Overriding all the noise of the 23 May election (yes, this Thursday) is the sheer insignificance of the whole thing. And that’s a problem. Labour voters might believe this will have very little implication for the future of our democracy. Bame voters should be most concerned and Bame voters are the least likely to turnout. Nigel Farage thrives on low turnouts.
As it stands, the Brexit Party is currently polling at around 30 per cent – higher than any political party, mainstream or fringe (although a more recent poll places the party at 24 per cent). We have no clue how long the UK will remain a member of the European Union, meaning we could be sending far-right candidates to the European parliament until 31 October 2019, or for much longer.
It’s been 20 years since the UK went to the polls solely for a European election (that is, there was no other election – such as a general election or council elections – on the ballot). In 1999, even with a 179-seat majority in parliament, the Labour Party was trounced, and 36 Tory MEPs went on to take their seats in Brussels, including arch Eurosceptics Theresa Villiers and Daniel Hannan.
The responses on the doorstep are unsurprisingly apathetic: not enough people see a reason to turn out or, worse, they are now comfortably flirting with Faragist politics – “Changing politics for good”.
The Brexit Party has branded itself as the polished, shiny centre-ground between two shrivelling turds – an unashamedly Islamophobic and misogynistic Ukip, and a vacant, crumbling Conservative Party. This is fascism buffed and presented like no other British party has successfully managed in the 21st Century. For Bame voters and allies, that should scare us.
We all remember the poster of refugees that Farage promoted during the referendum campaign. Yet somehow, Ukip – his then-party behind the poster – is “unrecognisable” to him. He is now Mr Brexit in actual name, supposedly rehabilitated despite the previous migrant scapegoating. As Labour candidates Laura Parker and Eloise Todd wrote earlier this week, the far-right are expected to make up a quarter of MEPs after the election.
The Brexit Party is getting by on literally one pledge and no policy so far, but it will soon get the opportunity to join the far-right parties from across the continent that call for a “Christian Europe” and rally against immigration and “mixed-race nations”. Can we really sit at home and unleash this on our European comrades?
I recognise this vote is a proxy for Brexit, and I understand that some commentators believe enough votes for Remain-pledging parties will deliver a strong enough headline post-election day. But, more importantly, the Remain vote is now split between four parties; under the D’hondt system, that could leave us electing very few Remain MEPs, providing a fundamental risk of Brexit Party accession by the back door.
Yes, Labour should have delivered the campaign to enthuse and engage our voters. As I knock on doors and hand out literature, I am frustrated that from the highest level, the party’s passion for anti-racism, to turn out and defeat the far-right threat with an optimistic vision for Europe, has not fully materialised, only represented amongst the incredibly hard-working local activists and the candidates themselves.
After all, it is Labour MEPs that have been responsible for delivering Europe-wide laws against discrimination on gender, race, ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, and sexual orientation. It is Labour MEPs who introduced measures to give part-time workers the same rights as full-time workers in terms of pay, leave, working time, and health and safety. And it is has been Labour MEPs at the forefront of refugee rights, calling for the safety, security and integration into the labour market of the world’s most vulnerable refugees.
Among Bame Labour voters, there are some who think they ought to sit this election out, because they believe that unleashing another abhorrent political party in Europe will never really affect them.
But it’s imperative that we don’t sit this out. Use your vote to ensure the socialists and democrats can form the largest party in the European parliament, to ensure we deliver hard-working Labour MEPs that will actually make us proud (for however long it is we have left in Europe). Make sure you vote – just try not to embolden the far-right in Europe, by accident.
Rashmi Kalubowila is Bame officer for the Harrow West constituency Labour Party