Monday, 30 January 2017

Vote Down The Tory Brexit Bill

Political commentators on many sides are saying that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have an awkward position to deal with in relation to the triggering of Article 50. As a matter of principle they do not. The issue is simple. Brexit is against workers interests. The task of the Labour Party is to defend and extend workers' interests, and so the Labour Party should oppose and vote down the Tory Brexit Bill to trigger Article 50.

The argument that Labour is in an awkward position because the referendum gave a small minority for Brexit is facile. Socialists do not put a primitivist, and abstract support for bourgeois democracy above their responsibility to fight for workers' interests. But, more than that, what is being asked is not even consistent with bourgeois democracy; it is instead fundamental to all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, i.e. that minorities cease fighting for their interests, and acquiesce in the rule of the majority.

The Tory MP, Ken Clarke, is quite right when he says that he has supported membership of the Common Market, and EU for fifty years, and that it would be ludicrous to suggest that just because of the referendum vote, he now had to act as though he was an opponent of it. He is also quite correct in saying that no such attitude is taken with any other bourgeois democratic election. On the day after a landslide Labour victory, such as that of 1945, or 1997, no one suggested that Tories like Clarke had to acquiesce in the rule of the subsequent Labour government. On the contrary, on the day after the election, not did Tories continue to be Tories, but it was their right and their duty, as Tories to fight tooth and claw to oppose the Labour government, to frustrate its policies and actions, and to try to overturn it, and turn it out of office at every opportunity.

In terms of principle, and in terms even of bourgeois-democracy, the idea that Labour has to roll over, and not only accept, but to adhere itself to the Brexit vote is ridiculous. Its like saying that if there was a referendum, as might have occurred in Nazi Germany, over sending Jews to the gas chamber, Labour, having lost the vote, would say, “Oh well, the people have spoken, and all we can do is to put down amendments, to call for them to be transported to their death in lorries, rather than cattle trucks”! Or, if Trump were currently, to hold a referendum, in the US, to garner support for his ban on Muslims entering the country, Labour would say, “Oh well, we lost that vote, so we will have to tag along behind Trump's racist and reactionary policies.”

The UKIP Leader, Paul Nuttall, has expressed support for the idea of a referendum to bring back the death penalty. If opinion polls are to be believed, such a referendum would probably go Nuttall's way. What then would Labour believe that it had to “respect” that vote, limiting itself only to trying to have “humane” executions, like it calls for “humane” immigration controls, rather than continuing to maintain a principled opposition to the policy itself, whatever “the people” had decided?

Labour can and should, obviously put down amendments to the Tories Brexit Bill, but they should do so on the basis of a continued, principled opposition to Brexit itself. Jeremy Corbyn was right back in June to say that the Tories should have come to Parliament to trigger Article 50. He was right, because it, was clear that back in June, the Tories had no plan to be able to do so, and calling on them to act, would have exposed the lunacy of the position Cameron and Johnson had created. Had the Tories been pressed to bring their proposal for triggering Article 50 to Parliament in June last year, we would already have had 7 months of debate, exposing the lack of a plan by the Tories, exposing all of the negative consequences that Brexit will have, and already bringing about all of those negative effects on the economy, that currently the Tories claim were forecast, but never happened.

The fundamental principle that Labour should uphold is that of the right of free movement of workers. But, it is also central to the interests of workers that they operate within the same regulatory frameworks of rights to pay, conditions, and benefits. The political reality is that those rights can only be guaranteed on the basis of continued membership of the EU. Whatever, amendments Labour may put down to the Tory Brexit Bill, the reality is, as EU negotiators have said, there is no choice between a hard Brexit and soft Brexit, only between a hard Brexit and no Brexit. Given that a hard Brexit is against workers' interests, the starting point for labour should then be to oppose Brexit itself.

But, what then about the other aspect that might the vote over Article 50 difficult for Labour? That is the fact, that although 65% of Labour voters voted for remain, 65% of Labour held constituencies voted to Leave. For socialists, it should always be adhering to your principles that outweighs opportunistic, short-term, electoral considerations. But, even in terms of those electoral considerations, there is no real basis for failing to oppose Brexit.

According to a recent survey presented on Newsnight, more than half of Labour seats that voted for Leave, have a Labour majority of more than 10,000. In other words, if Labour sticks by its principles and opposes Brexit, the chances of losing these seats as a result, particularly given that experience shows that leaving the EU, is only a minor concern for Labour voters compared to the issues of jobs, the NHS, housing etc., is remote.

But, even where Labour does not have such a large majority, the chance of losing the seat as a result of Labour now opposing Brexit, is also remote. Take a seat with 100,000 voters, where Labour obtains 55,000 votes as against 45,000 Tory votes. Nationally, 65% of Tory voters voted Leave, as opposed to only 35% of Labour voters. We might expect that in a seat voting Leave, both these percentages would be higher. Suppose, then that 80% of Tory voters voted leave in this constituency – that is 44,000 votes. A 65% vote for Leave in the constituency then equates to 65,000 votes. To make up the difference then requires 21,000 Labour voters to vote Leave. That would mean 38% of Labour voters, voting Leave in this seat. That would be higher than the national average for Labour voters, but is still way below 50%.

In other words, even in such seats, its likely that only a minority of Labour voters would be supporters of Leave. Even from a strategic or tactical political consideration, therefore, it would not seem to make sense for Labour to abandon a principled position of opposing Brexit, simply for short term electoral advantage.

Labour should oppose Brexit. Even if labour were to succeed in making amendments to the Tory Brexit Bill, as soon as the process is underway, Labour's hands may be tied. Labour is proposing an amendment to require that after any negotiations on the terms of Britain's exit, Parliament would be able to vote and thereby reject any deal that May negotiates. But, May has made it clear that the alternative in any such vote would simply be to accept the deal she negotiates or to leave without any deal, and thereby to fall back on WTO rules.

Labour is trying to get a commitment that instead, if any deal is not acceptable to Parliament, Article 50 could be revoked. However, it is not clear that this is possible. It will only be possible to challenge the meaning of Article 50, at the point that such revocation was requested. Workers cannot put their futures in such jeopardy, and uncertainty. Labour should come out clearly, now. Vote down the Tory Brexit Bill.


davidjc said...

Don't see how a party can vote to hold a referendum and then want the result overturned immediately after. Not from a position of abstract principle, but building trust for the party, trust already shattered by New Labour.

As you said in the previous post on this, dynamics change and the looming world of tax haven and Trump could give Labour a chance to promote soft Brexit/freedom of movement and to link with the emerging parallel forces in Europe like the new French Socialist candidate. Invite Hamon to Stoke and send Corbyn to Lens, for example, so that we are then building the political basis for the reorientation to and of the EU you outline.

Boffy said...

I wouldn't have voted to hold the referendum either under the conditions it was held. It was always going to be very difficult to hold a referendum under the necessary conditions with a Tory government held hostage to its right-wing and UKIP. A Labour government arguing from a position of the need to build a social Europe, would have been a different matter.

But, I agree that the most important thing at this point is to argue for those demands that maintain the unity of European workers and facilitate building an EU wide workers movement. In fact, I have been writing a post calling for European socialists to mobilise behind Hamon.

The red line should be, as I have said before, the right of free movement of workers, not membership of te single market or Customs Union. The latter two elements only benefit workers indirectly, by facilitating economic growth. But, they also contain elements that socialists would oppose, such as the limitations on fiscal policy etc. It would be theoretically possible for workers to build EU unity with a soft Brexit etc., but the reality is a soft Brexit is not possible.

davidjc said...

Not that he's necessarily an honest broker (!), but Clegg said earlier today that May was offered soft Brexit by Merkel, but turned it down.

Corbyn was also then pushing soft Brexit, but his voice was squashed for those crucial months by the bloody Chicken Coup. That gave more space for the right wing media, the Tory right and UKIP to frame the debate. Who knows, a soft Brexit consensus could have emerged otherwise as it looks like May, a soft Remainer, will go with the short term flow.

On the possible upside, her choice of Trump over the EU puts things in the stark terms that could change minds.

Boffy said...

But, what does "soft Brexit" mean. My understanding of what Clegg was saying Merkel offered was some kind of deal on restrictions on free movement. For me that actually amounts to hard Brexit, because for me, maintaining workers' tight to free movement is what Labour should insist on. What is the benefit, for workers, of a "soft Brexit" that restricts free movement, and continues to impose all of the elements of the single market that are against workers interests, such as the limitations, on fiscal policy, and insistence on the rule of the free market?

I have no doubt that what Boris Johnson envisaged was what he originally said that by calling for withdrawal some sort of such revised offer would be made, but it was precisely such a revised offer that further undermined workers' interests that had to be resisted. That's why it was impossible for socialists to back Cameron's "Stronger In" campaign, because it was premised on the idea that the EU needed to be reformed in an even more conservative, and anti-worker direction.

Listening to the Brexiteers now, its obvious that this notion still dominates their thoughts. They treat the negotiations as being about the EU needing to give them concessions to stay in, as though the EU has to be desperate to keep Britain inside. That is why they are deluded into believing that in some way the UK can get a better deal from the EU outside, or partially outside the club, than members inside the club are entitled to.

They do not seem to have grasped that the negotiations are about how they can minimise how bad a deal is inflicted on the UK outside the EU!

davidjc said...

Sorry to gnaw away at this one, just wondered what you think of the idea that the parliamentary vote at the end of the negotiations still gives Labour a chance to get soft Brexit? Twitter leftie Eoin's idea is that if Labour voted against, that would trigger an election in which Labour could stand for a different deal. Gives some space to get the FOM argument across at least. I realise I'm searching for crumbs.

Boffy said...

I think three is no chance of a "soft Brexit". The assumption behind it is that the EU is so desperate to have the indispensable Brits as part of the EU that they will give all sorts of concessions to them to prevent them leaving, and that Britain is so important, so unique in the world that the EU would be prepared to give Britain a better deal outside the EU than it gives to any of its own members inside the EU. It is simply an expression of British arrogance, and failure to accept that the British Colonial Empire, and its imperial ambitions are long dead.

Can you think of any organisation that would destroy itself by giving more advantages to people outside the organisation than to those inside it? What would happen to a trades union that offered to represent people and so on who were not members, and paid no subs. Its bad enough for unions having to deal with free riders who get pay rises on the back of the efforts of its members.

A soft Brexit is not possible, and Labour should say its not possible from the start, or its just misleading workers, and perpetuating those old bigotries about Britain's place in the world. Labour should vigorously oppose Brexit by every means, and use its opposition to promote the idea of an alternative Europe based on EU workers solidarity. They should actively support the left in the EU, and thereby show the interrelated nature of the interests of workers across the EU. Labour should actively support and campaign for Hamon, build links with the Left Bloc in Portugal, with Syriza and Podemos etc., as well as with left moving elements of the main social-democratic parties.

Labour should hoover up the 48% cutting off the lifeline provided to Liberals, because as I've written elsewhere, there is little chance of Labour losing many of its seats in "leave" constituencies, provided it has a clear and radical message that provides answers for workers rather than pandering to prejudices. The worst thing is to both pander to bigotry, whilst appearing dishonest - which is the case in Stoke Central, for example - and in consequence always appearing to be at best confused and vacillating, and at worst dissembling, and so like all past politicians, who relied on spin.

davidjc said...

Yes I don't see the EU offering the UK a sweetheart deal! What I mean by soft Brexit is one where Britain has to pay over the odds for access and accept FOM etc. There was this from the former Finnish PM in the FT today:
"The EU27 will make sure that the alternative cost of non-membership is substantially higher than being a member. This means that the UK will not be allowed to pick and chose the policies which it wants to plug into. If the UK wants more than a free-trade agreement, it will not be allowed a competitive advantage through lower levels of taxation, environmental standards or social security."
I agree that full membership would be better, but then you come up against the internal stuff in the Labour Party. Whether you're right or not that pushing a Remain line wouldn't involve losses directly, it would involve more turbulence within Labour and more threat to Corbyn's position. If Corbyn goes, you can be sure the policies would pander more to bigotry than now - see Lisa Nandy's and Clive Lewis' recent comments, let alone the likes of John Mann.
My other hesitation surrounds the EU itself. On the day EU leaders grouped together to slam Trump's visa racism, they signed a deal with Libya to set up refugee internment camps and beef up Libya's naval capacity to stop the desperate souls getting close to sacred Europe. Or what if a Le Pen gets in, while in three and a half years' time a Sanders wins in the US? Or at what point do you say neither Washington, nor Brussels, but...?

Boffy said...

I already say "Neither Washington nor Brussels". That should be a starting point.

If soft "Brexit" meant accepting FOM, the Tories would not accept it, as they have based everything on control of immigration - even though in practice they will not control it, any more than they have reduced non-EU immigration. And its also hard to see how they would justify paying large amounts for access, or even how that would work, because the biggest barriers are non-tariff barriers; it would require being subject to EU rules which they would have no control over, and being subject to the ECJ.

I really don't see the problem of the internal LP divisions. The real division it seems to me is that a large proportion of Labour MP's,a nd certainly a large part of the membership, particularly the new membership are Pro-Remain. That should be a bonus, because adopting a pro-Remain stance is the principled thing to do. It would be more a problem if the majority of the PLP and party at large (set aside Labour voters) were pro-Leave. In that case, I would still be in favour of arguing for Remain against that majority.

But, it seems bonkers to me given that opposing Brexit and arguing for remain is the right thing to do, for Corbyn and the leadership to also then set their face against the majority of the PLP, majority of the party at large (particularly all of those Corbynistas that joined recently, and some of whom I know are already being turned off by the collapse into supporting Brexit), and on top of that 65% of Labour voters!!!

On the EU and Libya I predicted that kind of development back in December. In some ways, its possible to identify positives from it. The collapse of the Arab Spring showed that the economic development in those countries had not yet become sufficient for the development of a powerful enough working and middle class, required for social democracy, and now, bourgeois democracy can only take the form of social democracy.

It may have been different had the 2010 EU debt crisis not limited the process of drawing MENA into the orbit of the EU. For now, the best hope of economic and social development in MENA is the establishment of bonapartist regimes and the crushing of the islamists, and degeneration into civil war etc. The EU will no doubt prefer to also give some attention to bank-rolling such bonapartist regimes' attempt to develop those economies, and to restore the process of drawing MENA further into the EU orbit. That will act to shift the refugee crisis outside the EU's borders.

If it causes such a focus on economic development of MENA to that end, it will be positive.

davidjc said...

On that measure, it's not clear to me that bonapartist states in MENA have a great record even compared to the absolute monarchies and theocracies - Iran beats Egypt on most development measures since 1979, for instance, and Jordan is more stable than Syria, while Tunisia and Morocco are broadly similar on economic growth etc. At the least, the picture is mixed.

Boffy said...

I don't think that you can place a great deal by such country comparisons. Iran started from a higher level, and so on, as well as having huge amounts of oil. I would also treat the Iranian regime as essentially Bonapartist too, and in many ways that is true of the kingdoms such as Jordan. After Napoleon fell and the Monarchy was restored, the regime of Louis Phillippe was effectively another form of Bonapartism, that in turn bled into the Bonapartist regime of Louis Bonaparte.

The point is that some strong leader holds the ring against contending social forces in a situation with the ruling class itself is not strong enough to rule politically in its own name, by democratic means.