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Wednesday 30 March 2016

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TUSC sends formal letter to election watchdog, 'don't back UKIP & Tory EU outers'

Last week the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) national steering committee agreed the text of a formal letter to the Electoral Commission asking them not to choose an 'official' Leave campaign in June's EU referendum.

Under the referendum rules the Commission, an unelected quango, has the power to select one official campaign on each side of the debate, giving that organisation political 'authority' but also millions of pounds of public resources.

The deadline for organisations to apply to be the official campaign is March 31st, with the Electoral Commission making its decision by April 15th. Below is the text of the TUSC letter, sent in the name of the TUSC national agent, Clive Heemskerk, on March 24th.

Letter to the Electoral Commission

I am writing to you on behalf of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) to ask the Electoral Commission to use its power not to make a lead campaign designation for the Leave outcome in the June referendum on Britain's EU membership.

TUSC, as you are aware, is a registered political party and, at present, one of only two that has registered as a permitted participant for the Leave outcome in the referendum (UKIP being the other, with six parties registering as permitted participants for Remain).

An outline of our arguments for why the Electoral Commission should not make a lead campaign designation for Leave is given below. However we would also like to have a formal meeting with you, and any other senior Commission representatives as appropriate, during 'phase two' of the designation period (after the 31st March deadline for applications for lead campaign status but before you make your decision) to further elaborate our position with reference to the specific application(s) that you will have received.

The statutory position

The essence of our position is that it is impossible for the Leave campaigns currently vying for lead status, which we would characterise as the reactionary Leave campaigns - Vote Leave, Leave.EU or Grassroots Out, or any amalgam of them - to meet the statutory test that they "adequately represent" those who will support Leave on June 23rd.

We contend that there are millions of trade unionists, young people, anti-austerity campaigners and working class voters generally who, like TUSC, oppose the EU from a completely different standpoint to that articulated by the above mentioned organisations.

The fact that this constituency will vote for the same outcome on June 23rd as the reactionary Leave campaigns is not sufficient, in our opinion, to meet the statutory test of 'adequately represent'.

As you are aware the legislation which established the Electoral Commission and its role in referendums anticipated that there could be referendums in which "organisations have the same view on a referendum question but on nothing else, and can scarcely be expected to speak with one voice" (from the government White Paper introducing what became the 2000 Political Parties, Elections and Referendum Act, p47).

The Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (the Neill Committee), which preceded the White Paper, specifically discussed and rejected the idea of obliging anyone who wished to campaign in a referendum to do so under the auspices of a single group as "wrong in principle" for the same reasons.

And so the White Paper, while arguing that "the benefits available to a designated organisation will constitute a powerful inducement" to create a common campaign, accepted that "in the last resort, however, it may be impossible to designate a campaign organisation on one side of the argument" (ibid, p47).

We believe that this is the situation for the Leave outcome in the June referendum.

'Leave' is not a governmental alternative

We believe the premise that it is possible to achieve a unified position in support of a Leave outcome between the different forces arguing for Leave is false.

In the section below we list some of the irreconcilable divisions that exist on various policy issues that arise in the EU debate. But at bottom, and more fundamental than differences on specific policies, what is being asked of Leave campaigners in demanding that they produce a common position, is that they effectively agree an alternative governmental programme. This, of course, is 'scarcely to be expected'.

Our argument is exemplified by the Electoral Commission's apparently straightforward request that organisations applying for lead status provide a page "which should include their opinion on what will happen in the event of either referendum result" (The Designation Process, p5). It is, in fact, an ambitious request to say the least.

TUSC, for example, believes that a victory for the Leave outcome would be a devastating defeat for the Conservative government, and could presage a split in the party similar in character to the schisms over the Corn Laws and Tariff Reform, opening up the possibility of a general election and a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government before the end of the year. We assume that is not necessarily a motivation for many of the politicians and big business representatives in the reactionary Leave campaigns.

On the other hand, if there is a Remain victory and the government, bolstered by its victory, uses EU laws and directives to accelerate its neo-liberal agenda, TUSC, and thousands of other trade unionists and anti-austerity campaigners, will continue to resist, including supporting defiance of EU 'law'. Again, that is not something reactionary Leave campaigners would include in their appraisal of 'what would happen?'.

Or is what is required a discussion of article 50 of the Lisbon treaty on the mechanics of withdrawal? Or 'what will happen' to the world economy? Or the impact on governments, and opposition movements, across Europe? Whatever the intention, it is clear that it would be politically impossible to get an agreed position even on this basic request.

So how is it possible in any meaningful sense to speak of a common Leave position? And on what basis would the Electoral Commission make what would be a purely political decision to decide between the different political positions?

Irreconcilable policy divisions between Leave campaigners

As stated we believe that there are irreconcilable differences between the different forces arguing for Leave which makes it not meaningful to speak of a 'camp' in the sense of sharing a common position.

We give below some examples of policy issues that arise in the EU debate which further illustrate this.

EU treaties on public spending

TUSC, and the wider anti-austerity constituency, oppose the EU treaties that have embedded what can only be described as a neo-liberal economic framework into the EU. But the reactionary Leave campaigns do not oppose an austerity agenda.

While 750,000 people from our constituency demonstrated against austerity in March 2011, six weeks later individuals who have become prominent figures in the reactionary Leave campaigns organised a 'rally for cuts', in May 2011. They included Nigel Farage, Bill Cash, Priti Patel, Toby Young, and the Taxpayers' Alliance, whose founder, Matthew Elliot, is now the chief executive of Vote Leave.

If we march in opposite directions surely we can "scarcely be expected" to agree a common platform?

The EU and privatisation

A similar dichotomy exists in attitudes to the EU treaties and service directives driving the liberalisation of markets in energy, transport, postal services and other public services, and the EU's state aid rules.

TUSC's core policies include bringing privatised public services, industries and utilities back into public ownership, including transport, Royal Mail, the NHS, and the justice system, and democratic public ownership of the banks and major companies. None of these, of course, are compatible with the EU treaties - but they are policies which the reactionary Leave campaigners would also stridently oppose.

The EU and workers' rights

TUSC includes as one of its constituent organisations the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) workers' union, which comes up against EU directives and European Court of Justice rulings as it defends its members.

The reactionary Leave campaigns, on the other hand, are dominated by the same politicians and big business interests that are behind the new Trade Union Bill, showing they have no real differences with the restrictions on workers' rights, rights to collective bargaining etc that flow from the EU treaties.

The EU and international trade treaties

Another TUSC core policy is to oppose the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) "and all secret austerity treaties". Some reactionary Leave campaigners have referred to TTIP but they have no principled opposition to the institutionalisation of privatisation that the treaty negotiations are aimed at or the investor-state court mechanism to enforce this.

The EU and migration

TUSC has a clear core policy of defending the right to asylum and opposing racist immigration controls. Our criticisms of the recent EU agreement with Turkey to trample over the right to asylum, for example, have nothing in common with the reactionary Leave campaigners.

Our prescriptions for dealing with housing shortages - rent caps, nationalising the building monopolies and handing over their land banks to local councils to build homes etc - and the other pressures on public services that are often raised in this policy area would contradict EU state aid rules and directives but they would absolutely not be supported by reactionary Leave campaigners.

The EU and defence

Some of the reactionary Leave campaigners have opposed the EU's Common Security and Defence Policy - but only to counterpose to it their support for NATO. TUSC is opposed to "moves towards a militarist United States of Europe" but also opposes all "imperialist wars and occupations" as well as the renewal of Trident and the increased defence spending agreed by the government to meet its commitments to NATO. Once again, we can "scarcely be expected to speak with one voice".

These are just some of the policy areas where it is impossible to reconcile the different forces arguing for a Leave position, and there are many others which we will be happy to elaborate on in our meeting.

But the most important point here from our perspective is that if the Leave campaign is defined by the policy positions of the reactionary Leave organisations it will do more to boost the position of Remain than it will to further the cause of Leave.

Making a designation is taking a political stance

This point relates to the narrative which we believe is being created by the government to try and portray those who oppose the EU as one reactionary lump. It is easier to deal with the policy positions of the reactionary Leave campaigns - which operate within the same political framework as the government - than the completely different perspective represented not just by TUSC but by a substantial segment of the labour movement and working class voters generally.

There is substantial support, for example, for public ownership of the railways and energy companies, incompatible with EU treaties, but which cannot in any way be credibly represented by the reactionary campaigns.

In this respect, we contend, designating one of the reactionary campaigns as the official voice of Leave would be a political decision favouring the Remain campaign.

We recognise that the Electoral Commission is in a difficult position. Established to be an impartial regulator of electoral procedures, it is risking reputational damage by being asked to make a purely political decision in designating a lead campaign for the Leave outcome.

In that situation we do not believe it should do so but instead should exercise its power not to make a designation at all.

Clive Heemskerk
TUSC National Election Agent

Petition to the Electoral Commission

TUSC has a petition to the Electoral Commission calling on them not to give taxpayers' money and other public resources to the reactionary-led exit groups. Founding signatories include two trade union national presidents and 16 union national executive committee members.

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 TUSC leaflet is available to order, explaining TUSC's 'Exit Left' opposition and our campaign to make sure the voice of opposition is not dominated by UKIP and the 'Eurosceptic' Tories (see PDF at http://www.tusc.org.uk/txt/367.pdf). To order supplies go to http://www.tusc.org.uk/resources on the TUSC website.

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