Brexit humiliated

The humiliation of Theresa May at the Salzburg EU meeting came as a shock not just to her but to the British media.  They had obsessed with stories, largely an invention of themselves, that foretold a story of the EU having problems with the Chequers plan but needing May as someone from the British side with whom they could negotiate.  The alternative was ultra-Tories like Johnson and Rees-Mogg.  Coming up to the Tory Party conference, the EU would see the need to help her deal with her fractious party so that a deal could eventually be struck.

Behind such invented calculations lay an implicit understanding that Britain was negotiating with the EU from a position of some strength, and a deal was equally vital for both.  Once again, unfortunately, the relationship with Europe was being refracted through disputes within the most successful political party in the world.  No one stopped to think what use Theresa May was to the EU with her unacceptable plan anyway.

The outcome was May giving a shell-shocked press conference at the end of the proceedings having suffered utter humiliation.  What had been said a hundred times before about the flawed plan was said again, and this time on social media with the EU Council President Donald Tusk offering cake to May on Instagram, but with no cherries.

British journalists cannot be accused of not being self-aware.  They are most aware of their position in the gossip chamber of Westminster with its paintings and busts of previous great British leaders who once stood astride a world empire.  They are aware that by being there they are part of this history.  As media creations themselves, they know that they are part of the show and that, after the important political personalities, the story is often about them, what they think and what they say. And what they think and what they say is a product of this environment, the environment of a great nation with a singular history.

So their views and their impressions are the great British public’s window into this world of high politics.,  When a sweaty Theresa May appeared in a cramped room in Salzburg desperately trying to recover any sort of composure in order to present some sort of reassuring message, the assorted British journalists reported what they saw in front of them – desperate humiliation.

This was easy because it’s not as if it was new – May has a habit of drowning on stage.  She coughed and spluttered for hours through her Party conference speech and stood as a rabbit in the headlights for weeks during the last general election, a very strong and very stable rabbit.

Both media and politicians were acutely aware of these unflattering optics, so May decided to have another go, and change them by making the same stupid speech again when she got home, this time in Downing Street, in front of wood panelling and two union flags.  A “stern word” was given, according to the Daily Express, and May warned the EU – she wanted RESPECT! – as she looked directly at the camera and gave everyone a “stern” look.

If only the words coming out of her mouth made any sense.

“At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals”, she said.  As if we had all forgotten that the reason we were only being told now that her plan was pants was because she had spent eighteen months trying to find one.  Not easy with the light shining in your eyes.

As if we had not also just heard her say in her speech, only seconds before, that in fact the EU had given her not one but two “counter proposals” and had, ad nauseam, explained to her that she could not cherry-pick the Single Market – the “detailed explanation” why her Chequers plan was unacceptable.

This nonsense after May had turned up at Salzburg having informed her EU hosts that this was the deal, take it or leave it.  She had met the Irish Taoiseach in the morning and told him that despite promising it for months, the British would not have a detailed backstop plan to prevent a hard border ready for an October meeting.

Instead, in her Downing Street speech, she said that “I want to reassure the people of Northern Ireland that in the event of no deal we will do everything in our power to prevent a return to a hard border.”  A statement so jaw-dropingly at variance with reality one wonders if she had taken some mind-altering substance before saying it.

But this sort of duplicity was also hardly new. Her Brexit secretary had already said that their Withdrawal Agreement with the EU committed Britain to nothing.  Her environment secretary Michael Gove speculated just before Salzburg that “Yes, the Chequers approach is the right one for now . . . but there’s one critical thing, a future prime minister could always choose to alter the relationship between Britain and the European Union.”  Why then could anyone in the EU believe that any agreement reached with these people would be honoured?

“In the meantime, we must and will continue the work of preparing ourselves for no deal” said May.  ‘So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.”  Unfortunately, by saying that it’s now over to the EU, and that she will walk away from a bad deal, she really means that she won’t be going anywhere, or rather, with her strategy, she has nowhere to go.

Having threatened the EU with no deal, and then complaining that the EU were threatening Britain when starting to prepare for one, she faces the consequence that a no deal will only bring her utter discredit at a personal level and the UK a disaster at the economic and social level.  Her foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt aks the EU not to look at the “abyss’ of a no deal even while his leader is busy threatening it again.  Not since the sheriff in ‘Blazing Saddles’ threatened to blow his own head off has a threat seemed so bizarre, except this time it’s not funny.

Napoleon is often credited with saying that you can doing anything with bayonets except sit on them, although the quote has been attributed to Talleyrand, Bonaparte’s Foreign Minister, who said: “… My Lord, you can do anything you like with bayonets, except sit on them… “.  This appeared to mean that Napoleon had to make the decision to move forward with his campaign or die by failing to act.

Sooner rather than later someone will tell Theresa May that she can do lots of things by wrapping the butcher’s apron round herself, including making stupid speeches at Downing Street, but she will die a political death and take the UK into the ‘abyss’ if she thinks she can wrap it round herself and wait for the EU to come up with something to save her.

Her problem is that while you may be able to do lots of things with a flag there is not a lot useful you can do with Brexit.  May and her ultra-Brexit colleagues in the Tory Party have argued that Britain can make a success of Brexit.  So, unfortunately, does Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, but at least with them it is to be fervently hoped that 86% of the Labour Party’s members will save them from themselves, something the Tories will not do for May.

The EU says Brexit will weaken and damage the EU never mind the UK and no one will be a winner.  EU sources have also said that it’s not their business to make Brexit a success (even if that were possible) and it’s not in the EU’s interest to help the British become more competitive against the EU as a result of it.

The EU is of course correct.  It is much bigger and more powerful.  Trade with it is much more important to the UK than trade with the UK is for the EU. It has by far the bigger market, with a much more competitive productive base, and in those sectors it is not so competitive in, such as financial services, it is gaining by the relocation of companies from the City of London as the reality of Brexit bites.  Unlike Icarus, the hubristic Brexit project of a still greater Britain will never even get off the ground.

Britain can leave the EU, and can do so in a manner that may, or will, receive the cooperation of the EU, but only if the means by which it is done does not threaten the integrity of the EU and its Single Market. Despite it not being their problem, the EU has an interest in these steps being taken – the British can stay in the European Economic Area (EEA) or it can negotiate a free trade deal like that of Canada.

The latter will not make up for the market access lost by Brexit and will confirm the stupidity of Brexit.  Canada has its own regional free trade agreement in NAFTA so the agreement with the EU is an extension of its capacity to trade.  The British however, will be replacing one big trading arrangement with a much smaller one.

Britain could also negotiate access to the EU Single Market through the EEA, but this will mean subordination to EU rules, which the British can attempt to influence but cannot help determine.  The EEA also involves negotiations on what the EU will accept or reject so the problem is displaced into a more orderly framework but the fundamental issues of difference are not thereby resolved, and nor are all the problems created by the Tories’ duplicitous approach.

Theresa May will either have to capitulate or drive into the wall of a no deal.  In the first case she may be removed by the Tory Party before she can get away with it, and in the second case it would be better for her if she was.

The Brexiteers could replace her and either go for no deal themselves or do their own volte-face and go for the Canada type free trade deal, although in this case they are more likely to fall out with each other, as would certainly be the case when it became clear to them that this wouldn’t solve the question of the Irish border and further retreat was required.  Taking the blame for the disaster that a no deal would entail has so far prevented them from wielding the knife on May. The whole shower are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

All this would not be the case if Brexit made any sort of sense but of course it doesn’t.

So what about our side?

It is not the job of socialists to cheer Emmanuel Macron when he calls the Brexiteers liars, even when they are, or to wave EU flags, as if the EU was a force for good.

It is our job to oppose Brexit because doing this lies on the route to our alternative – the unity of Europe’s workers – not its capitalist states.  It is not possible to achieve this unity while accentuating national differences, by erecting national borders, and seeking solutions through nationalist initiatives.  ‘National sovereignty’, however understood, is not our goal.

The rise of xenophobia in Britain facilitated by Brexit will not be effectively countered by portraying its supporters as simply fascists that should be opposed, while having nothing to say about the Brexit they promote.  Or even worse, actually supporting their Brexit policy as some on the left stupidly do.

The socialist alternative is not about destroying workers’ living standards, wrecking the place and pretending we can start from scratch, in some misguided ground-zero approach unpolluted by foreign interference.  The Brexit disaster provides socialists with the opportunity to deliver an important blow against great British nationalism and it should be taken.

The disaster of Brexit should be condemned for what it is.  Its architects should be pilloried.  The alternative should be spelled out, which isn’t a good Brexit, because that doesn’t exist, but a defeat of the Tory Government and a reversal of the Brexit decision.  Not as the end of the struggle over Europe but as the starting point of a fight to unite Europe’s workers.

We should state clearly that the problem has not been too much European unity, but too little, and the wrong sort of what there has been.

Maybot’s latest speech – the Devil isn’t in the detail

Let’s start at the very end of Theresa May’s speech, the bit where she says “So let’s get on with it.”

The EU negotiators could have been forgiven if they rolled their eyes in derision – they’ve been waiting for the British Government to decide what it wants for well over a year.  And despite an earlier ‘agreement’ that needed ‘only’ legal drafting, it has failed to make any drafting of its own available. Indeed, the level of expectation created over the past 20 months is such that none was ever anticipated.

If Brexit was such a brilliant idea, the British would have been pushing the door to get out; the EU would have been rushing to convince them to stay in, and the negotiations would have been driven by British position papers – putting the EU on the spot on just exactly what it intended to do to mitigate the damage to it from UK withdrawal.  But this whole idea is fanciful.

The dilatory and confused approach of the British faithfully reflects their predicament.  The UK has decided on a course that weakens it economically and politically and risks the default position of no deal that is the worst possible outcome.  It is in a time-limited process in which this default position is constantly staring it in the face.

The EU has driven the process while looking as if it has been trying to save the British from themselves.  It has therefore done what the British were tasked to do so but didn’t, and come up with a solution to the question of avoiding a hard border inside Ireland.

Given all this, it shows how fatuous and vacuous the BBC is that its main political reporter claims that we can now ‘forget about all the cake jokes.’  A little bit of detail on the irreconcilable – the claims to both “want as frictionless a border as possible between us and the EU” and a cast-iron commitment that “we are leaving the single market”-  is supposed to efface the glaring contradictions of this position, through some mealy-mouthed admission that “no-one will get everything they want.”

We are supposed to be impressed by this detail and change of tone, and by such messages as “we will not be buffeted by the demands to talk tough or threaten a walk out”.  This from the Maybot who declared that Jean-Claude Juncker would find her “a bloody difficult woman” in the “tough” negotiations, and who month after month repeated that she was prepared to walk away with “no deal rather than a bad deal.”

Such is the shallowness and ignorance of the journalism at the BBC that smug and dismissive reporters can tell us that all this is to be forgotten on foot of a supposed new-found seriousness and coherence to the British position.

But the speech revealed nothing of this at all.  What it did do, was not put the cake back in the cupboard but show us the ingredients to demonstrate just how ridiculous the idea of having it and eating it is, by going through case after case in which this was being demanded.

So, she wants the UK to have access to the EU’s internal energy market; wants British hauliers unrestricted access to the EU; access to the digital, science and innovation markets; continued membership of various EU bodies such as the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, and the European Aviation Safety Agency; and mutual recognition of qualifications.

She wants “measures to ensure the requirements for moving goods across borders are as simple as possible”, and while she doesn’t want passporting of financial services into the EU by British companies she wants to have the ability to “access each others’ markets.”  This to be achieved with an agreement that is without precedent, one with “a collaborative, objective framework that is reciprocal, mutually agreed, and permanent and therefore reliable for businesses”.  Oh, and she also wants the UK to be able make its own rules for the finance industry.

She rejects the charge that this is cherry-pickig, or rather admits that it is, but says that “if this is cherry-picking, then every trade arrangement is cherry-picking.”  And she’s right.  It’s just that she seems oblivious to the fact that, given the balance of power and the circumstances noted above, it is the EU by and large that will be picking the cherries.  The EU has made this perfectly clear already by repeating ad nauseam that it will not accept the British approach.

The British wish list is supposed to be achieved by tariff arrangements through which goods entering the UK and bound for the EU will see UK customs levy EU tariffs on these goods and then hand over the money.  It will require a comprehensive system of mutual recognition within which the UK will make a strong commitment that its “regulatory standards will remain at least as high as the EU’s”.

This commitment would mean that UK and EU regulatory standards would remain substantially similar in the future.  “Our default is that UK law may not necessarily be identical to EU law, but it should achieve the same outcomes”.  The UK wants that, as now, products “only need to undergo one series of approvals, in one country” to show that they meet the required regulatory standards.

Since the EU has fined the UK for not effectively implementing EU trade arrangements while it has still been inside the EU it seems strange that there would be no problem imposing the rules when it isn’t.

As for mutual recognition; the whole point of EU development of a single market is not recognition but harmonisation.  Even since Brexit was announced the UK has been signing up to harmonised rules i.e. the same rules – as in identical rules.  Not the same as in similar, not the same as in equal, and not the same as in the same outcome.

What Maybot is asking for is not only that the UK leave the single market while keeping its benefits, she is asking that the EU goes back in time to when mutual recognition was enough, and before it decided a single set of standards was the way to go.  It is inconceivable that the EU would seek to protect itself from Brexit contagion by giving near frictionless access to the EU while undermining the basis of its current and future development.

All this is having your cake and eat it, set out as a shopping list, that Laura Kuenssberg of the BBC now thinks is an old joke.  And it’s a joke alright, but rather like listening to a best man’s speech at a wedding where he goes OTT slagging off the groom. It leads to the audience starting to wonder – what the hell is she marrying him for?  In this case, if all this is so necessary to leaving the EU why the hell are you leaving?

Among the supposed reasons is the claim by the Brexiteers that the EU is creating a super-state, which is supposedly not what the British signed up for.  But it’s rather like what I said about some Scottish nationalists claims for independence.

These were that Scotland was an oppressed country, while in reality achieving separation was more likely to make Scotland an ‘oppressed’ country than remaining part of the UK.  If the Brexiteers think that the British can remain sovereign, independent and totally autonomous, while the rest of Europe unites politically, the planet they live on is further away than anyone previously thought.

On one thing Kuenssberg is correct, if only because, like the rest of the media, she sees politics as a game played at Westminster.  This was a speech aimed more at the rest of the Tory Party than the EU.  Negotiations have been going on for months but we are to believe that only now is the British position being put forward, and not in the negotiations themselves but in yet another hyped-up speech.  And with proposals that Maybot knows will not be accepted.

Kuenssberg is also correct in a more significant way.  The triumphalist tone is gone even if the stupidity hasn’t.  The recognition of British weakness shines through even though it isn’t admitted.  And the direction of travel has become clearer even if it’s not the one that is being touted.  The message coming out from the speech is that Britain needs the EU, and for Brexit to seem tolerably sensible needs the EU to fall over backwards to accommodate British needs.  The EU will decline to fall over backwards or forwards, and Brexit will more and more be seen to make no sense.

The negotiations and the legal text that will be negotiated will make this clearer and clearer.  The ‘detail’ that has eventually been extracted from the Tories simply defines in more granularity the contradictions of their position, while making explicit the impossible grounds on which they are expected to be resolved.

In this sense, it exposes Brexit and the Brexiteers, which is why Rees-Mogg has declared that “this is not the time to nitpick”.  It leaves them more and more naked in espousing their ridiculous claims about British fortunes outside the EU and the benefits of no-deal.  Unfortunately, if such ‘detail’ is the expected content of the eventual outcome, no-deal is ironically a possibility.

However, if the speech indicates a different direction of travel, to recognition of the constraints on British options, the Maybot speech was not the first this week to signpost the new direction.  Jeremy Corbyn was forced to slightly dismount his Brexit horse, through which he has disingenuously pretended to represent working class Leavers and Remainers, by signaling that he wanted a customs union, in opposition to the Tory red-line that Britain was leaving it.  This, it was claimed, would prevent a hard border in the island of Ireland.

Again, the media was full of praise for this political stroke.  For these Westminster-obsessed ‘journalists’ the only game in town is the party-political personalities and games in this venerable institution – Corbyn had upstaged Maybot and put clear water between Labour and the Tories.  It didn’t matter that his policy was also nonsense; that it is simply not possible that Britain alone could negotiate a new progressive customs union, or that a customs union by itself could prevent a hard border in Ireland.

But like the Maybot speech, but more so, it indicates the direction of travel.  What matters now is the speed.

These shifts demonstrate that Brexit is ripping an enormous tear in the nationalist consensus that underlies British politics. Those that can navigate beyond its illusions will survive.  Those that don’t will shipwreck on the rocky coast of their beloved island, falling victim to the enchanting music and singing voices of its nationalist Sirens.  It’s an old story.

 

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.”

The DUP-Tory marriage – can it be that bad?

Those of us on this side of the Irish Sea have looked on with a wry smile at the sudden discovery by many in Britain that the Democratic Unionist Party is ant-women and anti-gay.

Well no shit Sherlock!

It has also been pointed out that it is many other things as well.  So let’s hear it all from the horse’s mouth:

Edwin Poots MLA on creationism –

“My view on the earth is that it’s a young earth. My view is [it was created in] 4000 BC.”

Edwin Poots MLA on the occasion of Arlene Foster becoming leader of the DUP –

“Her most important job is wife, mother and daughter.”

Ian Paisley Jr MP On LGBT people –

“I am pretty repulsed  by gay and lesbianism. I think it is wrong. I think that those people harm themselves and – without caring about it – harm society. That doesn’t mean to say that I hate them – I mean, I hate what they do.”

Peter Robinson MP, ex-leader of the DUP and First Minister of N. Ireland –

“It wasn’t Iris Robinson [his wife] who determined that homosexuality was an abomination, it was the Almighty.”

Iris Robinson former DUP MP –

“There can be no viler act, apart from homosexuality and sodomy, than sexually abusing innocent children.  I cannot think of anything more sickening than a child being abused. It is comparable to the act of homosexuality. I think they are all comparable. I feel totally repulsed by both.”

Peter Robinson MP, ex-leader of the DUP and First Minister of N. Ireland on Muslims –

“I’ll be quite honest, I wouldn’t trust them in terms of those who have been involved in terrorist activities. I wouldn’t trust them if they are devoted to Sharia Law. I wouldn’t trust them for spiritual guidance. Would I trust them to go down to the shops for me, yes I would, would I trust them to do day-to-day activities… there is no reason why you wouldn’t….Why are you so concerned about Muslims and not poor people like me.”

And let us not forget, this Party doesn’t primarily exist to bash gays or women or Muslims, its prime raison d’être is to secure and promote sectarian rights against Catholics, but how often is that getting a mention?

What matters here is not just the justified opposition of many in Britain that they will be governed at the whim of the DUP but that the participation of the DUP in government in the North of Ireland is otherwise upheld as a heroic success, to be celebrated, re-packaged and sold around the world wherever there is unfortunate conflict.  One only has to recall the eulogies to the sectarian monster Ian Paisley, who created this band of bigots, to marvel at British liberal opinion that now recoils at their contamination by political Neanderthals who don’t believe in the existence of the real ones.  The DUP don’t suddenly become arch-bigots when they get off the plane at Heathrow.

Does it not therefore cause some to stop and consider just what type of political slum it is that has been created by partition that sees the DUP in Government in Belfast as the solution?  Just what on earth is the question that makes this shower the answer?  And is it not therefore the case that, just as blame for the tragedy at Grenfell Tower must be laid at the door of the landlord and all those who allowed it happen and who created the conditions for it to happen, so must the blame for the rotten state of the North of Ireland also lie at the door of the landlord?

I’ll give just three examples of how rotten this state is, all taken from one single issue of the local ‘Irish News’ published on Saturday:

  1. The loyalist paramilitary group the UDA has been blamed for stealing thousands of wooden pallets that were being stored by Belfast City Council, fearing that it might not get access to their use for the annual bonfires, after the council came under pressure to explain why it was storing them for the annual bigot-fest. Among the pallets were those stolen from a logistics firm, meaning the Council could be accused of handling stolen goods.  How handy then that they have been stolen again!
  2. Loyalist paramilitary flags have been placed in a mixed religion housing development, specially created to be free of all sectarianism. Some people have complained about this but recently elected local DUP MP Emma Little Pengelly, who had received the public endorsement during the election of loyalist paramilitary groups the UDA, UVF and Red Hand Commando, has said that she has spoken to 100 households in the development and most don’t want to create “a fuss”.  Good of her to check up on them.  I’m sure her paramilitary backers will be pleased that their decorations should not cause a fuss.
  3. Loyalist paramilitary Gary Haggarty, who worked as a police informer, pleaded guilty to 200 terrorist charges including 5 counts of murder, 5 of attempted murder, four counts of kidnap, six counts of false imprisonment, six of hijacking etc. etc. but is expected to be released from custody in September.  Although Haggarty has pointed to two police special branch officers who worked with him, no one expects any case against them to go anywhere, mainly because no one expects a case.

So why should the DUP supporting the Tories in London be worse than their being in office in Belfast?

The deal to get their support for Theresa May’s battered caravan sets out their support for Brexit and for all major Tory legislation.  It promises £1 billion of extra money for the North of Ireland, sparking outrage from other parts of the UK, although this will hardly solve the pressing problems that this part of Ireland suffers from.  Half of it will cover the cost of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal, in which the DUP created a scheme to allow participants, disproportionately it would appear rural supporters of the DUP, to burn wooden pellets and get £1.60 for every £1 spent!

The health service in the North of Ireland has a deficit of perhaps £400 million so the £350m in the deal for health, £50m of which is also to cover education, £10m of which is spread over 5 years, while the balance is spread over 2 years, will hardly be a solution.  The deal talks of hastening devolution of corporation tax, so it can be cut, and of ‘Enterprise Zones’ that promise (threaten?) even further corporate largesse.  VAT and Air Passenger Duty is also mentioned but it is likely they will await the first crisis and any updating of the deal before they are implemented.

Much has been made of the deal threatening the peace process and Good Friday Agreement, but only the nodding heads of the chattering classes believes the British Government is neutral between those supporting its rule in Ireland and those claiming to oppose it.  However, this doesn’t mean that the deal has no potential political repercussions.

Much trumpeted is the extension of the Armed Forces Covenant. This will involve priority in housing allocation and health provision to previous members of the British Armed Forces, which presumably includes the now disbanded Ulster Defence Regiment, sometimes referred to as Ulster’s Disreputable Rogues, and a glaring example of putting guns into the hands of loyalists legally.

It illustrates the criminal stupidity and mendacity of the Tory Party that allocation of public services could be carried out on grounds other than need, in a way that will disproportionately benefit one religious section of the population, those having once served in the UDR for example being only 3% Catholic.  Even those with a cursory familiarity with Irish history will know that the outbreak of civil disobedience in the 1960s was sparked by opposition to sectarian allocation of housing

In 1968 a Nationalist MP at Stormont, and two local men occupied a house in Caledon, County Tyrone, in protest over the allocation of the house by the local council to a nineteen-year-old unmarried Protestant, who was the secretary of a local unionist politician, while a Catholic family with three young children had recently been evicted from the house next door.

Some innocents have asked why Sinn Fein is not being asked to take its seats in Westminster to reduce this DUP leverage.  Jeremy Corbyn smiled purposely to Andrew Marr when he was asked about this question on Marr’s TV show, referring knowingly to “Irish history.”  On ‘The Guardian’ web site there is a video of Owen Jones and Frankie Boyle laughing at the very idea that Sinn Fein would break its abstentionism at Westminster in order to do some good.

No, Sinn Fein and its shibboleths, venerated by Irish history, itself a history of righteousness, cannot be called to account for its primitive and reactionary policy because a certain respect must be given to obscurantist nationalist positions, rather like exaggerated respect must be given to nonsense if it is spouted as part of a religion.

Sinn Fein would rather break its abstentionism in relation to the Dail, “the worst parliament in the developed world”, as one commentator recently put it, whose practices were almost considered similar to “anthropological studies” involving “quaint tribal practices” to which OECD observers were “unable entirely to conceal their bafflement and revulsion . . . a scarcely contained incredulity.”

Sinn Fein is also gagging to re-take its place at Stormont, that parliament on the hill, symbolic of decades of sectarian gerrymandering and discrimination, which these days now requires participants’ designation as Orange or Green in order to have the fullest powers to pass or stymie legislation.  What sort of principle lies behind abstentionism, that allows one to enter coalition with the DUP in a sectarian Assembly but forbids putting in peril the rotten lash-up of the DUP with the Tories?  It’s hardly a hypocrisy too far.

How ironic that Sinn Fein lambasted non-attendance at Westminster in its election propaganda.

 

Rather than laugh knowingly Sinn Fein should be excoriated for its reactionary stance.

 

Nothing in this rotten marriage of convenience bodes well for the future.  It is therefore fervently to be hoped that the divorce comes very, very soon.

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.

 

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