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Editorial: Leave or Remain, we don't need crass identity politics

THIS weekend’s marches against Boris Johnson and his government displayed an eclectic mix of slogans and motives.

For many demonstrators, these were protests against an unelected Prime Minister and his right-wing policies. They were rightly demanding a general election so that the electors can decide whether they want yet more austerity, privatisation and tax cuts for the rich and big business.

Others were marching against Johnson’s advice — or instruction — to the monarch to prorogue the Westminster Parliament for around five weeks in the run-up to the Queen’s Speech on October 14 and our fourth “Brexit Day” on October 31.

By adding an extra few days to the habitual parliamentary break over the party conference season, he is hoping to avoid defeat in the Commons by MPs who want to delay Brexit Day yet again.

Many more demonstrators on Saturday were continuing their campaign against Brexit itself, demanding — while claiming to defend democracy — cancellation of the 17.4 million votes for it in June 2016.

Whatever people’s views on any of these questions, there is one reactionary aspect which threatens to engulf the whole debate.

This is the emergence of “identity politics” as the overriding characteristic of significant forces on both sides.

On the pro-Leave side, there has long been the presence of right-wing, neoliberal, anti-immigration and British nationalist elements who see the return of sovereignty as the means to pursue their reactionary agendas as well as end in itself.

They regard themselves as the only true British patriots and brand their adversaries as unpatriotic traitors.

Their prominence in the pro-Brexit movement has been greatly assisted by the desertion by large sections of the left and the labour movement of the anti-EU cause.

Some such socialists and trade unionists believe that Brexit should only be seen as an option or a necessity when we have a Labour government struggling to implement a left manifesto against massive EU obstruction. Many more fear being labelled as racists or fascists for simply opposing EU membership.

Which brings us to the identity politics now gripping large parts of the pro-Remain, anti-Brexit movement.

They see themselves as the only true “Europeans” and therefore the only genuine internationalists.

Increasingly, they dismiss and deride most if not all anti-EU, pro-Leave supporters as narrow-minded nationalist and racist bigots.

One of the fundamental problems of an identity-based outlook on either side is that it can quickly take on a subjective, emotional character, becoming impervious to evidence and reasoned argument.

As passions are inflamed, this could lead to violence which might indeed threaten democratic and political rights.

We saw the dangers on Saturday. Hysterical slogans equating Boris Johnson, Brexit and the prorogation of Parliament with Hitler, fascism and the death of democracy are dangerously deluded, provocative and insulting.

Some far-right, pro-Brexit groups tried to disrupt people’s right to march.

Of course, there must be the necessary vigilance and action to confront any attempt to curtail democratic rights whether inside or outside Parliament.

But grossly exaggerating those threats at any given time risks desensitising people’s responses in the future, when democratic rights are genuinely under threat.

What is needed now, above all, is a return to class politics on the left and in the labour movement. The stereotyping, name-calling, labelling and intimidation must stop so that important questions are discussed and answered.

Which policies are in the interests of the working class and the people? How does EU membership affect those policies?

If Britain leaves the EU on October 31, as the Morning Star believes we must, what should be the left’s response?

What policies can a left-led Labour government pursue in post-Brexit Britain?

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