Monday, 11 July 2016

From A Split To A Splinter

If the half million members of the Labour Party are like a giant oak tree, the potential of 200 or so MP's or MEP's separating from it, is more like an insignificant splinter than a split. A split in a party implies that two sizeable sections of it separate, as happened, for example, at the start of the twentieth century, when parties of the Second International split, as new Communist Parties developed. Even the separation of the Gang of Four, and a few score of their supporters, to set up the SDP, could hardly be described as a split, and the SDP quickly disappeared into the Liberals. Yet, even that would be more significant that a handful of MP's, most of whom no one has heard of, leaving the Labour Party.

As I wrote some time ago, when the SDP broke away, it had many advantages. All of its leading members were long established, prominent Labour politicians. Some like Roy Jenkins, came out of that cadre that arose in the great upsurge of social democracy after World War II. And, in many ways, they would have stood to the left of many of those current batch of Labour politicians that are undermining Jeremy Corbyn. It is Corbyn that stands in the tradition of that post-war social-democracy, of Attlee and Wilson, not people like Angela Eagle, or any of the Blair-rights, with their support for conservative policies of austerity, and privatisation.

The SDP also arose at a time when the economy was entering a period of long term stagnation, that ran from the mid 1980's through to 1999. It meant that the working-class itself was thrown on to the defensive, with a consequent impact on its own confidence and combativity, reflected in the ideas that resonated within it. The SDP were able to fuse with a Liberal Party that was able to provide the SDP with the local activists it lacked. Even so, the new party was never able to gain anything like the support of Labour, or the Tories. It only managed to drain enough votes from Labour as to enable the Tories to remain in office. After a few years, it was not even capable of that, and continued to decline. It has been finished as a political force due to its unprincipled coalition with Cameron's Tories in 2010.

But, the 200 or so Labour MP's, and MEP's threatening to splinter from Labour have no such advantages. One or two may be better known, like Eagle herself, but the majority are unknowns, probably even to their own Labour voters. Even those that are recognised figures are hardly what can be described as “big beasts”, or the kind of politicians that are going to rally the masses, let alone that the politics they represent is the politics that saw millions of Labour voters desert the party in the last ten years. If they were to join up with the Liberals, it would in no way be equivalent to the situation that faced the SDP in the 1980's.

The Liberals are a politically spent force, as a result of their coalition with the Tories. They have apparently recruited around 16,000 new members in recent months. That compares with the 130,000 new labour members that joined in the last week, most of them to support Jeremy Corbyn. Many of those who have joined the Liberals, by contrast, are likely to be right-wing Labour members, probably councillors, or aspiring councillors, who find themselves now completely isolated in the new Labour Party. Some may be disgruntled Tories, who have left as a result of Cameron's bungled EU referendum, and the consequent vote for Brexit. Whoever they are, they are insignificant as support for the rebels, compared with the half million Labour members.

As I wrote yesterday, the strategy of the plotters appears to be to prevent Jeremy being on the ballot for a new leadership election. It is more like childish student politics than real-life, grown up politics, which probably reflects the nature of the PLP itself, as a bunch of student politicians, who have gone through a now established career path, as SPAD's, to becoming career politicians, who could just as easily have found themselves working for the blue team rather than the red team. Even if such a juvenile tactic worked, it would only work for a few weeks, as they found the whole of the party, and of the trades unions ranged against them, and the inevitability of that manoeuvre being overturned at party conference. That seems to have been even more made likely by the antics of Tom Watson on their behalf who has pissed off the trades unions, and Len McCluskey, in particular.

This is not the 1980's when Kinnock, with the support of a sizeable soft left, desperate for a return to government office, was able to pick off the Militant, and other organised sects within the party. Firstly, the Militant, Socialist Organiser, Socialist Action and so on were visible organisations within the party. It was easy for Kinnock to identify such organisations as “parties within a party”. The sectarian antics of the Militant, did not help rally opposition to Kinnock at the time either.

I remember at the end of 1983, organising a “Labour Against The Witch Hunt” meeting in the Guildhall in Newcastle. The main speaker was Peter Tatchell, and we had some people from Socialist Action who had been sacked as militants from the Cowley car factory. Around 400-500 people turned up to the meeting, which was full to bursting with people standing outside the hall. But, Militant refused to join the campaign, or to send any speakers. The soft left in the party had no great desire to make a stand, and rather like Pastor Niemöller's statement in relation to Nazi Germany, having failed to make a stand, they found that the march of the right under Kinnock, and then under Smith, Blair and Brown continued, because there was no one left to defend them. Kinnock was also bolstered by the fact that the trades unions, at that time stood by, whilst he gutted the party.

Today, almost entirely opposite conditions apply. Although, since 2008, a continued period of economic weakness has persisted, this is not the period of depression and stagnation that existed in the mid 1980's onwards. There are signs of a reawakening of the working-class, and the large numbers of people that have come into the Labour Party to support Corbyn is a reflection of that. It is part of a similar movement across Europe that has created Syriza, Podemos, the Left Bloc and so on, and which has also been the background to the support for Bernie Sanders in the US. Moreover, the claims that all of the hundreds of thousands that have joined the Labour Party are all “entryists” from Trotskyist groups, are simply ridiculous.

If there were half a million Trotskyists in Britain, it is quite likely that they would not be bothering with trying to enter the Labour Party. It would mean that there were a similar kind of number of revolutionaries as existed with the formation of the Communist Party in Germany, when it was challenging for state power, and overtook the existing German Social-democracy. If there were half a million revolutionaries currently in Britain, it would mean that we were in something approaching a revolutionary situation, which clearly we are not!

The claims of the MP's in that regard are a combination of lies pure and simple, and an illustration of just how removed they are from the real world. But, it also indicates the problem for the plotters. All of these hundreds of thousands of members are not members of hard left groups. They are individuals who have simply become fed up of Tory austerity, and the Tory-lite austerity of the Blair-rights, and who have become enthused by Jeremy Corbyn. The undemocratic “Compliance Unit”, has already vetted all of the people who joined last year, and those who became registered supporters, after these ridiculous claims about entryism were first made, then, by people like John Mann. They have done all they could not only to prevent the membership of people who were members of other organisations, but any they could prevent on other grounds, where they might be supporters of Corbyn. They have only managed to prevent the application of 4,000 people, on that basis, many of whom would have been former supporters of the Greens, rather than of Trotskyist groups. In fact, there are probably not 4,000 members of Trotskyist groups in Britain in total!

So, what then are the PLP plotters aiming for. Its known that they have asked the Speaker of the House of Commons, what would be the position if they set up their own parliamentary group, and elected their own leader. The main concern there seemed to be whether they could continue to call themselves “The Labour Party”. They also appear to have sought legal advice about what the position would be in relation to the Labour Party label, and the ownership of the parties assets, were they to engineer such a split.

That probably indicates the line they are heading towards. They must know that they will be trounced in any leadership election against Jeremy Corbyn. They must know that if they were to bureaucratically keep Jeremy off any such ballot, it would be a pyrrhic victory that would be overturned by party conference within weeks. So, it seems there only hope is to split the parliamentary party, and to hope they can take a few prominent people with them. They hope, in the process to claim legal ownership of the Labour Party name, and they no doubt hope to be able to follow the example of the SDP, by utilising the grass roots supporters of what remains of the Liberals. It doesn't seem much of a promising future for them.

But, shorn of that impediment, a Corbyn led Labour Party, infused with hundreds of thousands of committed activists, with the support of the major trades unions, and with a Tory Party in disarray throughout its ranks, over Europe, could quickly move forward, as my own example, and that of Lol Duffy in the 1980's demonstrated. In a recent article, Paul Mason wrote that Labour could join together with the Greens, SNP, and Plaid.

“The purpose of this would be to keep out a right wing Tory government, prevent the sabotage of a second referendum, and fight for social justice in the Brexit process. But the price for it would be, and should be PR.”

But, this seems to make no sense. The likelihood is that Brexit will never happen. Theresa May has said that Brexit means Brexit, but that is a necessary comment at this stage, and conforms to the Nixon goes to China concept. The likelihood is that as the Pound sinks towards parity with the Dollar and Euro, causing inflation to spike, pushing up interest rates, and crashing property and other asset prices, as the EU gives Britain nothing, and investment starts to drain from the UK, the conditions will be set for Britain to stay in the EU, and that come a General Election in 2018-19, the main parties will all fight it on the basis of the need to stay in the EU.

How Paul thinks that the Labour Party could ally with the Greens and others around a programme that is basically premised upon Brexit, and the development of some kind of national socialist agenda, reminiscent of the AES, is not clear, because not only are the SNP prepared to break away from the UK in order to stay in the EU, but the Greens and Plaid are also committed europhiles! In fact, the strategy of Corbyn currently should be to target all of those voters who voted Remain on a progressive basis. He should be organising large scale events with Syriza, Podemos and so on to oppose austerity across Europe, and raising demands for a United States of Europe!


George Carty said...

and that come a General Election in 2018-19

Wouldn't a General Election then be highly unlikely due to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act? If (as you suggest) economic circumstances are going to make it clear even to the Tories that it would be suicide for Britain to actually push the Article 50 button, then wouldn't it just be more likely that the Tory government would just unilaterally disown the referendum?

Boffy said...

I think they will have to push the Article 50 button in the next few weeks. They will be under pressure from the EU to do so. The EU will then make it clear they will get less than nothing. The Pound is sinking, and that will push up inflation, and then interest rates, crashing asset prices. A lot is being made of approaches by India, Australia and other countries for trade negotiations, but those countries will want to negotiate more favourable terms for themselves, and poorer conditions for Britain, because they no longer have access via Britain to the 500 million people of the EU market.

So, my guess is that May will make great play about Brexit meaning Brexit, and negotiations will drag out for two years, during which time the position of Britain will become more and more desperate, e.g. expect to see more downgrades from credit rating agencies, and a steady drain of investment out of the country, which leads to the kind of crisis seen with the 8 commercial property funds that have had to block investors from obtaining funds, because they lack liquidity.

At the end of the two years, May will say, we have gone as far as we can in negotiations, and its clear that outside the EU, we are going to go into serious decline. The Tories will say that they have to give leadership to the country and t4est opinion in a General Election. They will approach Labour for a dissolution of Parliament under the Fixed term Parliaments Act, and then all the major parties will fight the election on the basis of ignoring the referendum vote, and the need to stay in the EU.

I also suspect that at that point, with the EU itself probably having undergone further integration, and with fiscal stimulus now becoming the order of the day as economic orthodoxy across the globe, the terms of UK remaining in, re-entering without actually leaving, will be that the rebate is scrapped, and the UK has to commit to joining the Eurozone, over a predetermined schedule.

As has always happened in the past, greater integration and movement towards a federal Europe will result from a crisis.

George Carty said...

My understanding was that once Article 50 is invoked, it's all over -- that the UK is out of the EU for good, under whatever terms the EU dictates.

Boffy said...

My understanding is that once Article 50 is invoked it starts the process of disengagement. A timetable is then established for negotiating the basis of the disengagement, and post exit relations. There is then within Article 50 a maximum period of two years to establish those relations, prior to a country actually leaving and being outside the EU. Until that time they continue to be a member.

At the end of the two years, the EU can extend the period of negotiations, but only on the basis of all the remaining EU states agreeing to such extension. Without that, the country that has invoked Article 50, is then automatically outside, and its relations to the EU become merely those of any other country with the trading relations being those set out by the WTO.

The EU has said there will be no negotiations about any such relations UNTIL the UK invokes Article 50. That is why Jeremy Corbyn was quite right to say that Article 50 should have been invoked immediately after the referendum result, so that such negotiations could begin, and all of the existing uncertainty for UK businesses and workers could begin to be resolved.

The opposition to that by Angela Eagle and other Blair-rights is crazy, because it simply means that the UK's relation to the EU is kept up in the air for an uncertain period, which means that businesses will stop investing, or disinvest and so on, and the consequence will be a recession, and unemployment.

That is quite consistent with having a position of being in favour yourself of reversing the Referendum result, and campaigning with other European socialists for a UNited States of Europe. Its saying, if we were the government, because we are internationalists and in favour of being in Europe on a progressive basis, we would be putting forward a programme on that basis, and for reversing the decision, but we are not currently the government, and if the Tories are going to take Britain out they should start the process of negotiation now, to end the uncertainty and dislocation that causes.