Hilary Wainwright is a British sociologist, political activist and socialist feminist, best known for being editor of Red Pepper magazine.
I met her in her office, to discuss Brexit and the coming elections. She was optimistic that the Labor Party will win the elections and definite that Jeremy Corbyn is pro-remain.
Has the Labor Party a clear position on Brexit?
On the Left there was a debate about EEC participation already in the ‘70s. Harrold Wilson was against participation, but he left it up to the people to decide in the referendum.
Jeremy Corbyn’s position in the referendum was for remain. He did go and speak in lot of places. However, the official Labor party campaign was notoriously bad – mainly done with Cameron, so was kind of discredited. I think Corbyn was not short of allowed to participate in it. A close friend of Corbyn, Alan Simpson, who is very pro-remain, said actually Corbyn was excluded from the campaign. So he never built up a profile for being for remain. He has always been for remain and reform – he has never been just remain, but a critical remain.
He also has quite a record of being very internationalist, not just across the world, but within Europe. So he worked close with the Left in Greece, Spain and Portugal. I do not agree with those who say that Corby, in his heart of hearts, is a leave person. I think he is genuinely short of open, but can see the argument for remain and reform. And John MacDonald is definitely for remain and reform – and they are very close, Corbyn and MacDonald – they are political brothers.
What drove working class people, especially in the North, to vote for Brexit?
I think the Brexit vote was very diverse. You had the people in the North who felt abandoned really. It was the nature of the referendum – this gives everyone a vote – a chance to kind of kick the establishment by saying “no”. That tendency was strengthened by the mainstream, mass circulation media, like the Daily Mail and the Sun, plus campaigning by UKIP. On the other hand, the Labor Party didn’t have its own campaign and ended up having aligned itself with the establishment.
Many voters in the South (small business and so on) don’t want the regulation – what they see as the red tape of Europe. That is one thing. But then the people in the North are not anything to do with that. They are more about that short of protest feeling.
And to some degree it is reinforced by the immigration issue, which is more about protesting against low wages. It is an issue which can be addressed quite easily by proper legislation. And indeed Europe is beginning to shift towards a requirement, the Posted Directive, that wage level should be based on trade union rights and the going rates in the host country – not the country of origin.
What about the City – was it pro-Brexit?
I think the City is not pro-Brexit. Obviously there are different bits of the City – banks, hedge funds etc. The banks and the institutions serving the financial transactions of the City don’t want to see financial transactions moving to Frankfurt – they are anti-Brexit. The others do not really care. Finance is so mobile that it does not really matter.
Hedge funds benefit from Brexit through speculation on the pound. Maybe they have a vested interest in avoiding financial regulation. Europe, whether now or in the future, will mean the possibility of regulating international financial flows.
Brexit will dominate election’s campaign?
Because of extreme levels of inequality, poverty and precariousness amongst the mass of people, issues other than Brexit – social and economic issues – force themselves to the fore. It is not just that Labor Party is stressing those issues. It is also many actors shaping public opinion.
For example there has been a report about food banks from a very well-known charity, saying that 94% of those using the food banks are actually desperate – in a short of starvation. Or you have the film by Ken Loach, which is about the big economy and is very powerful – and it will have quite an impact. So these kind of daily issues are forcing themselves on the people’s consciousness.
Even the FT I was reading yesterday, Robert Shrimsley, he says we should not underestimate Corbyn, partly because of this, because the issues of inequality are short of really in your face and cannot be avoided.
And also Johnson’s attempts to kind of mask them by offering all these money; it cannot work because people are actually experiencing austerity (delayed hospital appointments and so on), so those promises of money in the future, particularly coming from somebody who nobody can trust. It is not really convincing people.
For that reason I think that Labor will be able to get over those social issues without appearing to be ignoring the current political reality.
Is there a prospect of a coalition government between the main pro-remain parties, i.e. the Labor and the Liberals?
There is a problem with the Liberals. Their new leader has obviously decided that the only way she can establish a distinct identity is by distancing herself from Corbyn, by defining herself in terms of remain and attacking Corbyn for being too left-wing.
I think a lot of remain people, that would vote for Liberals where Liberals are second to the Tories, they can see that the only remain party that could get into government is Labor. So there will be some tactical voting where Liberals are second but otherwise I think remain voters will come to Labor.
There is also recognition that Corbyn did play a key role in stopping no-deal Brexit. They defined themselves, in the last days of the Johnson’s parliament, in a very positively European way.
Probably there will also be some Labor voters voting Liberals where they are second to the Tories. Remain voters are quite intelligent and well educated, so they get to be able to make those judgments quite easily.
What about the SNP?
The Scotts are very positively for remain. They have always said they believe in independence in Europe. So there has been quite a preparation for this position.
Hard Brexit is not off the table – Johnson could do everything. A hard Brexit would make more likely further devolution in Scotland.
So if there is a no deal Brexit, or if there is Brexit in the end, that favors those arguments for independence. But that is not to say that without Brexit, within Europe, there would not also be a pressure. So there will be a pressure towards independence. In particular if there is a Labor government.
Maybe there will be some deal with the SNP. There is a controversy about a governmental agreement, where Labor will accept a new independence referendum in Scotland. I think John MacDonald has said he would.
There has been a tradition in the Labor Party of being opposed to independence, seeing it as a nationalist diversion from class, but since a lot of independence people are working class people who mainly went to the independence movement against Thatcher and austerity. Corbyn has not cut himself off the independence lobby. It is also gaining some ground inside the Labor Party in Scotland. A Labor government will create favorable conditions for independence.
Except Brexit and economic policy, are there any other important issues at stake on the coming election?
We are suffering from an incomplete democratic revolution and now there is an opportunity for completing it. We still have a constitutional monarchy. A lot of the antidemocratic features of our system have to do with the executive, the Prime Minister, acting in the name of the Crown.
The problem is not the Queen has power, but that the formal position of the Crown in the Parliament enables the Prime Minister to take action, like declare war, in the name of the Crown. This has been eroded by the pressure for debates over Iraq War or the Falkland’s War – required to come to Parliament – and then over Brexit too. There is a short of movement that is de facto challenging that. Now it needs to be consolidated in writing in some kind of constitutional assembly, some kind of democratic process drawing up a written Constitution.
On the other hand, a possible Johnson’s win on the elections will be a disaster, because he will continue to use those undemocratic powers. Therefore it is very crucial to defeat him.