Thursday, 20 April 2017

General Election - A Tory Win Means A Hard Brexit and Harder Austerity

Assorted pundits have been mulling over Theresa May's decision to call a snap election, and the consequences of her gaining a larger majority.  One theory is that she called the election so as to get a bigger majority, in order to put down her own hard Brexit backbenchers, who currently have leverage given the slim majority.  Others point out that, any increased majority is likely to strengthen the hard right on her backbenches, because local Tory associations are likely to select hard right candidates. Yet another theory is that, she wants a larger majority so as to be able to present a stronger hand in negotiations with the EU, and thereby be able to negotiate a softer Brexit.  All these theories are wrong.  Any Tory win, whether it represents a big or small majority, whether it brings in more hard Brexiters or less, will mean a hard Brexit, because the terms of Brexit will be determined by the EU, not by Britain, and as they have said, the choice is a hard Brexit or no Brexit.

The pundits have accepted the Tory line, and adopted the same delusion as the Tories that what will happen is some kind of negotiation between the EU and Britain, in which Britain tried to get the best deal it can.  That perspective is totally wrong.  Britain has no cards in its hand to negotiate with, and the EU know that.  It will not be a negotiation, but simply the EU telling Britain how things will be, in future, and Britain trying to dress it up, whilst trying to minimise the damage.  The end result will be that Britain is out on its ear, and reliant on other global forces for its future, in the same way that small states in the past have always had to become clients of larger more powerful players for their protection, and thereby become vassal states.  Expecting the EU to treat the UK as some kind of equal, and to negotiate with it on the basis, is like expecting that the US would treat Cuba as an equal, and negotiate with it on that basis.  It won't happen.

What would a soft Brexit look like?  It would involved Britain remaining in the Customs Union and common market (a thing incidentally that even UKIP, in the past said they wanted, and lyingly claimed the 1975 Referendum had been about), but May has already said that she does not want to be in either!  Even if that is just to satisfy her backbenchers, and she intends to give it up in negotiations, why would the EU agree to that without Britain having to pay for that privilege, and also having to accept free movement of labour, rejection of which May has made the centrepiece of her programme?  But, even if that were on the cards, what possible reason would there be to go for such an option - essentially the Norway option - if you have all the obligations and costs of EU membership, but with no seat at the table, no right to have a say in policy formation?

I once thought that May was pushing forward a hard Brexit, and promoting incompetents like Bojo, Davies, and Fox, who squabble like rats in a sack, so as to ensure that Brexit failed.  However, it now looks like May is the hardest Brexiter of all, and that she put forward the three amigos, in good faith of their Brexit credentials.  A reason for calling the election now could well be that, knowing that the negotiations a re a sham, and Britain's impotence will be more and more exposed in the coming weeks, and its economic performance seen also to have been a sham built on a bubble, is that the three stooges will cause the negotiations to collapse, soon after the election, and May will then just decide to pull Britain out of the EU, as some of the hard Brexiters have been already demanding, so as to avoid demonstrating their impotence, and before they are presented with a huge bill for their share of the costs of leaving.

May wants to support her position for the same reason that Erdogan does in Turkey, its why she talks in the same terms as Erdogan and other dictators about crushing the opposition, i.e. crushing any dissent from her disastrous agenda, and its consequences.  By pulling out of the EU, immediately after the election, May will argue that the economic chaos that follows is just temporary pain until Britain resumes its former colonial glory with a reimposition of the commonwealth as its own protected market place.  It would then give them five years, in which they would stick their finger in the air,a nd hope for the best before having to face the electorate again, unless, of course, by that time, they follow Erdogan even further, and legislate to lengthen the life of the government, and further strengthen its prerogative powers, as May has done with the Brexit Bill, and is proposing with the Henry VIII clauses in the so called Great Repeal Bill.

Any Tory win, will mean a hard Brexit, and if they get a large majority, probably an immediate Brexit, simply repealing the 1972 European Communities Act, and walking away as Farage and right-wing Tories have already proposed, and as is favoured by the gutter press such as the Daily Mail.  And, the further immediate consequence will then be that an already flaky British economy that is heading in any case for stagflation, will be hit hard.  It will be the signal for the Tories to double down on austerity, imposing further harsh cuts in the welfare state.  They have already indicated that the pensioners triple lock is to go; the current cuts in school, health and social care will be mild compared to what they impose following Brexit.  With Britain becoming a vassal state, dependent on May's ties to Trump, we could expect the NHS to be sold off to big US corporations, and its operation geared to making money by providing healthcare to the global super rich, from the US, Russia, China, and of course, May's friends in the Saudi Royal Family and other Gulf monarchies.

The Economists for Brexit like Patrick Minford have at least been honest and admitted that Brexit and a policy of free trade would mean that the rst of Britain's manufacturing industry would disappear, unable to compete in such an environment.  There would be a period, before that happens when the government would support manufacturers taking on their workers to push down wages, abolish existing pension arrangements,a nd worsen conditions.  Minford talks about consumers being better off, by being able to buy cheaper imported goods, but he doesn't explain how those consumers will buy those cheaper imported goods, when, as workers they have no job to provide an income to spend.  He does not explain how Britain would pay for even cheaper imports, unless it had something to export.  The only answer is that which Thatcher and her heirs adopted from the 1980's, to pay for it by debt, by another massive expansion of credit, which could only be financed by selling off the country's capital and assets, like the NHS.

Of course, people like Minford are not concerned, because the only consumers he, and the Tories are actually concerned about are rich consumers, not workers.  Workers in Britain would be reduced to being unproductive servants, paid for out of the revenue of the rich, much as like happened in the 19th century.  The Tory's vision of "an alternative economic model", is an economy like Batista;s Cuba, with low taxes attracting all sorts of dubious characters form overseas looking for a place to stash their ill gotten gains, and where they can speculate to make further ill-gotten gains.  For workers it would be a return to the Tory golden age, depicted by Tory Lord Julian Fellows, in his "Downton Abbey".  And when the result of that is a destruction of Britain's wealth creating capacity, they will simply take all of their movable wealth, all of their fictitious capital, and simply move to somewhere else, like former Tory Chancellor Nigel Lawson, who sits in the House of Lords, pontificating over the future of British people, demanding Brexit, but who himself lives in France!

That is also why it is naive to think, as the media do, that this election can separate out Brexit from the issues that Jeremy Corbyn and Labour are stressing, the question of the economy, of jobs, of wages, of the state of the welfare state and NHS, of taxes, and the imposition of austerity and its dire failure over the last seven years.  Already, now the election has been called, the polls show that it is these issues that are at the top of people's concerns rather than Brexit and immigration.  But, the fact is that it will be impossible to deal with all of these other issues satisfactorily if Brexit goes ahead.  Stopping Brexit has to be a central part of any programme.

Anyone who wants to prevent the dire consequences of a deteriorating economy, has to oppose Brexit, because a soft Brexit is not possible, it is hard Brexit or no Brexit, and we know that under the Tories it will be a very hard, and probably very immediate Brexit.  Anyone who wants to prevent the dire consequences of Brexit, and therefore stop Brexit, has to vote Labour, because no other force is capable of defeating the Tories, and forming a government.  True, Labour have said that they will respect the referendum result, and that is unfortunate, but Labour has said that they would try to negotiate a soft Brexit that would keep Britain in the Common Market, and the Customs Union.  In practice the only way that will be possible will effectively be to remain in the EU, and as negotiations between a Labour government and the EU proceeded, that would become obvious, and the government would be led to get backing from the people for overturning the Brexit vote.  By that time, in any case, and if a Labour government gave 16 and 17 year olds a vote, there would be a clear majority to stay in the in the EU.

Anyone who want to oppose Brexit should, therefore, vote Labour.  A vote for the Liberals or Greens or Plaid more than at any other time will be a wasted vote.  None of those parties can win a majority or form a government.  A vote for any of them, anywhere is essentially a vote for the Tories, or at least a vote that Labour could have used to defeat the Tories, and elect a Labour government, as the only possible alternative government to the Tories, and their hard Brexit, hard austerity plans.  In fact, if the Greens, Plaid and the Liberals are serious about wanting to defeat Brexit and defeat the Tories, they should stand their candidates down now, and throw all their weight behind Labour.  That is the only kind of "Progressive Alliance" that make any kind of sense.  But, in reality, Farron and the Liberals have attacked Labour more than the Tories, and they have said that they would go into another coalition with the Tories, like the one that created this mess in the first place,a nd from which they only got kicked out of two years ago!

The only exception to that is the SNP in Scotland, where its obvious that the Tartan Tories of Sturgeon are entrenched for the foreseeable future.  But, it gives a clue to Labour to focus all of its resources on fighting the battle against the Tories South of the border.  And South of the border, Labour needs to learn the lessons of Scotland.  A Corbyn Labour Party should have all the potential to appeal to the old urban working-class that the Blair/Brown Labour Party deliberately took for granted.  The focus now should be the other way around.  We need a Labour programme that is bold, radical and that recognises that the interests of workers and the middle class are identical as against the interests of the rich money lenders, who are fleecing the country blind.

We need bold policies to increase the minimum wage substantially, not just as an hourly minimum, but as at least a weekly minimum, so as to overcome the problem of zero hours contracts and casual employment.  We need to protect the triple lock for pensions.  We should demand that companies protect final salary scheme pensions for their employers, by law.  We should give workers a right to buy the companies they work for, at a large discount, in the same way Thatcher gave Council House tenants a right to buy their council house.  We should announce a massive programme of council house building, to put workers back to work, and provide workers with affordable housing, whilst also thereby bursting the current astronomical property bubble that only benefits the speculators.  We should take ownership by compulsory purchase at agricultural prices all the land needed to undertake that building, and announce plans for a nationalisation of land, as was first proposed back in the 19th century, to stop the rich landlords, holding back economic growth.

W should also give local communities, and workers in public services greater democratic control over the provision of health and social care and so on.  Where possible we should set up worker owned co-operatives to provide integrated health and social care, as well as pharmacies and associated services.  We should set up user co-operatives as commissioners of health and social care, so as to give local communities control over the services they get, and oversight over its costs, whilst linking up directly with the workers who provide those services.

These are all things that affect workers and the middle class, who in reality are workers themselves.  The aspiration we should engender is a collective aspiration to make things better for us all, not an individualistic aspiration to simply see the paper price of your house rise, which actually makes you no better off, and impoverishes your children, when they come to buy one.  The aspiration we should engender is a collective aspiration to own and control the place where you work, and where you live, and thereby to ensure that its development is a development in the interests of all, and not just in the interests of a small group of speculators and money lenders.

We should use all of our half million members to take this on to the street, no more phone canvassing and remote access.  We need to take the message into every workplace, every pub and club.  And as the supporters of Bernie Sanders have been doing in the US, we should give the Tories nowhere to hide.  At every meeting, every event, we should be there to announce loudly "Shame On You".


George Carty said...

A minor correction: Norway and the other EFTA states are not in the European Union's customs union, though all but Switzerland are in the single market.

Conversely, Turkey is in the EU customs union while being outside the single market.

Boffy said...

Correct, George, which is why I said "essentially the Norway option". The point is, as Norwegian politicians themselves say, it is the worst option, because they have all the obligations of membership, including have to pay, but do not have the benefit of a seat at the table to participate in decision making on the rules.

George Carty said...

Why should people living in the more affluent areas of Britain vote Labour, when it would be as much of a wasted vote as a Liberal or Green vote would be in a working class area?

Wouldn't it be more prudent to vote for whichever anti-Tory candidate (except UKIP obviously) has the best chance of winning in your own constituency? In some cases that would be fairly clear: if Labour beat the Liberals in 2010 (a good year for the latter), then voting Labour is the obvious choice, while if they under-polled the Liberals even in 2015 then a Liberal vote would be the way to go. (Of course, if Liberals exceeded the 2010 Labour vote but not the 2015 Labour vote then it would be a more difficult decision...)

Boffy said...

I would Vote Labour wherever I lived. I currently live in North Staffordshire, just on the border of Newcastle. I was disappointed to find that I had no Labour candidate to vote for in the County Council elections, even though in my particular ward, Labour has no chance of winning, because its rock solid Tory. So, I abstained. Although I live in Newcastle Borough, I live in Bill Cash's Constituency, which again is a rock solid Tory seat, but I will still vote Labour.

If the choice in France is between Le Pen and Macron, or Le Pen and Fillon, I would advise an active abstention. Although, I don't think the stalinist Melenchon is a real alternative to Le Pen, because of the national socialist nature of his politics, I could be persuaded to vote for him in a final round, if it was part of a left realignment, that gave some hope of workers creating a new workers party, say as with Syriza in Greece. I would vote in the first round, for Hamon, because the Socialists are still the mass party of French workers.

I would not vote anywhere for the Liberals, because politically they are no different to the Tories, and I would never vote for the Tories, even if the alternative was a fascist, because that kind of lesser-evil politics is a dead end that logically leads to voting for one fascist rather than some worse fascist. I would not vote for a Green candidate, because generally they too, like the Liberals, in practice are reactionaries, as their history in local councils indicates. More importantly, had Greens not taken votes away from Labour in 2015, the Tories might not have got a majority.

But, the more important point is not to do with voting itself. Casting your vote for Labour, in the same way I advocating in relation Democrat in the US elections, is just part of building the workers movement, which can only be done alongside building the workers party. It is about being part of the campaign, and thereby talking to workers about socialist ideas, and building a movement at a grass roots level in every community and every workplace. Look at the grass roots organisation that now exists in the US, whereby workers via the Democrats are being mobilised on a permanent basis to pressure Democrat politicians, and to turn out to oppose Republicans at every opportunity.

If I lived in Scotland or most of the South-West, and was a Labour Party member I might use my time to support candidates in other areas, where the chance of winning was greater, but I would still vote Labour in my own seat, and advocate others did the same. If the Liberals or the Greens or others really did want to defeat the Tories, they would stand down their candidates, and throw their weight behind getting Labour MP's elected everywhere. That is the only credible basis of forming an anti-Tory government. A dozen Liberals, who have in any case said they would line up with the Tories, plus a single Green candidate, and nationalist candidates taking votes from Labour, certainly is not the way of beating the Tories.

George Carty said...

I think even voting for the lesser evil is still important (unless even the lesser evil is unsurvivable, in which case it's time for violent revolution) provided it is combined with activism and other work intended to make sure that in the next election there is a better alternative to vote for! Didn't the (small minority of) Bernie Sanders supporters who refused to hold their nose and cast a vote for Hillary Clinton help contribute to the nightmare that is Trump's victory?

In the French case, assuming the run-off is between two of the current top 4, my thinking would be "Vote for Macron, or vote against Le Pen, or vote for Mélenchon against Fillon".

Boffy said...

My argument for supporting Clinton - though I would have preferred Sanders to be the candidate - had nothing to do with lesser evilism, but was precisely about mobilising workers around a campaign by what is the workers party - which in the US, dislike the fact as we may, is the Democrats.

In the UK it is Labour, in France it is the Socialist Party. The crucial thing is not the vote, but the mobilisation and organisation of workers. It is precisely because that mobilisation of the workers is done around the question of building the workers party, and transforming it, from the bottom up, so as to make forward progress that you cannot do that on the basis of lesser evilism, which is purely an electorally based concept.

My task as a Marxist is not to get this or that party elected, but to help workers to gain consciousness, to develop their ideas, and on that more solid basis to develop their organisation and move forward. Elections are, as Lenin pointed out, a good way of doing that, because they are periods of more intense political activity and debate. And, its precisely for that kind of reason too that advocating an active abstention, in conditions where its not possible to vote for a candidate of the workers party, itself is an ideological statement. It says to workers, not only that elections are not the be all and end all of political activity, and it says to workers that there is no benefit in voting for one bourgeois party as opposed to another.

The reason for advocating voting Labour, or in France Socialist, or in the US Democrat is not that they are a lesser evil all of these parties are bourgeois by their ideology - and there may be tiny parties or sects who stand in elections that have more principled socialist programmes - but that they are workers parties, they are the mass parties that workers relate to, that they join, or look to for answers, and its on that basis that we attempt to link up to those workers, and to gain a hearing from them. That is why Marx and Engels joined the Democrats in Germany in 1848, even though they admit that they knew it was an openly bourgeois party.

Its why I would call on workers to demand that the Greens, the Liberals, Plaid and any of the sects that might consider standing, withdraw their candidates, and throw all their weight behind Corbyn and the Labour Party.