Corbyn wins and condemns himself to defeat

Image result for labour party conference 2019

The Labour Party has just decided, in advance of the general election that cannot be far off, that it won’t tell those who might think of voting for it whether, on the big issue of our time, it is in favour of Brexit or against it.  It wants instead to unite the nation around the belief that this is so unimportant that you don’t really need to know.

According to its leader Brexit might, or might not, be better than Remain, although if you believe what he says about his ability to strike a ‘credible’ deal, that might indicate to you that your support for Labour will result in support for Brexit.

Or, if Johnson decides to go for a deal that the EU will accept, it might well mean that Labour will support that deal instead. Perhaps by allowing it to pass through parliament so it can then be opposed by way of referendum, if it gets one?  Not very consistent and not very principled, but since when have these qualities ever contaminated Labour’s position on Brexit since the referendum?

The Party says it ‘respects’ the 2016 referendum result.  Any deal would undoubtedly involve a transition period within which future arrangements would be determined, so that the Labour Party could perhaps claim to have another opportunity to negotiate its own Brexit final arrangements.

After all, a Johnson deal would not be far from the Theresa May deal and the Party spent long enough before deciding not to support it.  Forced in the future by any parliamentary majority in support of such a deal the Party would be compelled to stop playing games and might find it hard not to continue ‘respecting’ the referendum result and allow the Tories to have their Brexit.

There is therefore absolutely no reason why the absurd position Labour has concocted should not throw up further absurdities, already its competitors in the opposition are picking apart the corpse of Labour’s non-opposition to Brexit.

But of course all this means that the real position of the Party is not to remain neutral but to continue to see how a ‘good’ Brexit could be obtained.  Not that this matters.

The Labour leadership wants its members and supporters to continue to play the role of mushrooms and to forget that with this policy it received less than 15% of the vote in the European elections. It wants everyone to forget about being out-polled by the Liberal Democrats for the first time since 1910, a party on the way out just before; forget that it failed to win a majority in 2017 with 40% of the vote but has only around two-thirds of that support now in one opinion poll after another.

So, it doesn’t matter because Labour will go into the election with a dishonest position, that makes no sense even on its own terms; that has proved a failure in the European and local elections; that is opposed by the vast majority of its members and big majority of its supporters, and that will most certainly lead to defeat.

Worst of all, its true position – support for Brexit – is a reactionary policy that will condemn workers in Britain and the North of Ireland to severe attacks on their living standards and democratic rights.

Socialists cannot support such a policy and such a perspective.  All other Labour promises mean nothing in light of it since the economic decline that Brexit will cause will rule them out anyway.  Brexit as a Tory policy will be delivered as a Tory policy by its authors.

From now on the Labour leadership can promise no more than defeat and trailing after the agenda-setting Tories.  All the anti-Tory invective and promises of a Labour transformation are now meaningless.  Rarely has opportunism been so inopportune.  So why is this?

Undoubtedly much of the Labour leadership such as McDonnell knows that the policy is a disaster – the evidence is too obvious to ignore, but they cling to Corbyn because the union bureaucrats cling to him.  They in turn aren’t interested in transformation but only in having a friendly state bureaucracy with which to cut deals, which requires a Labour Government. The failure of the Corbyn project to democratise the party means that these leadership figures have no base outside of him, which is unfortunate since he has just shit all over it so he won’t have one soon either.

The apparatus around Corbyn is Stalinist and believes in a purely national road to what it calls socialism but which has just exhibited what this really means by the vote at the conference. First Corbyn explains the new Brexit policy on the Andrew Marr show; then screws up getting rid of one Blairite Deputy Leader; then cobbles an NEC decision and conference resolution without a meeting and discussion; and then doesn’t bother to properly count the vote in the conference before it trumpets success over the membership.

For some, this type of politics is just a variety of socialism, a difference in approach among various others, but once again Stalinism has proved itself to have nothing to do with socialism.  Stalin thought control of the apparatus of the Soviet State would ensure perpetual rule of his degenerate system and history has given its verdict on that.  As I noted in my last post on this, Corbyn and his Stalinist coterie believe that a Corbyn Labour Party can be assured, not by democratising the Party, but by a Corbyn apparatus.  This idea will go the same way as the Soviet Union, only much more quickly.

At such times it would seem appropriate to make a call for ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’ but it’s necessary to be clear what this means.  “Pessimism of the intellect’ – don’t recoil from the conclusions to be drawn from Corbyn’s failure – ‘Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit’ – makes no sense at all, and would be a case of what is now called cognitive dissonance. “Optimism of the Will” – don’t recoil from acting on this conclusion by breaking from Corbyn and creating firmer ground for socialists inside and outside the Party.

The Labour conference has shown there is plenty of room in politics for duplicity, insincerity and underhandedness.  What there isn’t room for is stupidity, which means there is no room for Corbyn’s Brexit policy and no room for him.

 

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!

Image result for corbyn at tuc conference 2019

Yesterday I came across a discussion on Radio 4 between a former advisor to Jeremy Corbyn and a Liberal Democrat MP, centred mainly on their Parties’ prospects in a general election.  The advisor seemed shocked at the radical nature of the suggestion that Article 50 be revoked, although many of then millions against Brexit might approve.  He argued that putting the two options in a referendum of a credible Brexit deal (negotiated by Labour) and Remain would appeal to both Leavers and Remainers.

If they could bottle such stupidity Hollywood would make a film starring Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise ,whose mission – should they choose to accept it – would be to prevent the bottle being broken by terrorists, so releasing the deadly stupidity virus among the whole population.

A majority of leavers want to leave with no deal, so either have no idea or don’t care about the damage that Brexit will do.  Most Leavers just want it over with and certainly don’t want any further delay.  They aren’t going to vote for Labour and another referendum, as far as they’re concerned they’ve already voted and they don’t see the need to do it again.

On the other side of the fence there aren’t millions of Remainers hoping that Corbyn will negotiate his own Brexit deal.  They don’t want any sort of Brexit deal, ‘credible’ or not.   Many Labour voters who support Remain, who are the vast majority of Labour voters, have tried repeatedly to tell Corbyn that the Party should oppose Brexit, not come up with its own version.  Many of them voted Liberal Democrat and Green in the European elections in May, and in a recent opinion poll in early September almost one in five who voted Labour in the 2017 general election said they will still vote Liberal Democrat in the next one.

They no longer trust Corbyn, who spent weeks trying to see if Theresa May’s deal could be supported, and it doesn’t matter from the point of view of honesty if this was sincere or not. The party bureaucracy prevented debate on Brexit by the members at one party conference and at the next disingenuously had a motion put together that appeared to move to an anti-Brexit stance but allowed him to continue to propose a Labour Brexit, while the sound of silence hung over whether the Party would then support it.

Even after the drubbings in the European and local elections and the shift he seemed to make in an anti-Brexit direction, the speech by Corbyn to the TUC conference this week makes plain that a Labour negotiated Brexit deal is still central.  And no one can be sure he wouldn’t do the entirely logical thing and support any Brexit deal he had just negotiated.  He still thinks that there is a good ‘jobs’ Brexit out there so why wouldn’t he?  And why then would Remainers see this as a possible way forward except out of sheer desperation?

The proposal to put a ‘credible’ Brexit and Remain option to a referendum will not attract Leavers and Remainers but will raise the hackles of both and particularly of many previous loyal Labour voters. There isn’t a shortage of reasons to oppose this Corbyn policy even without its awful electoral implications.

There is no such thing as a good Brexit, either left or right.  The thinking behind a left one is that the British  state, unencumbered by EU rules, will build a strong and prosperous social democratic society.  But this forgets that the foundation of any society is a strong productive base and this base will be dramatically weakened by Brexit, as trade is disrupted and reduced, and investment flows out of Britain and away from it as a possible destination.

The Stalinist inspiration for this in the form of ‘socialism in one country’ is obvious, personified by some of Corbyn’s advisors, but the inspiration from some so-called Trotskyists arises from their belief that advances by the working class, telescoped into the idea of near term political revolution, will arise from capitalist crisis, which shall compel workers to adopt their crisis programme.  It’s the advanced country version of ‘year zero’ in which it doesn’t really matter the state of society the revolutionary party on top of the new state takes over, all the ideas of Marx about the primacy of the productive forces and relations is just so much theory, to be discussed academically by the academics who lead some of these organisations.  Internationalism is a word, a long word that appears to hover a long way from practical politics and is simply a moral value free from the capitalist society from which it must spring.

What this means for Corbyn’s credible Brexit alternative is that it isn’t at all credible.  His previous idea of all the benefits of membership of the Single Market and customs union, while having a say in these without EU membership; plus making independent trade deals and exclusion from free movement are delusional.  The EU could not possibly agree to these proposals, which means his ‘credible’ alternative is completely uncredible.

The idea that he would negotiate a Brexit that could only be worse for workers and a Remain option as two valid choices has invited justified incredulity.  Why would the Labour Party invite workers to choose between their Brexit deal and Remain if it didn’t think its Brexit was any good?  In such circumstances it could only mean Labour support for Brexit.

The idea that you could get this policy adopted could only be entertained when you rely on the membership not being able to stop you, and this means betraying the promise of democratising the Party.  For Corbyn and his advisors, it appears that the Party will shift left through left control of the apparatus and decision making from above, as the Stalinist school of socialism inspires wider application.

This plus all the strangulation about Labour’s Brexit policy means that Corbyn himself more and more lacks credibility, itself a consequence of setting himself up as a politician particularly defined by his honesty, demonstrated by his history of principled stands for ‘unpopular’ causes. He is now rated less trustworthy than the well-known liar Johnson, blowing up the idea that Brexit policy could be quarantined from other economic policy.

In the words of the Scots poet Rabbie Burns –

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

In the Radio 4 interview the recent Labour advisor stated that Labour would not be looking for EU membership should Britain leave, with no qualification that I could hear.  Why would Remain Labour supporters sign up to that?

Now it is argued that Corbyn is right to allow the party to take a ‘neutral’ position, just as Harold Wilson did during the 1975 referendum.

Apart from Wilson hardly being a left-wing hero of the Labour Party, this ignores the fact that we have already had the referendum and the time for any sort of neutrality is long gone. Just like Wilson’s ‘renegotiation’ of the terms of membership, Corbyn’s proposed renegotiation of Brexit is a cover for support for whatever come out of the negotiation – there is no point otherwise.

Expecting Corbyn to see the light is therefore a forlorn hope.  If getting less than 15% in a national vote doesn’t get the message through it’s difficult to see what would.  Only the membership in the Party conference can change policy for the next election and that is what it must do.

Fighting Fire with Fire

According to one piece of commentary in ‘The Guardian’, the utterly brilliant Svengali behind Boris Johnson knows that people are fed up with Brexit and confused by all the shenanigans at Westminster.  They just want it done and will lap up the grand promises of an end to austerity announced by Johnson’s new Government – new police, new teachers and more money for the NHS.  The opposition will bang on about Brexit, but Johnson knows that people are fed up with Brexit and confused by all the opposition intrigues at Westminster.

Since there is going to be a general election soon, whatever uncertainty exists about its timing, the Johnson plan is clear in this respect, and according to the psephologist John Curtice, with an average nine point lead in the polls, he has a 50/50 chance of winning. Perhaps only if he was forced by the opposition to request an extension to Article 50 from the European Union would he lose so much credibility that he would be sunk.

The concern of the opposition has been that if Labour supported an election now Johnson would ensure it was held after 31 October, allowing the UK to fall out of the EU without a deal.  This means postponing an election until either the requirement for Johnson to ask for an extension has passed into law or has come into effect.

It appears fairly clear to more and more observers however that Johnson intends to keep to his pledge not to request such an extension by simply refusing to ask for one and/or resigning as prime minister and asking the fractured opposition to form an alternative Government. At this point we would get into everyone telling Jeremy Corbyn that he couldn’t possibly head-up any even temporary administration and a list of right wing figures would be put up as the ‘unifying’ leader. If such a proposal was accepted Corbyn would be finished and the Labour right would be as quick as Johnson to get rid of its opposition inside the Party.

In this case only the EU could do anything about the UK leaving and without domestic cover this would be difficult to justify, and for whom and to what end would it do it?

Seemingly trapped by Parliamentary arithmetic and arcane procedure, Johnson has a way out by ignoring both.  Trapped by Parliamentary arithmetic and arcane procedure the radical Jeremy Corbyn has become a prisoner of it.  Any route to a general election appears to allow Johnson to remain as the leader of the no-deal cause, unsullied by compromise, and achieve a no-deal exit. Were Corbyn to win leadership of a caretaker Government the issue is simply postponed but with Johnson still running with the same narrative and an election not very far off.

So the argument has been when Labour should agree to an election.  Should it do so as soon as possible so that it would have the chance to put an alternative to no-deal to the people and win a majority to reject it, or afterwards when it will be too late, and Johnson had resigned and Corbyn perhaps left with insufficient votes to form a Government and/or been displaced as a result? All other things being equal the principled and correct thing to do would be to agree an election as soon as possible.

Of course it is still argued that Johnson will ensure that an election called now takes place after the default no-deal exit kicks in, so the call for it has to be postponed.  But if it is postponed and Johnson later resigns, successfully exposing the divided nature of the opposition then Johnson will have successfully guided a no deal Brexit anyway.  If unsuccessful an election can’t be far away as the opposition is deeply divide and is really mostly in competition with each other.

The answer to his sharp practice is not to rely on cute Parliamentary stratagems (that can foreseeably be nullified) but rely on our own strength as an organised movement with the clear sympathy of the majority of the population.  How we get this majority to be part of the struggle is therefore the question that needs answers.

In the longer term of course Brexit will be shown to be disastrous and undiluted Tory responsibility for it is a very good thing.  The danger involved in this is the success that a no-deal might achieve in destroying workers’ rights and living standards while it lasts.  But again this argues for the mobilisation and organisation of the British labour movement and working class more generally, not parliamentary manoeuvring.  It also requires commitment by Labour to reverse Article 50 as quickly as possible, and there is no reason why this should not be argued for now, showing that there is a way out of this mess no matter what Johnson does.

So if Johnson can steer a no deal, or have a very good chance of doing so, no matter what parliamentary options are taken, and the only way to ensure he is stopped is through an alternative Government saying he will be stopped no matter when he calls it, the only option that appears to make sense is to allow an election as soon as possible and make Johnson (instead of Corbyn) the target of the charge of being slippery, duplicitous and cowardly if he tries to shift its date until after October 31. ‘We will reverse the decision to leave the EU as soon as we can’ should be the Labour response, otherwise any Labour Government after a no-deal Brexit will have to preside over the disaster and take responsibility for the inadequate steps to mitigate the mess.

Had Labour strongly opposed Brexit for the last three years by pointing out that the demands of the Tories were impossible to achieve, it would have been proved correct over and over again.  Instead the argument that there was a ‘good’ Brexit allowed chancer after chancer from Farage to May to Johnson to claim that they could do it.  On the other side the Liberals and others could quite rightly say that there is no good Brexit and Labour is putting itself in the way of stopping it.  The most useless Tory Prime Ministers and most incompetent Governments have failed even on their own terms, yet have their Party ahead of Labour in the polls, and that despite the Brexit party!

From being ridiculed as an ineffective, if sincere, leader and a straight talking ‘un-politician like’ politician, Corbyn’s disingenuous contortions on Brexit mean he is now more plausibly ridiculed as an ineffective,if sincere,leader and a mealy-mouthed triangulating ‘typical’ politician.  The new and fresh approach that blazed a trail in the 2017 election and up-ended the opinion polls isn’t possible now, or at least not in the way it was achieved last time.

This is true mainly because of Corbyn’s current hopeless position on Brexit, which promises an extension to the exit deadline and a second referendum with a Remain option on the ballot but also leaves open the possibility of him trying to get a new Brexit deal.  In other words, repeating Theresa May’s attempt to negotiate a deal with red lines that can’t be negotiated and objectives which no Brexit can deliver e.g. a ‘jobs’ Brexit.

Johnson’s promises of an end to austerity also mean it’s not possible to place Labour anti-austerity against years of Tory cuts in the same way.  Of course the Tories may be lying but the Brexit supporters that are his base are happy to sign up to these lies because they sustain the illusion that Brexit is a good thing.  They do indeed want to forget about Brexit and just get it done because thinking about it is not conducive to sustaining their prejudices and illusions.  Voting for more money for public services promised by a Johnson Government is just the sort of message that is consistent with their prejudices and illusions.

Labour may offer greater public spending increases and question the sincerity of Johnson’s promises but if he looks like he’s delivering on a no-deal – out by the 31 October no matter what – then he might have enough credibility with enough people.  The most obvious problem with the Tory U-turn on austerity is that Brexit will so damage the source of funding for increased state expenditure that you can’t do both.  But this brings us back to Brexit as the key issue and the necessity for a clear message.

Labour has a lot going for it, including the incompetence and lack of credibility of the opposition among a majority of the electorate.  A very large majority is also against no deal so why not have an election before it has happened to capture this constituency? This, however, requires a clear and consistent message of unqualified opposition to Brexit, and consistency is also a function of time, time more than wasted by Corbyn’s support for a ‘jobs’ Brexit.

As in all elections the Tories have and will mobilise its own support – especially in the press – and will be unified around the Johnson project.  Corbyn, on the other hand is surrounded by enemies and leads a divided party.  He has had four years to democratise the Party and get rid of the treacherous right wing MPs and failed to do so.

The biggest advantage the Party has is that it is the political arm of a movement with millions of members including 500,000 members of the Party, but they have been given no role to change the Party into an activist movement. The millions who have marched against Brexit could have had Corbyn leading them but he chose to offer something else that satisfied neither Leavers nor Remainers.  Even the anti-coup protests take place without clear leadership from the top.

That Corbyn has had potentially so much going for him but has spurned it means that much hope of preventing Johnson relies in the latter’s incompetence and the hope that the now Remain majority, and bigger majority against no-deal, will unify around Labour despite its Brexit stance, which may harden, although in what direction? Elections can polarise opinions and the political messages from the parties in response, and it is to be hoped that the mobilisation against the Johnson coup and against Brexit will swing those against Brexit behind Labour, but Corbyn has to look like he is ready to lead them where they want to go.

It’s not about supporting Jeremy Corbyn anymore

The article below was written just before Jeremy Corbyn decided to enter ‘stupidest politician of the year competition’. Having seen Labour punished in two elections for supporting Brexit he has decided to reaffirm this support and again put on a very long finger the prospect of a second referendum, this time even ruling out Remain as an option.  In doing so showing as much contempt for democracy outside the Labour Party as he has shown for it inside, ignoring as he does the shift to a Remain majority.

Socialists should be clear that his position on the most vital question of the day is thoroughly reactionary. Most people can record this empirically through the leadership and support for Brexit coming from the right and far-right and through the growth of racism and general xenophobia that it has encouraged. Others have realised the damage it will do to the capitalist economy, also realising that such damage has nothing to do with creating a socialist alternative.

It is fundamentally reactionary because it seeks not to replace capitalism, as a reformist we would not expect that, but to make reforms to it through winding the clock back to a time when capitalism was essentially a national phenomenon, where there may have been a world market, but not world production.  Brexit, in fact, implies such a disruption and narrowing of trade that it seeks even to retreat from the world market never mind the international division of labour.

It seeks not to replace the capitalist state, again as a reformist we would not expect that, but to make more perfect the capitalist state that exists, a more perfect national state, without the international features that arise from the internationalisation of trade and production.  Worse, it is a belief that what international interaction that must exist can involve influencing international political arrangements but not being subject to any influences in return, which by necessity limit national policy making.

This is clearest in Corbyn’s idea that Britain can be in a customs union and wider trading arrangements within the EU, and have a say in its policy, but not be a member, with all the obligations this entails.  It is also clear from his opposition to free movement of people and belief that socialism will come to Britain by its own state, and not by the actions of the working class, which cannot ultimately be defined or limited by nationality.

Brexit thus has to compress the productive forces that have spread across the world into a purely national framework that they long ago burst asunder, within a declining nation and its weakening economy.  This project can therefore only fail and fail so badly that it will not get past the first engagement with the EU.  Britain can no longer determine the terms of its interaction with the rest of the world, which is why it only makes sense from the right-wing reactionary point of view that somehow Britain is still or will become a world power again, or Empire 2.0 as it has been dubbed.

It is reactionary because it attempts to change the world by taking capitalism backwards, not build on its growth, development and achievements.  Any such attempt, if it were successful, would produce the monstrosities of Stalinism that came into being during the twentieth century.  But of course, it won’t even get that far.  Even the attempt to go back to the national stage of capitalism championed by the reactionary right cannot succeed, because capitalism will not go backwards, unless it transforms itself/is transformed into something else entirely.

Socialism will be built upon the creations of capitalism and its highest developments, not its earliest and most primitive forms.  Only a fully developed, educated and cultured working class can build a socialist society, which depends on it being an international class, and this in turn depends on the international development of capitalism itself.  There is not, and cannot be, an international working class without an international capitalism from which it arises.

This is what is truly reactionary about any idea of socialism that seeks to retard capitalism and turn it back from its international development – it sets back and subverts the only possible source of socialism.

*         *            *

“Let the people decide the country’s future, either in a general election or through a public vote on any deal agreed by parliament. For Labour any outcome has to work for our whole country, not just one side of this deliberately inflamed divide.”

So said Jeremy Corbyn after the disastrous European election results.  It’s his version of Theresa May’s “nothing has changed” – the world changes dramatically, but their view of it is frozen.

Which isn’t necessarily a problem if your view of the world is correct, if it has understood the change and determined correctly the course of action. Theresa May’s “nothing has changed” came to reflect her inability to get a Brexit that fulfilled the impossible promises of Brexit with the only deal she could negotiate.  She only said it once, but sometimes once is more than enough.

And now Jeremy Corbyn continues to proclaim that he wants an outcome that works for everyone – Leavers and Remainers – as thoroughly dishonest as Theresa May’s version because it’s Brexit with similar impossible promises as her’s.  In his case, it’s a policy that opinion polls show must ignore the wider and stronger identification people have with Remain and Leave than with Labour and Tory, so that hoping to rely on the latter to over-ride the former just won’t work.

And we know it won’t work because we have had local elections and now European elections that reveal the collapse of the Tory and shredding of the Labour vote.  But still we get the Corbyn meme that Labour policy must work for everyone.  He fails to appreciate that Brexit is a policy for the (very) Few and not the Many. And that millions of Labour voters didn’t vote for the Party, or voted for the Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru and SNP.  After all, they have a range on Remainer choices.  Only a much smaller number voted for the Brexit Party, which shows the reactionary character of the policy Corbyn clings to

It is claimed that a general election will be different because the Tories will be offering a hard Brexit and Labour supporters will be compelled to vote against them.  There are so many things wrong with this it’s hard to say what is the most important.  A ‘Corbyn’ transformation based on no more than hatred of the Tories?  A vote against a Tory no-deal Brexit which would mean supporting another Brexit prospectus based on the same impossible conditions that led to a withdrawal deal so pointless it led to support for no deal – in other words a vote for a Labour Brexit that has nowhere to go but the same dead end that May ended up in? And all those voters will be won back to gain a Labour majority when Labour is 5th in Scotland, third in Wales and down to 14%?

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

Brexit will still be the issue in a general election.

It is also claimed that Labour’s message was confusing, but Corbyn’s policy of attempting to cover-up policy by process was supposed to be confusing.  Except most people are not confused – they understandd perfectly well that his policy is to support Brexit.  You can’t repeat “respect the referendum result”, put forward your own Brexit ‘plan’ and spend weeks negotiating with the Tories to get a joint Brexit without revealing that you support Brexit.

Now there is a debate raging about whether the Party should support a Peoples Vote.  But the majority of Labour supporters of a ‘Peoples Vote’ only want it to stop Brexit.  It’s not about a referendum – if Labour supported some version of Brexit to be approved by a referendum Corbyn would be politically as dead as a Monty Python parrot. On the other had, If the Labour Party had vigorously opposed Brexit the march of 1 million people would have been demanding a general election and a Labour Government.  Instead it was led by Liberals who were allowed to come back from the dead and Chukka who is now irrelevant.  The real leader of that demonstration was missing, so no wonder so many on it kept on walking into the polling booth and will continue to do so, ignoring him as he ignored them.

The increasingly delusional and rancid nature of Brexit statements by supporters on the left reveal the growing contradiction between its claims about the progressive character of Brexit and the more and more obvious reality.  From being a necessary break from neoliberalism they went on to claim that it really wasn’t that important after all, to some now saying that Corbyn’s problem is that he isn’t Brexit enough.  They seem utterly oblivious to the fact that this trajectory of supporting Brexit (without a clue as to how it could happen), to support for the most extreme version, is exactly the same as the right-wing leadership of the movement they are so obviously trailing behind.

A similar process is now underway inside the Party, with the Brexit supporters more and more exposed as their ‘confusion’ becomes less confusing and the disastrous results of their policy bears fruit.  The latest article in ‘The Guardian’ is but one more example.

Inside it Ian Lavery, the Party chair, puts together an article less rancid than the Stalinist nonsense in ‘The Morning Star’ but every bit as delusional and misleading.

“Our duty is to heal rifts, not exacerbate them”, he starts, as he surveys the failure.

“Polls in the run-up to the European elections showed that voters did not understand Labour’s position on Brexit. Conference had voted to leave all options on the table to stop a destructive Tory Brexit and our position has been fairly straightforward.” So all options were on the table and this is straightforward?

We are told that “Labourlost voters in all directions and polling appears to show middle-class voters moving to the Lib Dems and Greens, with working-class people moving to the Brexit party.” A repeat of the nonsense that the working class voted Brexit and the middle class Remain – a middle class that is getting bigger by the day it would appear.

He claims that he “has opposed a so-called public vote, not least because parliament has no majority for it in principle and nobody has the faintest idea what we would actually put on the ballot,” although I think most Remain supporters would be able to help him with the wording.

“It does feel that a certain portion of “leftwing intellectuals” are sneering at ordinary people and piling on those trying to convey the feelings of hundreds of thousands of Labour voters. Perhaps, in reflecting on the results, we should consider the effect all of this has had.”  So, it’s ‘not my fault guv’nor’ – it’s those intellectuals, who, like the middle class, seem to have developed extraordinary powers.

“We’d do well to remember that Labour is an internationalist party of social and economic justice”, says the advocate of the policy of national isolation – called ‘sovereignty’; restriction on freedom of movement and a British road to social democracy.

“We cannot win a general election by simply fighting for the biggest share of 48% and, while some polling data suggests more people left Labour for the Greens and the Lib Dems, it is equally concerning to see leakage to the Brexit”, says he who thinks the percentage of the Labour vote going to the Brexit Party is the same as that going to Remain parties.

It reminds me of the Paul Merton joke on ‘Have I got News for You’, who proclaimed concern for the ‘ho’s’ when Czechoslovakia split between the Czechs and Slovaks.  His policy must presumably be to go for the 0% who don’t give a f***.

“The reason we are in this mess is because those in government who engineered the original referendum had no idea what to do if they lost” – as if it was the Tories responsibility not to shred the Labour vote.

“Polling expert Professor John Curtice has lambasted the People’s Vote campaign because of its failure to attract any significant support from the leave side of the argument”, he says, except when you go to the link the Professor doesn’t lambast the People’s Vote campaign.

But, it is, as they say, a poor book from which you can learn nothing, and Lavery manages to say something very true: “Given that it is associated almost entirely with the remain campaign, it does raise the question as to why its proponents don’t simply issue a call to remain . . .”, which is of course correct.

As I have said, the only point of another referendum for the large majority of Labour activists, members and voters is to prevent Brexit.  Lavery tells us that we are headed for a no-deal but he is mainly concerned simply to accept it – “For some, the prospect of no deal is too frightening to countenance, but we need to be prepared for what is an ever growing threat.”

“If we do crash out on 31 October some on the right will be eager to exploit their newfound freedom to roll back protections in the workplace, exploit the environment and enrich themselves. We need to be united and ready to rally the entire Labour movement and all progressive forces in the country against this.  If the Tories do take us over the edge, we must be ready to spell out what a Labour future for our country looks like outside of the EU.”

He doesn’t explain why such freedom should be given to them and why therefore we shouldn’t campaign against their reactionary project by opposing Brexit altogether.  It would therefore be good if he could actually explain what a Labour country would look like outside the EU, after a fall in the value of the currency; capital flight; drop in new investment; disruption to trade and its consequent reduction in jobs and incomes.

Perhaps he believes that the British State, which alone seems to be potentially uniquely progressive (or why leave all the other capitalist states in the EU?), will start making cars made only in Britain and all the other goods that cannot be made in the UK.  Perhaps he believes that having blamed foreigners for the austerity and inequality he can then turn round and reject charges that it is immigrants and non-whites who are still the problem for the greater austerity and inequality that must follow Brexit.

The real consequences of Brexit, and not delusions about what might happen, are what has led a majority to now oppose Brexit.  The elections now confirm opinion polls and other evidence such as the enormous demonstrations and the petition of six million.

Politics isn’t about forgiveness.  As Corbyn seeks to continue his dissembling support for Brexit the membership cannot afford to wait to give, or withhold forgiveness.  It’s time to change party policy to complete opposition to Brexit, and if Corbyn gets in the way that’s his problem.

Brexit and the far right

I’ve read a number of articles saying that the major issue facing British workers is the rise of the far-right, appearing now in the shape either of Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party or the racists and fascists around Tommy Robinson.  The answer to this is usually suggested to be a united campaign by socialists opposing racism and the fascists.

I don’t believe this to be the case – the major issue is, and has been, opposition to Brexit and the continuing effort to implement it.  It is Brexit that has rallied the reactionaries, given them a real success through the referendum and emboldened them to make more and more explicit threats as to what will happen if Brexit isn’t implemented.

In this respect these forces are no different from the increasingly bitter Tories and the unorganised bigots who have felt free to express their long-held racism through verbal and physical attacks.  The combined forces of these reactionaries mustered only a few thousand outside Parliament, while the anti-Brexit demonstration counted over a million.  It should therefore be clear that the major impact of a defeat for Brexit would not be the excitement of the reactionaries to greater fury but imposition of a crushing defeat.

Some of the supporters of the idea that the racists and fascists are the issue are those who have assisted these forces by supporting Brexit themselves, which can only disorient their supporters, give some legitimacy to the reactionaries’ cause and, not least, import their nationalism into the workers’ movement.  The latest example is the statement by George Galloway that he will vote for Farage’s Brexit Party.

Thus, an additional impact is the proposal of the mistaken orientation that the major task is to oppose the racists and fascists.  These forces have greater visibility and impact because their chauvinism is the most extreme form of the nationalism that lies behind the whole Brexit project.  It is therefore easy to sell it as the only real and authentic version.  They thus have a cause they can claim has been legitimised by popular vote.

The standard response of left organisations is to seek the widest unity, irrespective of what are claimed to be secondary issues, to confront the racists and fascists on the streets.  However, by consciously evading Brexit they even weaken their own misdirected strategy.

And they do this by ignoring the real issue.  They surrender legitimacy to the cause of which the reactionaries claim to be the true defenders.  They have purely negative arguments to the positive (however reactionary) cause that the reactionaries put forward, and they are defenceless against their claims to be the real democrats.  The key task is blurred, if not ditched, by thinking that unity with the Brexit supporting left will address the problems that Brexit has itself aggravated immensely.

Above all, it seriously underestimates the significance of the anti-working class attack that the Brexit project involves.  Its implementation would see rapid attacks on the rights and living standards of British workers and increased racist attacks by the State and street thugs.  Even if you thought increased xenophobia and racism by the far right was the major problem, the only way to prevent it getting worse, and actually reverse it, would be stop Brexit in its tracks.

But recognising Brexit as the issue leads to other conclusions.  At the moment the main effort to push some sort of Brexit that can be implemented includes the leadership of the Labour Party.  Despite hopes that this leadership would lead the Party to create a social movement that fully involves its members, the Labour leadership has shown that old-Labour politics of the left doesn’t have much more regard for democracy than the politics of the new-Labour right.

The task after Corbyn was elected was to democratise the Party and this remains the case.  To do so means fighting Brexit and implementing the overwhelming view of the Party’s members and supporters that it should be scrapped.  Such has been the decades of reaction that many seem not to want to carry out this task as vigorously as is required, perhaps because they have bought into Corbyn as much, if not more, that what he appeared to represent.  Unfortunately Brexit and his support for it shows the limits of old-style Labour politics, and the first casualty of Corbyn’s support for Brexit is his reputation for honesty and plain speaking.  The last casualty could be the success of the Party itself.

This reluctance to criticise or organise in spite of Corbyn, and against him if necessary, risks demoralising the mass membership on which the current future of socialism in Britain depends.  So, while Corbyn argues for a Brexit that is little different from Theresa May’s Withdrawal Deal, perhaps the Labour membership should also take their example from their Tory equivalents.

The rank and file of the Tory Party are as in favour of Brexit as their Labour opposites are against it, and are attempting to call an extraordinary general meeting of the Party to get rid of Theresa May to ensure Brexit goes through, deal or no deal. Like the Tory rank and file who are fed up waiting for Brexit, Labour members have been waiting for a general election or the Party to actually support a second referendum.  But both May and Corbyn seem to be doing everything to run down the clock, prevented only by the fact that Brexit would be a disaster quite quickly without significant amelioration of its effects. Accepting what these are and what their cost would be for the Brexit project has prevented an agreed deal.

Today, the real fight for British socialists is to stop Brexit and to mobilise the ranks of the Labour Party against it.  Corbyn matters only in so far as he facilitates working class organisation and the progressive measures that a social democratic Labour Government could introduce.  Brexit threatens both and so does Corbyn’s support for it.

Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement 1

The British parliament has voted for a no deal Brexit through the Tory demand that the backstop, that would prevent a hard border inside Ireland, should be removed.  Theresa May has gone to Europe (again) and been told the Withdrawal Agreement will not be re-opened for negotiation.  Her humiliation (again) was partially avoided by attention switching to Donald Tusk’s remark about a special place in hell for those who led Brexit without a plan.

Theresa May continues to kick the can down the road in an attempt to blackmail MPs into supporting her deal as the only way to avoid a no deal exit.  The alternative is an extension of Article 50 to postpone the dreaded decision.

But lo and behold, here then comes Jeremy Corbyn to overturn his demand that the Withdrawal Agreement pass his six tests and instead he demands five tests from the Political Declaration. Since this declaration has no legal force it is purely a political document, which doesn’t make it unimportant but does mean it can contain all sorts of pious wishes and contradictory or impossible elements that could in large part contain what Corbyn has said he wants.  Less charitably it’s not binding and not worth the paper it’s written on.

This may have three effects. It gets May’s deal over the line and we have Brexit.  It makes the Tory deal the basis of this Brexit and it makes them responsible for whatever ensues – as in British business continuing to shift to the rest of Europe that remains part of the EU.  A fourth effect is that Corbyn is seen to be consistent in his demand for a ‘jobs’ Brexit while also sticking to Labour Party policy.

Of course, only one of these is true – the most important one – that Brexit happens.  Corbyn having facilitated Brexit will also own it, and will not be seen to have put into effect what the majority of Labour members thought they were getting from the party’s conference resolution.

In one sense, in supporting the May deal, Corbyn can claim consistency, since both he and May have claimed benefits for Brexit that do not exist; and both have tried to ignore the wishes of the majority of the members of their respective parties.  Left supporters of Brexit claim that such a deal will split the Tories but they ignore the parallel process in the Labour Party.

To hide their complicity in this Tory project the left Brexiteers now regularly claim it doesn’t really matter because Brexit isn’t that important – we shouldn’t get that worked up about it, and really we shouldn’t take sides.  But if there’s one argument that really gets my goat it is this one – having voted for Brexit and a Tory initiative they are trying to cover their tracks.  Their argument is not only bogus but thoroughly dishonest.  Like the right-wing supporters of Brexit the project can only get by on lies, and it doesn’t matter who is telling them, for what purpose or with what motivation.

Corbyn is in the process of betraying the membership in a disregard for their views that equals that of Tony Blair, from whom he was supposed to be so different.  The only hope here is that May does not feel able to get her deal through her party with Labour support and/or the ranks of the Labour Party rise up to prevent the biggest betrayal yet, as they did with the leadership attempt to abstain on Tory immigration plans.

It is not therefore exluded that no deal will happen.

This has provoked the charge that the Tories are effectively tearing up the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). This is sometimes followed by the forecast that this will lead to a vote for a united Ireland on the basis that the majority in the North of Ireland supported and continue to support remaining in the EU.

I don’t believe this to be true.

First, it’s debateable whether a no deal Brexit would amount to tearing up the Good Friday Agreement, either legally or in spirit.

If we take the legal position first, the UK Supreme Court in 2017 stated that the GFA ‘assumed’ but did not ‘require” UK membership of the EU.  Legal academics have claimed that the GFA requires citizens’ rights in the North, and human rights in particular, to be equivalent with the Irish State, but the GFA does not require the UK to be a member of EU’s human rights institutions or signed up to its standards. The GFA contains provisions for establishment of a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights but that’s a dead letter as is the provision for a civic forum.  The North does not have women’s reproductive rights and nor is there the right to gay marriage, unlike the South, but no one is saying that the GFA is therefore dead.

The Common Travel Area will be put under strain by a hard Brexit as EU migrants freely entering through Dublin may be able to cross the border, if that border is ‘soft’, and then travel on to Britain with few checks if there is also no ‘border’ between the island of Ireland and Britain.

Since the main rationale for Brexit was control and reduction of immigration, and its introduction will embolden sundry reactionaries on this score, this will put pressure on to put a border somewhere.  The alternative would be a ‘hostile environment’ inside Britain (and also perhaps Northern Ireland) where daily transactions and activities are used in order to check people’s citizenship status, and we know that the Tories do hostile environments very well.

But these options too may not legally breach the GFA.  So what about its spirit?  Well, this very much depends on what you think the spirit of the GFA is and whether Brexit breaches it.  If you think it was a pacification process that is inherently sectarian then Brexit is hardly going to get you to complain that the GFA’s ‘spirit’ is threatened. What its spirit actually is has been demonstrated in practice, which means you have to ignore the unthinking rhetoric of the great and the good and look at how it has actually worked.

The Agreement has already been mangled and its centrepiece, the Stormont Assembly, has been suspended five times and has currently been suspended for over two years. Other parts of the Agreement, such as the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, hardly exist. Much of the waffle composed of promises relating to good faith, non-discrimination, equality, propriety and accountability with public funds, transparency etc. are thoroughly discredited by the reality of an incompetent, corrupt and sectarian Stormont administration.

The DUP never supported the GFA, so it can be no surprise it isn’t working.  Sinn Fein clung on to Stormont up to its most recent suspension until it became clear its voters would no longer tolerate the humiliation involved. They then rejected the party’s idea of a new deal.  The GFA isn’t working so it’s debateable that Brexit preventing it working makes any practical difference.

It has been pointed out that the EU had little to do with the creation of the Agreement and that, for example, the US had a more significant input.  The Agreement itself does not rely on it and the EU is not a party to it.

The letter of the Agreement states that the British and Irish Governments wish “to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union.” There is much about cross-border cooperation on a number of fronts, including agriculture, tourism and health etc. that will all be undermined by a no deal Brexit, but there is nothing that legally invalidates it.

The view that this will lead to a return to political violence rests partly on the lie, repeated endlessly, that the GFA led to the end of political violence, when the truth is that it was the other way round – the ceasefires preceded the political deal and the armed forces that ended the political violence, through the use of much more effective violence, are still present.

So the first part of the argument would appear not to hold; although it is not quite that simple.

to be continued

How bad is the Labour Party’s Brexit policy?

Britain’s main opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on the final day of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on September 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

When I read in a blog that the Labour Party may support Brexit in any second referendum I could scarcely believe it. Could anyone be that misguided?  Such a course of action would be an act of political suicide – a betrayal of its previous Remain position and the vast majority of its members, voters and millions of other potential supporters who opposed Brexit and have looked to Labour as an alternative to the Tories.

When I looked at the interview, the gormless Labour spokesman obviously said more than he wanted, but the interpretation of what he had said wasn’t denied, and the unfortunate fact is that it is as consistent with the party’s actions since the referendum as any other.

Even to think of such an eventuality for a second brings to mind so many ways in which it makes no sense at all, so much so that it is difficult to credit that it would even be considered – unless you were an unreconstructed Blairite hoping to discredit Jeremy Corbyn, and looking for one popular policy to champion opposition to the leadership.

Were such a position to be taken, the majority of Labour voters would vote against its party while the majority of Labour activists would either not campaign or more likely campaign against it. The Labour Party would find itself scrambling for the votes of Leavers who were committed Tories, UKIPers or backward workers who don’t normally vote or have voted Labour but are still wedded to the most reactionary prejudices despite their tribal loyalty.

It would be the culmination of a Brexit policy of non-opposition to the most inept Tory Government for decades, from what on paper is the most radical leadership of the Party for decades, if not ever.

But how else can we describe the quick reversal of opposition to Brexit after the referendum, or the policy that looks very like the one May has been forced into, or the moaning that if only she had worked with Labour a consensus approach to implementing Brexit could have been achieved?  All capped off in the past few weeks by a section of the Tories themselves raising a vote of no confidence in their leader – before the official opposition – and doing more to weaken the leadership and the Government than any of the secret and bizarre parliamentary manoeuvres promised by Labour.

So what on earth could be used to justify such an approach?  Luckily (?) I have just read an apologia for Labour’s strategy that attempts to provide some justification for it.

The attempt is trapped within what Marxists have called parliamentary cretinism and consists of a number of diversions that take us away from the main issue, including the claim that before anything else can be done the absolute priority is defeating Theresa May’s deal and no deal.  While it correctly characterises Brexit as harmful to working class interests it gracelessly slides into arguing that a hard Brexit is the real problem.

It claims that continuing to oppose Brexit after the referendum would be “seriously damaging electorally’, straight after acknowledging the overwhelming support of Labour members and voters for Remain.  Like every apology for capitulation to Leave’s essentially reactionary constituency not a thought is given to the dangers involved in betraying Remain supporters – they are just congratulated on their discipline.

Instead we are informed we must wait until some Leavers change their minds, forced by the course of events and the failure of the Tories, before Labour can show leadership by openly opposing Brexit as well.  That Labour itself might help to change minds or have their predictions of inevitable Brexit failure confirmed, so gaining support and confidence from voters, is not proposed.

Not surprisingly, since the Labour policy of a good Brexit, like that of the Tories, also claims Brexit can be delivered with all the benefits, including frictionless trade, even though this claim has now been comprehensively debunked.  Nothing that has happened since the referendum can be seen to support any of the promises made for Brexit.  Yet rather than run with the tide of events, the Party has followed incoherently behind, having all its claims rubbished through the repeated humiliation of the Tories.

The argument in defence of the Labour leadership approach points to polls showing the unpopularity of Theresa May’s deal as validation of its strategy.  The sacrifice of principle involved in failing to oppose the attack on workers’ interests, which the article says is the great guiding principle of Corbyn’s approach to Brexit, is forgotten, while there is no recognition of the effect of Tory failure on voters’ confidence that Labour’s Brexit deal would be any more likely to succeed.

Despite reference to the recognition by Corbyn himself that Brexit is the most important issue facing the House of Commons in the 35 years he has been in it, the argument is put that the most important issue is the formation of a Corbyn led Government itself, with “a Jeremy Corbyn led government after a Brexit . . . better for the working class than no Brexit but with a non-Corbyn led Labour Party.”

This is presented as the issue “in the clearest terms” when in fact the alternatives are put in order to cloud the essential choice facing the Party.  It is an argument that says that what makes a Corbyn Government important is not what it does but simply that it exists.

But Brexit will undermine the grounds for a Corbyn Government through weakening the economy and reducing the scope for reversing austerity.  The article recognises the harmful effects of Brexit but this is more or less ignored when it comes to supporting the policy of a ‘good’ Labour Brexit.

These criticisms are even before we take into account more fundamental issues – such as why Corbyn thinks the British state is so uniquely capable of progressive reform that it must separate from the rest of the EU, while the other states that form the rest of it are condemned to languish under austerity. What does this say for any professed belief in workers’ unity.  Or are British workers also uniquely incapable of uniting with those in other countries to advance common interests?

Apart from capitulation to the Leave position following the referendum (are the rest of us supposed to do this too?), the most obvious problem with Labour’s position is its idea that any Brexit deal could be good for British workers.  If this was true why did it not support Brexit in the first place?  If not, why support it now?

The problem of course is the same as that facing Theresa May’s proposed deal – that hoping to retain all the benefits of EU membership while incurring no costs is simply unobtainable, and robs anyone saying it of credibility.  The idea peddled by nostalgic-for-the-Empire Leavers that the EU would bow down to the demands of Great Britain have been quashed and it doesn’t really matter who asks. In fact, if the EU is governed solely be neoliberal bureaucrats there is more reason assume they would be kinder to Theresa May than to Jeremy Corbyn.

The article states that:

“It is not crucial at all whether Britain is inside or outside the political structures of the EU – that is whether Britain is formally a member of the EU. What is important is that the British economy has the best access to the EU market (as without that it cannot find a large enough market for efficient production), that it has the best access to imported inputs for its own industries (as in a modern economy supply chains are international in scope) etc. Without these, in present conditions, whole industries, such as cars, would be devastated, with huge loss of jobs, while the plunge in the exchange rate of the pound that would follow would be highly inflationary and reduce real wages. All these economic effects would be seriously damaging to working class living standards. Therefore, what is important is access to the economic structures of the EU – the Customs Union, the Single Market etc. That is why Labour’s six tests for any deal with the EU all focus on the economy.”

We are invited to accept that political membership of the EU doesn’t matter. Yet we are also told to accept that the Labour deal will have the “exact same benefits” as membership; that it will pass its six tests, which include defending rights and protections and preventing a race to the bottom, while protecting national security and ensuring “fair management of migration”.

The Party policy therefore has its own variety of have cake and eat it, so that it wants to exit the political arrangements but still have “a British say in future trade deals’ (according to Jeremy Corbyn).  It seems innocent of any idea that the EU will take further economic and political steps that will seek to strengthen its project and affect Britain, which will have no say in the shape of this development.  Because this “is not crucial at all”.

John McDonnell has said of the EU that ‘They’ve seen this deal isn’t going to work, so therefore other opportunities will have to be explored. And they want the best optimum solution that will protect the European economy overall, just as we wish to protect the UK economy.”

But, as has been explained again and again, the EU is prepared to suffer some economic losses due to Brexit because it would potentially face much greater losses if other nationalist parties sought similar loss-free exits from the Union.  Of course the losses suffered by Britain will be much greater, that is why the EU can accept a no deal in a way that Britain cannot, but then this is true, and an inevitable consequence, of Brexit in any shape or form.  Clever parliamentary games by the Labour Party can change nothing fundamental about this.

The article excuses its sacrifice of principle and its acknowledgement of the harmful effects of Brexit by stating that:

“There are some issues on which a position must be taken regardless of the state of public opinion – war, the death penalty, sexism, racism. But Brexit is not one of these issues – Labour is rightly taking into account not only the objective impact of Brexit but public opinion and cannot vote, and no one proposes, to implement Remain if it is clear public opinion supports Leave.”

But no one has ever said, just as this author does, that they are sacrificing all their principles, just the ones – like opposing Brexit – that aren’t really supposed to be principles at all.  “Seriously damaging to working class living standards” is not apparently a principle that the new leadership of the Labour Party should fight for “regardless of public opinion”.  And the thought that public opinion could be won to what is becoming more and more obvious is apparently not worth thinking about either.

This stumbling and incoherent policy on Brexit does not bode well for those investing hope in the new Labour leadership, but it is good that the rank and file are now pushing for a stronger anti-Brexit policy.  They should continue with this and consider why it has been necessary. Why has the leadership itself not led on this?  What is it about the leadership’s perspective on how a society of equals could be created that it excludes committing to a European resistance to austerity and an international unity of workers?

Labour Party members should recognise this need to push and continue to push, until it has a leadership that not only follows the views of the membership, but also leads members in the struggle.

It is sincerely to be hoped that the views expressed on the Andrew Marr show do not become policy. If they do, the Labour Party will be cutting its own throat.