non-statutory spending. The effect is to generate a hostile environment in which the advantages of government and a wider Welsh Civil Society seem ever more remote. As I have suggested in previous articles, this can only serve to incubate a crisis of consent.


Perhaps it is then unsurprising that one finds anxieties surrounding immigration located in the vernacular of scarcity; “there is not enough to go around already”. Similarly, one gets the impression that pointing to the fruits of EU structural investment only exacerbated a sense of alienation. For example, take the instance when a canvassing team actually made it to Aberavon. Imagine knocking a door and trying to explain to a low paid warehouse worker how the EU funded research and development hub will bring prosperity to the district. Neither the mother nor her family will ever visit or work in this august structure. Rather, she is legitimately concerned by the shabby state of the local shopping center and her inability to make ends meet.


In plotting a course towards achieving a Welsh Remain majority, a number of things become clear. Firstly, those most committed to voting remain are unlikely to be dissuaded by a progressive economic programme. Secondly, it is only by persuading a significant portion of soft-leavers that any ground can be won. Consequently, and when imagined through the lens of an effective ground campaign, the question that Remain would need to answer is; “If our EU membership makes us so rich – why am I so bloody poor?”


So let’s start with what doesn’t work. People who are either experiencing poverty or know somebody who is will not be motivated by threats of being ‘worse off’. In the same fashion, they are unlikely to give a hoot about Erasmus or a big infrastructure project. Worst of all, they will not take kindly to being told that they were ‘duped’. To be ‘duped’ is to be a ‘dupe’. Already, they look at their lives and conclude that politicians provide no answers – just look at the polling!


All of this causes me to question the fitness of arguments advanced by ‘Peoples Vote’ (or vanilla remain). Can Alun Sugar, Tony Blair or Anna Soubry really do anything other than advance the above?


Rather, winning in Wales will require a very different approach. An insurgent and distinctive campaign which makes a clear and uncompromising case for redistribution. A campaign which, as a part of a wider UK message, identifies the unequal domestic benefits of our EU membership and promises struggling Welsh communities their fair share. A campaign which, in being delivered by activists from within the neighbourhood, undertakes to bring working class people back into the process of power. Most of all, a campaign which argues that our EU membership establishes conditions of stability in which the UK can be transformed into an engine for redistribution; real material benefit, tangible local investment, immediate improvements and a programme of hope.


I have no doubt that such an approach would ruffle the feathers of some of Vanilla Remain’s more salubrious partisans. Good. In a tightly contested media environment, we should relish the opportunity to make an energetic case for economic justice and human flourishing. At the same time, there will be those who suggest that Remain prioritise a message of reform. This is all very well, but who really believes that a mother in Glyncoch frets over the pernicious role played by the Growth & Stability pact in further crystallising transnational inequalities?


Remain must engage with the objections of those whose consent it seeks to secure – not the questions that is poses to itself. After all, it was arguably the attempt of the governing party to resolve disagreements in its own ranks that plunged us into this mess.


Finally, who could and should lead such an unquiet and impolite campaign? Writing in my capacity as a Welsh Labour Grassroots activist, I would suggest that there is but one effective Pan-UK vehicle through which this can be delivered and there is also a manifesto which already contains many of the concrete proposals to which I allude. Added to that, a whole cadre of radical insiders/outsiders waiting to turn their shoulder to the exciting task of transforming a nation ravaged by hysteresis and historic neglect.


Looking more widely, I know many excellent Plaid Cymru activists who could find some common cause. The important thing is that those who argue a radical solution possess the credibility to do so on a Welsh working class estate.


Either way, in resolving the democratic contradiction with which it is confronted, Remain must concern itself with the issue of consent. The truth is that given the opportunity of trading like Norway or benefitting from the conditions and opportunities enjoyed by Norwegians, many in the Valleys would opt for the latter. This means that there is a price to pay and those who benefit most must contribute the greatest portion.


Now that’s what I call socialism in the twenty-first century!


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Jamie Insole is a Welsh Labour Grassroots activist

5 thoughts on “How radical Remain can win

  1. Why are all the articles published by Iwa so left wing? Is the IWA a mouthpiece for the useless labour majority in the Senedd? Worst NHS, worst euication, and the least effective inward investment program in the UK. If not please generate a broader view for Welsh opportunity.

  2. Hi Anthony, The articles on click on wales are the views of those who write them. If you’d like to submit a piece, you’re very welcome to. Please get in touch with Rhea at [email protected]. Thanks

  3. There are some really interesting points here, and the core message is indisputable – that Wales needs an enthusiastic ‘remain’ campaign rather than the pathetic, half-hearted and half-baked mush that we got last time around.

    However, there are some points where the author’s enthusiasm needs a reality check. First, the ‘pan-UK’ organisation to which he refers is clearly the Labour party. Exactly how many members does this organisation have in Northern Ireland? If the answer is what I think it is, then it isn’t really a ‘pan-UK’ organisation is it? And how many MPs does Labour have in Scotland these days? It’s difficult to say that the party speaks for Scotland, I think. And then there is the question of Labour’s parliamentary leadership (or utter lack thereof) on Brexit. Are you really going to try to convince anyone that Jeremy Corbyn has done ANYTHING positive to help the chaotic and dangerous political situation?

    Secondly, there is the ‘duping’ thing. If, as it seems, the Leave campaign (which by all measures blatantly smashed the rules regarding campaign spending etc) was funded to a significant degree by a hostile foreign power, should that not at least be part of the armoury of anyone questioning the legitimacy of the June 2016 result?

  4. There is less than 2 months to go before we exit the EU.

    The Brexit extremists desperately want a no-deal Brexit, it appears being the only country to trade solely on WTO terms will greatly benefit London. Backed to the hilt by the English media they held the reins of power. Another referendum would take months, probably at least a year, to get though parliament.

    There is no time left to have another vote. The UK has taken a nasty lurch to the right. Uniformity and conformity, to our overlords in London, will now be the order of the day. Wales, Scotland and N.Ireland are entering a long, dark night. The only thing left to do is to strap ourselves in and brace of the impact of enforced Anglicization in the name of restoring British (English) values. When the dawn breaks again, as is surely will, we will live in a very different UK. A inward looking, anti-everyone else, harking back to the days of empire and the war, a UK where toleration of minorities or anyone who is a bit different will not exist, except for the token gay, Muslim, Scot and Welsh chap. All of the UKs problems will be blamed on the EU, the N.Irish, Scotland, Wales and northern England, along with Muslims, the unemployed, single mothers and minimum wage earners. The answer to all our problems will be even great unity and conformity. It will be a UK that’s democratic in name only. The Tories and the right wing media will have remained in power for decades by then.

    I was proud to be Welsh, British and European. Unionist nationalists have done away with my European citizenship and intend to do away with Wales and only allow me to be British. Am I proud to be Welsh and British? No, from now on we can only be proud to be Welsh and work towards independence.

  5. Good valid ideas and a much needed pointing out of the obvious, that it is through radical action that these goals will be met. Responding passively to the dictates of others – in whatever relationship – will not achieve them.

    If we have to leave the EU, then that should be a catalyst for finding what replaces it in our lives – prominent amongst them being the quality of political action in Wales, deciding for ourselves how we should skirt the obvious deficiencies of the Westminster system. Cutting it out altogether, would seem wise, but if not, then cutting it down to size.

    We should start at our feet, and decide how to make life just, prosperous and sustainable. It does not come from serving the interests of others and then seeing if there are any crumbs left to be shared out amongst us.

    Wales should have run a distinctive campaign in 2016, putting the exact points that you raise to the electorate, and pointing out how damaging a protest vote would be. The EU, from a Welsh perspective, is a very different animal to its perception by Westminster, even amongst its supporters, though the electorate are never sure (though not ‘dupes’) due to a generally London based media view (with shining exceptions).

    Europe is a partnership of equals (OK some more equal than others) but is way better than the UK. We should be one of them, making pancontinental policy and helping to lead the world to peace and stability. This is how internationalism works.

    There are too many hesitant reluctant politicians in Wales – good at winning elections, but no good at developing and delivering worthwhile policy and vision. Will the possibility of impending catastrophy change the way they approach the world beyond the Bay? We’ll soon see.

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