Friday, 6 December 2019

To Stop Johnson Labour Must Go All Out For Remain

Labour cannot now win this election, but they can stop Johnson getting a majority. Labour cannot win, because its nonsensical Brexit policy has driven away a sizeable portion of Labour Remain voters, and those Liberal and Green Remain voters that loaned Labour their votes in 2017. At the same time, Labour's Brexit stance has done nothing to break away Labour Leave voters from the underlying cultural conservatism, and bigotry that characterises their politics and support for Brexit, and other reactionary policies. That can only be remedied by going all out for Remain, and to do so by arguing a principled international socialist position. Even that, at this late stage, will not be enough for Labour to win, but it could be enough to stop Johnson getting a majority. It could still conceivably be enough for Labour to form a minority government with the backing of the SNP that would force the Liberals to have to support it too. 

Labour went into this election trying to avoid talking about Brexit. It did so because it knew that its Brexit stance is nonsensical. It is nonsensical, because it tries to reconcile two irreconcilable positions. It tries to reconcile the reactionary nationalist position of Corbyn and his Stalinoid backers, including those like McCluskey, Ward et al, as well as members of the Shadow Cabinet like Long-Bailey, Burgon and Rayner, with, the anti-Brexit stance of 90% of party members, and around 75% of Labour voters. It is impossible, but even were it possible, it would be undesirable, because it implies Labour pursuing a fudged, but still reactionary policy in support of Brexit of some kind. 

Labour has turned off a large part of its voter base that overwhelmingly backs Remain, by promoting its Brexit stance, but by promoting that stance, it has also failed to win its Leave voters away from their support for Brexit, because, in arguing for a version of Brexit, it simply reinforces the belief of its Leave voters that there are benefits to be had from Brexit. In doing so, it only reaffirms the reactionary nationalist ideas of those voters, rather than confronting them head on, whilst failing to assuage the concerns of those voters, who then see Labour's halfhearted, and unrealistic version of Brexit as unattractive, compared to that offered by Johnson or Farage. So, Labour has tried to deny that this is a Brexit election, when, in fact, its as plain as the nose on your face that it is, and that the determining factor in who wins the election will be Brexit. Johnson understood that all along, and went full on in favour of a hard Brexit to smash the Brexit Party, and sweep up all of the Leave vote. Labour has failed to do the same, and, in doing so, has simply divided the anti-Brexit vote, ensuring that it could not possibly win the election. In fact, Labour is likely to lose seats in this election. 

In my constituency of Newcastle under Lyme, the former strongly pro-Remain candidate, Paul Farrelly, has stood down. Labour, in this seat, has said absolutely nothing about Brexit in the election campaign. Indeed, the election material on other subjects is very sparse, both in quantity, and content. Given that, in this seat, the Liberals have no chance of winning, I will vote Labour to stop the Tories, but without any conviction or enthusiasm. If I lived in the neighbouring seats of Stoke North or Stoke Central, where the Labour MP's Ruth Smeeth and Gareth Snell, are right-wing opponents of Corbyn, who have repeatedly voted with the Tories, I would have no real reason to vote Labour, because any such vote may just as well be a vote directly for the Tories. I expect many core Labour voters in those seats, and others across the country like them, will either not bother to vote, or will vote Liberal or Green, in protest. In Stoke North and Central, Labour now has only a small majority, so it will not require many of its core voters to abstain or vote Liberal or Green, for Labour to lose. If at least, Labour had a solid position backing Remain nationally, it would give Labour voters a reason to vote Labour, even in those seats, on the basis that, after the election, these maverick right-wing Labour MP's could be called to account, by the party itself. 

Labour's attempt to avoid discussing Brexit, and instead to focus on the “bread and butter” issues of Jobs, the NHS, Schools and so on, is what Marxists call Economism. In the past, for example, in Northern Ireland, groups like the Militant Tendency, and the SWP adopted this Economistic approach. They saw arguing clearly principled politics over the question of Northern Ireland politics, of the question of the border, which meant addressing the question of Irish independence, as getting in the way of them recruiting industrial militants, with which they had had some success in the 1960's. That was particularly the case when the PIRA began its terror campaign on the British mainland. The Economists tried to deny the existence of a real political difference between Northern Ireland's Nationalist workers, and its Protestant workers. The Militant Tendency, in particular, put forward the totally ludicrous argument that Northern Irish workers should focus on their joint concerns as workers over jobs and so on, and pursue those interests together via their trades unions. They even suggested that Protestant and Catholic workers create joint Workers Defence Squads to confront the IRA, and Protestant paramilitaries. It was, of course, true that the workers of both communities had shared interests, but it was not true that those shared interests could be advanced without simultaneously confronting the political issue that determined all, which was the question of the border, and the resulting oppression of the Nationalist community trapped within the Northern Ireland statelet, and the role, in relation to it, of the the British state. 

The same is true with Brexit. However much Labour's Economists want to avoid the question of Brexit, and want to focus on the bread and butter issues, the question of Brexit continues to dominate, and the bread and butter issues themselves cannot be considered in isolation from Brexit. Brexit affects whether there will be free movement, and so what the prospects for jobs of British workers in Europe will be, as well as whether it will be possible to get the NHS and social care workers required for Labour's plans. It will determine the fortunes of the British economy, meaning that the resulting economic slow down will cause less money to be raised from tax whilst more will have to be spent on benefits, thereby leaving less to invest in improving services and infrastructure, and so on. 

Labour has failed to address the Brexit question, and so by ignoring the main question of the election it has failed to make any impact. If Labour had addressed the Brexit question with an honest, principled pro-Remain stance, it would have got a better hearing on its other policies, but its duplicity over Brexit casts a doubt over the veracity of its policies in every other sphere. There are some good bits of Labour's Manifesto, but the trouble is that it has waited until a couple of weeks before the election before producing it. When Marx and Engels produced The Communist Manifesto, its purpose was not to win an election, with promises of goodies that could be offered to the electorate. Its purpose was to set out a longer term prospectus of the ideas that communists would fight for consistently within the working-class over a long period, and would continue to argue for, until such time as they could win a majority to those ideas. It is what Marx calls “winning the battle of democracy”. It is quite obvious that, if you only put forward ideas two or three weeks prior to an election, you cannot possibly have done the necessary work of arguing for those policies consistently, within the working-class, in a way that is required to have the workers properly understand those ideas, and to mobilise actively behind them. 

Consequently, Labour's Manifesto has had all the impression of being a series of bribes to the electorate. It has delayed producing a manifesto that could have been argued for consistently over a period of months if not years, precisely because it wanted to avoid having an argument, within the party, over what it would say in relation to Brexit. But, not just in relation to Brexit. The Labour leadership has also rowed back in the Manifesto from what was agreed by Party Conference in relation to private schools, and in relation to climate change. The party in England remains tied to its commitment to Trident, even though its evident that the overwhelming majority of party members would vote to scrap it, as has the party in Scotland already. 

In reality, the policies contained in the Manifesto are not unachievable, as the Tories and the media suggest – even the IFS has said they are achievable, but that they require additional tax rises – but the trouble is that simply throwing out these policies, this close to an election, means that its impossible to have done the groundwork of demonstrating that, and winning support for them. Moreover, because Labour has been so duplicitous and dithering over Brexit, it adds weight to those concerns about these other policies. Added to that is the dithering and duplicitous stance that Corbyn has taken in relation to the attacks on him. On anti-Semitism he has been on weak ground, given his more or less uncritical support, in the past, for groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as his association with the Iranian regime and Press TV. In relation to those allegations, as with those in relation to a similar uncritical support for the petite-bourgeois nationalists of Provisional IRA/Sinn Fein, Corbyn has again been duplicitous having to present his position as being that of neutral “peacemaker”, and thereby throwing out what was principled about his position – opposition to the role of British imperialism in Ireland – with the rest of his political past. In order to ward off the allegations of anti-Semitism, he has thrown anti-Zionists under the bus. In the same way that Labour fails to confront the reactionary nationalist ideas represented by Brexit, so too it fails to confront the reactionary nature of the attacks on it by Tories and Zionists under cover of “anti-Semitism”. It is the typical Stalinoid response of bureaucratic manoeuvre, and duplicity. Labour is paying the inevitable price for that. 

And, it is making matters worse. Having failed to shift the ground of the election away from Brexit and on to bread and butter issues with the promises made in the Manifesto, Labour has then doubled down on that approach. It has responded by throwing out even more promises of largess that can be depicted as bribes by its opponents. The promise to pay the WASPI women what is owed to them, as a result of the contract they made with the capitalist state, when they started work, is absolutely justified. But, why was that not included in the Manifesto to begin with? It absolutely should have been, and nor is there any reason why it should not have been included in Labour's Grey Book of spending and taxes. Labour could quite easily have included it in the Grey Book either as a one cost of £58 billion, or else as a cost of £12 billion a year for the five years of a Labour government. But, every day now we see other such announcements being thrown out willy-nilly that simply gives the impression of desperation. 

None of it is an alternative to what Labour really needs to do which is to grasp the nettle of Brexit, and argue all out for Remain. Labour cannot now win this election, but, in Labour marginals, it can help minimise the number of Labour voters who switch to the Liberals, Greens, Plaid or who decide to stay at home. In Scotland, its pretty much a forlorn hope, and the SNP will almost certainly now wipe out Labour, along with most of the Tories. It may, thereby, prevent the Tories being able to win too many of those seats. It appears that where the Brexit Party is standing in those seats, their support is around double what the national polls would suggest. The same is true of the Liberal vote. It comes down, therefore, to how much these votes are squeezed by Labour and Tories. 

However much the Stalinists and the Red-Brown front try to present Brexit as a project of the working-class, it quite clearly is not. It is the project of the reactionary sections of the ruling class, i.e. of the small capitalists, and their attendant layers. It is the project of the Tory Right, and the obvious manifestation of that is that the Tory vote has risen as the Brexit Party vote has collapsed. The Brexit Party vote has already been squeezed to nearly nothing. Its unlikely the Tories can pick up many more of these votes. But, the Liberal vote is still significant, and more than significant when its analysed on a seat by seat basis. That means that, in Labour-Tory marginals, and Tory Labour marginals, it is possible that the Liberal vote can be squeezed further, so as to ensure that the Tory candidates do not win. At the same time, there are a significant number of Tory-Liberal marginals, where the Tory vote is soft, because it is in areas where the Tory vote is comprised of very affluent people, whose interests are tied to that of big business, which in turn depends upon continued membership of the EU. In those areas, it will be important that there is tactical voting in favour of the Liberals so as to unseat the Tories. 

Labour needs to retain its core vote in Labour seats, and that includes those Labour seats that voted Leave. The reality is that, even in those seats, the large majority of Labour's 2017 voters voted for Remain. To retain them, and to win over other Liberal and Green voters, it needs to convince them that only it can defeat the Tories, but that is not enough. It must convince them that the need to defeat the Tories is not just so that Labour can present its own reactionary Brexit plan, but that Labour will stop Brexit itself. The nonsensical nature of Labour's position was exposed this morning at its press conference, where it set out the reality of the Tories Brexit plan in relation to the trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain. Keir Starmer was asked the obvious question that, if Labour wins and negotiates its own deal, then if Corbyn is neutral, which Ministers will argue for that position, as opposed to those who are already committed to campaigning for Remain come what may? But, the position is even more nonsensical than that, because the question is, if that further referendum comes out again for Leave, how on Earth could any Labour Minister who has just argued against it, agree to implement such a Brexit policy? The reality is that if you are a Labour MP, or indeed any MP, who, in principle, opposes Brexit as a reactionary policy, there is absolutely no reason why you will not continue to oppose it, in line with that principle, no matter how many times it may be voted for in a referendum. Britain is a parliamentary democracy, and that means that it is parliament that makes the laws. If a majority of MP's oppose Brexit, then there is no reason why they should, or would introduce laws to bring it about. 

In fact, for reasons of political hygiene, Labour should distance itself from Brexit by as much as possible. If it wins the election, there is no reason it should want to be lumbered with having to carry out such a reactionary policy. If on the other hand the Tories win the election, Labour should want them to have to take full responsibility for its consequences. Labour should want to be able, in the clearest terms to say to voters when those consequences become manifest, “We warned you this would happen.”

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