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Rest, Recharge, Return – A message for anti-Brexit campaigners

Crowds march through central London to fight against Brexit. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images

There is plenty for liberal internationalists still to fight for, says IAN DUNT. Your opponents only win when you surrender.

If there’s anything good to be found in the experience of total defeat, it’s that you get a bit of time to think.

That’s what this Christmas period is. An opportunity to recharge, to reconnect with friends and family, to be with the people you love. Take it. Come back the better for it. Because the next five years are going to involve an almighty assault on the values that liberal internationalists hold dear. And you will need absolutely everything in you to fight it.

People ask what they can do to help. There’s a lot. The resistance works on three different levels: Structural, organisational and personal. Pick any number of them.

The structural fight takes place at the national level. It is about the macro battle, about fixing the country. And the only way that happens is with a smart person running the Labour Party. This a precondition for everything else.

This isn’t about Leave vs Remain, or even left vs right. It’s bigger than that. Britain simply cannot function without an official opposition. Over the last five years we haven’t had one and everything has completely fallen apart. Now Jeremy Corbyn’s allies and many of the trade unions are gearing up to make sure they remain in control and can replicate that defeat over the next five years as well.

The party urgently needs people to join it and vote for more sensible candidates. The timetable for the new contest is expected to be announced on January 6. People have another two weeks after that point to join if they want to be able to participate in the leadership election. You should join, even if only for as long as the election takes. You should encourage other people to join. Encourage anyone you can.

Some people insist that the party should earn their membership, should need to encourage them to join. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a war, for the heart of Labour. The Corbyn wing did not need inviting. They seized a moment. Now their opponents should do so too. Labour cannot be about placating a tribal fringe. It must be a vehicle for electoral success.

There is simply no more important matter facing Britain than this. It barely matters who the replacement is, as long as they are not a Corbynite. Lisa Nandy was sympathetic towards Brexit, but she is thoughtful and genuine. She doesn’t give the pat, knee-jerk, mean-spirited Lexiter arguments of Caroline Flint, for instance. Jess Phillips was not sympathetic to Brexit, proudly fought it despite a majority Leave vote in her constituency, and has been one of the most charismatic, authentic and passionate voices in parliament since she entered it. Keir Starmer is forensic, professional, hugely intelligent, and has decent values. Any of these figures would be a threat to Boris Johnson. Any one of them would allow this defeat to be overturned in five years rather than 10.

Then there is the organisational level: The things you can do in your day-to-day life to make this a better country.

Have a think about what means most to you and fight for it. If it is liberal internationalism, join one of the organisations which will continue to campaign for it.

Best for Britain did brilliant work fighting for Remain. They weren’t involved in any of the internecine squabbling which overtook the movement. They’ll keep making the case in a cross-party way.

Many groups are out there protecting immigrants. The3million represent European citizens in the UK. They are alone right now. The risks to them are far greater than the risks to everyone else. The inadequacies of the settled status scheme and the brutality of the Home Office mean many could become undocumented migrants by the time of the next election and face the hostile environment face-on.

The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants does brilliant work protecting EU citizens, as well as all other immigrants. Hope Not Hate fights the racism of anti-immigrant rhetoric. The Unity Project helps migrants fighting human rights cases who have been given ‘no recourse to public funds’ status by the Home Office support, often saving them from homelessness and state-imposed poverty. They need volunteers with legal skills to help with case work, but also for help with cooking, childcare and financial arrangements.

If the election showed us anything, it is that we urgently need electoral reform in this country. The popular vote was anti-Tory: 32.2% for Labour, 11.5% for the Liberal Democrats and 3.9% for the SNP, compared to 43.6% for the Conservatives. But that translated into an 80-seat majority for Boris Johnson.

For years, electoral reform has been a nerdy Lib Dem concern. Now it is urgent. It is arguably a precondition for the future of progressive politics in this country. And there is now a chance to get Labour onboard, for its own self-interested reasons. The Electoral Reform Society and Make Votes Matter both campaign for change.

There are countless other smaller but crucially important areas. Stop Funding Fake News uses a shoestring budget to put pressure on advertisers to distance themselves from fake news outlets on left and right, to extraordinary effect. Their work has seen many of these sites go out of business altogether and helped reaffirm the sense of a shared objective reality in politics. This is doubly important when the government itself is intent on erasing that reality.

Southall Black Sisters have spent a lifetime working for black and Asian women’s human rights. Liberty fight to protect British civil liberties, which are highly likely to come under sustained fire. Shelter works to help the homeless.

These guys all need funding, but most of them also need volunteer help too, people to join and contribute, people to help deliver their work. That’s a good place to put your fury and turn it into something worthwhile.

And then there’s the personal fight, the one you take on yourself. Even when the political situation goes one way, the cultural situation can go another. In the US right now, Donald Trump has provided the most right-wing presidential administration in the country’s history. But look at what’s happening at the societal level: #MeToo has changed the sense of justice around the way women are treated, there’s a concerted campaign to address environmental emergency, reliable newspapers are winning high levels of funding as people demand accurate information, television and movie producers are responding to a groundswell of demands for representation that looks as diverse as America does in real life.

This is actually a weird recurring theme. Often when a more favourable political leader is in charge, progressives get lazy and think it’s all taken care of. But when an opponent is in power, they know they have a personal responsibility to do things.

You can do that too. You do it in conversations with family, friends and work colleagues. You do it online by challenging news reporting you think is inadequate, or politicians you think are lying, or media companies who are failing.

You should fight smart. Vitriolic attack and bitterness don’t win converts. But evidence-based, sustained challenge can. You can provide the incentives for the kinds of changes you wish to see, online and in the real world. Every moment is political. And now we have the tools to dedicate ourselves to it.

These are the three battlegrounds: Structural, for the future of the country; organisation, for the day-to-day fight on the issues you believe in; and personal, for your individual contribution to making this a better country, regardless of who is in charge.

So take time. Recharge. Salvage what you can of Christmas. And then come back ready for the fight. They only win when you surrender.

– The fight has changed, but the cause remains… There has never been a more important moment to subscribe to The New European. Get 13 issues for just £13 here.

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