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Thursday 4 February 2016

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Don't give taxpayers' money to UKIP and Tory EU campaigners!

By Clive Heemskerk, TUSC National Election Agent

The EU referendum campaign is now officially under way. Although the actual date has still to be announced the main rules for how the referendum will be conducted have passed through parliament - including plans to potentially give millions of pounds of public money to Tory and UKIP EU campaigners.

Under the rules the Electoral Commission, an unelected quango, has been given the power to choose who shall be the 'official' Remain and Leave campaigns in the referendum.

This is important, bestowing political 'authority' to a particular campaign but also substantial public resources. The official campaigns will receive grants of £600,000 each, free postage for leaflets delivered across the whole country, TV and radio time for referendum broadcasts, and the use of rooms free of charge.

The mainstream media has already decided that UKIP, Tory and other pro-austerity and racist establishment politicians and organisations are the only exit voices they will feature. They completely ignore the millions of trade unionists, young people, anti-austerity campaigners and working class voters generally who, like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), oppose the EU from a completely different standpoint.

The danger is that the Electoral Commission will follow the establishment media's lead and appoint either Vote Leave or Leave.EU, or an amalgam of the two, as the official exit campaign.

The right-wing Leave campaigns

Until recently the Vote Leave group, which is supported by the sole UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, was led by the founder of the right-wing Taxpayers' Alliance, Matthew Elliott. Its campaign director is Dominic Cummings, well-known as Michael Gove's former special advisor behind the Tories' 'free schools' programme. Such people, representing a section of 'British business' interests, oppose the EU not because, for example, its treaties mandate the privatisation of public services, but because they want 'first bite' on the contracts.

But Leave.EU is no different, and if anything is more dominated by UKIP figures. It was founded by the former Tory donor Arron Banks who defected to UKIP in 2014 with a £1m donation - increased from £100,000 after ex-Tory leader William Hague called him a 'nobody'. Banks could afford his fit of pique. One source of his wealth is a company, Rock Services, which paid just £12,000 UK corporation tax in 2013-14 on gross profits of £19.7m after 'recharging' services to another company based in lightly-regulated Gibraltar.

Neither of these organisations could possibly represent those who oppose the EU because it is a club that puts the interests of big business and the rich and powerful first. The fact that Vote Leave have now brought in Thatcher's former chancellor and climate change denier Lord Lawson as 'an acceptable face' to unify the two campaigns confirms that a merged campaign would also not be an organisation that trade unionists and socialists could give any support to.

Petition to the Electoral Commission

That's why TUSC has launched a petition to the Electoral Commission calling on them not to give taxpayers' money and other public resources to either the Vote Leave or Leave.EU campaigns, or any amalgam of them, in the EU referendum. Founding signatories include two trade union national presidents and 16 union national executive committee members.

As the petition states, "the Electoral Commission does not have to choose an official campaign if there is not one organisation that adequately represents those supporting a particular outcome to the referendum". Vote Leave and Leave.EU patently don't.

If the Electoral Commission can be persuaded not to choose either of them as an official campaign, that will be a significant blow against UKIP and their Tory allies. But it would also undermine the Remain campaign.

The ardently pro-EU Guardian columnist Martin Kettle explained the Remain campaigners strategy: "if voters come to see the Brexit option as a step towards a Nigel Farage universe" then a substantial pro-EU result is more likely (18 December 2015). If working class voters who oppose the EU are forced to line up behind reactionary racist and pro-austerity leave campaigners it is a win for the Remain campaign.

The situation will be different the more it is possible to show that a significant proportion of those who will vote against the EU support basic socialist policies of workers' rights, public ownership, and opposition to austerity and racism. Signing the petition to the Electoral Commission is part of that.

Exit left

TUSC was co-founded in 2010 by the late Bob Crow, the RMT transport workers' union leader who was well known for his opposition to the EU as an agency of anti-worker and pro-austerity policies.

TUSC's core policies, which we have campaigned on since our inception, include the renationalisation of privatised public services, industries and utilities; defending the right to asylum and opposing racist immigration controls; and democratic public ownership of the banks and major companies. All of these policies go against the EU treaties. TUSC also opposes the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) being negotiated between the EU and the US which will significantly increase corporate power.

These are the reasons why, following a decisive vote at our autumn conference, TUSC is campaigning against EU membership in the referendum.

The conference also agreed however to fully respect the right of those in our coalition who don't support this stand to campaign publically for their own position.

And the same applies to the petition to the Electoral Commission. There will be socialists, trade unionists and others who may support a Remain vote or abstention in the EU referendum, or don't agree with TUSC in general, but who still oppose giving political credibility and taxpayers' money to UKIP and Tory EU campaigners. The petition is for them too.

Sign the petition online at http://www.tusc.org.uk/17170/04-02-2016/dont-give-taxpayers-money-to-ukip-and-tory-eu-campaigners

A downloadable version of the petition is available from the TUSC website at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/360.pdf Send completed copies to TUSC, 17 Colebert House, Colebert Avenue, London E1 4JP