Saturday, February 16, 2019

Socialists oppose Brexit

I was pleased to see Lloyd Russell-Moyle chairing a meeting of left-wing Labour Members of Parliament who are opposed to Brexit the other day. Leaving the European Union (EU) on any terms in the current circumstances will be a setback for the interests of working class people in the United Kingdom, and it is the job of socialists to defend and promote the interests of our class. It follows that socialists oppose Brexit.

I understand the need for the Labour Party leadership to “reach out” to some of those who sadly voted “Leave” in the 2016 referendum if we are to win a General Election – and appreciate that there are enough Labour Parliamentarians who would reject being whipped into blocking Brexit to mean that demands that the leadership try do just that (from a position in Opposition) are, at best, otiose.

However, socialists holding positions in the Labour Party – particularly those who are elected representatives representing areas which predominantly supported remaining in the EU – have an obligation to give voice to the views of the majority of class-conscious workers who oppose Brexit.

It is also important to contest the implausible claim of attention seeking careerists on the right of the Party to be the voice of internationalism and opposition to Brexit within Labour. These are the heirs of the bankrupt political tradition which contributed to the crisis which led to the “Leave” vote. If some of them leave the Labour Party I only hope they shut the door on the way out, as it still gets chilly at night even if it is unseasonably warm during the day.

The most appropriate resolution of the current political crisis, in which the Government cannot command a stable and reliable majority in Parliament on the defining issue of the moment, and therefore is not really in a position to govern, is for there to be a General Election.

In circumstances in which there does not appear presently to be an achievable Parliamentary majority for any particular form of Brexit (nor for another referendum as advocated by the “People’s Vote” campaign) it may well be that, probably following a delay in the implementation of the departure date of 29 March justified for some other reason, there will be a General Election.

Labour’s manifesto in that General Election will be written in accordance with the Party’s Rules – but if it is to reflect the interests of working class people in this country it will need to leave open the possibility of reversing Brexit, perhaps by calling for a referendum between the “soft” “Norway plus” Brexit option (which might command a Parliamentary majority) and remaining in the EU.

Of course, the most important aspects of our manifesto for such an election would not be those which were about Brexit, they would be those which sought to reverse austerity, build homes, repair our health service, nationalise our railways and unshackle our trade unions.

Socialists would also want to see a Labour manifesto which called for an end to racist immigration controls – which would mean that far from restricting the freedom of movement currently permitted to citizens of the EU we would extend freedom of movement into our country to all human beings.

We might or might not win that argument through the Party’s process for writing a manifesto – just as we may not feel that the manifesto goes far enough in restoring trade union rights (for example) – but we would have that argument.

The Labour Party has never (yet) been a socialist Party, it has always – as Tony Benn had it – been “a Party with socialists in it” (just as there have always been some Christians in the Church).

A socialist Leader does not make Labour a socialist Party – that is still a work in progress (note that is without a capital “P”) - and the comrades who are supporting our socialist Leader whilst opposing the reactionary nonsense of Brexit are very much part of that work.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Meeting hope in the streets of Brighton

I emerged this lunchtime from my first dentist’s appointment in twenty years to find a mass demonstration, consisting largely of people who hadn’t been born when I had my last appointment – these were striking school students protesting the climate crisis which threatens the future of our planet.

The demonstration had all the verve and enthusiasm of young people engaged in the liberating experience of their first political protest. The demonstration was awash with homemade placards (my favourite – “Keep Planet Earth clean – it’s not Uranus” – was one of many imaginative and thoughtful creations).

The spirit of transgression which striking from school – as condemned by the Prime Minister – engendered was expressed in an occasional departure from chanting about climate justice. From time to time hundreds of children and young people chanted the name of the Prime Minister, preceded by a verb which I wouldn’t want to put on this blog (but which rhymes with “duck”).

The hundreds of young people marched – rather too fast in the opinion of this fiftysomething – to the Level, a space where for generations working class Brightonians have gathered in support of radical causes (I remember protesting there against the Falklands War when I was the age of many of today’s protestors). Today a new generation took possession of our public space, in defence of their future and our planet.

Labour Party members, activists, representatives and officials need to be unequivocal in our support for the splendid action taken today by young people in Brighton and up and down the country. Capitalism is bringing our world to the brink of destruction, and the young people who have the largest stake in the future are absolutely right to take radical, militant action to put pressure on Governments to act.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

How do we respond to the forthcoming General Election?

There may well be a General Election on the way.

We need to prepare for this possibility as it becomes a probability.

Labour needs to prepare to campaign for a majority Labour Government.

In doing this we need to understand that “Brexit” is not the only – nor even the main – issue confronting working class people in our everyday lives (albeit, of course, both the issue of “Brexit” and the consequences of the outcome of the 2016 referendum have implications for many of the issues which do matter).

We need a Labour Government that will strengthen our trade unions to reverse the decline in our living standards.

We need a Labour Government which will invest in our health service, and defend it from privatisation.

We need a Labour Government which will reverse cuts in public services and rebuild our Welfare State.

We need a Labour Government which will bring our rail services back into public ownership.

We need a Labour Government which will encourage and enable the struggle against racism.

We need… (well, I could go on for some time, but you get the point).

Labour needs to prepare a campaign which focuses upon the interests of working class people – we don’t want a General Election in which “in or out” of the European Union becomes the main issue.

Whenever and wherever an issue which is not, fundamentally, an issue between the working class and the ruling class becomes the main political issue, that inhibits the organisation of our side in politics.

(Look , for example, at the politics of the occupied six counties in the North of Ireland throughout the twentieth century, or the impact upon Scottish politics when the question of independence moved to centre stage).

Therefore we need to prepare for a Labour campaign in a forthcoming General Election which does put the interests of the working class front and centre. That cannot be a campaign which puts either the word “Remain” or the word “Leave” in its title.

If we present ourselves as – essentially – a “remain” Party we may alienate many “Labour leavers”. If we present ourselves as – essentially – a “Brexit” Party we will alienate the larger number of Labour supporters who oppose Brexit.

That said, however, we obviously need a point of view about the question of the European Union (as we do about many questions) – and therefore we need to understand what the interests of the working class are in relation to this question.

There is – in the current circumstances – no “leftwing” exit from the EU for the UK. Any route out of the EU threatens our class in the UK, without – of itself – offering any benefit in terms of socialist possibilities.

Labour’s approach to “Brexit” over the past two years – based upon the “six tests” - has been and is a sensible way to structure our response to a question which we would sooner not be asked around the interest of the people our Party was established to represent.

Having structured a response in this sensible way we have to be prepared now to arrive at an answer – and the answer is that, if forced to choose, in the interests of the working class, we know that leaving the EU, in current circumstances, is against the interests of our people.

But that doesn’t make EU membership the single, or most important, issue in any forthcoming election – it is only the single, and most important issue, in the current disintegration of the political Party of our ruling class.