A Labour Party Brexit

It used to be the case that the British Labour Party conference was interesting and important, because it involved real debate and some chance that the left could win victories.  Then Kinnock and Blair deprived it of this significance and crushed party democracy, such as it was.  The mass media, if I recall correctly, was not much concerned by this.

Now, the Labour Party conference is relevant again, it is interesting and important, the left can make advances and democracy has made some sort of return, and the mass media is concerned.

Unfortunately, this being the Labour Party, we are also going back to the bad old days when union bureaucrats would frustrate this democracy, cobbling together back-room deals that mollified the right in the party while taming the left.  So, the overwhelming desire for open selection of MPs, that they should have themselves put up for endorsement by the people who get them elected – the party members, was prevented from being voted on and passed.

Democracy in the Party has always been imperfect like this, but it is easy to forget that democracy in the unions is probably worse in many cases, and democracy in the left groups definitely worse.  If even Momentum was as democratic as the Party it seeks to democratise the left would be far stronger, and more democratic.

A similar thing happened to the views of the membership on Brexit.  The vast majority oppose it and want another referendum to reverse it.  The leadership of the Party have attempted to frustrate this movement.  In doing so, their views hark back to the most reactionary nationalist ideas about socialism which used to revolve around import controls to protect British jobs; nationalisation, with emphasis on NATIONalisation; and opposition to the EEC.

Of course, they claim to be internationalists, but their internationalism is of a very restricted kind.  It’s more a sort of solidarity of left nationalisms, just like ‘national liberation’ movements support each other in their desire to set up separate, and nominally independent, states.  They are suspicious and opposed to a unity that swears loyalty, not to its own nation and state, but to the unity of its class regardless of nationality.

No one is claiming that the vast majority of the members of the Labour Party subscribe to Marxist ideas about international workers’ unity, but they do realise the disastrous consequences of capitalist separation from the EU and the reactionary nationalist politics behind it.

So, it is on this basis that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has thwarted the desire to have a second referendum and has held the ground against coming out squarely against Brexit.  It has nevertheless been forced to have the debate, when it was able to prevent one last year, revealing that the current mangled and incoherent policy has a use by date that is rapidly running out.

Labour policy is open and clear – it is not seeking to reverse Brexit but to deliver a good Brexit.  One that defends jobs and living standards as well as maintaining regulations which support workers’ rights and protect the environment.

Tory ineptitude, in-fighting, mad-as-a-hatter ideas about a free market nirvana, and normal anti-Tory antipathy have not been enough to divert Labour members from recognising that the leadership’s position is wrong.

In many statements this policy seems to suffer from the same level of ignorance as the Tories.  Its repetition of the importance of a customs union ignores the much more vital role of the Single Market.  The former will not remove the need for a ‘hard’ border in Ireland while it won’t prevent huge trade frictions for Britain.  In its illusion that some sort of progressive Brexit is possible its position is actually worse than the Tories.

Its six tests cannot possibly be met by any deal, including any deal the Labour leadership could possibly negotiate itself. It wants a deal “to deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union.”  But the EU has made it absolutely clear, repeatedly, that Britain will inevitably be worse off because of Brexit.  It even admits that the EU itself will suffer.

Pressure from within the Party and the logic of the evolving process have compelled Jeremy Corbyn, in his conference leader’s speech, to state clearly that the Party is set to vote against any deal Theresa May comes up with, and will also oppose no deal.  So perhaps it might be said that the mass membership opposed to Brexit, and the leadership in favour of going ahead with it in some form, are going to arrive at the same destination by different routes.  Both roads seemingly leading to opposition to Brexit.

Unfortunately, there are some problems with such a view. Firstly, if no deal is agreed or approved by Parliament there will be a no deal exit, unless the EU itself postpones this eventuality itself, through some sort of extension, or fudge that allows the transition period to kick in.  But in this case the problem is postponed not avoided.  Such a scenario is a cross-your-fingers-and-toes wish that the ‘better prepared for a no deal’ EU is not yet prepared enough.  Simply running out of time is not unthinkable.

And what if time did run out and Theresa May claimed that it was the Labour Party which scuppered her deal and was now responsible for a no deal outcome?  How would Labour deal with that if the EU said ‘times up – you’re out!’

Undoubtedly the Tories have made such a hash of things that they would continue to shoulder much of the blame, and deservedly so. A no deal situation would have arisen where they had continued to push a plan that the EU had repeatedly said was unacceptable.  The Labour Party would then also have to rely on continued lack of scrutiny of its own proposals., which otherwise might reveal that they would not be accepted either.

But if the Tories were backed down to agree a deal that the EU would accept, even for a transition period, the Labour Party might find itself in strange company voting against it.  Failing to prevent the deal going through in this situation might be the least of its possible failures.

If it succeeded in voting down such a deal it would be much harder for the Labour Party to pin the blame for no deal on the Tories, and their own proposals would come under greater scrutiny, revealing the reality that their criteria cannot be delivered by any potential Brexit deal.  There would be no reason why both the Tories and EU would not jointly blame the Labour Party for the subsequent disaster.

Secondly, even if all went well and a general election was held, which Labour won, it would quickly become clear that it could not deliver a Brexit deal which would pass its own tests.  In other words, it would also have to deliver no deal or deliver something that would be inferior to EU membership.  Both would antagonise its Remain members and supporters, and also antagonise those voters who continued to support Brexit.

Of course, these voters are deluding themselves in believing that Brexit could deliver anything that was any good.  But who would have fed them this illusion and who would now be responsible for failing to deliver on it?  It would not just be the Tories. Now it would also be the Labour Party, the Party who had promised that a good Brexit was possible and had failed to deliver it.

If the Labour Party also backed down and agreed a deal that was acceptable to the EU this would be something on the lines of EEA membership or Canada-style free trade agreement.  The latter would rather quickly demonstrate how much inferior to EU membership this is for British capitalism, but would still require an extensive period of negotiations where British weakness would be exposed.  The former would require perhaps even greater negotiations, not just with the EU but with other EFTA countries.  The former leaves Britain’s role in the world hanging and unresolved and the second is not a long-term solution for anyone, for it would leave Britain as a rule taker in a small club instead of one of the leaders of the large club it had just left.

However, long before any of this became obvious, it would be clear that the Labour Party had not won over the majority of the fans of Brexit through delivering it, but would instead be savaged by them for having sold Brexit out, for having delivered Brexit in name only, a betrayal of Brexit, of all the benefits to the British people that were possible and that had been promised. And again, we would be back to the question – who was it that promised a good Brexit?

Labour leaders such as John McDonnell have embarrassed themselves and the movement they lead by proclaiming fears that Brexit cannot be stopped because it would provoke a violent reaction from the hard right. But since there isn’t going to be a good Brexit some sort of reaction like this is almost inevitable.  In this case, one delivered via a Labour Party promising that their Brexit would be so different would be a real promise broken, and would provoke an even more violent reaction from the hard-right.

There is of course a way to avoid these scenarios, but this requires being honest with workers and stating that Brexit is a disaster that must be opposed.  That if the Labour Party was elected it would reverse the decision or, at the very least, would hold another referendum to do so.  Otherwise Labour, having bought Brexit, would then own it, including all the shit that would come with it.

It would have no argument to put to Brexit supporters who would say that it had failed to deliver on its promises, and it would have nothing to say to its own supporters who would have opposed it.

Jeremy Corbyn may think his current approach to Brexit is politically shrewd, but reality is currently crushing Tory Brexit dreams and it will just as surely do the same to Labour.

The members and supporters of the Party should continue their opposition to Brexit and argue a socialist alternative.  The stronger such a movement becomes the clearer it will be that the current Labour policy is not only wrong from a principled point of view but ruinous to its future.

Ironically, it might only be the referendum that it is trying to avoid that might save the Party leadership, since it would be compelled to oppose Brexit and once again argue for Remain.

The BBC – how to spin a lie

Watching and listening to the BBC yesterday I was presented with a master class of political spin that would put the worst dictatorship to shame.  The best propaganda isn’t uniform and obvious, peddling straightforward lies, but invites you to look at things differently, to think yourself into a view that you may treat as your very own.

So I listed to PM on Radio 4, looked at the BBC News web site and watched the BBC six o’clock news on television.  The lead item for two was the revelation that Boris Johnson had lied when he said he had been told categorically by Porton Down laboratory that the poison that infected two Russian citizens came from Russia.   In fact, the official response from the Porton Down spokesman was that they couldn’t say.

This was picked up by Jeremy Corbyn, who rather charitably said Johnson had exaggerated and had questions to answer.

The BBC could have run with precisely how the Foreign Secretary had lied, why he had lied and what were the consequences of his lying, particularly given his senior and sensitive position in government.  A backstory could have been filled with Corbyn having taken a more measured approach and having a track record of getting these international issues right, while Johnson had a history of lying.  The great British public could then have been invited to form its own opinion.

Of course, no one who gets their news regularly from the BBC would have expected anything like the above.

Instead we were invited to believe that Johnson ‘appeared’ and might ‘seem’ not to have told the truth, while on the six o’clock news I remember hearing three responses by Johnson to the charge that he lied with the accusation repeated that Corbyn was playing the Russian’s game.  The BBC reporter took the view that it was all a bit of a mess, which given the BBC coverage was actually an accurate portrayal of the way the issue had been presented.

On Radio 4, the BBC talking head was deploring, more in sorrow than in anger, along the same lines but majoring on how the Russians would gain and we (as in Britain) would be put on the back foot by this disagreement between the two British political parties. This was the issue – the whole thing didn’t make Britain look good.  Rather like a person accused of rape; the issue is not whether that person actually did it, and what effect it has had on the victim, but that it doesn’t make them look good.  Pick your own crime and you could repeat the example a thousand times.

On Radio 4 the lead item was wrapped up in the first 15 minutes by an American ‘expert’ who had worked with various intelligence agencies, who reassured us that of course it was the Russians.  So, with the issue being that it was, at the very least, questionable to blame the Russians without evidence, the news item finished with yet another example of the very same, from someone whose bona fides were rather obscure.

When we consider that on the same day the Foreign Office deleted a tweet that claimed what Johnson had claimed – that it was the Russians who were the source of the poison, it seemed rather lop-sided to allow Tory spokesman to avoid the question of lying and simply declare without challenge that of course it was the Russians – who else was going to do it? Well, perhaps the BBC could have taken this question more seriously too?

The explanation for the original tweet, that it was truncated and did not accurately report “our ambassador’s words”, looked lame, particularly when the official transcript of the speech from which it came said the same thing as the tweet. Yet another question that should have been posed by the BBC but was ignored.

The narrative the BBC presented was therefore not one of lying by the Government, and embroiling us in heightened international tensions that had the happy circumstance of diverting attention from Brexit and another Tory reverse.  Instead we have had just a bit of a mess and only the Russians will gain from any controversy; which of course conveniently absolves the BBC of doing any real reporting, of news as opposed to certain views, of the establishment in particular.  And anyway, it was the Russians what done it.

But as we see, the real propaganda value of the BBC coverage is not in what it says but in what it doesn’t – in its highlighting the questions it thinks are important and to which we are invited to divert our attention, and the questions and issues that are ignored.  Lies by the Government while the perceived radical opposition leader is proved correct again?  Such a narrative would obviously be anathema to the BBC and its lofty self-perception of balance.  Just a pity this lofty approach doesn’t touch the truth.

Should we demand that the BBC really be impartial?  Well, it is useful to point out as loudly as possible its bias when it is particularly ourageous.  But why would it be expected the broadcasting arm of the British state would stray from the rest of it?

Perhaps instead we should secretly welcome the BBC when its bias becomes egregious; all the more likely then that more people will notice it. And perhaps do what we say we should always do – try to create an alternative.

Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘anti-Semitism’

As Members of the British Parliament go, Jeremy Corbyn has a record of opposing racism, including anti-Semitism, that is second to none.

So, days after waiting for the anti-Semitism charges against him to evaporate from the news – on the grounds that they are patently absurd –  they still loom large.

We see the BBC invite the Labour Party to denounce those supporting its leader – from a demonstration attacking him as anti-Semitic – and are supposed to see this as yet another example of his failure to stand up to anti-Semitism.  And expected to accept that this is yet another example of anti-Semitism, without a need to provide evidence that the previous charges actually stand up.

Thanks to the BBC, we are to remain entirely ignorant of the fact that those whom the BBC seek to have denounced are themselves Jewish!

Again, after days of having anti-Zionism conflated with anti-Semitism, so that the two are indistinguishable, the BBC reports that, ”during protests” and after “clashes”, which leave “16 Palestinians dead and hundreds injured” we are informed that “Israel’s response was exaggerated.”

Just so, unlike the repeated reports of the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism.

And there really is no point in anyone in the Labour Party denying it.  Because that is precisely the problem!

So, as Tony Blair – once described as “the worst terrorist in the world” – put it on BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster, “It’s become a problem because I’m afraid the people around Jeremy Corbyn – maybe even he himself – I don’t think they really think it is a problem.”

So, there you go.  Denial is proof of guilt.

Not since the witch hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries, when women were dunked in water, has it looked such a lost cause to declare one’s innocence.  For the poor unfortunate women so denounced, if they floated they were witches, and if they didn’t, they weren’t”

And there is also really no point in Corbyn looking to supporters to defend him instead.  Because, as last night’s ITV reporter said to the other ITV reporter, the latter obviously speaking as an expert unbiased summariser of what is really going on – Corbyn has to reject his supporters as anti-Semitic to prove he’s not.

Then, having done so, we will, with little doubt, wait expectantly for the BBC to report that Corbyn, (we’ll just use his surname from now on) has no support, because of his anti-Semitism of course.  Corbyn anti-Semitism, anti-Semitism Corbyn, anti-Corbyn anti-Semitism.  Just put the words together often enough, and in no particular order, and that will do.

If there is a lesson to be gleaned from this ‘fake news’, it is the one that armies have long understood. While you can capture enemy soldiers and put them in camps, you shoot spies.

In this case, the most immediate enemy one can throttle (metaphorically speaking of course) are the phalanx of Blairite Labour MPs who have been the ‘credible’ ingredient of this poisonous and preposterous mix of accusations.

It reminds one that there must be elections coming up; the local elections in May.  Time to shit on your own doorstep and blame someone else for the poor reception to your ‘for sale’ sign outside.

If anyone thought Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide election as leader was going to unite the Labour Party around him, including the crowd of careerists at Westminster, then this was surely disabused when Owen Smith had another go and got trounced.  If anyone thought that this second thumping victory was going to make loyal supports of these expense claimers who couldn’t spell integirty, then they were disappointed again.

And if you thought that the snap General Election, in which the widespread presumption was that Corbyn’s speaking part was to walk on and get crushed, was final guarantee that the Parliamentary Party would unite around him.  Well, you really should have known better.

Unfortunately, despite all these lessons, despite all the deceit and betrayal; someone who also appears not to have learned the lesson is Jeremy Corbyn himself, although I hasten to add, it’s not too late.

The view that the Labour Party is a (very) broad church is really only accepted by the right of the Party when it is in the majority, and the left is considered to be irrelevant, like, for example, in the first half of  2015.  The left on the other hand, at least many of those in the Corbyn camp, seem to believe it even when the knives, wielded by Blaire hands, go repeatedly into their chest right in front of their eyes.

The theory would seem to be, if theory is not too strong a word, that keeping the Party united will help get a Labour Government elected.  And then it can go do all the good stuff it has promised.

The two flaws in this ‘theory’ are too obvious to dwell on.  The Party is patently not united.  And the same MPs who seek to thwart Corbyn’s leadership in opposition will be even more keen to do it should he cease merely to be in opposition.

Turning the other cheek to Blairite sabotage has left Jeremy Corbyn without any cheeks to turn.  Ignoring the cardinal need to democratically clear out the host of Blairite/right wing/’soft’ left saboteurs inside the party, and to do so openly, as a campaign to democratise the Party, has left him exposed to the latest assault, which will assuredly not be the last.

So right now, either he fights the ludicrous charges of anti-Semitism and stops apologising for non-existent political crimes, or he may be left to float helplessly in the water waiting to be burned, or at the bottom of the water, proved innocent and much lamented, definitely eulogised, and very definitely history.

PS: Update 3 April.  Jeremy Corbyn has met some Jewish people – see link.  But this is “irresponsible and dangerous” according to a Labour MP. He’s meeting the WRONG sort of Jews!  Isn’t this man just infuriating?  Doesn’t he know that being anti-Semitic means some Jews are good and some aren’t, and it’s only anti-Semitic when you don’t agree with the establishment ones?  I mean to say, how can it be reasonable for a left wing leader to meet left wing Jews and not demonstrate similar feelings towards the right wing sort?  It’s not as if Jewish people are just like everybody else – is it?

Never mind Brexit?

When I wrote against Scottish independence in the run-up to the referendum I noted that one of the strongest motivators of many in the Yes campaign was the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the campaign itself, not the actual goal.  The latter promised wonderful things but these were free floating and detached from reality, and no amount of wishful thinking could make up for the lack of any realistic case.  Instead, the campaign itself gave tangible reality to the demand for independence.

It is now apparent that this is a cause that has to have such a movement, now through Indyref2, or it starts to crumble. The Scottish working class dodged a bullet when the majority of people in Scotland voted No.  Even prominent supporters of independence and erstwhile opponents of austerity are now saying that independence would need five years of austerity to work.  Of course, we’re told it would only be temporary, but then so is Tory austerity. When is austerity not temporary?

I was reminded of this when I read Owen Jones article in today’s ‘Guardian’, whose headline said it all – ‘As the media obsess over Brexit, they’re missing Labour’s revolution.’  In other words – forget about Brexit and look at the movement for change in the Party.

If you think my characterising this position is not really forgetting about Brexit, then consider the report – again in ‘The Guardian’ – that, “on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, McDonnell said it could not be guaranteed that Labour’s position on the single market would be finalised if there was an election in six months.”

When Theresa May made her Florence speech last week much media coverage concentrated on her ‘change of tone’ from the bombastic declarations of her Lancaster House speech. The usual in-depth reporting perhaps.

The media repeatedly tells us that Brexit is fiendishly complex while generally ignoring this complexity; although now and then it makes pathetic attempts to explain it; that is when it’s not wallowing in the knockabout political manoeuvring at Westminster and, as it has done from the start, treating Brexit as mainly an intra-Tory fight.  On this occasion however, the obviously superficial attributes of the speech were indeed the most significant thing about it.

Where the media failed yet again, was to explain why this change of tone came about. Or how the rest of the speech was actually a continuation of the La La Land Tory dream of Brexit, which some more informed commentators think will, to the Brexiteers delight, be delivering Brexit before Christmas.  Again unfortunately, before the Labour Party might decide to get its act together.

What appeared as the most significant policy initiative was May’s statement that there had to be a transitional phase, which she couldn’t even force herself to describe as a transition.  In this transition she hopes that some unspecified super trade deal, unlike any other, can be negotiated; one that will save the UK from the consequences of Brexit.

This reflects simply that Brexit is a looming disaster, with the hope that it can be made less so by postponing it, perhaps similarly to the way it is said that justice delayed is justice denied.  Unfortunately for her, and for us, Brexit won’t be delayed, or at least not by anything she’s doing.

May’s transition assumes more or less continued EU membership, perhaps without EU judicial authority continuing, which even the most ignorant must surely know is not possible.  Michel Barnier, the EU chief negotiator has made it clear again and again, immediately before and immediately after May’s speech, that the UK is leaving the EU in March 2019.  If it wants to discuss anything else, it has to first sort out the rights of EU citizens in the UK, agree the financial settlement for leaving, and propose a special deal to avoid a new border in Ireland.

May made unspecified promises on citizens’ rights, offered £20 billion – which I’m sure the EU welcomes although that is quite beside the point – and said nothing about Ireland.  In other words, the UK is heading for the exit with no deal unless it practically addresses these three issues, and that includes any deal on a transition.  They have been calling it a cliff edge for a while now.

Clearly the bitterly divided Tories are drowning and trying to take everyone down with them, if allowed.  Their position on Brexit is incoherent.  They cannot possibly get the trade deal they say they want, one that gives them more or less the same arrangements as retaining single market membership while leaving the EU.  To get the former they must ditch the latter, or rather to get the latter they must ditch the former.

The problem is that the Labour Party’s position, in so far as it has one, is now perhaps even more delusional than the Tories’.  Certainly, the Labour Party demanded a transitional deal before the Tories, but only the blind could have believed that the exit terms could be agreed, and then new arrangements negotiated, within Article 50 requirements.  These requirements were written precisely to ensure it made no sense to use them.  A classical Catch 22 – to get out you must use them but if you use them it shows it makes no sense to get out.

But Labour too wants just the same sort of wonderful trade deal as the Tories while leaving the EU.  ‘The Guardian’ article reports the following – “Speaking later at an event with Labour’s MEPs, Starmer said he believed a Brexit deal could be achieved that would be as good as being in the EU.”

This is as much a ‘have your cake and eat it’ policy as the Tories.  Leaving the EU means the UK becomes a third country, so it will have to face barriers to trade.  New trading arrangements will take potentially years to negotiate and the EU will not allow the UK to cherry-pick what it will buy into and what it will not.  There is no point looking at existing comparators because the UK is the only country ever to seek to leave.  It is both too important to let cherry-pick the power wielded by the EU bloc and too weak to impose its demands.

What sets the Labour Party position apart is not the claim that it can have a Brexit that cherry-picks the best bits, but one that appears to believe that you can have a Brexit that puts “jobs and living standards first.”  Such a Brexit does not exist.  Trading barriers and their consequences will hit both – that’s how capitalism works.

Socialists opposed to Brexit have argued that socialism cannot be built in one country, cannot arise by separating the UK or any other country from the international capitalist system, but can only arise from an international struggle for international socialism based on existing global development.

in more immediate terms however, socialists will not build an alternative by acceding to a Brexit policy that can only damage jobs and services and reduce wages, processes already in train, while blithely claiming the opposite.  No amount of social democratic intervention by the UK state can ameliorate the effects of increased isolation from the world capitalist market, or the alternative of supplicant trade deals with major power blocs.

The traditional socialist value of international solidarity is based on the identity of interest among workers in all countries because these interests can only be defended successfully together.  We are not talking merely of identification of common interests, but the identity of circumstances at the most basic level.  Socialist advances cannot be successful if not extended internationally, or imposed, for example at a European level, from the very start.

Just as in Scotland, celebrating the movement while ignoring the goal is a mistake; a Brexit Britain under a Corbyn Labour Party will fail, just as similarly if not identically, a separate Scotland would also fail to advance the interest of workers there.

There is still time to dodge the Brexit bullet; but if or when it comes don’t ask why everything is turning to shit – “send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  How appropriate this passage starts with “no man is an island entire of itself, each is a piece of the continent.”

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.

 

Free Trade and Socialism part 2 – the UK general election

Thersa May’s call for a general election has been hailed by the ‘Financial Times’ as a smart move that will give her and the pragmatic Tories some room to negotiate a trade deal with the EU that would be opposed by the zealot Brexiteers.  Today’s paper has a column by the chair of the Institute of Directors praising May while calling for some time for business to adjust to Brexit.  The rise in value of the pound after the news is seen as the smartest guys in the room welcoming the election announcement on precisely these grounds.  Whether this works or not is quite another matter and a decisive victory based on making sure Brexit happens is just as likely to strengthen the rabid demands of those clamouring for a hard Brexit as strengthen its more pragmatic supporters.

The election is therefore set to be all about Brexit and trust in May’s ‘leadership’, or rather her Tory arrogance that is sold as no-nonsense competence, seriousness and proficiency, which a certain section of workers still buy into on the basis of the everyday nationalism and class deference fed to them by the media.  However, even the newly moderated claims for Brexit are undeliverable: she says that she wants “a deep and special partnership between a strong and successful European Union and a United Kingdom that is free to chart its own way in the world”.

The relationship after Brexit can’t be “as deep and special” as the current one so it’s a loss on that one, and the UK will not be “free to chart its own way in the world” no matter how hard it fantasises.  In an issue of the same pink paper last week (and also today) its readers learn that the EU are about to freeze-out British companies’ participation in the European space programme and other EU contracts and funding.  It sounds much better to the ears of Brexiteers when they threaten to just pull the plug and leave without a deal but not quite so comforting when it is reported that the EU bureaucracy is drawing up plans to do exactly the same.

It was also reported in the FT that yet another Minister was visiting India trying to sell it something; Sir Michael Fallon being the empty-handed messenger this time.  The paper reported that ‘military experts say it is a sign of how the UK has been left behind. “If you look at the main four or five players in India, the UK is not there at this point in time”, and It reports that British arms exports fell from £966m in 2010 to £34m in 2015.

So instead of selling arms, Britain now wants to sell India its “arms procurement expertise” because the British might “help them decide what they need.”   The same (or perhaps different) British official thinks reminding the Indians that “the Indian army was created from the British army” and “we share . . an overall ethos” is good sales patter.  This ‘expertise’, the Indians have pointed out, includes ordering two aircraft carriers “that are seven years late . . . (and) are running massively over budget”, and this is without also considering that other problem arising in this British procurement exercise – ordering another aircraft carrier without aircraft for it to carry.

So, Britain is not going to find it easy to chart its own way in the world”; in fact it’s going to find it so hard it’s going to be charting not its own but other, bigger player’s ways in the world, especially as everyone knows, the US way.

Even thinking from first principles – how can you make your “own way” with trade?  Surely you need someone to trade with, someone who will want some say on the rules that govern it; someone who is very likely to be bigger and more powerful than Britain, or will have joined a trading arrangement that makes them bigger and more powerful.  A common strategy – except now for the Brits!

In other words, even if the Financial Times and the money men were correct in the short term, which generally is how long they think about, that May will minimise the impact of Brexit, Britain is going to be worse off.  As I have said before, the threats of a deregulated UK after Brexit are an acknowledgement that the Tory way of attempting to pay the price of Brexit will be to deliver the bill to the working class.  This sugar coats the Brexit pill for business but there will be no sugar coating the poison for workers.

In my last post I argued against the view that the question of trade was one that socialists could not take a side on; or that it ‘depended’ on something else and was therefore perhaps of secondary importance.  In my exchange of views on Facebook set out in that post I said that something could be learned from what Karl Marx thought of free trade.  Then at least, we may have some clue as to what ‘depends’ actually depends on.  Marx obviously thought it was an important issue, just as it is now through the issue of Brexit, and he had a clear position on it.  But I will look at this in the next post.

It is important to understand first that Brexit is bad for trade and will therefore indirectly be bad for workers.  Many workers see the link much more directly – car workers hope that the cars they build can be exported easily into the rest of Europe; university staff seek maintenance of EU grants for their research work; airline staff hope the company retains its base in the UK; farmers hope that they continue to get subsidies; finance workers hope their firms don’t up sticks to Paris or Frankfurt or Brussels or wherever; the list is a very long one.

Because any deal can only be worse and the only thing worse than a bad deal is no deal, the more far-sighted Tories either oppose Brexit or seek a ‘soft’ one.  It is these people that the markets and the ‘Financial Times’ editor and commentators hope will come to the rescue.  Having backed the Tories in the last election, even though it was only they who could deliver them the disaster of Brexit, these people still cling to them again, even while the Tories swear to god that they will deliver it no matter what.  But even with the sugar-coated promise of deregulation, the Tories are going to dash their hopes – the Tories have already promised not to give them the single market or a customs union.  The continuing support of business for the Tories is yet more evidence of their wilful ideological blindness.

Their logic is completely without merit – if the balance of power lies with the EU and the pressure of time is all on Britain, this will very quickly become apparent, in fact it already has as May’s changed tone once article 50 was triggered has shown. May now talks not only the nonsense quoted above but also about a transitional deal, “controlling” immigration not lowering it, perhaps through voluntarily allowing cheap exploitable labour into agriculture when it is needed and then chucking it out afterwards.  Or allowing entry to skilled workers for companies that lobby for it.  Payments can still be made to the EU for some sort of trade access and EU courts will still have ultimate say.  To which it might be asked – what’s the point of leaving, although the Tories think that, with an election victory, answering such a question can at least be postponed.  After all, the May strategy in this election appears to be to say as little as possible.  And there’s a logic to this as well – the same logic.

The Tories cannot promise a ‘soft’ Brexit, or the detail of what it might involve, or even a transitional deal, which has become the favoured option of some business opinion who hope it might morph into something permanent that isn’t hard-on Brexit.  The Tories can’t do these things because those are decisions that are not theirs to take.

The EU will decide whether after less than two years the UK can get lost “making its own way”.  The EU will decide whether there is a transitional deal and what it will look like.  Making any sort of promise during an election would simply invite EU leaders to point out what the real situation is – ‘you say it best when you say nothing at all’ is therefore the only sensible thing to do.  It might make you look increasingly stupid during an election campaign but May is relying on an existing poll lead and a fully undeserved reputation for competence.  And, of course, a compliant media.  How could anyone believe that only she can be trusted to be a strong negotiator with the EU when she’s even afraid to negotiate her way round a TV studio in a leaders’ debate?

If a ‘soft’ Brexit does not exist for the Tories it cannot exist for Jeremy Corbyn either.  The defence of workers’ interests that is the Labour Party’s platform cannot be implemented while leaving the EU.  For those who believe that socialism arises simply from revolution against capitalism and that the EU is a neoliberal conspiracy this is incomprehensible. It is nevertheless true because socialism will be built upon the foundations of the productive forces of capitalism and from transforming its social relations, not merely overturning them.

The more Corbyn stands up for the living standards and rights of working people the more this will conflict with a Brexit agenda, although again and again he turns away from this truth and damages his own case and the prospects for winning over the Remain voters.  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 and Corbyn can maintain that he will defend workers’ rights without threatening Brexit.

As for the prospects for the election itself; at the start of the campaign the press is clear that Labour is finished.  It must become clear quickly that this is not the case and even by doing this Labour will have registered a success.  Simply by standing up it can continue to fight and by continuing to stand prove the pundits wrong.  Tory arrogance can then first be halted, then challenged, and then thrown back in their faces.  The worst sort of defeat is when you don’t fight, and if you fight there’s always the possibility to win.

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

Jeremy Corbyn and Article 50 – part 2

 

HARLOW, ENGLAND - APRIL 05: Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, addresses supporters and members of the media as he launches his party's local election campaign on April 5, 2016 in Harlow, England. Mr Corbyn visited the Essex town to meet supporters and to officially launch the Labour Party's local election campaign ahead of voting on May 5th. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The argument that we can do nothing about Brexit except make the best of it is presented in a lucid argument on this blog.  Three reasons are advanced in support of the view that for the Labour Party to oppose Brexit “would be disastrous”.

Firstly, it would fail.  The Tories will vote for it as will the early pioneers of Donald Trump – the Donald Unionist Party.  And so will those Labour MPs in Brexit-majority constituencies who show much more readiness to oppose their leadership than the disaster that awaits their working class constituents.

This may or may not be true, although it certainly will be true if the opposition to Brexit itself refuses to oppose it.  The mantra that “the people” have voted for Brexit will be made official if those MPs supposedly opposed join in making the slim majority in the referendum an overwhelming vote in parliament.

The typically arrogant and supremacist claim of the Brexit right will be confirmed, that the only people who matter are those led by bigots.  The loyalist slogan “we are the people”, to be understood in the sense that everyone else is a lesser being, sits perfectly with the declarations of Farage and Trump that they alone speak for the people, because those who do not support them do not count.  Not voting against Brexit confirms the strident demands of the bullying reactionaries that their vote based on lies, fantasy and prejudice is unimpeachable.

On the other hand a vigorous campaign led by Labour against Brexit, which explains the real effects that are already visible, could compel reluctant Labour MPs to vote against Brexit and provide the cover for Tories opposed to Brexit to do the same.  We have been ‘warned’ repeatedly that a majority of MPs oppose Brexit, what matters is the political environment to make this a reality; and while the vote in parliament will decide the matter, the combination of disastrous consequences and political mobilisation outside parliament can determine it.

And if we are talking about numbers – what about the 65% of Labour voters who voted to Remain or do concerns about losing support only apply when bowing down to the most reactionary segment of support?  In terms of sheer numbers it makes no sense to alienate 65% in order to placate 35%.  ‘We can’t neglect to take on board the concerns of our working class supporters’ doesn’t really cut it when you look at it this way, unless you accept the nonsense that Remain voters were the metropolitan elite who, guess what, are not part of ‘the people.’

The second argument is that Labour cannot be seen to be “gifting the Tories, UKIP and the majority right-wing media the narrative of it  ‘seeking to subvert the will of the people’.  Absolutely everything it had to say on Brexit after a vote against triggering Article 50 would be met by this message being hammered home again and again and again.”

This is no doubt true; it is also true, although I do not know to what extent, that some Labour voters supporting Brexit will vote against Labour or abstain if it seeks “to subvert the will of the people”.   But it must again be recalled that the majority of Labour voters voted Remain!  And it really is internalising defeat when you vote with the Tories against the wishes of a majority of your own supporters.  However true the argument is that the strident claims of the Brexiteers will gain traction if Labour doesn’t bow before their demands, the contrary argument put here is also true, true to our principles and true to our future:

“The Tory MP, Ken Clarke, is quite right when he says that he has supported membership of the Common Market, and EU for fifty years, and that it would be ludicrous to suggest that just because of the referendum vote, he now had to act as though he was an opponent of it. Or, if Trump were currently, to hold a referendum, in the US, to garner support for his ban on Muslims entering the country, Labour would say,“Oh well, we lost that vote, so we will have to tag along behind Trump’s racist and reactionary policies.”

The parallel drawn here is not merely similar to the Brexit vote; in the immediate sense it is identical.  The Trump measures against refugees and the citizens of seven countries is a clear attack on peoples’ ability to move and to seek a better life in another country.  The Brexit vote was led by just the same sort of xenophobic and racist politics that motivated the reactionary Trump campaign, even if not all who voted for Brexit were xenophobes or racists, just like Trump voters, who weren’t all bigots and racists either.

The parallel is identical because a core principle socialists are trying to defend by opposing Brexit is the freedom of movement of working people in the EU, just like the freedom of movement of refugees and citizens of mainly Muslim countries to the US.  Working class solidarity is hardly a credible proposition if you don’t defend the ability of workers of different nations to work together.  It is much harder to make it a reality if it is prevented.  We know this, amongst other reasosn, because we know that the Brexit vote did not succeed in areas with the largest number of immigrants but often in areas with low numbers.

The third argument is that the Labour strategy of seeking to amend the Brexit process “will seek to ensure parliament has oversight of and influence over the kind of Brexit we get” and “does not lend power to the idea that Labour is ‘opposed to democracy’ and actually offers the prospect of pro-EU Tories supporting amendments which could make a real difference in preventing what is being called ‘hard Brexit’.”

Aside from the strength of an opposition that ultimately promises to vote in favour of triggering Article 50 it is unfortunately the case that a hard Brexit is the only one on offer.  An end to the free movement of workers in the EU is already a given, as is the exit from existing free trade arrangements, the disruption of which will impact on British capitalism and thereby on British workers, not to mention those in the EU.

As I have already argued, the strategy of a low-tax, deregulated and low wage Britain is the most credible one for an isolated nation seeking to insert itself into an international system in which every other large economy is part of a free-trade arrangement.  The exposure that Britain will impose on itself was illustrated by an article in Monday’s ‘Financial Times’, which reported a study that 46% of goods and services exports from the UK’s 62 cities went to the EU.  In contrast China accounted for only 4%, so that in order to make up a drop of 10% in EU exports would require a doubling of them to China or an increase by nearly one-third to the US.

Given that we know that a hard Brexit is coming it makes no sense to pretend the Tories will deliver anything else.  Could anyone seriously believe the Tories want to exit the rules and regulations of the EU because they want to make the regulations governing working conditions and employment rights better?

To pretend they will do anything else is a stand-out illustration of the weakness of an approach that tail-ends the Tories confusion and incompetence and that has allowed them to get away with taking over six months before even giving the broadest of outlines of what they wanted.  Leaving opposition to some final vote that the Tories can ignore is to play parliamentary games with workers’ futures when you aren’t in control of the rules.  There appears no guarantee that even defeating a Tory Brexit deal will not allow them to exit with no deal, as they have threatened.  A movement that would make this outcome politically unacceptable might prevent employment of such a device.

The only honest approach is to explain that a hard Brexit is inevitable and to build opposition to it on this basis, not wait for it to happen.  Having (sometimes) stated that the Tories will deliver a hard Brexit, the Labour Party is open to increasing incredulity and anger that they are not now opposing it.  The shadow-Brexit secretary Kier Starmer has told everyone that it is now impossible to oppose Brexit, making it clear that a single consideration trumps every other concern, while it took the old Tory Ken Clarke to make the points Starmer would not:

“Let me give an analogy in explaining the position for members of parliament after this referendum. I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public in their wisdom have occasionally failed to take my advice and they have actually by a majority voted Labour. And I have found myself here facing a Labour government.”

“I do not recall an occasion where I was told it was now my democratic duty to support Labour policies under Labour governments on the other side of the House. That proposition would have been treated with ridicule and scorn. “

“We are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with this great new globalised future, which offers tremendous opportunities for us. Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access.”

“Don’t let me be too cynical – I hope that is right. I want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

This third argument has been put most pithily by Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman – “accept the result.”  Except the real result of the referendum is not yet in and it would be criminal to accept it.

The third argument on accepting Brexit relies on the undoubtedly true argument that the referendum result “has been decades in the making. Parties across the political spectrum have happily blamed the EU as an easy scapegoat for domestic decisions (even the SNP blamed the EU in the row over privatising Calmac) while politicians have at best ignored popular hostility towards immigration and at worst fanned it.  In my lifetime it has been common for politicians to use the rhetoric of the far right on immigration, push increasingly intolerant policies on asylum and immigration and engage in a perverse arms race on who can be ‘toughest‘ on the issue.”

However, while true, this can hardly be an argument not to fight back now and, as I mentioned at the end of the first post, “in some ways Brexit provides better ground to take up this fight against nationalism and racism than before.”  This is because the reactionary politics of nationalism and racism which has created Brexit will not benefit workers, and their continued pursuit of them will hurt them rather quickly and rather directly.

Brexit allows the reactionary import of nationalism and racism to be demonstrated through the attacks on workers’ rights, conditions and living standards that Brexit will inevitably involve.  It provides the grounds to clearly separate the hardened ideological bigots from workers mistakenly attracted to false and simple-minded solutions that are nor in their interest.  Now is not the time to entertain the idea that restrictions on immigration and deference to reactionary nationalism can be combined with protection of workers to produce a mildly progressive ‘soft’ Brexit.

There is no combination of nationalism and racism with state ‘national’ socialism that will be in the interests of workers.  By pointing this out and fighting for an alternative the Labour Party will be proved right if or when Brexit either becomes a reality, or its disastrous effects become visible and palpable before this happens.  To prepare for this means opposing Brexit now and being best placed to build the movement that stops it and inflicts a defeat on the forces of reaction behind it.  Which leads to a final argument put up against opposition to Brexit now.

“This brings us to probably the most profoundly scary reason why Labour (and indeed other politicians) trying to prevent Brexit in parliament is such a terrible idea. As we’ve seen, rhetoric around ‘elites’ trying to ‘subvert democracy’ has been common in the aftermath of the referendum and we’ve heard how bigotry has surged. Yet if politicians were to actually prevent the result of the referendum being implemented as the worst extremes of the right keep suggesting they want to, this would provide a founding myth for the far-right of the kind we have not seen in my lifetime. There is no doubt in my mind that not only would UKIP surge dramatically in this scenario but that less ‘respectable’ fascists like the EDL would explode in popularity, emboldened by the simple and powerful narrative that the ‘elite’ were ignoring ‘the people’.”

There is no doubt some truth in this as well but it is rather like the truth that Brexit will be shown to be the shitshow predicted when it comes to pass.  Will the working class and the socialist movement be better off for having been proved right or will we have suffered a bitter defeat from which we will have to struggle to recover?  And similarly, if we defeat Brexit – the right of the Tory party and UKIP plus their ‘respectable’ fascists – will they be stronger or weaker for their defeat? The right can have its myths and its narrative if the labour and socialist movement can have its victory.

Back to part 1

Jeremy Corbyn and Article 50 – part 1

gettyimages-628009410-e1485368657171-640x481In an interview last November Jeremey Corbyn was reported to have set out his “bottom lines”, without which he would vote against Article 50, which included access to the 500 million customers of the single market; no watering down of employee rights, currently guaranteed by EU law; consumer and environmental safeguards and pledges on the Government making up any shortfalls of EU investment.

However in January he said that “Britain can be better off after Brexit.  “Only a Labour government, determined to reshape the economy so that it works for all, in every part of the country, can make Brexit work for Britain.”

As he went on to say: “as far as Labour is concerned, the referendum result delivered a clear message.  First, that Britain must leave the EU and bring control of our democracy and our economy closer to home.  Second, that people would get the resources they were promised to rebuild the NHS.  Third, that people have had their fill of an economic system and an establishment that works only for the few, not for the many.  And finally, that their concerns about immigration policy would be addressed.”

“Labour accepts those challenges that you, the voters, gave us.  Unlike the Tories, Labour will insist on a Brexit that works not just for City interests but in the interests of us all.”

“We will push to maintain full access to the European single market to protect living standards and jobs.”

“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle, but I don’t want that to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out.”

Meanwhile John McDonnell stated that Labour will help deliver a “sensible British compromise” over Brexit, but also said that Labour would not back a “kamikaze” departure from the EU which hit the economy.

Shadow Brexit minister Keir Starmer then claimed a partial victory for Labour in the aftermath of Theresa May’s big speech on Brexit saying that the government had “accepted” many of the Opposition’s proposals, was heading away from a “hard Brexit” and that May will “fall far short of the hard Brexit that many businesses and trade unions have feared”.

This is straight after May admitted the UK couldn’t remain inside the Single Market and limit freedom of movement at the same time, instead proposing uncertain ideas of staying inside some of the customs union and hinting at special deals for certain industries.  Unfortunately the World Trade Organisation rules on such deals would mean that if the EU agreed them with the UK it would have to agree such deals with other countries as well.  We are expected to believe that the UK will succeed in getting the EU to agree a deal not only to its benefit but potentially to the benefit of a host of other countries as well.

May’s speech came days after the chancellor Philip Hammond delivered a threat to EU nations that Britain could cut its corporate tax rates yet again as part of its post-Brexit restructuring.  But as the Tories are doing this anyway we should be clear among all the confusion that Tory threats of a low-tax, low-regulation bargain-basement polity is not a policy consequent on failure to agree a good Brexit deal but will be a consequence of any Brexit deal.

Outside the EU lies tortuous negotiations with those paragons of all things fair, the Chinese State, and the consistently fair-minded, dispassionate and unprejudiced Donald Trump, who has promised to take personal charge of a trade deal with the UK.  May’s grovelling to one Japanese car company; her swift retreat on second thoughts on buying a ridiculously expensive and unproven nuclear power plant partly from the Chinese; and her assault backwards up the alimentary canal of Donald Trump, even pre-empting the Irish in the process, all testify to what “taking back control’ means for the newly to-be-isolated British State.  What both Trump and May now openly share are threats to the EU, even though Britain states its desire for its success.

So what are we to make of Jeremy Corbyn’s current position – that you can have a good Brexit that is good for workers?

As I posted a while ago – there isn’t a progressive Brexit, not on offer and not remotely possible.  Only the national reformist conceptions of the old Labour Party Left can sustain illusions that there is.  That, and the nonsense of some people who call themselves Marxist who supported and still support something called Lexit.  These left organisations, which had the project of replacing New Labour with their very own version of Old Labour, have also adopted wholesale the nationalist illusions of this old left.

Supporters of Lexit will claim that Lexit is not Brexit; that they voted against the EU for other reasons and/or that what they voted for is not exactly what they wanted – they wanted not capitalist unity in the EU but workers’ unity outside it.  But of course what they voted for was what was on offer – capitalist separation – because that was the only conceivable result of their vote being successful.  Their reasons for voting for it are neither here nor there.  If what they and the rest of us now face were sufficiently different from what they say they wanted then they would now be campaigning to stop Brexit, recanting their previous view and with an admission that they had made a mistake.  But they’re not doing any of these things, so what we all face must be sufficiently close to what they consider they voted for them not to oppose it now.

In comparison Jeremy Corbyn stands on a more progressive platform since there is still some, albeit very unclear and very indefinite, claim that he will oppose a Brexit that is bad for workers at some time in the future if that is necessary, but not now.  Or I think that’s his position.

It isn’t very clear what it is, or what could possibly take precedence and transcend his support for triggering Article 50 on the grounds that the “will of the people” should not be obstructed.  Under what circumstances will the Labour Party oppose the disaster for workers that is Brexit and with what arguments that don’t apply just as forcibly now?

Of course it has been the case that the choice between British capitalism seeking an isolated role in the world or as part of the EU is not one socialists would seek.  But we have enough accumulated knowledge of how to progress the interest of the working class and socialism not to get the answer wrong.

The second problem however is that we were defeated and defeat always imposes a cost.  We should of course seek to minimise this cost but more importantly we should seek to continue the struggle on the new, unfortunately more unfavourable, terrain.  For the Labour Party the problem is posed to them by the fact that an estimated 65% of Labour voters backed remaining in the EU while roughly two-thirds of the constituencies with Labour MPs in place voted to leave.  For a Party wedded to electoralism this creates an obvious dilemma while for socialists the need to take a longer-term view means the opportunist and unprincipled, even blinkered, approach that appears to be determined by purely short-term electoral considerations must be rejected.

The third problem was aptly posed on this blog – the defeat has been a long time coming and rests on long standing weaknesses that exist because of the incapacity and unwillingness of the labour movement to oppose British nationalism.  For Labour this has led to collapse in Scotland as a different nationalism has fed off the ideas that British nationalism and all nationalisms take for granted and usurped its leading role.  In England and Wales British/English nationalism also hurt the Labour Party where it had not had to confront it before, including the failure to tackle the worst excesses of this nationalism in the form of anti-immigrant prejudice and racism.

The media reports that despite the obvious confused incompetence of the Tories they are far ahead in the polls and that many Remainers have reluctantly become reconciled to Brexit.  Some strong Remainers believe there is no case for fighting Brexit and that for the Labour Party to try to do so would be utterly disastrous.  But this is a mistake and one that will have greater consequences the longer we refuse to take up a fight that should have been taken up long ago.  In some ways Brexit provides better ground to take up this fight against nationalism and racism than before.  Why give up when it hasn’t happened yet?

Forward to part 2

Crisis? What Crisis? part 6 – Corbynism and the Labour Party

1bioeqbho4-1oqnvp3ulwqaOne very minor up-side to the election of Trump, which I will post on as soon as I get the time, is that it should be easier for those left supporters of a progressive exit – ‘Lexit’ – to see their errors, although to be honest I’m not going to hold my breath.

With every development of Brexit it becomes clearer and clearer that this is a reactionary project that fully lives up to those who predicted this prior to the vote.  The vicious diatribes from the Tory press have been ratcheted up by Nigel Farage complaining about Brexit being betrayed by judges, predicting that “we will see political anger, the likes of which none of us in our lifetimes have ever witnessed.”  When asked if there was a danger of disturbances in the street, he said “Yes, I think that’s right. . . the temperature of this is very, very high. I’m going to say to everyone who was on the Brexit side, ‘Let’s try and get even.”

This is the authentic voice of Brexit.  No wondering, as we are with Trump, whether the reactionary zealots who led Brexit really mean what they said before the vote.  It is reactionaries such as Farage and the Tory right who are leading the process.  It is clear it could not happen without them although it may still not happen with them.  The idea of a left-led progressive exit is even more fanciful now than when ‘Lexit’ was proposed during the referendum.

There is no competition to turn Brexit into anything progressive and the idea that the small left forces who supported Brexit can either present what is happening as a step forward or that they should still continue to support Brexit (under the banner of ‘Lexit’!) is at first laughable and then atrocious.  Any attempt to make gains for workers out of the Brexit negotiations could only come through agreement from the rest of the EU, which the left supporters of Brexit see as the primary enemy that must be escaped from – so how do they think this can come about?

In the most recent International Socialism Journal the SWP are now scrambling to be relevant; so while they continue to support Brexit they also cling to the Labour Party as the other major factor defining British politics today.  But their arguments around this are not much better.

They characterise the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn as “diffuse and atomised” and state that real organisation has to be built on struggle.  They then outline two possible ways forward for these supporters.

The first is “to pursue the weary, highly bureaucratic struggle against the right in constituency and branch meetings.”

The “alternative is a more outward looking orientation towards resistance to austerity, racism and war . . . this approach is far more likely to transform Corbynism into a real mass movement.”  The SWP author argues that having to face down Labour councils and their implementing cuts requires Corbynism to have a “more defined ideological profile.”

The article then goes on to speculate what Corbyn’s Labour would do if it got into office; criticising its “timid programme” and preoccupation with “credibility” and “electability”; condemning it for being “an electoral party” and therefore one that “will be judged, like any other, by its success in winning votes.”

It then raises the spectre of a betrayal, like Syriza in Greece, and the need to avoid the same fate in Britain by developing a mass movement behind Corbyn and “defiance of the rules of the parliamentary game.”  It claims that “the Corbyn phenomenon – like Syriza before it – has not suspended the classic dilemmas of reform and revolution” and that this “truth” “underlines the need to maintain an independent revolutionary organisation that is free from the compromises imposed by constitutional convention and intra-party manoeuvring.”  However, it says “the real test for revolutionary socialists will lie in the degree to which they are able to unite with all those who’ve rallied to Labour under Corbyn”.

One can therefore say with some confidence that this is a test that the SWP has and will fail, if only because they will not join the Labour party and “unite with all those who’ve rallied to Labour.”  Instead it will emphasise the importance of its “ideological profile” by maintaining “an independent revolutionary organisation” that will be “free from the compromises imposed by constitutional convention and intra-party manoeuvring.” In other words it will refuse to get its hand dirty and will refuse to join a struggle in which compromises are “imposed” on it, most likely because it would fail itself to maintain its revolutionary purity in such a situation, much like the Militant Tendency did during its long existence in the Labour Party.

Its counter-position of revolutionary politics to reformism is therefore indeed purely ideological with little material basis, not even a revolutionary programme by which it could ground its practice and gauge its fidelity to a revolutionary perspective and policy.  This counter-position is therefore useless for it cannot be a real guide to action.  In the case of the SWP worse than useless since it leads to supporting Brexit even while acknowledging at the end of its article that the referendum result has “given racists more confidence” in a period of a “rising tide of racism”!  While it presents the struggle against racism as the most important struggle there is no hesitation to ponder its own contribution to the referendum result that predictably set the scene and encouraged this “rising tide.”

This absence of the SWP from the struggle inside the Labour Party is to be welcomed, since it belittles the struggle to win votes; its own alternative to Labour’s economic programme is simply greater ‘public ownership’ that is not significantly different in nature from the Left of the Labour Party, and it utterly fails to appreciate the importance of the fight to democratise the party, which it characterises purely as a “weary, highly bureaucratic struggle.”  It utterly fails to understand the importance of creating a democratic mass party of the working class that can be both a site for democratic debate and a forum to determine the politics and struggles of the working class.  This failure is no doubt due to the notorious absence of democracy in its own ranks.  In this respect, as in so many, it is no example to anyone, least of all the mass membership of the Labour Party.

This party doesn’t need another cohort of recruits, however small, who believe that, because they have the predetermined answers, all that is need is more activity without a democratic machinery to decide policy and priorities for activity.

Coverage in the left press in Britain reports disagreements not only about the lack of democratic functioning inside the Party but within the Momentum group that is supposed to be fighting for this democracy.

The radical journalist Paul Mason has announced that he has joined Momentum and given some arguments why he has done so and some ideas on how it should be organised.  Whether he is right to do so is not for me to say – I am not involved in this struggle and am too far away from it to make any half-definitive judgements. He seems correct to say that Momentum should affiliate to the Labour party and work in activity within the party and also on its own account.

However, he has a rather too sweeping dismissal of the experience of the 20th century left that appears to recognise no lessons except negative ones.  This goes with an uncritical acceptance of what he sees as 21st century means of organisation.  He may be referring to particular features or experiences of bureaucratic organisation but he should make this clear and also reference the long struggles against bureaucracy in the workers’ movement, both practical and theoretical.

He dismisses hierarchies in favour of networks without recognising that hierarchy is just one example of a network; the lesson being that you have to be a lot more specific about what you mean by networked organisations.

Likewise he is of course correct when he says that we want to “empower masses of people to take their own decisions through direct democracy” but he says this involves “respecting diversity, proportionality, restraint and the democratic institutions of the UK.”  Having lived through the miners’ strike he should know just how limited the democracy of the institutions of the UK are and needs again to explain what he means by this phrase, as also what he means by “restraint” and “proportionality”, which are relative and contextual and not much use baldly stated outside of this.  Respect for diversity also has its limits – where I live respecting diversity means respecting bigotry, on account of their being so many bigots.  In the context of Brexit this is not a distant analogy to the current situation in Britain.

He says that “today I think the most revolutionary thing we can achieve is to put a left labour government in power: to switch off the neoliberal privatisation machine, to end expeditionary warfare and the arming of dictators, to redistribute both wealth and power to the people.”  This seems to me to have some truth, except that we need to rely on a mass active movement to bring this about and to develop beyond its limitations, including that power is, in the end, taken by the people themselves and not handed down from above.

He recommends “decision making in Momentum should be taken by consensus, using electronic democracy to engage every dues-paying member.  Local branches of Momentum should be free to act as they wish – to focus on caucusing before Labour branches and CLPs, or to do activism under their own banner that the Labour bureaucracy refuses to do – for example defending libraries being closed down by Labour-run councils.”

The use of electronic means to involve members voting is a good one in certain circumstances, but not all, although the current Ken Loach film ‘I, Daniel Blake’ shows that everyone’s ability to do so can’t be taken for granted.  But voting means majorities and minorities so it’s not clear to me what limits are imposed by a requirement for consensus.  Local Momentum groups should have wide autonomy to determine priorities for activity but once again there will be national priorities, such as selection of MPs, conference motions etc that require some coordination and guidance on overall direction.

Mason argues that the basic political programme should be the 10 pledges outlined by Jeremey Corbyn and notes that nuclear disarmament is not one of them.  So as a start it may be more or less fine but there should be nothing sacrosanct about it and if the movement develops the political foundations for it will as well.  In fact it is already inadequate – it does not mention Brexit.  Campaigning against Brexit should be a priority for Momentum and it should not be afraid to take the lead.

concluded

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