As part of our Brexit & human rights project, I’ve been spent the last few months visiting CLPs to talk to Labour activists about the key issues. So far I’ve been to Tooting, Winchester, Westminster, Castle Point, and Woking. And this evening I’m off to Stoke. So what are the top three lessons I’ve learned so far?
There’s a diversity of opinion in every CLP
When I visited the London CLPs, I didn’t really expect to encounter any Brexiteers, just as I didn’t expect to encounter many Remainers in Castle Point. I was totally wrong! There’s been a strong diversity of opinion in every CLP. In Castle Point, for example, most Labour activists seemed to be Remainers at heart, but some were concerned about immigration and were sceptical about the value of the EU courts. In the London CLPs, there were some stalwart Brexiteers among the expected Remainer majority. I quickly learned not to judge a book by its cover and appreciate the differences of opinion in every area.
We can have an honest conversation about immigration
I was struck by a comment from one activist, who said five years ago it would have been impossible to have an honest conversation about immigration in their CLP. We’d just had a discussion about the challenges of sudden cultural change and assimilation and to what extent fears about immigration should be re-directed towards resisting austerity. It was an interesting conversation drawing on plenty of real-life examples of cultural clashes and economic deprivation. But this activist said such a conversation would have led to accusations of racism a few years ago. If that’s true, it’s a positive development that people can now talk about immigration constructively in their CLPs.
Leading on from the previous point, one common theme running through every discussion has been the culpability of austerity not just in creating hostility towards immigration but also for causing the country to turn against the EU more broadly. The most common view expressed when I’ve challenged activists to build an argument in favour of immigration and internationalism has been that austerity is the true cause of people’s problems. While I think this may well be true, I can’t help feeling concerned that it may come off as paternalistic to try and explain to people that what they’re really opposed to isn’t what they think they’re opposed to. If we’re to win the debate, we’ll need to frame this argument very carefully.
Andrew Noakes is the Director of the Labour Campaign for Human Rights