Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Labour Must Avoid Brexit Contamination

One reason it would have been a very bad idea to have held another referendum, either before or after a Labour government was elected, is that it creates the potential for that government having to implement the decision of that referendum, which, if it was to Leave, means that a Labour government would have had to implement a reactionary Brexit, and then to take responsibility for it. Its why the only rational position, taken by any political party, in the last few months, has been that of the Liberals, who argued that, if elected, they would Revoke Article 50. Indeed, that position was supported by 70% of Labour's Remain voters, and even 25% of Labour's Leave voters believed it was an acceptable solution. If Labour had had to implement Brexit, it would have been disastrous. Now, the blame for Brexit will fall precisely where it should – on the head of Boris Johnson and the Tories. Labour must be resolute and swift, in ensuring that it distances itself by as much clear water as possible from Brexit, and the disastrous consequences that will result from it. 

Labour was right to vote against Johnson's Withdrawal Bill on Friday. The six Labour MP's that voted for it, Emma Lewell-Buck, Jon Cruddas, Grahame Morris, Toby Perkins, Sarah Champion and Rosie Cooper should have the whip withdrawn immediately. A further 32 Labour MP's abstained; they should have the whip withdrawn too. Labour must be as disciplined in pursuing its socialist internationalist line, now, as Johnson has been in pursuing his Brexit position. In the coming weeks, Corbyn will no doubt focus on attacking the “Tory Brexit”, continuing the nonsensical line that Labour could have pursued some fantasy Labour Brexit. Labour should have no truck with such a position. A large responsibility now falls on those in the Shadow Cabinet, such as Thornberry, Starmer et al, to do what they did not do over the last year or so, which is to set out why no such fantasy Brexit was possible, and why, even if it was, it would be reactionary, compared to remaining in the EU. Clive Lewis did do that, which is why he is in best position to become the new Labour Leader. The sooner Corbyn and those around him like Milne and Murphy are removed, and Lewis and supporters of a progressive socialist-internationalist, pro-EU position are installed the better. That also means that we cannot choose a new Leader who simply represents continuation Corbyn, and his reactionary economic nationalism, such as Long-Bailey or Rayner. 

It goes without saying that we should avoid like the plague any return to the Blairism of a Cooper, the wishy-washy liberalism of a Nandy, and even more the right-wing populism of a Phillips. If Labour elects a continuity Corbyn candidate it will never draw the correct lessons of the election defeat. It will double down on the idea that we lost because we were not Brexity enough. The candidates of the right and centre might also adopt that line, because it fits with their opportunist form of politics, which is based upon seeking electoral popularity, via the route of least resistance, rather than defending socialist principles. Candidates such as Thornberry and Starmer do not fall into that category, but they are tainted by the fact that they did not stand out clearly enough against the reactionary nationalist line adopted by Corbyn. They thereby allowed Labour's vote share to get decimated as it flooded to the Liberals and Greens, and only responded when it was much too late. Moreover, Thornberry and Starmer suffer from being London MP's at a time when its felt that someone from outside London would be preferable. 

A continuity Corbyn candidate like Long-Bailey or Rayner, neither of whom actually look the part of Leader or future PM to me, at a time when we need someone who can confront the personality of Johnson, would not just mean continuing in the same line of economic nationalism, it would mean a continuation of the same party management practices that were themselves damaging. It would likely mean a continuation of the same top down approach to policy making, and a continuation of the same bureaucratism. The idea that fell flat in this election that policies can simply be dumped on the electorate as gifts ahead of an election, rather than that they have to be argued for consistently for years to get support behind them, would continue. 

A candidate from the right or centre is even worse. It would almost certainly lead to a rash of suspensions of activists, then of branches and CLP's, in the same way that Kinnock and then Blair did in order to remove rank and file opposition to their attempt to obtain control over the party. It would set the party back decades. 

Labour's best hope is for the election of Lewis, and for a thorough accounting of the mistakes of Corbynism to be undertaken. For a start that means ensuring that Labour is quickly dissociated from the disastrous pro-Brexit stance. Labour must accept that the 2017 decision to “respect” the EU referendum result was a mistake, and that Labour had a duty to have continued to have argued and explained that Brexit was reactionary. It must accept that the idea of a “Labour Brexit” was itself not just reactionary, but also a delusion that acted to prevent the party from setting out a clear opposition to Brexit and the Tories, and thereby a clear strategy to defeat it and the Tories. 

Labour must adopt a position of extreme opposition over Brexit, voting against the Tories attempts to push it through, at every stage. It must be ruthless in disciplining any MP's that fail to live up to that responsibility. We need to build an opposition party that is harder and sharper than the Tories. Labour must repeatedly raise Brexit in every TV interview, in every newspaper article, every local newsletter, every discussion with constituents, in order to ram home the fact that Johnson's promise to “Get Brexit Done”, was just another lie. We must continue to raise it in every tenants and residents meeting, every trades union branch meeting and so on. 

And, the fact is that Jonson will not Get Brexit Done. Either he will again have to capitulate to the EU, in order to have a BRINO, so as to get a deal agreed before the end of next year, or else he will have to agree to an extension of the Transition Period, that the EU will almost certainly insist be a two year extension. Johnson may find himself under pressure from the ERG, and Tory rank and file to go for a Managed No Deal, and from some even for a crash out no deal, but he will resist it. He will not voluntarily go for any such deal, because he knows it would be disastrous for British capitalism which requires that Britain remain as closely tied to the EU as possible. Moreover, whilst he will feel pushed in a No Deal direction by the Tory hard right, any moves in that direction, will be met by a severe reaction from capital and from the financial markets. 

When Johnson struck his deal with the EU, the Pound rallied. That is because it was seen as ruling out the potential of No Deal. When Johnson re-emphasised that No Deal remained on the table, if no deal was struck by the end of next year, the Pound fell. When Johnson won the election by a convincing majority, the Pound rose, because the markets again saw this as meaning that he was not dependent on the ERG, and so a No Deal was again unlikely. In the last week, after Johnson again grandstanded, by saying he would enshrine in law that the government would not negotiate an extension, the Pound fell hard. In reality, the grandstanding is meaningless, because the government, if it does pass such a law, can always rescind it if it needs to actually extend the Transition Period. Moreover, any such constraint also affects right-wing Tories seeking No Deal, because it can also mean pressure on them to accept a collapse by Johnson into BRINO as the only deal possible within the year. 

Brexit will remain the major political issue of the day, over the next year, and it is up to Labour to ensure that that fact is brought out to all those who swallowed Johnson's lie about “Getting Brexit Done”. At every stage of these negotiations Labour must ensure that they are brought in front of the electorate's noses, and must militantly oppose the government, illustrating how the government is being forced to renege on its promises, and how the deals it is striking damage the interest of British workers. We must strike at the heart of Tory nationalist ideology. We must point to how that nationalist ideology is acting also to break up the United Kingdom. Without giving any succour to Scottish nationalism, which represents merely a form of Tartan Toryism, dressed in the clothes of Labourism, we should explain that Brexit, and the actions of the Tories has inevitably given rise to such demands. We should offer full support for Scotland to exercise its democratic will to leave the UK if it chooses, whilst arguing against Scottish workers choosing to undertake such a separation. We should similarly, point to the inevitability of Northern Ireland seeking a closer relation with the Irish Republic, as a result of Brexit, and support the principle of a United Ireland. 

At every step, Labour must oppose, with every sinew, any attempt by Johnson's government to pull Britain further away from the EU, but nor should we thereby vote for any measure that keeps Britain closer to the EU, but still outside it. We should argue that being in a Customs Union and Single Market, or, in other words, BRINO is better than the increasing divergence that the Tory Right seek, but that it is not as good as being inside the EU itself. We should point out the lunacy of being inside a Customs Union and Single Market, and thereby abiding by its rules and regulations, but of having voluntarily denied ourselves the right to sit at the table and determine the rules and regulations of those organisations, as a result of Brexit. 

Labour must do what Corbyn said he would do, which is to turn Labour into a social movement. It is a tragedy that Corbyn failed to lead the People's Vote campaign, or better still would have been a mass campaign against Brexit itself. Even worse, when Johnson carried out his parliamentary coup to close down parliament, to avoid scrutiny, Corbyn even refused to align himself with the spontaneous social movement that arose to oppose it, because his Stalinist minders feared that it might associate him with Remainer opponents of Johnson. The main battle against Brexit, and against the Tories, now, inevitably, moves to outside parliament. It will be ordinary workers in their trades unions that will have to fight the immediate effects of Johnson's attacks on them; it is environmentalist campaigners that will have to organise continued resistance against the damage that Johnson's Trumpist policies will inflict; it is local community activists that will have to fight the effects of Tory policies at a local level. Labour must be at the centre of organising all of these different acts of resistance, and also act to coordinate and draw together all of the strands between them, in an overall political struggle against the Tories. 

Anti-Poll Tax Riots
We need to clear out all of the old right-wing councillors, and local party bureaucrats. We need to launch local campaigns of resistance, led by Labour activists, who then begin to remove Tory and Liberal Councillors in Council chambers across the country. We must then use those Council chambers, and the platform it provides, to launch a political campaign of resistance to the Tories, similar to that waged in the 1980's, when we opposed the Tories' cuts on local government, and its imposition of the Poll Tax. We can expect Johnson to engage in large prestige infrastructure projects, but in part, these will be for show, and in part will also be paid for by real terms cuts in current spending for local authorities. 

Millions of WASPI Women paid into their pensions
but have been denied them by the Tories who have
acted in the same way as Robert Maxwell or
 Phillip Green.  An insurance company that did this
 would be prosecuted for theft.  The Tories have stolen
 £58 Billion  from the WASPI Women.
 They will not go away.
We need to link all of these diverse struggles together with the inevitable trades union struggles that will occur over attacks on workers rights. The main reason the Tory rank and file wanted Brexit was so as to have a bonfire of workers' rights, consumer rights and environmental protections, because it is all those things that the small capitalists that make up the Tory base most hate. It is what puts limits on their ability to exploit workers, to produce shoddy goods, and to avoid the costs they should pick up for the damage to the environment they inflict. The Tories have already dropped the promise they made to gullible Labour MP's that they would protect workers rights in the Withdrawal Agreement. These are the same Tories that want to remove the right to strike for whole swathes of workers, that have stolen £58 billion of pensions from the WASPI women, that those women have contributed over the years. These are the same Tories that introduced further restrictions on workers' right to go to an Industrial Tribunal, and who introduced charges for being able to bring cases even when they were allowed. Johnson wanted to bring in a law that workers had to get not just a majority of union members voting, but a majority of total members, before strikes were lawful. If that were applied to Brexit, or to the Tory election win, then neither would have happened. Only 37% voted for Brexit, and only about 30% of the electorate voted for the Tories. 

As the reality of Brexit dawns, opposition to it will grow, along with the natural growth in opposition to it resulting from demographic changes. Labour must avoid being tainted by Brexit and the damaging effects that come from it. Labour must militantly oppose it at every step, and begin preparing a mass social movement to keep Britain inside he EU, as the Transition Period drags on, and to rejoin the EU at the earliest date should the Tories actually take us out.

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