Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Vote To Stop Brexit

This election, like the 2017 election, is a Brexit Election. In the end, the vote has ended up as a vote between Labour and Tories, but that is only because the choice between Brexit and stopping Brexit itself comes down to a vote for either the Tories or for Labour. Around 80% of Tory voters back Brexit, whilst around 75% of Labour voters oppose Brexit. Some of that 75% of Labour voters, are people who would potentially vote Liberal, Green or Plaid, but who realise that to stop Brexit, its only a Labour government that is the possible way of achieving that. Similarly, around 70% of those who voted for Brexit are Tories, or to their Right, whilst only around 25% of those who voted for Brexit are Labour, with the other 5% being Liberals or others. As I said last year, therefore, the election was always going to come down to the question of to what extent the Tories could consolidate the Leave vote behind them, by crushing the Brexit Party/UKIP, and to what extent Labour could consolidate the Remain vote behind it. The Tories have achieved the former, Labour never even tried to achieve the latter, and has suffered the consequences of that. 

But, despite that, despite the fact that, since 2016, Labour has failed to make the case as to why Brexit is reactionary, and the referendum result should be reversed, the support for Remain has continued to grow. It has been manifest in the two marches that both mobilised more than 1 million people to oppose Brexit. It has been manifest in the more than 7 million people who signed the petition calling for Article 50 to be revoked, whilst a counter petition, managed only around 300,000 signatures. It was seen in the European Parliament elections, where parties opposing Brexit gained the majority of votes and seats. It is seen in the opinion polls that show majorities for Remain now in every region and nation of the United Kingdom, as well as for parties that back Remain. And, that is not surprising, both as people have come to see what Brexit actually means, but also because the younger parts of the population back Remain in overwhelming numbers, and these sections of the population are necessarily getting larger, whilst the older sections of the population, who disproportionately back Leave are dying out. 

The fact is that parties backing Remain will get the majority of votes in this election, but, because of Britain's undemocratic first past the post system, they may not get the majority of seats. That is why it was insane for Labour not to have made itself the champion of opposing Brexit, in pure electoral terms, let alone the question of arguing for a clear international socialist position against the reactionary policy of Brexit. But, because the forces of Remain are in a clear majority, it is still possible to defeat Brexit, and to stop Johnson becoming Prime Minister. It requires tactical voting on a seat by seat basis. A number of Liberals have defied their party, and stood down in seats where they have no chance of winning, but where Liberal votes lent to Labour could ensure that Tory candidates are defeated. In general, in seats where the Liberals have no chance of winning, Labour is already squeezing that Liberal vote, in a similar way to the Tories squeezing the Brexit Party vote. 

But, there are also many Tory seats where its unlikely that Labour could win, but where a Liberal candidate could beat the Tories, if Labour voters lend them their vote. They should do so. Even if the Tories come out of this election as the largest party, as I expect, then they can still be prevented from forming the government. That is even true if, as I also expect, Labour loses seats compared to its current position. That is because, the Tories are essentially out of potential allies. The Tories have screwed over the DUP. The DUP itself is likely to lose a couple of seats, because of its pro-Brexit stance and disastrous support for the Tories, and because of tactical voting by the other Northern Ireland parties. As Sraid Marx has said, its a travesty that Sinn Fein do not take up their seats in Westminster. However, a seat taken by Sinn Fein from the DUP does, at least, mean a vote that cannot be cast in support of the Tories. The SDLP, who will take up their seats, may also win a seat, as a result of Sinn Fein standing down in their favour. But, the DUP itself have now intimated that they might vote against Brexit, and in favour of another referendum, and Remain, because they have had to recognise just how disastrous Brexit will be for Northern Ireland, and for them, with the potential of a United Ireland, as a result of it. 

My forecast is that the Tories will end up with around 305 seats. To get a majority they need 326. I expect Labour to fall back to 235 seats. The SNP I expect to get around 50 seats, with the Liberals on 35, Greens on 1, and Plaid on 4. With the SDLP's seat that would enable a minority Labour government to take office. Taking out the Sinn Fein seats, the working majority is slightly higher, and if the DUP voted to bring about another referendum that would enable a Minority Labour government to pass a Queen's Speech and institute such an approach. It then becomes possible to stop Brexit. 

The truth is that the biggest lie that the Tories have told during the election is that they would “Get Brexit Done.” Brexit will not end on January 31st. The real nightmare will only begin at that point. There is no way that they can negotiate a trade deal with the EU, in the few months available after that date. Nor will Johnson allow a disastrous crash out deal. He may well attempt to negotiate a “Managed No Deal” in the months up to December 2020, but he will face massive opposition to that from the ruling class, and the EU will be holding all of the cards in those negotiations. The likelihood is that, just as he did with the DUP, Johnson will throw other supporters of Brexit under the bus, and will have to negotiate an extension of the Transition Period, after December 2020. The subsequent negotiations could go on indefinitely, because there is no way that Britain can get a deal that is preferable to EU membership. The only way that the Brexit nightmare can actually be stopped is to scrap it, and to Revoke Article 50

The best way to achieve that quickly is to make sure that Johnson's Tories are kicked out. Only Labour has a chance of forming a government, and despite the fantasies of Swinson, the Leader of the Labour Party, and so Prime Minister of that government will be Jeremy Corbyn. However, the predictions above are based on there being tactical voting on the scale that I expect to see. If that fails to materialise, then we will be heading for a majority Tory government, and a disastrous Brexit. 

But, there are good reasons to expect that there will be tactical voting of this kind. The majority of Labour voters come from the younger age groups. These are also the sections of the electorate that most strongly back Remain. In general, they are better educated, and more flexible in their thinking than older age groups. Its amongst such groups that being able to think flexibly, and vote tactically comes most easily. A nonsense is being spread by the Tory media, as well as by Stalinists that these young people are not “working-class”. This is just a continuation of the “Left Behind Myth”. Of course, these young people, like more than 70% of the population are working-class. They sell their labour-power in return for wages, often wages that are barely at the average level. That these workers work in offices, shops, in technology companies and so on, does not make them any less working-class than someone who formerly worked in a coal mine, or on a potbank. Indeed, they are often the children of people who thirty years ago did work in those kinds of jobs. It is simply a reflection of the fact that the working-class itself has changed, and that is a function of the fact that today, 80% of the economy, and of jobs, is in service industry, not in manufacturing. 

When in the 19th century, Britain went from being an agricultural economy, with 80% of the workforce employed on the land, to being an industrial economy, people who had been agricultural wage labourers, became industrial wage labourers. They were no less workers, no less members of the working-class. The main difference, mirrored today, was that the nature of industrial production compared to agricultural production, required that the industrial worker be more open for change, more flexible in their thinking, and so on. Its what Marx spoke about when he talked about industrial capitalism rescuing millions from the idiocy of rural life. Today, the nature of modern employment, which requires workers who are better educated than their parents and grandparents, who have to have the flexibility of thought to be able to cope with rapidly changing conditions, and to be able to learn new skills, has also rescued these millions from the monotony and routine of manufacturing industry. That monotony and routine was one of the factors that contributed to the idiocy, and mindless Labourism of the past, whereby people would vote for a monkey if it was put up as a Labour candidate, without thinking why they were doing so. Often they did so, despite the fact that their own cultural conservatism was at growing diversion from the progressive politics that the Labour Party, as a social-democratic party represented. 

Most of the analysis, of nonsense like the Metropolitan Elite Myth, the Left Behind Myth, the Workington man myth, is the result of middle class people who have no idea of what the working-class actually is. Look at some of the places that the Tory media visit in their search for that working-class. They visit the places that 30, 40, or 50 years ago would, indeed, have been the places where you would have found the working-class. They go to the terraced streets like the ones I grew up in, the only difference being back then that we had outside toilets, and no hot running water. The people who lived in these houses, were people like my parents, hard working people. But, that situation has long since past. A lot of those houses were cleared in the slum clearances of the 1960's and 70's. My parents own house, and the rest on their side of the street, was demolished in 1975. Of the houses remaining in these areas, the owners and residents are not at all the same as those that occupied them 40 or 50 years ago. Many have long since been bought up by buy-to-let landlords, who rent them out to people on the periphery of society, long-term unemployed, drug addicts and so on. These are not the people who constituted the core working-class of the 1960's, and 1970's, and nor do they today. 

Or they go to run down council estates. Here pretty much the same thing applies. When council houses were built in the inter-war years, people like my granddad, and my wife's granddad, miners who escaped from their old cottages, and moved into them with pride. They ensured that the windows and paintwork was kept clean, that the doorstep was done with a step stone every week, and the gardens were kept neat and tidy, with roses, gladioli, and chrysanthemums adorning the front, whilst the back garden had a good supply of vegetables. When my mum and dad moved into one of these houses in the mid 1970's, after their terraced house was demolished, the same thing still applied. 

But, by the 1980's that had changed. Council house rents were raised, so that those who could afford to move out did so, leaving only those who were unemployed and on benefits, and so got their rent paid, able to live in them. It was one factor that helped Thatcher push through the Right To Buy programme. That, in turn, saw many of those that did buy, sell up, and move out, having made a capital gain out of the discount that Thatcher handed to them. The houses were then bought up by absentee landlords, and buy-to let landlords, who again rented them out to those in receipt of Housing Benefits. They were often people engaged in anti-social behaviour, drug dealing, and other petty criminal activity, which further acted to push out other tenants. Again these are not the traditional core working-class people of the 1960's and 70's that occupied these areas. They are the kind of declassed elements that have always, in the past, been the fodder for various reactionary organisations, such as the Nazis. 

The truth is that working-class people, like me and my sister, as a natural result of the rise in living standards that occurred in the 1950's, 60's, and early 1970's, were able to move out of those old terraced streets, and council estates. We bought semi-detached, and detached houses, on new private estates. If you want to find the core working-class, that is where it is. Yet, the Tory media want to present us, and our children as somehow being middle-class simply because we do not live in abject poverty! It is complete nonsense.

And, a similar thing applies with those older people who support Brexit. The truth is with them that, in certain parts of the country, where old manufacturing or extractive industries were destroyed by Thatcher, and by the change in the nature of the economy, their reactionary beliefs come down to one simple factor -  nostalgia. The world in which they grew up has gone. The industries they worked in have gone. They are not coming back, Brexit or no Brexit, just as Trump has not brought back coal mining or steel jobs in the US. These old people do not have the intellectual tools to cope with the world as it exists. That is not their fault. When they went to school they only needed to learn enough to be drones in the capitalist factories and mines, and do today what they did yesterday. Often they have found themselves out of employment for long periods, before getting their pensions. Their support for Brexit, is, in reality, a hopeless plea that the world should go back to the days of their youth. They are bound to be more than a little disappointed when inevitably that does not happen. 

We can, of course, feel sorry for those old people, who have difficulty coping with the reality of modern life, but that does not mean that we have to appease their prejudices, or accommodate their reactionary desires to turn back the clock. My son and his friend Rick who have grown up together from the earliest childhood at play group, now work together in the same media production company. Its based in an old school in Burslem, where, more than thirty years ago, I worked as a temporary college lecturer, after the school had been closed as part of the Thatcher government's cuts to education. But, the fact that my son has a degree, and that they both work with their brains producing digital media, rather than working with their hands making pottery or digging coal, does not change the fact that they are both working-class, like tens of millions more such young workers. It is they that represent the core ideas and values of the working-class, not the old folks that seek to look to the way things were fifty years ago. 

It is the real working-class, the people employed in these modern industries that is the core of the Labour vote today, just as it was back in the 1950's, 60's and 70's. It is they that back Corbyn's return to the kind of progressive social-democracy of that previous period of Attlee and Wilson, and who also are the ones that back Remain, and recognise that the future lies inside the EU. They are the future, they are our salvation. Support them, support real working-class values and aspiration. 

Tomorrow, Vote To Stop Brexit, Vote To Stop Johnson, Vote for Hope.

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