Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Sleaford By-Election

After last week's Brexit influenced by-election in Richmond Park, we now have, on Thursday, the potential of another Brexit influenced by-election in Sleaford in Lincolnshire.  In many ways, they are mirror images.  Richmond Park, an urban metropolitan area that voted 70% in favour of Remain, Sleaford a rural backwater that voted 60% for Leave.  Yet, both had Tory MP's that stood down to cause the by-elections.  In the case of Sleaford, it is because the sitting Tory MP, who supported Leave, could not support the dictatorial stance of Theresa May, and her government, that is trying to deny Parliament the right to debate and vote on the terms under which Article 50 is triggered, and Brexit negotiated.  Its fitting that whilst May's legal representative is in Court, arguing for her right to utilise the dictatorial powers of medieval Monarchs, via the Royal Prerogative, that May herself, is visiting her friends the brutal feudal monarchs of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, to which she supplies weapons of mass destruction.

If Labour had any sense, they would have fought the Sleaford by-election on the basis of a vigorous pro-Remain campaign, but a campaign which stressed the need to defend workers rights interests whether Britain ended up, in or out of the EU.  The reality is that 35% o the electorate in Sleaford, voted to Remain in the EU, and as across the rest of Britain, the reality is beginning to sink in of just how bad for the interests of workers, Brexit will be.  On the other hand, whatever the supporters of Brexit might want to argue, and what the Brexit vote might seem to imply, the issue of the EU, and even immigration, ranked only around sixth or seventh in people's concerns, in all opinion polls.  Voters are far more concerned with the issues of jobs, wages, the health service and so on than they are with the EU or immigration.  And in fact, Both Brexit and a curtailment of immigration will be bad for all those other issues.

Brexit will cut off Britain from its main market in the EU, and the Tories will utilise withdrawal to push through the rest of their reactionary agenda to demolish workers rights.  A look at UK GDP, which the Brexiteers trumpet again shows that what growth has occurred is almost entirely due to immigration.  UK GDP per capita has risen by only around £2,000 since 2010, or about 5% over six years.  If it were not for the immigration of skilled workers that has taken place, large parts of UK business would not have been possible, leading to those businesses locating overseas, and without immigration services like the NHS would have collapsed.

Labour should have fought the Sleaford By-Election on this basis, arguing that it continued to be in workers interests to be in Europe, but a different kind of Europe forged by workers to meet their interests.  By presenting a strong pro-Remain argument, Labour could directly address itself to that 35% of the population in Sleaford that voted Remain, and which the Richmond by-election showed is now recognising the importance of standing up to fight its corner, because of just how historically disastrous for workers Brexit will be.  Unless Labour presents that case, the danger is that in other such by-elections, the Liberals, as they did in Richmond Park, will hoover up that vote.

Sleaford is not Richmond Park, however.  In Richmond, it had been a Liberal seat between 1997 and 2010.  The Liberals, despite being destroyed as a party in the 2015 General Election, were still the obvious party in Richmond to take advantage of the unpopularity of the Tory Brexit.  That is not the case in Sleaford, where Labour came second in 2015, with 17% of the vote, whilst the Liberals came a distant fourth behind UKIP, with just 5.7% of the vote.  Indeed, if the Liberals were serious about their bleating overtures for some kind of alliance to defeat the Tories and their Brexit plans, they would have stood down their candidate in Sleaford, in order to give Labour a clear run, as they and their supporters inside the Labour Party had done in calling for Labour to not stand in Richmond Park.

There is a possibility that Labour taking a vigorous pro-Remain stance in Sleaford, could increase its vote share, picking up that 35% of the electorate that supports Remain.  They could further enhance that position by adopting a far more radical, Corbynite position of opposition to austerity and wage cuts than voters in Sleaford have previously been offered by the Blair-right Labour Party of old.  After all, what has been seen this week is that whilst some people were prepared to express their bigotry in the EU Referendum, which was supposed to be on just the one issue of EU membership, but which, like all plebiscites, involved people voting to express resentment in a whole host of different and often unrelated issues, when it comes to a more general, parliamentary vote that bigotry gets dissipated, as other more pressing concerns predominate.

Farage, for example, promised 100,000 on the streets to object to the Supreme Court curtailing the dictatorial ambitions of May and her government.  Instead, it was pro-EU campaigners that were out on the streets.  It is time for Labour to be bold, to stick by its internationalist principles, and to defend workers interests across the EU, and resist the siren calls of reactionary nationalism.


SocScientist said...

Hmmmm. I agree in principle that the Lib Dems should have got behind Labour in Sleaford, but Corbyn's leadership on Brexit (and in fact, his leadership in general) has been so woeful that I'm not sure if voters would be drawn sufficiently to Labour. At least it's pretty clear where the Lib Dems stand on Brexit - not so much with Labour ("We're going to table an amendment to any Article 50 Bill which guarantees our red lines on worker rights! But we won't vote against the Bill if the Govt refuses to accept our amendment." So much for those 'red lines').

Previously I had written off the Lib Dems' hopes in Sleaford. Now I'm going to be interested to see how they do.

George Carty said...

Boffy, why do you (as a Corbyn supporter) think Corbyn is not adopting a more robust anti-Brexit stance? Do you think he wants Brexit to go ahead and be a catastrophe for Britain (and with no attempt by Labour to obstruct it) in the hope that this is the only thing that could destroy the Tories in 2020?

Boffy said...

I think they are worried that the Tories would use it to simply brand them as "undemocratic" for refusing to accept the result of the referendum. The Tories would then argue that it shows Labour are not responsive to the interests of British workers and that they the Tories are the real party of the workers. UKIP would and are presenting the same argument.

Corbyn all the time has to contend with the continued opposition within the PLP. You can't underestimate how much time that takes up preventing you doing other things that would be positive. Already look at the way sections of the PLP have collapsed into the idea of needing to introduce even tighter immigration controls. In other words, they are now blaming Britain's problems on Immigration and immigrants - if Immigration and immigrants are not the problem, then why would you argue for Immigration Controls?

If the problem is rather that unscrupulous employers pay low wages, and give poor conditions, the answer is to impose controls on those employers, to encourage greater trades union and worker control of production and employment, introduce higher minimum wages and so on. If the problem is inadequate housing, schools, healthcare, the answer is to increase investment in housing, schools and healthcare, which would also provide more workers with employment and so on.

But, its harder to argue those things when the Blair-rights are continuing to make the case for Immigration Controls, austerity and limitations on trades unions. Corbyn is meeting with European socialists and Social democrats, but that needs quickly to be turned into a large-scale,active campaign across the EU against all those ideas of austerity etc. that has allowed the populist right to rise.

As soon as May comes forward with any concrete proposals the Tories will split either de jure or de facto, which is why they are refusing to offer any tangible plan, and why Corbyn is right to keep demanding they set out such a plan. The Pound has risen as it has looked increasingly unlikely that the Tories could push through a hard Brexit, and as soon as that seems to change, the pound will drop sharply again, inflation will rise even further, interest rates will rise, and the UK will be seen as unviable. It depends on the kindness of strangers, who lend money to it, to finance its huge levels of private and public debt, and its huge and growing trade deficit. Brexit exacerbates all that, and the UK is increasingly devoid of friends or strangers to provide it with the required kindness.