Is learning from Brexit possible?

Last week the ‘Financial Times‘ revealed that the Tory Government is working with big business on plans to tear up those workers’ rights enshrined in EU law.  This would include ending the 48-hour limit on the working week; changing rules on work breaks and ending the inclusion of overtime pay in holiday entitlements.  This is the list reported but there are undoubtedly others.

That this was one purpose of Brexit and its likely effect was both predictable and predicted, it comes as a surprise to no one.  Yet large swathes of the Left in Ireland and Britain supported it, although much less vocally in Ireland because it is so unpopular.  In any case their support for it has assisted putting in place these projected attacks and is indefensible and inexcusable.

An analysis of why they took such a position would have to look at such things as an originally opportunist position becoming hard-wired into their politics; their nationalist perspective arising from the view that the nation state will introduce socialism and come to embody it; general simple-minded opposition to the EU on the shallow grounds that it is a creature of capitalism, and the strong tendency to have a more concrete idea of what you are against than what you are for.  There’s also a large dose of ignorance and stupidity involved.

The significant role of stupidity first hit me when I read that left supporters of Brexit were complaining that the negotiations on the British side were being conducted by the Tories.  Further examples became clear when they, like the rest of the Brexit movement, demanded a harder Brexit as the only one worthy of the name, and for the same reason – there was no point otherwise.

Now that even a blind man can see what the future invites, what are the chances that this left will reconsider its support for Brexit and the political approach that led to it?  What might this involve?

Well, much of this left also supports Scottish nationalism, which perhaps should be no surprise since this too involves an obviously nationalist project that harbours illusions in a separate capitalist state.

In the weekend’s ‘Irish Times’ Fintan O’Toole has a long article on Scottish nationalism that is quite good.  It notes that in 1979 the referendum on devolution and creation of a new Scottish parliament couldn’t even get 40 per cent of the Scottish electorate to support it.  Now opinion polls show majority support for independence.  O’Toole looks for reasons for the change.

The first is the decline of the Empire that Scots played such a prominent and profitable role in creating, before it shrunk to the extent that many middle class Scots saw potential for better career opportunities in a separate state.  Some on the Left present this opportunist turn as some sort of anti-imperialism.  That some Irish accept this is where another heavy dose of stupidity comes in, although again, a common nationalist outlook is a more adequate political explanation.

The second reason is the growth of the idea that Scotland is more progressive than England (Wales hardly ever gets a mention), an idea O’Toole correctly describes as a ‘myth’.  This is traced to the idea that Thatcher and her policies came to be seen as an imposition on the country from outside rather than as a class-based assault on the whole British working class.

This isn’t really an explanation, more an outcome – why did Thatcherism come to be seen as a rallying cry for Scottish nationalism and not British working class struggle?  The venom of nationalism is now so prevalent in the bloodstream that even when English and Welsh workers try to move to the left, through the Jeremy Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party, the Scottish left prefers its own nationalism and opposes it.

O’Toole notes the mass opposition of 70,000 Celtic and Dundee United fans during Thatcher’s attendance at the Scottish cup final in 1988.  Many Celtic fans, traditionally a base of support for the Labour Party, are now ardent nationalists.  Again, their existing (partial) identity with Irish nationalism assisted the switch, although with just as little justification.

O’Toole notes that the Scottish National Party tacked to the left in order to garner support from those opposed to Thatcherism, but Scottish nationalism is not a complement to Celtic supporters’ residual Irish identity but a dilution of it, if not a rival.  Recent criticism by the SNP government of the actions of Celtic Football club and praise for Rangers may mainly be a piece of opportunist tacking to a part of the electorate it hasn’t had success with, but it is also politically consistent with any idea of Scottish nationalism.

What O’Toole doesn’t cover is the employment of constitutional solutions by the Labour Party to cover up for its hostility to a militant class opposition to Thatcherism.  Ultimately this played into the hands of the more aggressive nationalists, but then the Scottish Labour Party was even more venal and rotten than the rest of the party.

The third reason advanced by O’Toole is that Scottish nationalism is very much bolstered by the rise of English nationalism.  How else, for example, can you account for the popularity of the SNP Government’s handling of Covid-19 as opposed to widespread criticism of the Tories?  Objectively, the differences are much less than the similarities and both have a very poor record in terms of deaths, making the same mistake of seeding care homes with infected discharges from hospitals.

The Tories have repeatedly used the rise of Scottish nationalism to attack the Labour Party, which plays very well for the SNP. It can hardly be a surprise that nationalist division encourages divisive nationalism.  Yet this too seems to have escaped much of the British left, which supports Scottish nationalism but deplores English nationalism, except for the most degenerate Stalinist section that is now buying into it.

Why do they not get that the former has helped the latter?  Why do those who did oppose Brexit not see the parallels with Scottish nationalism, both movements championing the magical powers of ‘national sovereignty’?  Did they really miss the absence of a Scottish component of the Corbyn movement, the potential base of which had already been partially vaccinated against left politics by nationalism?  Do they really think that the left of the nationalist movement in Scotland was the equivalent of the Corbyn movement in the rest of Britain; ignoring the project of the supporters of Corbyn being to move the Labour Party to the left while the most distinguishing mark of the left supporters of Scottish nationalism is the militancy of their nationalism?  Do they also have to actually witness its full reactionary effects before they discover that nationalism really is not the friend of the working class?

An analysis of why these socialist have taken such a position would have to look at such things as an originally opportunist (but successful looking and therefore trendy) position becoming hard-wired into their politics; their lapse into a statist conception of socialism and mistaken assumption that national separation is the default democratic position of socialists; general simple-minded opposition to the UK on the shallow grounds that it is a creature of capitalism, and the strong tendency to have a more concrete idea of what you are for when it doesn’t actually entail any element of socialism.  Not to mention that dose of simple stupidity.

If the Left that supported Brexit had any idea what mistake it had made in supporting leaving the EU it would be revising its support for nationalism of the Scottish variety.  It would even wonder whether any newly gained national sovereignty for Scotland might unleash demands for workers sacrifice for the newly won ‘independent’ Scotland in the same way the Tories seek to make Britain competitive against the EU.

Of course, it can be argued that Scotland voted against Brexit and a separated Scotland will seek to join the EU; although this is not an argument open to supporters of Brexit.  But even in this case, the point is not that the EU is something in itself that socialists should support, rather it is to be accepted as an exemplar of the progressive development of capitalism, which to the extent that it is progress is also progress towards socialism, as it increases the international socialisation of the forces and relations of production.

The point is that this internationalisation of capitalism, that by this fact brings forward the grounds for socialism, only does so because it strengthens the potential unity of the working class across nations.  It is exactly this unity that Scottish nationalism opposes and destroys.

We have seen this above; through its arising upon the bones of the defeated British working class movement under Thatcherism, and its opposition to workers seeking to mobilise to the left under Corbyn: its opposition to spreading this movement and assistance to those also opposed to it in the rest of Britain.

There is very little indication that the Brexit supporting left has learnt any lessons.  Although it may be viewed as early days, it is a sign you aren’t stupid when you can see the policeman’s truncheon falling and you decide not to put your head in the way, rather than wait until it cracks your skull, whereupon you declare the need to defend yourself against police brutality.

The EU-UK Trade Agreement – first impressions (2) Title VIII Energy

The European Union has been attempting to build a single energy market for over two decades based on liberalised markets for both electricity and gas.  This started with the First Energy Package for electricity approved in 1996.  Britain had started the process earlier and by the end of 1990 had privatised the 12 regional electricity companies.  Far from the big bad EU pushing privatisation it was Britain that led the way, continuing to have a major influence on EU energy policy as a member state.

By looking at the Energy section of the new EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement we can see characteristics that are repeated throughout the Agreement and illustrate the wider issues that it contains.

Reading Title XVIII Energy of the Agreement is like reading the Directives of the EU’s Third Energy Package, without the detailed rules but with the same principles agreed by the two Parties.  So, we have agreement to “competition in markets and non-discrimination”; with wholesale electricity and natural gas prices that “reflect actual supply and demand”; rules that “encourage free price formation”; and services that “are procured in a transparent, market-based manner.”

The EU also claims that it has agreement to “enforceable commitments towards Paris Agreement and non-regression on climate change and carbon pricing, with possibility of linking EU and UK carbon pricing regimes.”

Since the energy sector is heavily regulated and of strategic importance the Agreement permits heavy state intervention so that the commitment to free markets is heavily qualified, something that the most extreme libertarian advocates of capitalism might bristle at and left supporters of Brexit fail to appreciate.

For example, one of the sections (Article ENER.8) on ‘Third-party access to transmission and distribution networks’ repeats the EU requirement that “Each Party shall implement arrangements for transmission system operators which are effective in removing any conflicts of interest arising as a result of the same person exercising control over a transmission system operator and a producer or supplier.”

The EU recognises that while there can be ‘competitive’ markets in electricity generation between different companies, and in electricity supply to final domestic and business customers, there can only be one provider of the transmission system of high voltage overhead power lines and associated equipment.  In order to prevent the transmission system owner in the middle of the industry discriminating against particular generators or suppliers from rival companies, these transmission system owners have to be ‘unbundled’ from any joint ownership of generation and supply.

In order to protect the ownership structure of Scottish companies the UK as a member state had the rules elaborated to protect ownership structures that on the face of it looked incompatible with separate ownership requirements and removal of any potential conflict of interest.  This was an example, noted earlier, of British influence and not the ‘subordination’ claimed by some supporters of Brexit that we noted in the previous post.  In practice also, the transmission system operators mostly remained state-owned across Europe.

How far the rules could be bent is best illustrated in Ireland where the largest generation company is owned by the Irish State; as is the largest supply company, while the transmission system (and distribution system of low voltage wires) is also owned by the Irish State.  Not only that, but the Irish State also owns generation in the North of Ireland, a supply company and the transmission and distribution systems as well.  It also owns the undersea cables (interconnector) joining the Irish electricity grid to the one in Britain.

Some states regard such assets as strategic and are keen to retain ownership.  What this does is make a nonsense of the view that the EU is somehow a more ‘neoliberal’ creature than Britain, but also that state ownership is somehow socialist.  The Irish State has never had a social-democratic Party in office without it being the junior partner of the traditionally most right-wing capitalist party in it, yet ownership of the electricity industry in the Irish state is dominated by that state.  Something the Irish supporters of Brexit seem utterly oblivious to.

State intervention obviously gives rise to concern about unfair competition but given that both sides subsidise renewable generation this will be a hard area to police, making it another potential area for conflict – “each Party preserves the right to adopt, maintain and enforce measures necessary to pursue legitimate public policy objectives . . .”

In the body of the Agreement and Annex ENER-2 ‘Energy and Environmental Subsidies’ there are numerous references to the need not to “significantly distort trade between the parties”, and that subsidies generally “shall be determined by means of a transparent, non-discriminatory and effective competitive process.”

This includes that “a Party shall not impose a higher price for exports of energy goods or raw materials to the other Party than the price charged for those energy goods or raw materials when destined for the domestic market . . .”

The existence and further development of undersea cables (interconnectors) joining the electricity grids of different countries is the foundation of the single European Energy market that Britain has left.  It is testament to what Marxists have analysed as the Internationalisation of the forces of production and upon which the socialisation of production will form the basis of international socialism.  Their existing development under capitalism imposes its own requirements regardless of reactionary political moves to limit or reverse the process.

The Agreement is therefore keen that the maximum level of the capacity of electricity interconnectors is made available (as also for gas interconnectors).  This is the case if for no other reason than, for example, the electricity interconnectors between Britain and France and Britain and the Netherlands are jointly owned by the British and French and the British and Dutch.  Brexit should therefore not prevent this process of interconnector development from continuing. (See here for a current list of existing and projected interconnection).

This requires continuing cooperation between the EU and UK even as the latter leaves the EU’s Single Energy Market.  Cooperation between the energy Regulators and the transmission system operators will continue although the EU is clear that this does not accord the UK partner equivalence to their own in either case.  In the case of the “administrative arrangements” between the GB and EU Regulatory Authorities, the Agreement states that it “shall not involve, or confer a status comparable to, participation in the [EU’s] Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators by the regulatory authority in the United Kingdom.”  The cooperation nevertheless requires new provisions and rules for trading across the interconnectors joining the EU and Britain.

The main market for trading electricity in the EU is the Day-Ahead market in which hourly electricity flows are priced in an auction involving generators selling and suppliers buying power at the clearing price set by the auction.  This involves generation and supply companies right across the EU with the price calculated by an EU algorithm.  Because of restrictions in the flow of electricity across different countries a single price across Europe isn’t possible but the price differences that arise between different zones determines the direction in which electricity flows across the interconnectors between them.

So, for example, if the price in Britain is €60 and the price in France is €50 the flow of electricity would be to Britain, which would lower the price there and permit export from France and would be an efficient use of the interconnection.

The Agreement’s new arrangements are set out in an Annex (ENER-4):

“the Specialised Committee on Energy, as a matter of priority, shall take the necessary steps . . . to ensure that transmission system operators develop arrangements setting out technical procedures in accordance with Annex ENER-4 within a specific timeline.”

“If the Specialised Committee on Energy does not recommend that the Parties implement such technical procedures in accordance with Article ENER.19(4) . . .  it shall take decisions and make recommendations as necessary for electricity interconnector capacity to be allocated at the day-ahead market timeframe in accordance with Annex ENER-4.”

Which seems to say the Specialised Committee (made up of representatives of the EU and UK) can implement the new arrangements as set out in the Annex, and if it doesn’t agree to them, it can implement them anyway.

These arrangements envisage an auction involving the UK and those EU countries directly connected to the UK by interconnectors, before the EU Single Market Day-Ahead auction.  The results of it would be an input into the EU auction calculations.  The EU Day-Ahead auction closes at 12:00 and produces results for the 24 hours beginning 24:00 on the same day (all times are Central European Time i.e. one hour before UK time).

The newly mandated EU-UK auction would therefore have to be completed well before 12:00 and would not contain more up-to-date information on demand, the weather and power plant availability etc. which may thereby make it less attractive to potential participants.  In these circumstances the prices coming out of it may result in less efficient prices so that the interconnectors directly joining the UK with the other parts of the EU may not flow in the ‘correct’ direction.

In our example above, if, in the EU Day-Ahead auction, the price in Britain was €60 and the price in France was €50 the flow of electricity mandated by the earlier auction might be to France, which would lower the price there and permit export from Britain but would take electricity from where it is relatively expensive to where it is already relatively cheaper, exaggerating the price differences instead of bringing them together.  This would therefore not be an efficient use of the interconnectors.

This of course would affect both Britain and EU countries and would be sub-optimal for both but it is also the case that Britain would suffer proportionately more.  Another example of where exit from the EU may cause harm.

In looking in more detail at one area of the Trade Agreement we can see the stupidity of Brexit even from the narrow point of view of British capitalism.  This includes the left supporters of Brexit whose equally narrow nationalist claims are also unjustified as we have seen.  From a socialist point of view, while it undermines any genuine objective of international socialism Brexit also undermines its left supporters actual project of reforming capitalism through prioritising the nation state and its so-called ‘sovereignty’.

The EU-UK Trade Agreement – first impressions (1)

Thinking about the new trade agreement between the EU and UK I was remined of the words of Michael Corleone in the Godfather 2 – “keep your friends close but your enemies closer.”  And just like the film, the enemies speak of each other with admiration and respect, as forming a partnership, in coming together for what the EU describes as a ‘balanced’ agreement.

Of course, we can take this analogy too far: the EU and UK are not Mafia families.  Let us not be too hard or too soft on notorious enterprises engaged in legitimate business as well as activities that can only be described as criminal from any objective and moral viewpoint.

As a free and ‘sovereign’ power the British will have to do something with their newly found freedom and power, even if it only draws attention to newly discovered limits to both.  As I noted in the previous post – there will be no ‘moving on’ from Brexit, something noted in the European press.

In that post I noted that the EU would be going nowhere and the British would have to deal with it and the constraints it will impose.  Whatever admixture of rivalry and partnership arises following the Agreement it will not be a rivalry and partnership of equals.  The agreement shows that this is also true for the EU – Britain will still be there, as a rival and partner – and the Agreement leaves open the paths for both.  It has registered the relative balance of power between the EU with (roughly) a population of almost 448 million and GDP of €13.5 trillion, and that of Britain with 67 million and €2.5 trillion.

What is noteworthy is just how much has still to be agreed, from acceptance of the UK’s data adequacy; to services, including financial services; recognition of qualifications and much else.  In the next post I will look at the section on Energy that illustrates the extent of this, of what Brexit has torn up and now has to be replaced.

In the meantime the Tory Government and Tory press will sing the praises of an agreement that means that Britain will no longer benefit from free movement of goods, leading to more red tape for businesses; to customs formalities and checks on goods entering the EU, with more border delays; for food exports that require valid health certificates and systematic (phyto-)sanitary border checks, and companies wanting to supply both EU and UK markets having to meet two sets of standards and regulations while fulfilling all applicable compliance checks by EU bodies (with no equivalence of conformity assessment that would allow this to be done in and by the UK).

It will therefore probably take some time for the enormity of the losses to sink in, and for many Brexit supporters it never will; there will always be someone (foreign) to blame.  It is perhaps therefore not surprising to see even the most sober and informed supporters of Brexit exaggerate the potential role of Britain out on its own.

So we see this: “The most immediate conversations will be over what we have in this deal compared with what came before. To what extent will the UK be able to continue exporting services and which authorisations are still valid. These are matters of immediate economic importance, but less important than the overall implications whereby Britain and Brussels have shifted the regulatory focus from Brussels to Geneva, where the UK may enlist the support of its allies and fellow EU FTA holders to bring pressure to bear on the EU.”

“The longer term implications of this means the EU weakens its grip on technical governance to become more of a political and monetary union, the type that Britain could never be part of. We wish them the very best in their endeavours and look forward to working with them, but in international organisations we shall sit as sovereign equals rather than subordinates.”

Except of course that the idea that Britain was a subordinate in the EU is a myth.  The Single Market the Brexiteers have been so keen to leave is an example of the influence Britain has had, as was the enlargement of the EU after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  British influence could also be seen in EU policy on Energy, which I will look at in more detail.

A summary evaluation of the Agreement by the same Brexit supporters is that:

“It is one, also, which keeps the UK closer to the EU globally-based trading system than anyone could possibly have imagined at the outset of negotiations. It is one of considerable depth which creates a framework for a relationship which, if explored by people of far more diligence than Johnson and his cronies, could eventually be turned into a useful working agreement, albeit at savage cost to the UK in the interim.”

This “framework” within the Agreement, to be deployed for developing future relationships, includes “a Partnership Council, 19 specialised committees and four working groups which will no doubt be expanded over time.”

Their summary goes on to state that:

“The economic cost of that [Agreement] will be considerable and it will take two years at least to get the ball rolling through the various committees. A lot of work has to be done to rebuild trust and confidence between the parties, where the EU has to get the measure of Brexit Britain’s intentions and behaviour.”

“In this, one gets a sense that certain pennies have dropped. No doubt the election of Biden poured cold water on a number of transatlantic ideas and the UK is reassessing its global strategy, perhaps realising that the EU still matters as a trading partner. If there is a change in tone and attitude, the process of rebuilding will be faster.”

“This will no doubt leave remainers puzzling as to why we would go through such an enormous bureaucratic exercise to accomplish what amounts to very little at enormous cost. This is a dispute where remainers and leavers will never see eye to eye. This exercise is a switch from supranationalism to intergovernmentalism, broadening our horizons beyond Brussels, recognising that Britain was never an enthusiastic member of the EU and would always have to disembark before it reached its final destination – whatever that may be.”

“Brexit will never satisfy the eurosceptic fundamentalists because reality simply cannot oblige their definition of sovereignty, and though we may sit as sovereign equals in international forums, we do not sit as power equals. If we are to accomplish anything internationally we will need to build partnerships and alliances of like-minded nations, not least because the problems and threats we face in this century are far beyond the capacity of any country acting alone. Leavers just believe cooperation can happen without political subordination.”

The problem here of course is that partnerships and alliances have to have an objective and for that you need to identify your potential allies.  This would normally be those who are closest to you and with whom you trade most, but this is the EU and Brexit is all about tearing this alliance up.  So who are your future allies?

In the past Britain has used its power to seek allies in Europe and to divide its continental powers to prevent their unity.  However Brexit, far from dividing the EU, has united it by illustrating the price to be paid for leaving.  The only two other allies with near equivalent weight in the world is the US and China.  The former wouldn’t tolerate any real alliance with the latter, even if it made sense, and the former is, like every great power, interested in itself.  As one contributor to the discussion on the Brexit site noted – Britain won’t be at the table as an independent player, it will be on the table as part of the menu.  In any case any such alliance would render the just-signed Agreement redundant, which Johnson of course is quite capable of doing, as we have already seen.

These relatively sensible, if reactionary, Brexit supporters seem to envisage an ‘independent’ Britain forming ad hoc alliances with whomever Britain might seem aligned with at any particular moment.  This might be credible if the issues they might align on were also ad hoc and not themselves systematically defined.  The route of opportunist alliances has the potential for Britain to become a sort of rogue state, a deregulated offshore dump for the world’s criminals and partner for the world’s most disreputable regimes.  These supporters of Brexit therefore misunderstand both the nature of interests and of the particular interest of Britain.

They are however far and clear-sighted compared to Sir Keir Starmer who believes he can support the Government and not share the blame; not share in the opprobrium of Brexit that the majority of his party’s members and voters have for it.

If the process of getting to a deal has proved tortuous this will be as nothing compared to the torture of its effects.  When asked whether he was supporting something that would make people poorer Starmer avoided the question; but as the old saying goes – he may avoid it but it will not avoid him.

If, as it appears, his only justification is that the alternative of a no-deal is worse then he should oppose the rotten and false choice that the Government alone is responsible for.  By voting for it, on the other hand, he will join himself to this responsibility.  He claims to be giving leadership, but he is supposed to be the leader of the Opposition and leadership of the Opposition requires . . . guess what?

Once again, he has shown himself to be a smart lawyer and stupid politician, even when judged by the narrow electoralist criteria that appear to motivate him.  He will assume that progressive Labour supporters will have nowhere to go, without considering that this might include nowhere near a ballot box.

Brexit has been toxic to everything it touches, as it continues to move on it looks like another casualty of it could be the Labour Party.

‘Moving on’ from Brexit

Within minutes of the announcement that the negotiations between the EU Commission and Britain would continue the Labour Party put out a statement calling for Brexit to get done, plus supporting a deal so that we could all ‘move on’.  There was no sign of Starmer’s six tests for a Brexit that Labour could support because this would mean not supporting any deal.

So, the statement was one part opportunism and one part aping Boris Johnson’s “get Brexit done”.  The most stupid however was the idea that once there is a deal, any deal, we can all “move on”.

In 1957 the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan sought to pre-empt creation of the European Economic Community by proposing a wider free trade area that would encompass the six would-be members of the EEC.  The six however had already committed while the British appeared to want to have their cake and eat it: gain a free trade area for its industrial goods in the rest of Europe while continuing its current arrangements with its old Empire, especially in relation to food.  For the prospective members of the EEC the British proposal appeared to threaten political ambitions for the new European organisation while France in particular saw it as a British attempt to take leadership.

When this British attempt failed it went ahead with creation of a separate European Free Trade Association (EFTA) that included Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland, setting its launch date for May 1960.  When the EEC members accelerated plans for cutting tariffs in the same month EFTA, in an effort to keep up, followed suit with its own programme of cuts the following February.  An earlier example of the exercise of sovereignty and the ‘ratchet effect’ so objectionable to the British now.

Just over a year later Britain demonstrated its commitment to its new EFTA allies and announced it was applying to join the EEC.  It did this for many reasons, including that EFTA was too small, that the countries of the dying Empire were going to go their own way, and that the US supported West European unity, meaning that EFTA could never rival the EEC.

Joining it, according to Macmillan in 1961, was necessary not only to boost relatively poor economic performance but “to preserve the power and strength of Britain in the world.”  Showing its continuing devotion to its EFTA allies it unilaterally imposed a 15% surcharge on imports from EFTA members in 1964, making them in some ways worse off than the US.

Today Britain is on its own.  It will not be putting together an alliance of several other European states to rival the EU when it doesn’t even have the weight to compel direct negotiations with the two largest EU states, Germany and France.  Instead of such a coalition it trumpets an exit on “Australian” terms, which is a euphemism for no deal but has the merit of showing how isolated it is.

So, Britain sought EEC membership again and applied to join in May 1967.  Six months later France vetoed the application.    In June 1970 the EEC opened negotiations and in January 1973 the UK was admitted to membership.  There was no position for Britain outside it that remotely cohered with its view of its role in the world.

This is even more the case now when its relative power has continued to wane and will suffer a downward step change as it leaves, regardless of the post-imperial bluster that has gone off the scale.  When the Royal Navy boasts of four small boats defending British sovereignty you should know you’re in trouble.  As a nuclear power it awaits a decision on whether the US is going to go ahead with a missile system Britain depends upon for its ‘deterrent’.

Having rejected membership of the Single Market, even were the EU to agree to it, any deal that is now negotiated will be a ‘thin’ one.  In other words, it will address tariff barriers which average about 3 percent while leaving intact non-tariff barriers that are in the order of 20 percent.  Such barriers threaten the existence of whole industries, including motor manufacture, and many others that require EU approvals such as chemicals and aerospace.  Electricity interconnection with France and Ireland requires adoption of EU harmonised trading rules.  Not mutually accepted rules, not equivalent rules, but exactly the same rules.

The British have resiled against the necessity to align its rules with any development of those of the Single Market.  Why should it change its rules just because the EU changes theirs?  As we have seen, we have been somewhere like this before.

Were the British proposals to be accepted, and their rules to remain unchanged while the EU developed its own rulebook, the rules set by the EU would no longer govern entry into the Single Market.  Britain would have access without having to follow the same rules as member states.  In order to prevent this the EU would have to put on the brakes to take account of the European power that has assumed the strategy of preventing European unity for centuries.  The alternative would be to open itself up to other countries seeking the same privilege as the British.  Neither of these is going to happen.

So, we witness the issue of Fish remaining prominent as a way of allowing Britain to declare some sort of victory in a skirmish while surrendering on the main battlefield.

It seems fairly clear, as Denis Staunton from the ‘Irish Times” made clear this morning, that there will be a deal, but that won’t mean Britain can ‘move on’, except in the sense that it goes round another loop of either having to rejoin its European neighbours or sink by itself into an isolation its people will not accept. There is no ‘moving on’.

This means that the strategy of the British Labour Party of supporting Brexit through supporting or abstaining on the deal in Westminster will put it on the wrong side of history and make it joint owner of the disaster.  The referendum and tortured path since have demonstrated again and again that Brexit is toxic.  It will entail untold attacks on the working class, its rights and its standard of living.  The Labour Party should not be looking to be a donkey that blame can be tagged on to.

The division of workers along national lines shows how reactionary Brexit has been by inevitably promoting division within the British working class itself. We can see this through the millions of workers opposed to Brexit and the rise of Scottish nationalism, nurtured by the idea that one variety of British nationalism is somehow qualitatively better than another.  Already in England we see demands for some sort of autonomy for certain regions like the North of England, as if there was a geographical solution to a problem arising from the system that crosses all borders.  It is as if nothing has been learned from the failure of proposing the fix of devolution for Scotland as the solution to austerity and decline.

On the Left, the so-called Trotskyists are saying it could all have been different when it couldn’t; while Stalinists wallow in their own nationalism, in their demand for national sovereignty and their own version of (nativist) identity politics.

The unity of Europe and erosion of national political differences is objectively progressive. It is a task that socialists would themselves seek to accomplish.  That capitalism is doing it only confirms that it can be done in a rightist and conservative manner and that Marx was right to see capitalism as transitional to socialism.  Of course, it is only transitional to socialism if the working class makes it so, but it won’t if it fails to fight for the tasks that capitalism itself has commenced and imposes for its own ends.

In the shadow of Brexit

Back in May I wrote a post ‘It’s not about supporting Jeremy Corbyn anymore’, which stated it was about opposing Brexit, and ditching Labour’s disastrous support for it, poorly disguised in such a way as to piss off anyone with a strong view on the matter. I said after the European elections in which the Tories came fifth, with less than 10 per cent of the vote that –

“The Tories only need a new leader promising Brexit, with a bit more credibility, to have a hope of some recovery, and they’re electing one.  And if they fall short it will not be because Labour has surged forward but because Farage has managed to carry forward his success into a general election.”

But of course, Farage was pulled into line by those with the money and the only significant shift in Labour’s policy was support for a second referendum, except that I noted at the same time that “it’s not about a referendum – if Labour supported some version of Brexit to be approved by a referendum Corbyn would be politically as dead as a Monty Python parrot.”  Which he now is, because his promise to negotiate his own Brexit, and then put it to a vote without committing to supporting it, made no sense.  Then he defeated a motion to support Remain at the Labour conference while promising that a future conference would decide.

In a Facebook discussion I was admonished for not recognising that the gains of the Corbyn movement were a massively increased left membership, a sprinkling of new left MPs and an audience for anti-capitalist ideas.

That a mass membership was encouraged by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is clear, but it also became clear that for this leadership the role of the movement was to follow the leader, not to transform the Party into the social movement that many hoped and believed it should become.  That’s why a claim could only be made that there was a smattering of new left MPs.  This is as much the legacy of Corbyn as defeat in two elections and a divided and untransformed Party, with no clear successor never mind a good range of candidates from which the left membership could choose.

As for an audience for anti-capitalism, I believe in something which is so much more than this negative identification and that has for two hundred years gone a long way in demonstrating not only what is wrong with capitalism but also setting out the alternative.  Brexit itself is a sort of anti-capitalism, in the Lexit, reactionary, stop the development of modern capitalism sort of way that wants to go backwards to when the nation state set the framework of economic and social development.  The proclamation of anti-capitalism as a touchstone is a political retreat and confusion by the left and is consistent with such anti-capitalist phenomenon as Stalinism, and other reactionary populist politics that are inconsistent with the fullest development of capitalism but also antithetical to socialism.

While Corbyn might be leaving the stage, we continue to be under the shadow of his triangulated Brexit policy, including the narrative of a non-existent principle that we must respect a reactionary referendum result regardless of its consequences.  Also included is the idea of a Labour Brexit, one that will supposedly be progressive but bizarrely involves no commitment to supporting it, in fact a declaration of neutrality by the leader with further evasion through postponing a conference that would determine the Party’s position in any second referendum

These are only some of the contortions that have characterised Corbyn’s Brexit policy.  To declare surprise at his unpopularity in the election after such a catalogue of evasion is to audition for the role of one or all of the three wise monkeys.

The failure to openly and honestly fight for Brexit by the leadership, hiding behind six tests; the nonsense of a Labour deal with all the benefits of EU membership but none of the costs; weeks of talks with Theresa May to identify a common Brexit policy, and then claims that a deal could be agreed and voted on within six months (because the EU had agreed to Labour policy!), all this continues to confuse.

For what is most striking about Corbyn and his Brexit policy is not his opposition to Remain but his inability to argue for Brexit.  Like the small left groups who claim that explicit support for Brexit would have defeated the Tories, they fail to explain how all those who are happy to vote for the Tories and Brexit Party could be won to a Labour Brexit that would be denounced as a fraud; or explain what price would be paid in terms of the reactionary politics of nationalism and racism that would be necessary to adopt even to make the attempt.

And what would these groups expect the 68 per cent of Labour’s voters who voted Remain to do while such a policy was pursued, including those in the North of England – in the ‘traditional working class’ areas – who voted to Remain?  How could it ever become Party policy when an even greater percentage of the Labour membership support Remain?

The answer, of course, is that it couldn’t.  And because it couldn’t it wasn’t, although this did not prevent all these groups declaring the need for the impossible – open Labour support for Brexit – that they didn’t even fight for themselves. When was this openly presented as the policy to be supported, as opposed to all the duplicitous evasions listed above?

What exactly was Lexit?  What would it entail? For some it seemed not to matter after it was assumed it would happen – the detail was unimportant, only the economic policy of a future left British Government would matter.  For others it was all the benefits but none of the costs – membership of the customs union and Single Market but no free movement of people and no seat at the table that sets the rules because Britain could help set them from outside, or ignore them if it wanted.  For others it became no deal and trade on WTO terms, sometimes with the lie that these WTO rules meant no real change to the current trading arrangements for years. For others, supporting Brexit seemed only a matter of timing (it was an ok idea before but not now) and a question of who would lead the caravan across the desert and not where it was going.  No wonder there was no open fight inside the Party to win it to explicit support for Brexit.

So now we have a leadership contest where we are threatened with all this vacuous and reactionary nonsense again, with added soundbites and personality claims that only embarrass the listener.

And the obfuscation also continues.  The latest piece I’ve read is an attack on “obsessive Remainers” who have scored “a massive own goal” because they pushed for a second referendum and thereby brought about the victory of Johnson and a hard Brexit.

While it is arguable that a second referendum was not the way to stop Brexit – that was better carried out by a general election in which Labour committed to stopping it – the real claim is that a Labour Brexit was the way forward.  In other words, this is another Brexit-supporting proposition that doesn’t quite declare its love but criticises those who had the temerity to openly fight for Remain.  That this was far from a lost cause can be appreciated from the vote at the Labour conference before the election, when only some sharp practice prevented such a policy being adopted.

While the target is those who fought for Remain the argument is framed around the centrist opposition, represented by “Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson, and Chuka Umunna [who] knew how to play the media and get their message across”, plus the Peoples Vote campaign.

Absent from the analysis are the millions of people this campaign mobilised who were far from all being supporters of the Labour right, and who represented a movement that a Brexit-opposing Labour Party could easily have challenged for leadership of, but which Corbyn through his absence demonstrated opposition.  Along with failure to democratise the Party, this abandonment of a progressive mass campaign to a right-wing leadership is the most criminal of Corbyn’s failings.

Absent also, is any appreciation of the mass support of the voters and members of the Labour Party who also opposed Brexit and are the key constituency defining the possibilities that socialists have to make any significant step forward.  Instead we are invited by supporters of Brexit to orient to a so-called traditional working class that no longer exists in its previous form because the industrial, social and political environment that created it was destroyed.

The article states that “It would be fatuous to scold liberals for not supporting Corbynism, a project that was never their own (although some did claim to support the kind of social-democratic policies that Labour spelled out in its election manifestos). But we can certainly blame them for undermining their own self-proclaimed goal: to stop Brexit . . .”   Scolding  liberals, however, is all that the article does, so it is doubly fatuous by the fact that the author isn’t concerned that Brexit be stopped, so why would anyone with such an aim pay any heed to it?

The hypothesis is put forward that “a so-called ‘soft-Brexit’ deal would have been a perfectly acceptable framework for Labour to carry out domestic social reforms: a step sideways, not a step backward”, a claim made not in order to prevent “rewriting history and shifting the blame”, but to define the next step forward, including the identity of the new leadership of the Party.

This claim is certainly less bold than the ‘jobs Brexit’ claimed by the leadership of the Labour Party but it is still false: the exit of the UK from the EU will put up barriers to migration, trade, investment and economic growth that will very definitely not simply be “a step sideways”. Only those on the left who think that stuffing capitalism or a capitalism in crisis is the objective (i.e. ‘anti-capitalism’) could mistake this as a step forward for the working class.

The best opportunity to achieve the ‘soft’ Brexit that the author considers acceptable was when “Labour came forward with its own platform for the Brexit negotiations that set out clearly the terms of a soft-Brexit deal. It was practical and achievable — and the leading EU officials said so publicly.”

Unfortunately, this “perfectly acceptable framework for Labour to carry out domestic social reforms: a step sideways, not a step backward” turns out to be modification of Theresa May’s deal.

This proposal involved five tests which included ridiculous ideas such as leaving the EU while having a say in the EU’s trade policy, and a claim that a customs union would allow frictionless trade, which is also nonsense.  It could not therefore, as it claimed, prevent a border inside Ireland.

Calls for ‘close alignment with the single market’ does not mean membership of the single market, which anyway would be impossible if the UK left the EU, but which then raises questions of what barriers would this Brexit cause the UK to fall behind, and how much would it assume of having your cake and eating it.  The proposal was for “clear arrangements for dispute resolution” but the EU has these and they’re not going to be subject to British influence.

It is claimed that this platform was “practical and achievable” but if Brexit has taught everyone anything it is that detail is the devil that cannot be ignored and that it isn’t practical and achievable unless it is explained, and it wasn’t.

So, it is not true that the EU considered that this Labour proposal was both practical and achievable, but rather simply a step forward in the right direction, a diplomatic way of opening negotiations that would sort out the detail and remove what nonsense elements were included.  The press interpreted this as a step towards the Norway option but apart from the enormous agreements required to replicate such an option for the very different UK economy, it would involve acceptance of EU rules, which is what is claimed to be the problem, and renunciation of any say in making these rules, which is the purpose of a social democratic government.  How would this have made any sense even if it had been “practical and achievable”?

Another example of the potential for a Labour ‘soft’ Brexit is given by reference to the alternatives to Theresa May’s deal voted on in the House of Commons.  It is noted that the closest to succeeding, losing by only four votes, was Kenneth Clarke’s ‘’customs union’ proposal.  But this, like the rest, got less votes than Theresa May’s deal and only got as close as it did because of abstentions.  Given the lack of clarity in the proposal any clarification was more likely to provoke opposition.

The paucity of these so-called alternatives that might have avoided the disaster of Johnson’s victory, as the article would have it, is precisely shown by the one that came closest to succeeding.  It was so vague it didn’t actually constitute a plan.

It didn’t touch on the single market so wouldn’t have addressed the backstop for Ireland that was the centre of the controversy.  Its customs union didn’t make clear whether it would be dynamically aligned with further development of the EU customs union, or whether the European Court of Justice would have jurisdiction, or whether it was meant as an attempt to go back to arrangements created in 1973 when the UK joined the EEC.  And it didn’t say anything about what arrangements would apply to the 80 per cent of the UK economy comprised of services.  But apart from that it could have been a winner?

While it might seem very passé to go through all this again, the argument about Brexit hasn’t gone away and is very far from being done.  The time given for agreeing future arrangements after officially leaving at the end of next month is not long enough to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal.  If any deal is made, or number of sector specific side-deals agreed, it will not be enough to maintain current levels of trade.  Jobs, living standards and employment will all suffer and the identity of the cause will not be hard to find. All Tory promises about nursing and police numbers, however counted, and of new investment in infrastructure, will be unaffordable, unless borrowing increases significantly, which would only cause its own problems of increased interest rates.

If, on the other hand, the transition period is extended, Johnson’s purpose in doing so will damage his credibility and he will come under pressure from the ultra-supporting Brexiteers.

All this will raise challenges to the new leadership of the Labour Party, which will have to do a lot better than its triangulation over the last three years.  Yet, the issue that defined the election, determined the defeat and will determine and define the next period, has not so far been placed clearly at the centre of the debate over who should be the new Labour leadership.

The policy pursued by Corbyn of pretending every other issue matters more, that the question has been settled, that everyone will move on, that tail-ending the Tories by making piecemeal criticisms while having no principled or oppositionist alternative, or any combination of these disastrous approaches, will allow all the problems stored up by Johnsons to be overcome, or at the very least prevent Labour taking advantage of Tory failures.

The majority of people rejected Johnson’s reactionary policies, including Brexit.  Labour can choose to represent this majority or chase after that minority who will become increasingly disenchanted with it and who will have only three alternatives to choose from.

The first is that pursued by the majority so far – forget about the promises of market access and easy trade agreements and accept only the hardest of exits as a real Brexit.  The Labour Party cannot win by appealing to the more and more radicalised reactionaries who will follow this course.

The second is acceptance of what will become increasingly apparent – that Brexit cannot deliver on its promises and was a mistake.  A soft-Brexit approach will become less convincing to Remainers as it appears more and more pointless and may become indistinguishable from Johnson’s policy, should he so choose.  In effect the Labour Party would be hostage to the vagaries of Johnson’s opportunism and lies.  Labour will get little credit for mild criticism of a policy seen to fail so thoroughly.

The third is that a section of Brexit supporters will retreat into political inactivity and apathy as their prejudices are dashed, at which point ‘politics’ and ‘politicians’ will be blamed for the world not behaving as they think it should. Labour will not win by appealing to the prejudiced and deluded.

For all these reasons the lessons of the Brexit election need to be learned and the great schism in the left between those who have trailed behind this reactionary project and those who have opposed it will have to be settled.  Settling it will not be achieved by reconciliation of socialist internationalists to a successor Corbynista leader, who may simply follow the Brexit water down the plug-hole in ever decreasing and quickening circles.

Whoever is considered best to be the next leader and whatever their strengths and weaknesses, the left must prioritise opposition to Brexit and democratisation of the Party and judge the candidates on this basis.  This will involve examination of candidates’ platform and the forces ranged behind them.  If it is the Labour apparatus and union bureaucrats that is their base, these will determine the favoured candidates future policies.  It is not enough to seek the candidate most likely to defeat any soft left or openly centrist candidate because without opposition to Brexit and fulfilment of Party democracy the return of the right wing will only have been prepared and not prevented.

 

The North of Ireland’s Anti-Brexit Election

Vote count at Titanic Belfast

No sooner is the general election over but the media hails the beginning of talks to resurrect the Assembly at Stormont and the power-sharing Executive.  The election has been hailed as a dramatic change yet the same old solution that cannot find a problem it can solve is put forward again.

We are expected to forget the rampant incompetence and corruption that characterised previous Stormont attempts.  However, it’s not quite everything changes but everything remains the same, because at the same time as we wake up to groundhog devolution day we are also informed that, just perhaps, real change is on its way – ‘United Ireland’ trended on Twitter.

In part this might appear as a result of Brexit getting done under Johnson, which will hasten a Scottish referendum that will lead to Scottish independence – shattering the ‘precious’ union upon which Irish Unionism depends. In part, it is because of the results of the election in Northern Ireland, which for the first time ever has elected more nationalist MPs to Westminster than Unionist – 9 to 8.

But caveats abound.  Johnson will not get Brexit done.  The UK may leave the EU at the end of January but the transition period means nothing will change – except losing its vote in the EU – until it ends at the end of the year, which is not long enough to determine the new arrangements between the UK and the EU.  These will be contentious despite the Irish Taoiseach warmly welcoming the result of the election as removing a worrying source of instability for the Irish state and its economy.  The value of Irish shares may have soared upon the result, especially those of the banks exposed to the British economy, and one right wing politician may have welcomed the election of another, but Brexit is by no means sorted and the North of Ireland (indeed Britain itself) has just voted against it.

If the Scottish Government elected by the people demands another separation referendum then it should have it, without this the national oppression that Scotland does not currently suffer from would become real.  But Brexit will involve the same, if not even greater problems, for any separate Scottish polity that puts itself outside its main economic partner, with a hard border between it and a Brexit England and Wales.  The austerity necessary for a separate Scotland would be made worse; it is not therefore a given that the Scottish people will change its mind.

In any case socialists should oppose the erection of borders, which divide workers, and oppose nationalism that frustrates class solidarity in favour of national allegiance.  Already nationalism has many Scottish workers voting for a Party that covers its right wing politics with nationalist rhetoric.  This has unfortunately led many on the left to support its cause, perhaps not so surprising since some have also capitulated to Brexit; populist nationalism has been on the march in a muted form for longer than Boris Johnson.

So the outcome of Brexit and Scotland are not clear, but if the Withdrawal Agreement continues in some form then a real difference will be created between the North of Ireland and Britain and real harmonisation between North and South.  A loyalist campaign that attempts to stymie this is not out of the question, but it is likely to be more isolated than previous mobilisations against Sunningdale in the 1970s and the Anglo-Irish Agreement in the 1980s.  It will struggle to identify meaningful targets (which normally leads to its default disposition of attacking Catholics) and the British State lacks the incentive to indulge it.

The election results themselves have been taken to represent another step towards a United Ireland through a border poll, but again the situation is not so straightforward.  Sinn Fein, which shouts loudest for such a poll – calling for the Irish Government to create an All-Ireland Forum to advance the cause, performed badly, dropped by 6.7 percentage points.  It stood aside in a ‘Remain’ alliance in three seats, which partially explains the fall, but it also gained from the SDLP withdrawing in North Belfast, which returned a new Sinn Fein MP.  From three out of four MPs in Belfast being Unionist we now have three out of four Nationalists.

It dropped votes almost everywhere else, in West Belfast to People before Profit and spectacularly to the SDLP in Derry where its reverse was stunning.  On top of terrible results earlier this year in the local and European elections in the South, Sinn Fein has major problems.  The shine has long since come off it, it has little positive to say, and its abstentionist policy to Westminster has just cost it votes in the North.  It might have been assumed that as Irish unity appeared closer Sinn Fein would grow and benefit, but the opposite could well turn out to be the case.

It is one thing to stand out for the traditional aspiration of the majority of the Irish people when it appears you are alone in this, quite another to do anything positive to achieve it when it appears to become a realistic prospect, at least some time that isn’t the distant future.  The closer to Irish unity the less relevant appears a Party with nothing much to say about how it should be achieved or how it would actually entail a new progressive Ireland.  Previously, the SDLP suffered because it demanded the end of the IRA’s unpopular armed campaign but Sinn Fein gained from the peace process because republicans and not the SDLP could make it happen.  Sinn Fein will not make Irish unity happen, certainly not in any progressive manner.

In this election the SDLP came back from the dead to win two MPs with huge majorities in Derry and South Belfast.  Their opposition to Brexit was certainly a major factor in the latter, assisted by the fact that the sitting MP was from the DUP and Sinn Fein and the Green Party had stood aside.  Its vote however was much more than this assistance and represented more than mobilisation of a Catholic/Nationalist vote.  On the face of it this strengthens the push for restoration of Stormont since the SDLP is arguably its greatest supporter, although the sectarian carve up that is the lifeblood of Stormont faces challenges when there is competition not only between Orange and Green but also within each camp.

This is also the case in the Unionist camp where the threat to the DUP has come not from the Ulster Unionist Party, which has no real reason for existence, but from the Alliance Party – the biggest winner on the night. Like the footballer that is never off the subs bench while the team is crap, they get better the less they play, and the worse the team gets.  Alliance has benefited from appearing to stand above the sectarian incompetence and venality at Stormont but there is no indication that greater immersion into the devolution it also earnestly supports will not reveal its inadequacies as it has the others.  Its apparent opposition to the inevitable workings of Stormont will dissolve as it becomes an increasing part of it.

This however is not the major point to make about the rise of the Alliance Party.  It declares itself neither Orange nor Green although it has its origins within Unionism and has a pro-union policy.  This used to be much more obvious than it is now but has receded as the question has lost it sharpness following republican acceptance of the constitutional status-quo.  Its avowedly non-sectarian unionism has reflected its historic base inside the Protestant middle class, with an added smattering of aspiring middle class Catholics.  ‘Middle class’ here is used in the not very scientific sense to mean better paid workers and those with relatively higher standards of living.

It is now the third party in terms of votes with 17.4%, compared to the DUP with 31.6% and Sinn Fein with 23.6%, continuing its upwards trajectory following its success in getting the third MEP slot in this year’s European elections alongside one DUP and one Sinn Fein.

Much has been made of the overt sectarian arrangements at Stormont being predicated on balancing the Unionist/Protestant bloc against the Nationalist/Catholic one. This includes a veto wielding petition of concern available to each, which is blatantly undemocratic and discriminatory when a large number of representatives are defined simply as ’other’, which includes the Alliance Party.

This Alliance vote is a reflection of, but not identical to, increasing numbers of people who do not identify as unionist or nationalist, Protestant or Catholic.  The latest Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey reported that one in two identify neither as unionist or nationalist, although this seemed to me to be rather too big, confirmed by some colleagues in my office who are a generation younger than me and closer perhaps to those who might be sloughing off old identities.

This growth of ‘others’ dovetails with the growth of the Catholic population, which in the last census in 2011 reported 41% of the population as Catholic and 42% Protestant, with a Catholic majority among younger age cohorts.  Sectarian division is also influenced by the decreasing gap between Protestant and Catholic social indicators such as unemployment, and the obvious breakdown of large scale employment segregation. So society is changing in the North of Ireland, which gives credence to the idea that the union with Britain, by being less certain, is thereby closer.

Research has been done on the composition of this neither Orange nor Green population but I won’t go into it here.  Suffice to say that the majority of ‘neithers’ are in favour of the union with Britain, although one survey has reported that one third of Alliance voters have said that Brexit makes them more favourable to Irish unity.

What this shows, as if it needed pointing out, is that ‘other’ is not in itself a positive identity.  I am an ‘other’ in these terms, but I would never define myself as such because I am a socialist and do not define my views as simply other than Irish nationalism or Irish unionism.  It is pretty clear that the majority of ‘others’ do not have a coherent separate political identity beyond rejection of two major nationalisms suffused with religious identity.  And this is positive – as far as it goes.

But more importantly, this survey finding about Alliance voters shows that while ‘others’ do not define themselves as unionist or nationalist, there is no third position on the national question.  There are worlds of difference on how it might be solved, and how it might lead to more or less progressive outcomes, but increasing rejection of the old ideologies without a positive alternative leaves the old choice standing.

This does not mean that the growth of those rejecting the unionist and nationalist identities, probably because of the behaviour of the political movements that lead them, does not have an influence on the political situation or on prospective developments.  It has been remarked that these people will be pivotal in any border poll and will not be motivated by traditional war cries.  The majority are motivated by progressive impulses if only cohered in very primitive form (primitive as in undeveloped).  The struggle for a united Ireland will have to offer more than recovery of the fourth green field.

This does not mean that some economistic agenda is the way forward, for in essence this is still a political question that requires a political stand.  It is rather that what will become more and more important is what sort of transformational project will this political struggle involve – what sort of united Ireland is being fought for?

The setback for the DUP in the election is a blow to the most sectarian and reactionary Party and must be welcomed. The vote for the SDLP and Alliance is to a significant degree a vote against Brexit and again should be welcomed.  The shift of some unionists away from the parties of traditional Unionism is also a weakening of the unionist programme and acts to isolate the most extreme loyalist reactionaries, which again should be welcomed.

That Brexit has not overcome the traditional sectarian/political divide is not unexpected – in fact it is entirely to be expected that the reactionary politics of Brexit should find its natural base in unionism.  That opposition to Brexit has weakened the unionist parties and unionism is thus inevitable and once again to be welcomed.  Even the small gains by People before Profit could be welcomed were it not for the fact that it continues to fail to recognise the reactionary character of its support for Brexit and demonstrates an inability to learn from mistakes and correct them, which is more serious for it than the question itself.

What appears as significant political changes in the election are therefore, from a socialist point of view, relatively small steps forward.  They do however reflect more significant changes below the surface that socialists should be concerned to understand.

Who will I vote for?

UK general elections mean something different in the North of Ireland, and have usually revolved around the national question, whether there should be a united Ireland.  Latterly, the division has been one of squabbling over the detritus of incompetence and corruption that is the life blood of the local devolved administration.

The scandalous nepotism and waste uncovered in the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme was the trigger for Sinn Fein to eventually pull the plug on its participation in the Executive, but only after continuing to hold onto the coat tails of the DUP proved untenable.  Now the republicans have made clear that the architect of the RHI scandal, DUP leader Arlene Foster, will not have to go after all.  Sinn Fein would be happy to have this more-than-usual unpopular Unionist leader back as First Minister.

So now, with only haggling over the spoils at issue, the question of importance might appear to be whether to endorse another round of the sectarian settlement.

This time however the main issue is the same as that in Britain, albeit with very different ramifications and with many thinking it’s the old one in disguise.  It’s a Brexit election in the North. Just as it is a Brexit election in Britain; and when it comes to deciding how I am going to vote it is this that will determine whether, and who, I will be voting for on Thursday.

Brexit was supported by the majority of Protestants and opposed by the vast majority of Catholics, with the former voting Leave 60 / 40 and the latter voting Remain 85 / 15.  In terms of declared political identity the difference were even more marked, with 66% of Unionists supporting Brexit and 88% of nationalists supporting Remain.  Among those who defined themselves as neither Unionist or Nationalist – as ‘Other’ – the support for Remain was 70%.

Unionist support for Brexit is perfectly consistent with identification with an imperial nationalism and illusions in the power of Britain in the world, upon which their political position has always primarily rested.  It is not consistent with the real position of Britain in the world, which has been rammed home – to unionism’s discomfort – by Boris Johnson’s acceptance of Northern Ireland being de facto within the EU customs union and single market.  The same ideological blindness infects the same core constituency of the DUP as the Tories in Britain, while the pretence that they got Brexit right has been maintained despite the DUP having been shafted by Johnson.

If this was to be the position of the North of Ireland upon UK exit then it would mark a significant political defeat for unionism and a step towards a united Ireland.  But one, or even two steps, do not take you to your destination; although it points to one possible direction by which an objectively progressive resolution of the national question can be implemented by reactionary forces – the joint efforts of English nationalism that has no interest in Ireland and the European Union and the Irish State, which are progressive only relative to the former.

Much has been made by Sinn Fein of a border poll and increased support for a united Ireland because of Brexit but there is still no majority for a united Ireland and for that majority to arise the nationalist population has to grow significantly and/or the benefits of a united Ireland have to be demonstrated.  A border poll is not in itself an answer.

It is ironic that People before Profit (PbP) trumpet their differences with Sinn Fein but present a border poll in exactly the same way; while adding the vacuous call for a socialist Ireland, which means nothing outside of a wider programme that has to be internationalist to be socialist.

They have complained of Sinn Fein dirty tricks in putting up posters beside PbP ones stating that ‘People before Profit – Still Support Brexit’, which must be the first time a party has condemned a rival for putting up posters declaring its own policy.

Their complaint of course is that people will interpret this as support for the current Brexit, but unfortunately for them and for the rest of us a reactionary Brexit is the only one possible.  The current Tory Brexit was the only one proposed in the referendum – that they voted for – and the only one put forward now for implementation.  And it is still the case that People before Profit support leaving the EU – Brexit – and still see it as progressive.

So, if they now complain it is only because they know that the only Brexit in town is regarded by everyone as reactionary, and People before Profit condemns itself by not accepting that it is making a gross mistake by continuing to support this reactionary step backwards.

PbP complains that Sinn Fein allowed benefit cuts by agreeing that the decision on welfare should be handed back to the Tory Government in Westminster.  But this is exactly what it is doing by supporting Brexit and handing the power to inflict much greater damage on working people – throughout the UK – to an even more rapacious Tory administration that is salivating over the deregulated dystopia that is planned after Brexit.  There is no Brexit on earth that will not lead to cuts in welfare and attacks on pay that PbP claim they alone will fight.  The greater dependence on the State sector for employment in Northern Ireland will mean a greater impact from the cuts to this expenditure, which will be considered perfectly fine by a project sailing on the winds of English nationalism.

Whatever the benefits and drawbacks of the precise arrangements for the North under Brexit, it is not designed to further the interest of Irish workers: this much must be obvious even to PbP.  The same right-wing views associated with Brexit in Britain are reflected also in the North of Ireland, with those supporting Brexit more likely to have reactionary views on immigration, on the marriage rights of same-sex couples, and support for the most sectarian political parties.

A Brexit that will leave the North largely within the EU trading arrangements will be less damaging than a hard border within the island, but it is obvious that this is a more realistic way to prevent a hard border than a Brexit with PbP protests at how unfair it all is; and that no Brexit at all is the best solution of all.

Brexit has also been opposed because it is claimed that it will raise sectarian tensions, which means that it will upset many loyalists and may lead it their violent mobilisation.  To argue this however is to accept the Unionist veto on progressive change that has made the Northern State the political slum that it is and has always been.  There is no step forward that will not excite the opposition of loyalism.  The Protestant support for Remain should instead be viewed as an objective acceptance that Unionism does not represent their long-term interest; this progressive step should be supported rather than seek to pander to the most reactionary sections of the Protestant population.

So, if Brexit is the issue, who shall I vote for?

A couple of months ago I bumped into a Sinn Fein supporter I have known for years who after a couple of minutes launched into a defence of Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy in relation to Westminster.  We hadn’t discussed politics up to then and I just listened to his poor apologetics for an obviously indefensible position. It has been widely criticised in Ireland and his defensiveness should not have been a surprise.  For a movement that was so wedded to theological shibboleths, from the IRA army council being the legitimate government of Ireland; to abstention from the Dail and Stormont; to not recognising the courts even though it meant longer sentences; to the sanctity of armed struggle; it’s as if one totem of their republican credentials must be retained to convince themselves they are still the republicans of old.

But this is a long way of saying there’s no point opposing Brexit by voting Sinn Fein because Sinn Fein will not be voting against it.  In the event of a Westminster hung parliament the SF position should be strung up with it.

Since Sinn Fein have stood down in my constituency, I don’t have to bother with considering these arguments.  Sinn Fein have withdrawn their candidate while the SDLP have withdrawn theirs from North Belfast to give Sinn Fein an uncontested Nationalist in that constituency.  The ‘Remain’ alliance that has justified these actions can be denounced as purely sectarian solidarity, except that the Green Party has also stood aside and the SDLP candidate has put opposing Brexit to the fore.

The Alliance Party has not stood aside and is also anti-Brexit, and of course also claims to be non-sectarian.  It is also however a unionist party in all but name and has rightly been described as the party of the British Government’s Northern Ireland Office.  The sitting MP is from the DUP and of course a supporter of Brexit.

So, in this election I will be voting against Brexit by voting for the Stoop Down Low Party, as it was sometimes disparagingly called (a long time ago).  And I never thought I would do that.

It is necessary to vote against Brexit and necessary to have that vote carried forward into Westminster.  It is justified also in order to weaken, however slightly, the most reactionary and sectarian major party in the North, the one that has thrown its weight behind Brexit and all the reactionary politics that that project encompasses.

 

 

 

Saying yes to Jeremy – part 2

Brexit and any step forward by the working class in Britain are incompatible.  So what attitude do we take to a party that promises both?  Up until now the way forward was to fight for the Labour Parry to be democratised so that its Remain supporting membership, backed by the majority of Labour voters, could impose a progressive Remain policy on the leadership.  This had to be done irrespective of the Jeremey Corbyn leadership.  In other words, it was a gulp, and then ‘No, Jeremy’.

Failure to see this or to carry it to success, for whatever reason, now means that we have to face a Labour Party of MPs who don’t support Corbyn, especially any progressive policies he stands for, and are no more likely to force a radical agenda in Parliament if the Party won a majority than they were under Blair.  On the other hand, if the Party lost the election badly, Corbyn would be finished and there would be an almighty push to finish any progressive element of the Corbyn project with him.

This is one reason why socialists and working people more generally should call for a vote for Labour, because it provides better grounds on which to fight for socialism, inside the party and outwith it.

Even if the Party won, of course the fight to get the parliamentary party to take the action it needs to take to implement any sort of radical agenda would remain.  The Party would also still be run by a Brexit-supporting apparatus that would deliver up either an unsustainable Brexit or simply more years of political paralysis and crisis.  If so permitted, in either eventuality the Party would suffer, and especially the leadership that delivered either of these outcomes.  It would be better that the Tories bear responsibility for Brexit than it be implemented by Labour, although this means only that we should fight for Labour to adopt a socialist policy on Brexit, not leave it to the Tories.

A socialist policy would not simply mean opposition and support for Remain.  It would mean taking advantage of EU membership to organise on a pan-European basis, trying to win support for the social democratic policies that are currently put forward only within national limits but can only be implemented, at the very least, on a European level.  Of course, such a social democratic programme is not in itself socialist, but a fight to ensure solidarity across each member state would seek to level up labour rights, working conditions and regulations etc. in order that national differences are eroded and the nationalism that feeds off them is undermined.  In this way the grounds for the international unity of the working class can be increased.

So the socialist position is not to attempt to prevent or hold back the unity of Europe but to rapidly advance it in order that the best conditions for the organisation of workers as a class, irrespective of nationality, is created.  We don’t take the view that this cannot be done under capitalism but must somehow wait until after socialism has been created, just as we don’t wait for socialism to unite workers right now within nation states.  If capitalism breaks the restrictions of these states all the more so should the working class.

Those reactionary socialists who can conceive of socialism only as a set of sympathetic diplomatic relations between separate states have no comprehension that the real unity of workers will arise from the internationalisation of capitalism, just as the working class itself is a creation of capitalism, upon which the independent organisation of workers has been and will continue to be built.

The former can only emphasise the sovereignty and independence of separate states while the latter stands for the self-determination and independence of the working class – in opposition to these states and the institutions they create for subordinating workers at the international level, which includes the EU.  The objective is therefore a single socialist polity across the continent.

The first priority now is to campaign for all those standing in the election who at least support Remain and do so on an internationalist basis, who are seeking to advance workers’ interests in the knowledge that the principle of solidarity that ‘divided we fall and united we stand’ applies at the international level as well.

But of course, we have a problem.  Opposition to Brexit also defines the right MPs that still form a large slice of the parliamentary Labour Party, not to mention the Liberal Democrats and Scottish and Welsh nationalists.

It would not make sense to call for a vote for only left-Remain Labour candidates – there are not two Labour Parties and we have not yet democratised the one we have so that it reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of the membership.  If we could ‘solve’ this by only voting for left-Remain MPs then this task would not be necessary.

A majority Labour Party is the best position at the present time to not only defend ourselves against the Tories plans for massive attacks on the working class through Brexit, but also to move forward to opposing Brexit itself inside the Party.  Such a fight would provide a way out of the prospective dangers already mentioned, of a unjustifiable and unsustainable Brexit or continuing paralysis and crisis.  So while the resources of socialists should be concentrated on supporting left-Remain candidates and campaigning more widely for the socialist Remain argument, the overall call is for a Labour vote.  In this process the left inside the Party can demonstrate the correctness of its approach through the inevitable failure of Brexit to deliver what it claims.

Where this does not apply is to those Labour MPs who have voted for the Tory Brexit and who have employed reactionary arguments to defend it, while advancing reactionary politics that essentially blame foreign workers for the problems faced by British workers. In this they are also fundamentally no different from the Tories, which is the ultimate reason why they voted for it.

So what about the Liberals and the nationalists?  They are for Remain – so why not support tactical voting in an attempt to get a Remain majority and at least prevent the Tory’s Brexit?

At this point we have to take a step back, and remember what was said in the first post.  It was argued that Brexit would entail economic disruption that ‘means loss of markets and economies of scale in production; reduced capital accumulation leading to lower economic growth, and loss of necessary labour power both skilled and unskilled without which some current production will cease, shrink, or grow more slowly.’

This is obviously no more in the interests of the bigger capitalists who engage in foreign trade, seek economies of scale and require as wide a pool of labour to exploit as possible, as it is for workers – whose interest is not in more primitive forms of capitalism, in comparison to which the form of capitalism encapsulated in the EU is actually more progressive.  It’s why the Liberals and nationalists, not to mention the Blairites and some Tories, are also for Remain.  They do not do so because, as I said, Brexit will reduce workers’ incomes and employment and diminish the capacity of a social democratic government to provide welfare payments and to redistribute incomes.  They aren’t interested in this, except to stop it; their opposition to Brexit is not our opposition and cannot be endorsed.

So, apart from the fact that the Liberals and nationalists’ keenness for an election has revealed that their priority is not opposition to Brexit but their own party, their projects cannot be supported in any way.  Their politics are antithetical to the interests of workers in the same way that Brexit is, in so far as they seek to divide workers by nationalism, and in the case of the Liberals, in pursuing an opposition to Labour that has so exceeded their differences with the Tories.  It would not even be such a massive surprise if the Liberals did another deal with the Tories after the election, if the Tories required one; a deal for example that could be packaged as a ‘soft’ Brexit.  However, even on their own account, their reactionary politics can easily encompass support for a Tory domestic and foreign policy agenda that would be perfectly consistent with a Tory Brexit.  In short – the Liberals are a party of the class enemy.

The election may facilitate increased awareness that the choice now facing working people, at least outside Scotland, is more and more to be considered as one of Johnson and his Brexit or the social democracy of Corbyn’s Labour.  Much of this awareness will come from increased understanding that the dangers posed by the Johnson-led Tories derive particularly from their plans for Brexit.  This makes it even more inexcusable that the Corbyn leadership refuses to oppose it but has effectively come down harder in its defence. Even so, contrary to speculation that Corbyn would, as he first appeared to indicate, talk about everything but Brexit, he has said more about it than expected precisely because it has become so clear that Brexit is the sharp end of Tory plans to assault the living standards and rights of the working class.

Nevertheless, the position of Corbyn on Brexit makes it less likely that the Labour Party will appear as the alternative that strong supporters of Remain would like it to be.  And we now have numerous polls indicating that a very large number of potential Labour voters fall into this category. The call for a united party from Labour spokespeople in the election has so far effectively been used to further unity around the leadership’s Brexit agenda.

Nevertheless, opposition will not be advanced by abstaining from the election on the grounds that an election victory would see the Party likely end up in the same Brexit position as the Tories.  This is because at least in the short term, this would not be the case.  While a Corbyn proposed Brexit may be of the ‘softest’ variety, it will entail a cost, and will appear all the more pointless the softer it is.  Opposition to any Labour deal from the right and from the left would end up effectively making this same argument.

The view of the left that Brexit is not in reality compatible with any radical social democratic programme will impose itself one way or another. Labour supporters will not dismiss mounting evidence of its threats as do the demoralised, blinkered and prejudiced supporters of Brexit who in their majority now favour no deal.  They will less and less accept a policy of ‘respecting the referendum’ the more this entails they’re having to respect their rights and living standards being shredded.

So the truth that socialists must always fight beside the working class, however backward it views, will find support from the majority of Party members and supporters who are opposed to Brexit.  A Corbyn policy of getting Brexit ‘sorted’, if put to the test, would encourage further efforts to sort it by stopping it.

The longer the struggle goes on to impose this reactionary project the more likely it is that the reactionary supporters of Brexit will be demoralised.  ‘Taking back control’ will seem further away the further Britain gets into the reality of Britain on its own.  Whatever the result the reality of Brexit will impose itself with the most obvious losers its Lexit supporters, whose illusions are the most absurd.

While elections are important, socialists argue that it is not fundamentally elections that are determinate. Rather elections reflect the state of politics and the class struggle and can influence them but not decide them. What is most important therefore is that the vast majority of members of the Party are mobilised in the election in such a way as to strengthen the left in the party and its capacity to impose its views by putting a Labour Government into office.  In 2016 the referendum was to decide the question and it didn’t, and neither did the 2017 general election.  It would not be a great surprise if the current election didn’t either.  In any case the the task is to ensure an election result that puts us in as strong position as possible to resist a Brexit that still has a long way to go.

Back to part 1

Saying Yes to Jeremy?

So, as far as Jeremy Corbyn is concerned, when it comes to Brexit – ‘look, this debate is now over. We’ve done it, the party has now made its decision, and that’s it; and that’s what we’re going to campaign on.”  (As quoted in The Guardian) As for his decision to support a general election in the shadow cabinet meeting – “it was my decision. On my own. I made that decision. And they gulped, and said, Yes Jeremy.”

So how do we as socialists reconcile the Labour Party’s support for Brexit, which is reactionary, and its radical social democratic programme?

Firstly by recognising that they cannot be reconciled, that ‘friendly relations’ – employing one dictionary definition – cannot be established between the two projects: they are incompatible and one will have to give.  They are inconsistent and the contradictions between them will lead to one, or perhaps both, being ditched.  Anyone believing that a Labour Brexit is part and parcel of a radical social democratic programme is therefore mistaken.

Brexit will disrupt the insertion of the British economy into its biggest trading partner, which is its main market and theatre of operation; main supplier of additional skilled and unskilled labour power; intermediate goods that enable production to be sited in Britain; and the main route through which it inserts itself into the economies of the rest of the world – through agreements and deals which it has, as part of the EU, negotiated with the United States, Japan, South America etc. etc.

Disruption means loss of markets and economies of scale in production; reduced capital accumulation leading to lower economic growth, and loss of necessary labour power both skilled and unskilled without which some current production will cease, shrink, or grow more slowly.  The loss of these markets means that the reduction of existing and potential production will also reduce incomes and employment and the capacity of the state to syphon off revenues to finance its services.  It will reduce its capacity to provide welfare payments and to redistribute incomes, which are sold as central to Labour’s declared project of reducing inequality, insecurity and poverty.

The idea that a transformation of ownership of utilities and other companies from private capital to state ownership will compensate for these effects ignores the reality that state production will be affected just as much by the loss of skilled and unskilled labour, loss of markets and economies of scale etc. as private capital.  State ownership does not by itself create new markets that have just been shut off or reduced, or provide the labour power that is necessary for the current British economy to operate efficiently and grow.

This is all obvious from even cursory examination of media coverage of Brexit’s effects, today reporting potential damage to the tourist industry, but previously in relation to international research and university teaching, to EU staff in the NHS, the whole car industry, aircraft production, financial services and seasonal workers in agriculture, and many others. When asked this morning on Radio 4 whether any sort of Brexit could be better for the NHS, the Labour spokesman evaded the question – ‘the people had voted for it so they were going to be given the opportunity to get it’, was the gist of his reply.  As if it was not obvious what the honest answer had to be.

So, left supporters of Brexit treat it as a separate issue from every other, all of which can be made amenable to the actions of the British State.  The entirely un-socialist view, that the state should and could have such power to banish all the problems created, could only come from one that believes –

1, capitalist state ownership is somehow socialist;

2, the state can suspend or abolish capitalism through its ownership, and do so  in a relatively small country within a much larger and more powerful capitalist world;

3, the division of workers by nationalism and racism can be ended by providing answers that include shutting out foreign workers as if they were part of the problem, rather than their existence in Britain seen as an opportunity for unity that can banish nationalism and xenophobia, and

4, it is possible to ignore the failure of such experiments across the world that have distorted and tarnished the understanding and reputation of socialism.

On top of all this, it describes the socialist alternative – based on an international approach to workers solving their problems – as a question of ‘culture wars.’

Whenever Costas Lapavitsas, a left supporter of Brexit, spoke at a meeting in Belfast I told him that he had come to the wrong country if he wanted to parade the British State as the answer; and I cited internment, Bloody Sunday, murder and torture as all products of the state that we are required to believe can alone deliver progress.   Brexit threatens to further divide workers in Ireland with a harder border while its left supporters complain that the EU is responsible.

Meanwhile it threatens to divide in Britain as Britain has divided Ireland.  We can see this in many ways and not just in speculation that Scottish nationalism will be strengthened.  We see it from the speeches of Brexit supporters claiming that the only way to prevent violence is to support Brexit; that the only way to respect the memory of an MP murdered by a nationalist fanatic is to carry through the policy he killed her for; to describing opposition to the nationalist and reactionary policy of Brexit as a question of ‘culture’, just as in Ireland opposition to sectarianism is declared to be opposition to Protestant ‘culture’.  A culture composed of sectarian demonstrations and burning bonfires upon which Catholic, foreign, gay and any vaguely progressive flag or symbol is burned.

Perhaps it could be claimed that Corbyn’s Labour Party might reconcile its social democratic agenda with Brexit because it doesn’t actually support it?  Except no one believes this, and not just because of Corbyn’s own presumed Brexit views.  No one, that is, except the most ardent Brexit supporters of both right and left for whom the dangers and damage of Brexit are actually its attraction – the separation and isolation, the attempt to turn the clock back, and the illusions in the special role and place of Britain in the world.

From ‘respecting the referendum result’, to seeking how it might support a Theresa May deal, to seeking to negotiate its own deal, to refusing to accept the view of the majority of its own members, everything the Corbyn leadership has done has facilitated a policy of letting Brexit happen. All on the spurious grounds that it can be dispensed with as an issue, Labour can ‘bring people together’ around its agenda and continue with the lie that Brexit is not a part of it.

A second defence is that Labour’s Brexit is not a Tory Brexit, but one that protects jobs and living standards through a customs union and adherence to workers and environmental standards, while striking one’s own trade deals and having a say in future EU deals.  In other words, a deal that shares the illusions of the Tories, before they actually had to negotiate the first step of withdrawal.

It should not need to be said – the EU will not allow Britain the benefits of membership without being a member and paying for it as every other member of the EU does.  So yes, new customs arrangements can be agreed, as can regulatory alignment, and even alignment with future regulation; but you will have to pay for these arrangements and you will have no say in them or any other deal that the EU negotiates with other countries that you will have to accept.  If the EU is so irrevocably rotten why do you want to leave if you will have to pay for accepting its rules without having any say in their formation?

Perhaps you think you can strike your own deals and improve your own protections of workers’ rights?  But you can improve workers’ rights now, if you want.  If this creates a threat that British companies will leave to avoid these new regulations, why don’t you stay in the EU and fight for them to be adopted across the continent?  Would this not give you a strategy to unite workers across Europe and challenge the EU as it currently functions, as opposed to kidding yourself you can just walk away from it?  Perhaps you think you cannot succeed in this, because changes require unanimity within the EU?  But this means your single voice at the very least is an obstacle to a race to the bottom – Brexit on the other hand threatens an unrestricted, Trump-led sprint downwards to the bottom of the barrel.

Perhaps Labour thinks its own deals with other countries will be better.  But what sort of level of workers’ and environmental regulation does it think much bigger countries and trading blocs, such as the US, China and India, will demand for any deals?  Will the EU accept unrestricted trade with a Britain that has agreed that goods can enter Britain from these countries that do not conform with the trade deals that the EU itself has agreed with them?  A relatively small country like Britain may be forced to accept the EU’s regulations or everyone else’s.  What it won’t be able to do is enforce any of its own standards, especially if they were to be higher.

What you have left is a dystopian vision of an isolated and backward Britain dominated by the state that will be declared a socialist paradise by the enemies of socialism and by the defenders of its Stalinist inspiration so discredited in the last century.

Forward to part 2

Welcome to my World

Image result for boris johnson and dup

When I discovered that Boris Johnson’s proposals for a new exit deal from the European Union would require the approval of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, I thought to myself – welcome to my world!

The thought of the Unionist veto applying not only to this little corner of Ireland but also to the whole UK and even to the rest of Europe – wielded by that very incarnation of reasoned moderation and altruistic benevolence – the DUP!

What poetic justice that all the rational and sensible advocates of just such an arrangement in my miniature polity were now invited to subject themselves to the same enlightened principle of majority rule, while acknowledging the limitless legitimacy of Unionism and its glorious traditions.  The rules of trade between the entire UK and the EU Single Market would be exposed to the approval of the DUP; and just in case they had all been on a fully paid up holiday – paid for by some generous dictator – they could change their minds every four years.

Every four years the rest of Europe would wait with baited breath while the DUP decided whether it wished to continue “regulatory alignment” with the Single Market, knowing that the EU had agreed with the British Government proposal for “a firm commitment (by both parties) never to conduct checks at the border in future.”  The rest of the world would also hold its breath to see if, given EU unhindered access to the UK market and UK unhindered access to the EU Single Market, they might not also employ world trade rules to demand similar unimpeded entry.

I pictured horrified faces in the offices of State across Europe and in the corridors of the Brussels bureaucracy.  But surely they would continue to show their solidarity with the Irish Government and the Irish member State?  And surely since this state has considered such a mechanism so good that the whole EU-UK exit deal had to revolve around protection of the Good Friday Agreement, which made unionist consent a bedrock principle of the one holy and indivisible peace process, this couldn’t be such a bad idea?

The excellence of such arrangements is so obvious – who could demur to such an obvious meretricious solution?  So, who then could dispute the reaction of the DUP to criticism of this arrangement from the Irish Government?

Of course, it would have to be admitted that DUP denunciation of Irish Government leaders seemed a teeny bit hypocritical, when it stated that Simon Coveney was “obstructionist and intransigent” and that he exhibited “a majoritarian desire to ride roughshod over unionism.”  Similarly, it might seem slightly awry for the DUP to say that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were “ramping up the rhetoric” and that the former would “go down in history as the Taoiseach who restored a hard border.”

I have to admit I wasn’t sure if this last accusation was actually a complaint, or whether it was only in the sense of saying – that’s our job.  In any case, with such comments, and Boris Johnson promising to be a model of “gelatinous emollience”, and Jeremy Corbyn saying that “no Labour MP could support such a reckless deal”, I thought the whole world had turned on its axis in the wrong direction.  It was as if there was a new eleventh plague, in addition to frogs going “up on you and your people and all your officials” threatened in Exodus, one that would prove the truth of the DUP’s almost biblical politics.

Of course Marxists want the world turned upside down and now it seemed as if it was, maybe just not the way we might have wanted, although some who describe themselves as Marxists, but who support Brexit, seem to believe that turning things upside down is not only necessary but also sufficient – no matter how the fan has spread the shit, as long as it has hit it.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the deal proposed by Boris Johnson is the sort of dog’s dinner that any sensible dog would turn down.  The EU saying it is “unconvinced” is like a lottery winner saying he’s not persuaded of suicide just yet.  Saying it “did not fully meet the agreed objectives of the backstop” is true, in the sense that the remaining ‘gap’ is similar to me entering the marathon at the Olympics to be informed that Woody Allen was correct when he said that “80 percent of success is showing up.”

In other words, the proposed protocol cannot be considered as a serious candidate for a deal acceptable to the EU, and Johnson knows it. This is then believed to be evidence of his desire for a no deal, but given the safety net provided by the parliamentary opposition through the Benn Act requiring him to ask for an extension, this is not the case.

Johnson has been able to put together a proposal that commentators knowingly note is not a proposed deal with the EU but with the ultra-Tories, Brexit Party and DUP; a deal that supports his Brexit credentials in the upcoming general election.

It also has enough scope, given Johnson’s idea of consistency, for further amendment after any return to Government following an election to allow him to strike a deal with the EU. The detail, so far unpublished, might provide clues to this possible direction of travel.

Removing the DUP veto with some nebulous consultation with the Irish natives in the North will suffice to replace the ridiculous notion that a zombie assembly will dictate the integrity of the EU’s Single Market; and strengthening the Irish Sea checks would be necessary to allow the North to be in a separate customs territory with the EU.

Meanwhile the left in Ireland continues with business as usual, rolling out the same solutions that they have been advocating for decades but without the least prospect of them being applied to meet the problems that are arising right now.

So, the Socialist Party recognises that “a no-deal Brexit will bring enormous hardship for working-class people. Reports, including from the government, have indicated that anywhere from 40 -100,000 job losses can be expected in the south of Ireland.”  But all it can do is call upon the trade union movement to carry out an ‘action plan’ for which it has shown not the slightest sign of planning to act.  How could this be considered a real alternative to job losses, as opposed to the usual propaganda?

The Party calls for nationalisation and a break with the system without it registering that nationalisation is not a break with the system and is not socialist. The Party has just undergone another split but with neither side mentioning this approaching “enormous hardship” in their statements.  If they can’t take their own warnings seriously . . .

People before Profit criticises Unionists for wanting a hard border but not for Unionist support for what is giving rise to this hard border.  Instead it blames the EU and the Irish Government – “both the EU and the Irish government will claim that they are not to blame for imposing this border – the responsibility lies with Britain.  But once they erect border posts on the Southern side, this will give the British Tories the excuse to follow suit. It will not matter then who started it – we will have to live with a strengthened form of partition.”

Who, or rather what, started it was of course Brexit. People before Profit state that the DUP’s Sammy “Wilson and his Tory friend Johnson should be told that there will be mass peaceful civil disobedience to take down many of the border posts they erect.”

But how would this prevent the thousands of redundancies due to the import of cheaper products originating outside the EU that might come in through the North; or the cheaper imports to Britain that Irish producers cannot compete with; or the decline in demand from the UK as its economy declines?  How would taking down customs posts avoid the need for certification of regulatory and customs checks that business will require to ensure that final sale to consumers or wholesalers demonstrates compliance with safety and other regulatory requirements?  How will turfing these posts avoid all the costs that will put small business out of business?  Protest politics, to which this left is in thrall, has no answer to how to actually run a society as opposed to just allowing people to express how unjust it is.

When this politics does actually look to an alternative it calls for the politicians and state it declares to be the problem to provide the solution, through ‘pressure’ and, of course, nationalisation.  One might have thought that the role of nationalisation in saddling the Irish people with the gambling debts of the banks would have made them think twice before repeatedly trotting out nationalisation as a working class solution.  But apparently not.

It is obvious to everyone but this left that the solution to the problems created by Brexit is not to have Brexit at all.  But, of course, these people supported Brexit and are responsible for it.  That they don’t like its results, that they say it isn’t what they voted for (and you don’t hear them say this very often anyway), is neither here nor there.  Who cares what was going through their heads when they voted for Brexit?  What they thought they were voting for was not what was on offer, but they still voted for it, and what’s more, their claims not to support it is belied by their continued support for it!

The objective logic of the reactionary character of Brexit imposes itself on both its left and right supporters through the fantasy character of their promises and their professed plans to make it work.  Johnson is by all accounts not convinced Brexit is a good idea but he needs it, at least for now, to achieve his personal ambition through satisfying the dying fantasies of the Tory faithful.  So we have the dog’s dinner of a Protocol, which the EU refuses to take seriously.

The DUP supported Brexit because it chimed with all their backward instincts while cleaving to the imagined power of a once-mighty imperial Britain they regard as their only bulwark to their reactionary position in Ireland.  But they also understand that Brexit has weakened the appeal of Unionism in the North and have shifted to accepting some regulatory checks down the Irish sea.

The non-solutions to Brexit put forward by the Brexit supporting left demonstrates that they too have no way for this support to deliver on their declared objectives.  If they took their politics the least bit seriously, they would be praying that Jeremy Corbyn deliver his ‘good’ Brexit.

This however would demonstrate their own impotence and dependence on the reformist politics their existence is meant to be a standing repudiation of. It would also tie them to the fortunes of a failing project that is failing precisely because of its support for Brexit.  Were Corbyn’s proposed deal to be achieved it would be on the basis of an agreement with the EU devil and all its creations – the Single Market and Customs Union.  It would be Brexit in name only and this is no more what this left claims it wants than do the ranks of the Tory and Farage parties.

Brexit cannot deliver what its supporters claim.  How appropriate then that it should seem to founder on that other great failure – the Good Friday Agreement.  But illusions die hard.  To paraphrase something meant to have been said by Keynes, some people can remain irrational longer than their illusion can remain in existence.