The Irish election, a victory for the left?

Lots of superlatives have been employed to describe the results of the Irish general election, almost all reflecting the dramatic growth of the vote for Sinn Fein, which is now the largest party in terms of popular support with 24.5%.  In 2016 it had only 14 % of the vote.

This is a bit of a surprise, not least to Sinn Fein, which was unable to capitalise fully on the votes received due to not having stood enough candidates.  The party had suffered badly in the previous Presidential, local and European elections and moderated its expectations accordingly.  Two stories indicate the abrupt turnaround.  One successful candidate topped the poll in Clare with 8,987 first preference votes after having failed to become a local councillor last May when she only got 385 votes.  Another successful candidate went off on holiday during the election and only campaigned for two weeks.

Two other changes were also notable.  The first was the comprehensive rejection of the ruling Fine Gael party, which had its worst result in 60 years, and the second was the failure of the main opposition party Fianna Fail, which had its worst result since 2011, when it paid the price for its role in the crash of the Celtic Tiger.  In 2007 these two parties totalled 68% of the vote, in this election only 43%.  Lastly, also worth noting in relation to other countries, was the failure of the far right, anti-immigration candidates.

This last phenomenon reflects both well and badly on the Irish electorate.  The Irish have no post-imperial hangover like the British and their history, in so far as they know it, is one of anti-colonial resistance.  The Irish are also much more aware of their true place in the world, as a home for mainly US multinationals, for whom no prostration to their needs is too much.  So, for example, the state’s inward investment agency gave a made-up award to the senior executive in Apple for the company having hung around Ireland for 40 years making money.  It should be recalled that according to the EU, Apple owes the Irish State €13.5 billion which Apple is contesting and so is the Irish State.

In any case the existing constraints on immigration and the treatment of immigrants in direct provision centres demonstrates the harshness of existing government policy.  The 80% majority in the racist referendum in 2004 is a stain on the country yet to be removed, although the views of younger people might now be very different.

So yes, the trouncing of far-right candidates is very much to be welcomed, just as long as we appreciate the context and its limits, which is what we should do when considering the overall results.

The election result is described as reflecting a ‘mood’ for change, and the sudden rise of Sinn Fein might reflect the fact that moods come and go and are never permanent. It might reflect not only the speed of change but also the indefinite character of the message being sent, just as we suffer moods but rarely experience them as well-thought-out drivers of definite objectives.

The ‘mood for change’ has however indicated some of the change demanded, primarily to housing availability and affordability and to access to health care, as well as a solution to the general malaise around state services, or sometimes their non-existence.  But how this change will be achieved is unclear, and how Sinn Fein would achieve it is also not clear.

Clear enough however is the rejection of the main bourgeois parties and a hope that the state can play a bigger role in sorting out the shortcomings of existing economic growth.  This growth has both caused the demand for change by making failures of the economic model and the government approach obvious, and made change apparently possible through the extra resources it has provided.

The question for socialists is how wide and how deep is the demand for change, reflected in the votes for Sinn Fein and rejection of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael? An exit poll recorded that 48% felt it was ‘best to have a change of government’, while nearly one third believed that ‘the country needs a radical change in direction’.  Fifty-one per cent said that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were wrong to rule out forming a government with Sinn Fein. These figures are significant without being overwhelming.

Part of the reason for the result is the fact that we have had a Fine Gael government for 9 years that only had the support of one quarter of the voters from 2016, a narrow base of support for a party that has never had real majority support.  A lot of people started off not having endorsed it and Fianna Fail’s confidence and supply arrangement did not act to add any popular support.

Now the decline of the two major parties has allowed Sinn Fein to come to the fore and we have widespread commentary that we have the beginnings at least of the formation of a new Irish politics defined by a left-right division.  So who is this left?

If we add up the parties to the left of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael we reach a total of 41.5% (SF, Greens, Labour, Social Democrats, Solidarity/People before Profit) which will only be slightly greater if we include some independents, most of whom are not left wing.

There is some coherence to this left in that Sinn Fein voters generally transferred to some of these parties and research has shown that the voters for these parties generally define themselves as left wing.  Unfortunately, all this does is transfer the limitations of this purely relative term to the people who vote for these ‘left-wing’ parties. They are, of course, to the left of the two main bourgeois parties, but how much does this tell us?

Included in this list of parties is Sinn Fein, which has grown as it has dropped its core programme of support for armed struggle to force the British out of the North of Ireland.   A list as long as your arm could be written of the U-turns it has accomplished as a result, but in the South of the country most notable is that it has gone from opposition to coalition with the two bourgeois parties to openly flouting their availability for a lash-up.  If the development of Irish politics has been defined by the crash of the Celtic Tiger, it should not be forgotten that Sinn Fein voted for the bank bail-out whereby generations of Irish workers will pay for the debts of the banks.

It includes the Green Party with 7.1% of the vote, which as a partner in Government with Fianna Fail, took political responsibility for the policies leading up to the crash and those afterwards, including the bank bail-out, suffering for years afterwards as a result.  Although apparently not long enough.

It also includes the Labour Party with 4.4%, which was the only party to vote against the bank bail-out, but then entered Government to inflict punishing austerity to pay for it.  Never one to shirk this role in alliance with Fine Gael, the party may have performed this cynical trick once too often.  The point of its existence is now regularly canvassed, since its brand is discredited and other parties appear to have taken up its claimed position on the left and apparently with greater sincerity.

The Social Democrats with 2.9% is the party that most clearly represents the alternative to Labour while Solidarity/People before Profit, with 2.6%, failed to make gains and lost one seat.  In a number of seats it relied on Sinn Fein transfers to get elected, without it seems showing much appreciation.  The left changed names, split again and ‘allied’ again for the elections and hailed the mood for change but no more defined it than before.  That it failed to profit from this mood is a real failure.

For groups claiming to be Marxist it is its own judgement that their intervention always fails to call into question the role of elections or advance the organisation and political consciousness of the Irish working class.  The limits of this consciousness have instead imposed itself on this left, by which we mean reliance on the state and failure to make reorganisation of the labour movement its aim.

Behind this motley history lies a coherence that is not apparent at first glance.  Greater state intervention is common to all these parties with a preference for a left government to carry it out, however variously understood.  Now Sinn Fein has said it wants to lead negotiations of these parties to create such a government.

The numbers do not add up but this is not initially the point.  The point would be some agreement that these components should come together with their own proposal for government.  Whether it succeeds is not within its control, but it sends a message.  What happens when it does not succeed is something else again.  It would at least form a benchmark against which voters in future elections might seek reference and therefore accord relevance.

Of course, some on the left ‘left’ might denounce Sinn Fein sincerity, pointing to its implementation of austerity while in office in the North, or its use of such an initiative purely for leverage with Fianna Fail in coalition negotiations, but this would be seeking to avoid the problem.  If such denunciations were effective on their own Sinn Fein would not be where it is today.  An alternative would be to challenge the party to make real on commitment to a left programme and a left government; because of the left’s own Keynesian-type policies there are no qualitative differences with its own programme.

If this is not the approach then the claims to fight for a left Government by Solidarity/People before Profit is a fraud, for what they can only mean in such a case is that their policy is for themselves alone in Government.  Given the propensity to split this looks even further away than their already 2.6% vote would lead one to believe.  One problem is that these organisations don’t trust each other or themselves, the latter leading to splits, and if this is the case, why should the working class?

Only a united, democratic left, whatever its political shortcomings, could begin to repair this situation.

Of course, this is not a very revolutionary perspective, but there are no smart political policies or demands that will make for one.  It reflects where the working class is at, the degree to which the election results have shown the scope and extent of radicalisation.  We either meet it, and seek to develop it, or we present it with ultimatums to be more revolutionary than it is.

 

 

Sinn Fein in Government?

This week’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll reported that Sinn Fein is potentially headed to be the biggest party in this weekend’s general election,  While it’s on 25% support, the governing party Fine Gale is on 20% and the opposition Fianna Fail on 23%.  Sinn Fein has almost reached these levels of support before in the Irish State but never in first place.

The Irish Times sketch writer, Miriam Lord, has described all three parties as now in various degrees of panic.  Fine Gael, because its loss of support reflects the depths of opposition to its years in office and it may be out of it soon; Fianna Fail, because of its years of keeping Fine Gael in office in an agreement between the two parties, and Sinn Fein, because it has come as a surprise to it as much as many others after very bad Presidential, local and European elections.

The Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has been described as looking like an OTR (as in an ‘on the run’- a member of the IRA who doesn’t have immunity from prosecution) on the grounds that now that they have reached this great height they don’t want to screw it up by having to answer any difficult questions.  McDonald has been acclaimed for good media performances and tapping into a widespread mood for change, while also being applauded for not being too specific about how she is going to solve the health and housing crises giving rise to this demand for change.

It would not be wrong to note that Sinn Fein’s opposition to both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail does not exactly transmit into opposition to either of them being in office, only that they should be open to Sinn Fein joining them.  That of course would require a joint programme for Government, which by definition requires no significant differences between them in any potential coalition programme.  But if Sinn Fein can go into coalition with one of the most reactionary parties in Europe, I refer to the Democratic Unionist Party for those unfamiliar with Irish politics, coalition with either of these parties should not be a problem.

Fine Gael originates from part of the Irish Republican movement that fought the British in 1916 and in the War of Independence.  Leading figures in these struggles were also leading figures in the pro-Treaty side in the following civil war, including the prime military leader of the War of Independence, Michael Collins, and W T Cosgrave, the Irish State’s first Taoiseach.

Fianna Fail’s leaders also fought in 1916, the War of Independence and Civil War, just on the anti-Treaty side in the last conflict.  While the Pro-Treaty ancestor of Fine Gael supported the new Irish State from the beginning, because of the argument that it would provide ‘the freedom to achieve freedom’, the anti-Treaty Fianna Fail claim it is they who delivered it, (although it was a Fine Gael led government that declared the Irish State a Republic and Fianna Fail can’t explain what proved to be wrong with the pro-Treaty argument).

Sinn Fein holds itself to be the party both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail split from, except it itself is a split from the Official Republican Movement in 1970, its claim now resting on the fact that the Official Republicans abandoned the name and moved away from the politics of traditional Irish nationalism.  Like pro-Treaty republicans who rejected the British solution of Home rule; and like Fianna Fail, who rejected the new British solution of the Free State; Sinn Fein rejected both, but now accepts the latest British solution to ‘the Irish Question’, which on this side of the sea is more accurately described as ‘the British Question’.

All three parties now agree that the Free State/26 County State/Irish State is legitimate and now accept partition, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  They have their differing constituencies of support – Sinn Fein stronger among less well-off sections of the working class in urban areas; Fianna Fail among farmers, but also among other social layers; and Fine Gael among the better off middle class, but they all hail from the same tradition of militant Irish nationalism that isn’t militant anymore.  In the end all three provide proof of the old adage that fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

For many decades now there has been no essential, and little inessential, difference between Fianna Fail (FF) and Fine Gael (FG), and many have ridiculed the competition between them.  It’s rather the political equivalent of club rivalry in the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), in which the cousins in one club beat the shit out of the cousins from a rival parish’s club.  If you’re in the club you don’t need explanation for the rivalry, but any explanation you might get for it will make not much sense.

Now we have a third force, which promises real change, and because of its youth, is not yet fully conscious of its position in the world and has yet to form a rounded, fully-developed and more or less permanent personality of gobshite politics. I have no doubt many Sinners believe they are opposed to austerity in the South and have not implemented it in the North, or will excuse themselves for it.  But reality says different.

Sinn Fein policies involve broadly social democratic promises, including significantly higher state spending, some lower taxes and increased taxation of businesses and higher incomes.  It has made hay with the now dropped plan of Fine Gael to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary, the paramilitary police force the British used to police the whole of Ireland before partition.  There is no good reason why this particular revisionist step should suddenly detonate a reaction, but it is welcome nonetheless, even if it exposes once again the limited nature of popular nationalism.

Sinn Fein are opposed and rather hysterically denounced by both FF and FG, but both of these have recognised the electoral need to support increased state spending and reduced emphasis on tax cuts.

They and Sinn Fein also do so because, as the economic boom in Ireland has continued, the inherent imbalances in capitalist growth require a State to intervene to ensure these do not become an obstacle to further profitable expansion.  Poor infrastructure in health, housing, childcare and transport threatens to increase the cost of labour power (the value of labour power in Marxist parlance) and so provide both practical and cost barriers to capital accumulation and growth.

The two most pressing are housing and health.  The problem is that more money is not the (only) problem for both and there is no easy solution for any of the parties within the limits of their political ideologies and projects.  An unreconstructed health service could gobble up much more money without comparable improvement in the population’s health, although the worst experiences might be avoided. Pumping more money into housing could easily make it more expensive to buy and rents no more affordable.  The power of the middle class interests in both, and particularly of landowners and property developers in political networks, makes any radical solution (that doesn’t automatically involve capitalist expropriation) the last thing the major political parties will want to do.  And this will be true of Sinn Fein, as potentially a new addition.

However, in itself, the Sinn Fein economic programme offers no insuperable barrier to the formation of a coalition with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.  The difference is mainly one of scale and the compromises involved in coalitions can cover that in every meaning of the word.  The economic boom provides as benevolent an environment as Sinn Fein is likely to get, even taking account of a potential hit from Brexit.

The potential for another recession, through another property crash (a couple of property investment funds have recently refused to allow investors to cash-out) might however reveal the underlying debt position of the state.  The bank bail-out that caused the bankruptcy of the Irish state has left an overhang of debt that is currently relatively easily affordable because of low interest rates, with yields on 10 year Irish bonds in negative territory.  But this cannot last and a recession could easily raise them.

But that is more than a problem for Sinn Fein, although it should not be forgotten that the party supported the bank bail out that made the debts of the banks the debts of the people.  Sinn Fein has thus shown that it is no more a real alternative to Fianna Fail than Fianna Fail is to Fine Gael.  It simply has yet to be demonstrated, which of course is not something inconsequential in itself.

Unlike the North, the Irish State is a sovereign state and acutely aware that the Provisionals were until relatively recently a subversive threat to the stability, if not the existence, of the state.  The Provisionals are no longer a real or a proclaimed threat but they are an armed force outside of state control, even if much diminished, and this is unacceptable.  Sinn Fein will still have much to prove and the political establishment in Dublin may make arrangements to ensure exclusion of Sinn Fein from office this time.  It may be possible, for example that Fianna Fail gains sufficiently in seats from the unpopularity of the Government that it is able to form a coalition, which some pundits predict will be the case.

The reaction of the left to Sinn Fein growth is to ask that it not enter coalition with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.   But this left is in competition with Sinn Fein for the same constituency and has regularly denounced it as soft on both establishment parties and ever-ready to do a deal with either of them.  The alternative, which I noted in a series of posts on the strategy that the left has pursued, was to be more open to an alliance with Sinn Fein and fight to unite with it in a common alliance.  Of course, this would require some common programme, but since the left’s electoral policies are just souped-up social democracy, this too would simply be a matter of compromise without breaking any principle.  The policies of the left do not involve the overthrow of capitalism, not to mention any mechanisms for the development of socialism.

In the first leaders debate on television, the first question asked was all about why people should vote for a party if it couldn’t form part of a government.  And this was a reasonable question, because this is what elections are for.  And it was a question that rendered People before Profit/Solidarity irrelevant and Richard Boyd Barrett with nothing to say.  Listening to him there was no sense in which he spoke on behalf of a movement outside the establishment bourgeois democratic process that in itself was the alternative to the problems he and the others were asked about.

That is because the left is currently now almost wholly an electoral force, something that limits its potential and limits its development.  A long time ago it ceased to fight for socialist politics in these elections and retreated to radical social democracy.  It clearly has no idea what sort of platform a Marxist organisation should stand upon in an electoral contest, or rather It thinks it already does.  However, its Keynesian policies and state-centred solutions render the working class absent as the agent of change, making it instead the supplicant of the state it must ultimately remove and replace.

The left has collapsed into social democratic politics in order to be consonant with the existing political consciousness of the Irish working class and to demonstrate its practical relevance to it by being elected.  But this ultimately means getting into office, a step it is both unprepared to take and to which it puts up unjustified obstacles, its opposition to Sinn Fein being one of them.

While it is possible to condemn Sinn Fein for its opportunism and its betrayal of working class interests, this has to be demonstrated.  Having decided to adopt electoralism as a strategy the left should either abandon the strategy and totally re-evaluate its understanding of Marxism, or it should follow through on its electoralism and take its social democratic programme to its logical conclusion.  If history is anything to go by, the latter is the much more likely road that will be taken.

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.

The Fall of the Red Wall

Related image

What do you do when you are leader of a Party and the vast majority of your members support a policy that you oppose?  Well, you can’t very well allow them to control the party can you?  So you can’t ensure it operates democratically.

What do you do when the majority of your voters also support that policy?  Well, you dissemble, confuse, appear to sit on the fence and declare neutrality.

In the case of the membership you first prevent them getting their way by stopping them voting on it at conference.  The next year you so manage the policy that is voted on that you can effectively continue to push your own, while of course appearing to do something different and pretending that the members got what they wanted.

But since the new policy does not make much sense the party membership are still not happy and come back to the next conference in the next year and vote again on what they want – and this time they win!  So what do you do now?  This time your friends say to the membership – ‘You Lost’ – and they start singing your name at the conference.  And it’s a victory!

For the rest?  Well, for them it’s then like being at a party where people start singing, and you don’t feel like joining in, but you’re made to feel your spoiling it for everyone, and spoiling the fun, if you don’t join in.  You really don’t want to be a party-pooper so you’re invited to suck it up.  After all, this leader has had it tough.

He’s been accused of all sorts of things that were so ridiculous that your first response might have been to ignore it. But the slander and smearing goes on and on and you want to have a square-go at the traitors inside the Party who are telling these outrageous lies, but the leader can’t trust you, so you’re not allowed.  Remember, the leader can’t very well allow you to control the party.  It’s a ‘broad church’, and just like in church it’s your job to listen to the preacher and then go out and do God’s work.

But this goes on and on, so the leader says he’ll do something about it and these terrible things will be stopped, and again and again you hear the same record.  Some people wonder why he’s saying the same thing about how bad it is, yet he’s saying it again. Why is he having to say it again?  Surely it’s been sorted?  He’s told to apologise and effectively he does, but if this happens again and again why is he apologising and nothing is changing?

Then I hear on the radio that the new manifesto is going to empower people, and I think to myself – WTF, really?  The only thing you have had the power to lead to ’empowerment’ is the membership of the Party you lead, and you’ve stood in the way of it.  Instead you’ve allowed all these reactionary shits to accuse you of nonsensical crimes.  The last time I viewed such a nightmare I was reading ‘The Trial’ by Franz Kafka, and it didn’t end well.  And this one doesn’t look like it will either.

In the election you’re facing a compulsive liar, whose own supporters don’t even trust.  They don’t believe him, but they do agree with him, and they are going to support him. But many people have gotten fed up with you.  You’re supposed to be different – he is what he is.  You are not what you have claimed to be. You’re supposed to be a conviction politician, who embodies honesty and sincerity and many people can see that you haven’t embodied either.

The dam that that held your so-called ‘red wall’ has just sprung two leaks and the first one is the enormous one. Just like a dam that you have seen in the films, your wall of support doesn’t break open only at this point, and other fractures appear in the edifice, and water spurts out of every one of them, everywhere – a hundred and one different cracks appear and it seems as if there are lots of reasons why this wall is going to fall.  When it falls it might seem difficult to say which one is responsible for the whole thing collapsing.  Lots of people look for more and more deep reasons for the collapse, the better to demonstrate their appreciation of the enormity of the collapse. But really the one big crack was vital in creating the rest.

There is a particular risk in immediately seeking the most profound reason for what has happened, although it’s not inevitably wrong and does not invalidate the attempt, but it does involve a risk.  It’s the risk that the explanation becomes so deep and meaningful that it can convey the impression that nothing could have been done about it.  We could never have won, the pressure against the wall of the dam was just too strong.

And this can lead to feeling sorry for the leader, who has been up against it all this time.  And I would feel this way too except I, like millions of others, is soaking wet and praying I’m not going to drown further down the line.  You can feel sorry for the leader if you want, my attitude involves rather more colourful expressions of emotion.

The historic defeat of the Labour Party was the result of a swing to the Tories of just 1.2 per cent and a swing away from Labour of 7.9 per cent.  The Tories won it because Labour lost it.

It lost it primarily because it lost voters loyalty on the big question that mattered – Brexit.  The machinations around it infected everything else Corbyn did, just like the real Brexit will determine so much else in the real world; limiting what good is possible and spurring on everything nasty, cruel and reactionary.

Sky called it the Brexit election, the Labour Party complained that it wasn’t, but now the Party leaders admit it was – a bit late to recognise the obvious.  The Political Studies Association reported polls asking about the issue ‘that will help you decide your vote’ and it was Health – 47% and the Economy – 35%; only 7% said Europe.

But that was in 2016.  In 2019 63% said Europe, while Health was 43% and the Economy 9%.

I could get even more annoyed now because I really dislike stupidity, especially in those who have no business being stupid.  But it wasn’t really stupidity – the reactionary position on Brexit and all its calamitous concomitants, such as suppressing Party democracy, is a sort of politics: ‘socialism from above’ is the kindest way of describing it even though there is no such sort of socialism.   It’s why it might be better to describe it as ‘state socialism’, or much more accurately, better to call it social-democracy and Stalinism.  (In this respect what was also worrying was the impression given by many socialists that the radical aspects of a social democratic programme was really socialism.). But to get back to the point.

What we saw was the nationalist politics of Brexit devour its misguided children, exemplified by Denis Skinner losing his seat to someone better able than him to embody the reactionary logic of Brexit. Unfortunately, these people brought down the rest, the majority, who have always known that Brexit had to be opposed.

If we want to look at the weaknesses of British social democracy we could do worse that start here – the narrow nationalism of the British left going back to Tony Benn or even further to Manny Shinwell and Aneurin Bevan.  Their opposition to ‘Europe’ resting on the Sterling Area and the Commonwealth, a bogus commitment to internationalism that rested entirely on the relics of Empire.

These weaknesses have been imbued by the radical left supporters of Brexit who think using one less letter and replacing one other makes a difference.  These people share the same conception of socialism – state ownership and a national state to implement and defend it from foreigners.  Entirely disappeared from consciousness is that we should be uniting with ‘foreign’ workers against our own state and theirs.  In fact, for a socialist, no worker is foreign, foreign to us is the nationalism that seeks to divide us.  Just like the Shinwell’s of old they condemn the narrowness and racism of Europe for not embracing the world while sailing on a boat that doesn’t leave the shores of Dungeness.

Labour lost 2,585,564 votes from 2017 to this election but the media narrative of the working class deserting Labour over its failure to support Brexit is a continuation of the distortions and lies that has been their staple.  Early estimates claim that over 1.1 million of this reduced vote was Labour Remainers voting for other remain Parties while perhaps 250,000 Labour Leave voters also transferred their vote to these Remain parties.

Antipathy and opposition to the figure of Jeremy Corbyn also seems to have played a major role but this is a combination of very different things that became important precisely because one person could be the focus of all of them.  For more than one reason the leadership is to blame – making Corbyn the sort of Presidential figure to the exclusion of other leaders in the campaign is probably the least important.

Anti-Corbyn hostility combined the opposition of Labour leavers; those prey to the calumny of the mass media; the failure to openly explain and discuss massive policy proposals dumped on the electorate at the last minute giving rise to some cynicism, and most of all duplicity over Brexit and apparent failure to take a position.  What price the one-day conference to discuss the Party’s Brexit policy now?

We need to stop talking about the Corbyn project in the Labour Party because clearly that project didn’t include opposing Brexit and didn’t include empowering the membership, which remain vital to any future progress.

One take on the election had a wonderful quote, ‘Disappointment is a trifle.  Disappointment is a luxury we cannot afford. The dilemma is simple but imperative. Whether to submit to mere fortune or to understand and take action.’  Perhaps not enough for the politically uninvolved but a good enough starter for the rest of us.

The struggle remains to fight Brexit, which hasn’t ceased to be the reactionary threat to the working class it has always been.  ‘Get Brexit Done’ is another lie to join everything else associated with that project.  Lies are ultimately useless because sooner or later they collide with reality.  The issue is who pays for them.  If there is one saving grace from the result it is escaping the embarrassment of an attempted Corbyn Brexit.  The Tory Brexit will fail its supporters and Labour must fight it and all of its consequences, including the disillusionment that its ‘success’ will provoke.

The second is to demand and fight for a democratic Labour Party. The mass membership has proved to be right, even if only negatively, and it must be confident in saying so.  The debate about responsibility for the defeat is not a distraction from fighting the Tories but an indispensable requirement.  Get it wrong, or lose it, and that fight will be hamstrung.  What to do depends on what is accepted as what went wrong, and there must be no truck with those who want to deal with defeat by following those who either led it or caused it.  We don’t want to tack right in pursuit of nationalists and racists and we don’t want another Corbyn who didn’t know how to fight either.

 

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.

 

 

 

How the Many struck back against the Few

It’s only when you consider the situation on 18 April that you can truly appreciate the dramatic advance taken by the British working class during the general election.  Theresa May called the election when the Tories had a poll lead of over 20 percentage points and when her personal approval ratings were even higher.

It followed a Brexit referendum that had unleashed a wave of xenophobia and racism which the Tory Party planned to milk in order to crush and overwhelm any opposition.  We would then face Brexit negotiations where every rebuttal of Tory Brexit delusions would be used as an opportunity to whip up anti-foreigner rhetoric that would cement Tory hegemony.

Now that strategy lies in tatters, that project is in chaos and the initiative lies not with Brexit reaction but with a left-wing counter-offensive.  Far from being the impregnable leader and worthy inheritor of the mantle of the “Iron Lady”, May has rather quickly become a figure of fun.  In the campaign “Strong and Stable” came to be considered as the first words of a child – repeated endlessly in all the most out of place circumstances.  Maybot became the battery-driven toy that bangs into the wall and continues to bang into it because it cannot know any better.

Instead of the Tories’ Brexit hero, one Tory MP has described her thus – “We all fucking hate her. But there is nothing we can do. She has totally fucked us.”

The most important point of this little articulation of Tory comradeship is the bit where he says “but there is nothing we can do.”  Labour is now ahead in the polls and the Tories are terrified of another election that they simply can’t go into with Maybot in charge.

So how did all this happen?  First, it’s necessary to accept that the Tories huge lead in the polls was not a mirage, even if it may not have been so commanding as it appeared.  The polls were correct to show a narrowing of the Tory lead as the campaign went on and while some were ultimately more accurate than others, all showed an initial huge lead that in previous general elections would have meant a certain Tory victory.

The answer lies in understanding that Jeremy Cobyn’s success shows the correctness of the Marxist conception of politics, even if this was proven by a non-Marxist party.  In contrast, the media pundits have been floundering and cruelly exposed, not that you would have noticed it.  With a brass neck a blow-torch couldn’t mark they simultaneously expressed shock at the result and know-it-all opinion pieces on how they got it wrong.  As the saying goes: opinions are like assholes – everyone’s got one, although it’s not everyone who expels such quantities of shite.

Even after the vote I came across this from the ‘Financial Times’ lead journalist covering the election.  When speaking of a possible Tory-DUP coalition he writes – “But all coalitions, formal or otherwise, require horse trading and compromise – something May is not naturally suited to. Her trademark skill is to decide on a policy position and stick it to.”  Bias becomes so ingrained it becomes an unthinking habit that kicks in when the world is not as you believe it is and you are unable to process the meaning of events.  Thus you end up with nonsense like this.

Now the media is attempting to undermine Corbyn by giving space to those Blairites and soft left figures in the Party who got it so spectacularly wrong but now claim that having won the left vote he now needs to tack to the centre.  While some of these people just denigrate his achievements others offer praise only to bury him later.  Meanwhile the media want to know is he going to give these losers prominent posts in the party now that their plans for another coup or for setting up a rival organisation are blown out of the water.

The election showed the impact of media bias and the effect of the relaxation of such bias that general elections allow. Election coverage means less filtered access to the policies and personalities of the parties so while Corbyn soared, Maybot tanked.  That the bias continued during the campaign also confirmed the limits of mainstream media spin.  It remains a barrier but one that can be overcome.

More importantly the elections showed the importance to politics of political programme, political leadership and mass mobilisation of workers.

For the first time in decades, and the first time ever for many younger voters, there actually appeared to be a difference in the policies being proposed by the different parties.  There can be no denying the impact and importance of the Labour manifesto; it became a reference point that exposed the vacuity of the Tory ‘alternative’ and its policies became the content of the campaign day after day.

It became the meat in the sandwich of the slogan ‘for the many not the few’.  It set out exactly what the Party’s policies were, which people could consider and make up their mind about, and made for something positive that they could read about or hear presented in television debates.  Presented properly it shone like a beacon set against inane Tory slogans and an empty Tory manifesto whose few policies that grabbed the headlines were either ditched quickly (sort of, like the dementia tax), were unpopular and divisive (grammar schools) or evoked a WTF reaction (foxhunting).

That the policies were presented properly was because of the Corbyn leadership.  He dominated the Labour campaign for the right reason, that he personified these policies and the principles that they were intended to proclaim.  As people got used to him his presentation became both better and less important as people didn’t expect slick presentation à la David Cameron and concentrated on what he said rather than on how he said it.

Early opposition by the most incorrigible Blairites more or less dissolved as the instinct for self-preservation kicked in and the BBC etc. realised it would not be possible to give equal coverage to the policies presented by the Conservative Party and the uselessness of Jeremy Corbyn as presented by the majority of the parliamentary Labour Party.

Only near the end of the campaign did more and more talking heads acknowledge the staying power of Corbyn and his attraction for many young people, and older Labour voters who had previously given up on Labour due to its Tory-lite policies.  Most of all, they were forced to acknowledge the massive enthusiasm his campaign had generated even when they covered two men and a dog ‘rallies’ by Maybot and ignored rallies of ten thousand held by Labour.  Despite paper talk that Labour candidates would fight local campaigns while claiming Corbyn was ‘nuthin to do with me guv’, it more and more became clear that a vote for the Labour Party was a vote for Corbyn and more and more an endorsement of his leadership of the Party.

Finally, the generation of a mass campaign, whose most prominent features were the Corbyn rallies, had an effect way beyond the large numbers attending.  Speaking in Scotland made the Scottish Labour Party relevant and his rally in Gateshead is reported to have rippled right across the North-East of England.  The rallies were designed not to be photo-ops for the TV but were genuine engagements with voters.

‘For the many not the few’ became more than a slogan but became reality in the infectious participation of working class people in the rallies and meetings.  Reports surfaced of Labour party activity in towns and villages that had not seen Labour Party activity before.  The participation of the young, the participation of working class families that don’t normally attend political events, and the extension of the Party to parts of the country not previously reached all demonstrated that this was a mass phenomenon.  And it was this mass sentiment that appeared in TV audiences that led Tory papers to accuse the broadcasters of bias in audience selection.

So, if these are the factors that led to the massive increase in the Labour vote not seen since 1945, it is obvious how further steps forward must now be taken.

Mass participation in the labour movement cannot depend on elections but must involve activity to build the movement and build the Labour Party, including a youth wing.  This includes union organisation, campaign groups and tenants and residents’ associations.   In one way the Corbyn movement has been lucky that one failed challenge to his leadership and then a general election have provided the opportunity to build upon his initial election. The real prospect of another election soon will provide another opportunity but relying on such events is not enough and the movement in and around the Labour Party has the chance to set the agenda and push through victories through building a permanent mass movement.

Political leadership of this movement is also a continuing process of political campaigning and democratic organisation.  Above all, the potential for the right and ‘soft’ left of the Party to usurp control of the party arising from any, even  minor, setback should be removed by a campaign to democratise the Party and the labour movement as a whole.  A truce with the right on the basis that the Labour Party is ‘a broad church’ should not come to mean tolerance of machine politics, undemocratic practices and rules, and open attempts at sabotage.

Finally, the most important question is one of politics.  Less than a week before the end of the election campaign the media suddenly woke up to the fact that the Brexit election had ignored Brexit.  But as the old adage goes – you can ignore Brexit but Brexit will not ignore you. The complexities of Brexit have been a foreign country for the mainstream media from the beginning and the issue is presented more and more as one resolved by opposition to the best trade deal possible on the grounds that the primary objective is limitation of immigration.

This is not the ground on which a working-class alternative can be built and it is not the common ground of those who voted Labour in the election. The implicit blaming of social ills on foreigners facilitates the explicit blame expressed in xenophobia and racism.  The identification of outsiders as those to blame for ‘our’ problems becomes the need to identify and suppress those inside who are ‘agents’ of these outsiders because they won’t blame immigrants for poor public services and won’t scapegoat immigrant labour for local capitalist exploitation.  It leads to paper headlines such as “Crush the Saboteurs”. If curbing immigration is part of a solution then it provides excuses for Tories, Blairites and racists to excuse their support for austerity.  Most importantly it undermines the unity of working people that is needed to take us forward.

The challenge to the Labour Party political leadership is to demonstrate that its policies are incompatible with racism and anti-immigrant scapegoating, is incompatible with an isolated country cut off from potential allies in the rest of Europe and is incompatible with the harm to be caused, being caused right now, by leaving the EU.

Just as during the election, this will mean confronting and largely bypassing the Tory media and mobilising Party members to convince uncertain supporters ,or even those opposed, that the social-democratic programme put forward by Corbyn that they support cannot be enacted in a Brexit Britain.

The election has opened up opportunities for British workers, but they must seize them like they grasped the election.  When Marx was asked what his idea of happiness was, he said “to fight’.  And that is what we must continue to do.

 

 

 

Question Time

I’ve just finished watching Question Time and the performances of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.  I can’t remember the last time I watched it and I haven’t a clue when the next time will be after having watched this one.

The expectations of May were so low she exceeded them – damned by faint praise I think it’s called.  Not quite so robotic but incapable of smiling without facial contortions that reveal she is anything but genuine in any emotion she shows; itself revealing she is anything but genuine in anything she says.  As time went on her answers became less credible and her performance less impressive.  Tonight, she was helped by a relatively healthy dose of predominantly old reactionaries in the audience.

Six weeks ago I wrote a post that said that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”.  Tonight, for the umpteenth time, she did exactly that.  Asked what a bad deal was like, that made no deal more attractive, she said nothing.

But I got it wrong – she has hardly said anything about anything and performing a U-turn on what she has said. Her strategy has been to pretend that Jeremy Corbyn is such a disaster that she looks good.  Unfortunately for her, the media has been forced to give Corbyn greater opportunity to present both himself and his policies without distortion; the political classes and its media have therefore been shocked to find that millions of people actually like him and like his policies even more.  Not only that, but the BBC has been unable to continue to report on Corbyn through has-been Blairites claiming that he’s a disaster; mainly because the Mandelson’s of this world and Blair himself no longer matter now that people have a real decision to make.

The claim that Theresa May should be Prime Minister because she is Theresa May has therefore worn out rather quickly.  What she has been forced to rely upon is Brexit and the right-wing swing in British politics that Brexit has represented and accelerated.  Reactionary nostrums against immigration, foreigners, the EU – because they’re foreigners –  the peculiar virtuousness of the British as the counterpoint to aggressive foreigners; all this has been presented with her own unique dead as a robot delivery, in a reactionary nationalist stew that relies on prejudice and ignorance to fill in the gaps where a coherent narrative should be.

It has to be said, that in this she has been assisted no end by the cluelessness of the British media.  Like its treatment of Corbyn, this is not simply due to establishment prejudice and conscious antipathy to socialist ideas.  It is also due to its own ignorance of the clusterfuck that Brexit will entail.  Despite all the dramatic changes in world politics over the last few years, the British chattering classes simply cannot conceive of Britain not being the country that it now is with its rather prominent role in the world.

So, it is when Theresa May is pushed into a corner about Brexit and she comes out with ‘we are not afraid to walk away with no deal – no deal is better than a bad deal’, that total incomprehension switches on.  The next question is perfectly obvious – so what happens when there is no deal?  Paxman and all the rest can go no further than this response because they simply cannot conceive that no deal means the cutting off of Britain from the rules and regulations, the trade deals and agreements with other countries that allow Britain to trade and exchange with the rest of the world.  From being allowed to fly over other countries airspace to landing at their airports to being credited with having safe food and medicines, all these collapse with no deal.

The absence of such mutual recognition threatens the UK being thrown off the proverbial cliff with no rubbish about this also being the fate of the EU – none of this “the UK and EU will both lose”, because one will indeed lose but it won’t find itself isolated.  The threat of no deal always assumes unthinkable that there will really be no deal, but actually assumes that the EU will offer concessions after being threatened and cough up a better compromise.

The virus that has engulfed the Tory Party is not simply a Tory pathogen but is one that resides in British society as a whole.  Especially the privately educated journalist profession that is parasitical on the Westminster village and the privately educated politicians who went to the same schools the journalists went to twenty or thirty years before them.

I had naively assumed that May and Corbyn would be asked the same question at the same time and would take turns in answering; instead it was a programme of two halves.  It was hard not to conclude that May left the first half pleased that she managed not to have parroted ‘strong and stable’ – yet another U-turn, which of course was yesterday’s inane drivel.

So, if May exceed expectations only by not being so crass, so robotic and so contorted, she nevertheless remained unimpressive.  She is a very limited politician who has looked even worse than these limitations might normally have revealed by moving decisively outside her comfort zone, where lies being Prime Minister and leading her country at a decisive turning point in its history.  What a pity she sells herself on her supposed unique innate ability to do just this.

If Jeremy Corbyn slightly disappointed it is only because (1) he has performed so well so far and (2) I’m a Marxist who believes there is such a stronger case for socialism than he can make.  Partly his weaknesses are those of his party and his very incomplete transformation of that party and its programme, but partly it is due to the limitations of his own politics.

During the questioning he was put on the back foot most when he refused to answer directly whether he would press the nuclear button if Britain itself was under nuclear attack.  At one point this looked like it might get quite frenzied – testament to a number of reactionaries in the audience who seemed to be fully paid up members of the fan club devoted to the film ‘Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb’.

It took one young woman to make the point that there was something wrong with so many people demanding the murder of millions of people.  Presumably these reactionaries would have been satisfied with an answer something like this – ok, we’re about to be vapourised by a nuclear attack but don’t get angry that I might not press the button because I’m going to kill millions of people as well, people who, just like you, had no hand in this attack and who don’t deserve to die.  Oh, and another thing, don’t worry, our missiles will hit the intended target and not go off in the wrong direction like one did recently.  Such is the degenerate politics of the Tory party and the diseased prejudices of its die-hard support.  There can be no doubt the nasty party is back.

In general the audience showed greater sympathy with Jeremy Corbyn and those in sympathy showed more enthusiasm.  I am reminded of the reaction of football players scoring a goal for my football team – they smile and cheer – expressing joy at scoring; while when those of their erstwhile rivals score they almost invariably snarl and gesticulate as if venting a deeply pent-up rage.  The supporters of Jeremy Corbyn applauded declarations of hope and promises of a better society while the Tory supporters acclaimed declarations of ‘toughness’ and meanness.  You know when you’re on the right side when the warmest of human emotions best expresses your political views.

When I wrote that “the election will truly have revealed the bankruptcy of the bourgeois electoral process if May can keep her mouth shut about what Brexit actually entails”, I also continued – “and Corbyn can maintain that he will defend workers’ rights without threatening Brexit.”  The major weakness of the whole Labour campaign is the same as that of the Tories – the claim that there can be a good Brexit.  For the Tories this has a massive plus side – the opportunity to burn workers’ rights and slash taxation for big business.  For workers Brexit has no up-side.

Brexit will entail economic dislocation and deep attacks on working people.  Victory for Jeremy Corbyn would see him inherit a policy that will do nothing to assist his social-democratic programme – he cannot decisively reverse inequality and improve the standard of living of British workers while leaving the EU.  Not because the EU is so wonderful but because exiting it is to step back from the current level of economic development and invites an alternative model that the Tories have correctly identified as an off-shore dumping ground of low corporate taxes, de-regulation and super-exploitation.  In such an environment taxes for workers will rise, wages will fall and welfare and other public services will shrivel while inequality will increase.

A Corbyn Government, if it was to attempt to increase living standards, increase public services and reduce inequality would also have to prevent the damage that Brexit would inflict.  It would also have to fight the xenophobic demands that immigration be strangled.  While much attention has focused on the damage to living standards arising from reductions in trade, reductions in immigration will have just the same effects, if not worse.

If young people do not come out to vote, as the pundits claim they might not do, and they are the key to a Labour victory as the pundits also claim, then the Tories will be leading us into Brexit and straight towards their deregulated ‘free-market’ utopia within a few days.  One commentator has called it a new ‘charge of the light-brigade’ and he is right.

Either way, it will be the task of socialists and everyone roused during the election to continue to mobilise and organise the enormous energy and enthusiasm evoked by the promise of a different society.  Already, the threat of a return to Blairite control of the Labour Party should be buried.  Corbyn must remain leader and the process of creating a mass, active Labour party truly representative of its members and supporters should be the task of everyone who considers themselves left.  The elections will signal the end of the Brexit phoney war and there will likely be no dress rehearsal allowed for building a workers’ campaign to ensure we win the real one.