Monday, 10 December 2018

Labour's Fantasy Brexit

Labour's Fantasy Brexit 

Watching Channel 4's Brexit Debate last night, the reality of Brexit was exposed. James Cleverly, presented the case for May's no hope Brexit deal, and was torn apart by the other three participants; Barry Gardiner presented Labour's fantasy Brexit proposal, and was again torn apart by the other three participants; Jacob Rees-Mogg presented the Brextremists 18th century, Liberal, free market capitalism Brexit nightmare deal, and was torn apart by the other three participants; and finally Caroline Lucas presented the case for another referendum, with the other three participants attempting to tear her proposal apart, but failing to do so, because she was the only one presenting a case that had any kind of cogency. Unfortunately, although Lucas' position is closer to that of 90% of Labour Party members, and around 70% of Labour voters, because she represents the Greens, a small middle-class party, she has no possibility of gaining any electoral support for her position, and so no possibility of turning her more cogent position into effective political action. What it also demonstrates is the tragedy of Labour's rank and file failing to introduce greater democracy into the party, including mandatory reselection, because its clear that the real problem facing Labour today, as in the past, is that we have a party leadership, and PLP, that is totally out of step with 90% of the party membership. We need new MP's that reflect the vast majority of the membership, and, increasingly, it appears that that applies also to the party leadership. 

It's clear that Cleverly could not argue a cogent position, because May's deal itself is not cogent, and more importantly, in the immediate term, is set to be voted down massively, in parliament by MP's, including a large number of Tory MP's, and the Tories second team support in the DUP. You had to feel a bit sorry for Barry Gardiner, who cut a rather pathetic figure – though I suppose better him than Corbyn himself to have been likewise exposed in trying to justify Labour's dangerous and nonsensical Brexit stance – in trying to justify Labour's position, because, like Cleverly, he was trying to defend the indefensible. In just the same way that May could never have negotiated a Brexit deal that met the requirements set for it, by the Brexiters, during the referendum campaign, neither could Labour negotiate its fantasy Brexit deal with the EU, and to suggest that it could is dangerous nonsense. 

Labour sounds increasingly like Donald Trump, claiming that the problem with Brexit is the lack of the Tories negotiating skills. If only they had read “The Art of the Deal”, and had the superior negotiating skills of Labour, the party position amounts to saying, the whole problem of Brexit could be resolved amicably overnight. It a bit like going to a new barber, who tells you that all of the problems you have with your hair, is down to the inadequacy of your previous hairdresser, even though the real problem is that you are going bald. 

The idea that Labour could negotiate a deal that was not just better than May's deal, but which met its own Six Tests is ludicrous. Gardiner even, laughably, - and a large part of the audience did indeed quite rightly laugh at it - claimed that Labour could negotiate a deal that would be so good that Britain would be economically better off under it than it is currently within the EU! But, of course it cannot. Firstly the reason that Britain joined the EU/EEC in the first place is that doing so strengthened British capital, and facilitated its accumulation. And, for so long as capitalism exists, that strengthening of capital, and its ability to accumulate at a faster pace, is inseparable from the fortunes of British workers too. To set against it the idea of some fantasy, currently non-existent, British socialism, or even progressive social-democracy, is to live in the realm of pipe dreams. Not only does it counterpose a non-existent fantasy scenario to current reality, but even the fantasy scenario is itself a reactionary, nationalist delusion. The root to a progressive social-democratic solution in Britain, let alone a socialist solution, does not reside in some kind of economic nationalist agenda, but in struggling, alongside other EU workers, and socialist parties, to transform capitalism across the continent of Europe. 

The idea that the EU's current conservative politicians, and the state bureaucrats who work on their behalf, would give Corbyn a better deal than May, is ridiculous. A look at the fate of Syriza in Greece illustrates that point. The conservative politicians in Europe, like Merkel and Macron, have bent over backwards, within the limits placed upon them, by the requirement to defend the EU itself, to accommodate May, precisely to try to enable her to reach a compromise deal, and so undermine the reactionary Brextremist wing of her party, whilst also trying to avoid a General Election that might bring Corbyn to power, who might then link up with forces such as Syriza, Podemos, the Left Bloc etc., and which might thereby give encouragement to further such grass roots, Corbynite movements in mass workers parties across the EU. There is no reason that European conservative politicians would give Corbyn, a progressive social-democrat, a good deal, as opposed to one of their own kind, i.e. May. 

The reality is that Labour's position is unfathomable, and it is unfathomable precisely because it is based upon a fantasy. Labour could no more negotiate a deal that meets its six tests than can the Tories, and it cannot do so, because such a deal would indeed mean that Britain would be better off outside the EU than being inside. It would have all of the benefits of being an EU member, including a seat at the table in determining the rules and regulations, but none of the responsibilities. It would mean that Britain, unlike an EU member state, would be able to negotiate its own trade deals with other countries, and set its own customs tariffs and so on. If the EU agreed to that it would destroy itself overnight, because every other member state would say, “We will have some of that thank you very much!” Its like a trades union saying that anyone could have all the benefits of trades union membership, but without being a member, without paying dues, or any of the other obligations and responsibilities. 

The divided nature of the Tories over Brexit, a division that has become ever more intense over the last two years, presented an open goal for Labour, but it has failed even to line up the shot to score, let alone put the ball in the back of the net. Labour should have been miles ahead in the polls, at this stage, if it had only done what a political party, particularly a workers' party exists to do – provide principled leadership. Had Labour, over the last two years, set out why the Brexit decision was a reactionary decision, it would have intensified the divisions inside the Tory Party, it would have undermined the Blair-rights, and their association with other conservative social-democrats in the People's Vote campaign, that have been able to assume the role of leadership in opposing the Tory Brexit that Labour's leadership has abdicated. 

Labour is quite right in saying that there should now be a General Election, but Caroline Lucas was quite right in asking just what Labour would be saying were such a General Election to be called. At present, as over the last two years, Labour's position appears to be incredibly based on the idea that a Labour government would continue with the reactionary Tory Brexit agenda, but would simply be able to negotiate better for its implementation! The Tories were actually presented with a gift when Labour's 2017 Manifesto committed the party to implementing Brexit, because on every possible occasion, now, the Brextremists point to the idea that in 2017, 80% of votes went to parties that were committed to carrying through Brexit. Yet, of course, the reality is that May lost the Tories majority in that election, based upon her proposals for a hard Brexit, whilst millions of voters, including many new, younger voters, voted Labour not because of its commitment to Brexit, but because they saw it as the only credible party of government that could stop a hard Brexit. Had Labour openly campaigned against Brexit after 2016, there is every chance it would actually have won a majority in 2017. 

If a General Election were called tomorrow, Lucas' question is a valid one. Exactly what would Labour say? Would it continue the nonsense about respecting the referendum result; would it then enter into fruitless negotiations to implement its fantasy Brexit proposals; would it commit to holding another referendum? And, if it chose the first of these, what would it do when it inevitably failed to achieve that goal, and saw its support plummet, and disillusionment rocket? If it chose the second option, what would its position be in that referendum. If its to support Remain, then Remain on what basis, and how would that be presented in a meaningful way on a ballot paper? For example, the position outlined by Corbyn and others, of criticism of the conservative nature of the EU, is perfectly valid – though it always has to be coupled with noting the even more conservative nature of the British government and state – and the way to deal with EU conservatism is not to withdraw from the EU, but to join with other socialists, and progressive social-democrats, in Europe, to transform it. Exactly how is that to be formulated as a referendum option? Moreover, why go to the additional, unsatisfactory means of a further referendum, in that case, rather than simply standing in a General Election on a platform that commits Labour to scrapping Brexit, and to building a Workers Europe? In short, the General Election option only makes sense if Labour commits itself to scrapping Brexit itself. But, in the same way that the EU told Cameron that he could not expect to have been attacking the EU from Monday to Saturday, and then expect voters to support his call to back it on a Sunday, so too with Labour. It has completely undermined itself as far as putting forward a progressive position on the EU, by backing Brexit over the last two years, and continually appearing as Theresa Mat's support act in parliament, presenting itself as merely a pale pink version of Tory Little Englander nationalism, along with its abandonment of any principled defence of free movement. 

In last night's debate, a majority of the audience repeatedly laughed at the ludicrous positions put forward by Clerverly, Gardiner, and Mogg, but as much today as in 2017, people like Lucas, and the parties they represent are merely a divisive distraction. A vote for them, might almost as well be a vote for the Tories, because it is a vote that otherwise could have gone to Labour. It was typified, at the end when one Labour Party member, in the audience, stated that they could not commit to voting Labour in a future election, if it continued with its current pro-Brexit position. That is the meltdown that Labour is actually facing if it continues with its present line. It is facing disillusioning thousands of new members who joined it, because they saw a progressive attitude towards Europe, as a necessary concomitant to the more radical policies presented by Corbyn. It is facing losing millions of votes who threw themselves behind the party in 2017, as an alternative to the Greens and Liberals, and even in places the Tories. And, in Scotland, the SNP, which opposes Brexit, is in a position to benefit, at Labour's expense from such a position. If Labour wants to win a General Election it cannot do so without retaining the support of all those Remain voters it pulled across in 2017, and without drawing voters away from the SNP in Scotland. 

Labour should have been drawing in masses of additional support over the last two years, especially given all of the rhetoric about building a social movement rather than being limited to being merely a parliamentarist party, but it has squandered that opportunity. It could still take up those reins, and then it could be Labour spokespeople standing on hustings gaining applause as they present a credible position, not Greens, Liberals and Blair-rights. Other wise they can simply expect a repetition of last night's experience with its fantasy Brexit proposals merely being received with laughter and derision. 

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