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The lesson of European parliamentary elections: Tax the rich!


mason

The prominent left journalist Paul Mason has rightly been taken to task for his unprincipled attack on senior members of the Labour leadership after the party’s disappointing results in the European parliamentary elections.

But the content of his article deserves a more detailed analysis. He makes the panicky claim that “We have to begin from the facts: the struggle against rightwing authoritarianism and fascism is now the main priority.” Of course, it’s important to struggle against rightwing authoritarianism. But the only facts he references are the large vote for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party. He conveniently forgets the utter humiliation of the extreme rightwing Islamophobe “Tommy Robinson” in the Northwest, who slunk off from the count rather than face the tiny vote for him in this working-class stronghold.

Prof. John Curtice assesses the vote as showing the country is equally divided for and against Brexit – so nothing much has changed materially since the referendum in 2016. What has changed is the complete disintegration of the Tory party’s vote: Farage was able to hoover up its disaffected voters as well as those of the dying UKIP he abandoned. The election result is not evidence of a sudden rise in xenophobia: the bulk of the Brexit party’s voters are the same people who always voted for the right.

It got support in Labour heartlands because the statements of a number of Labour MPs gave the impression that the referendum vote would be overturned, allowing Farage to present himself as defending a democratic decision. As Skwawkbox commented: “To working-class leave voters who voted leave because they were sick to death of feeling ignored and discounted – and who feel even more ignored and discounted by media and politicians looking to prevent the enactment of their vote – that message resonated.”

Labour also lost voters to the Liberal Democrats because they took a clear anti-Brexit position. However, it is not clear they would stick with the LibDems in a general election, given their association with the Tory coalition government. Their call for a second referendum obfuscates the fact that the social conditions that motivated people to vote Leave have not just persisted, they have gotten worse.

Theresa May’s tearful resignation as Tory leader marks the collapse of her party’s hegemony in the UK. Her indifference to her own dismal record is not a personal characteristic, but is shared by her entire party. Although the proximate cause is the failure of the government’s Brexit negotiations to arrive at a deal that both factions of the party could agree on, the roots of the crisis go back to the 2008 banking crash.

Austerity after 2010 began to dismantle the core of the welfare state that was the foundation of parliamentary legitimacy and national identity. Oblivious to the social effects of austerity policies, Cameron called the referendum when parts of the UK were already profoundly alienated from Westminster representation.

The referendum unleashed social forces that turned a Tory political project into a constitutional crisis. Cameron originally called it to counter the electoral threat from the anti-EU party UKIP, which was attracting support from the ultra-right of the Tories and its voters who were blaming immigration for welfare cuts. The narrow victory of the Leave vote, however, transformed his attempt to deflect the political cost of austerity into a crisis of governmental legitimacy, and Cameron immediately resigned. The vote cut across party lines, superseded the constitutional sovereignty of parliament, and threw its authority into disarray. The majority for Brexit was thus a signal of the disintegration of consensus, not an aberration or the result of a rise in racism.

Mason has imperiously written off Brexit voters as supporting a project of the “racist and xenophobic right.” But the referendum Leave vote gathered those who were signalling disaffection with the Westminster elite that had devastated their communities. The rhetoric of national sovereignty and “taking back control” had a resonance for many working-class voters who wanted a restoration of the 1950s economy and welfare state, symbolized by the Leave campaign’s cynical slogan of returning £350 million per week from the EU to the NHS.

Mason’s prescription for winning back “socially conservative” voters from ex-industrial towns is “to fight personal insecurity, crime, drugs, antisocial behaviour and organised crime as enthusiastically as it fights racism. It needs to sideline all voices who believe having a strong national security policy is somehow ‘imperialist’. It needs to forget scrapping Trident.” Essentially he holds that the antidote to pro-Brexit views is to return to the failed politics of New Labour, forgetting that New Labour’s record in these ex-industrial towns is as tarnished as the Tories’, since both encouraged the financialisation of the economy that drained resources away from these areas to the Southeast.

What was Corbyn’s mistake? In Mason’s opinion, it was “an attempt at triangulation between two wings of Corbynism: between the demands of an economic nationalist current from the old left, and the internationalist and progressive politics embedded in Labour’s new urban heartlands.” He is attempting to pit the sources of Corbynism against each other, as though nothing new was created out of the fusion of anti-austerity protesters with the legacy of Bennism that led to Corbyn’s election as party leader. One of the fruits of this fusion was the successful 2017 election manifesto. Since then Corbynism has developed creative policies that address how to deal with the power of transnational capital.

It is true that Labour’s position of uniting both leavers and remainers on the grounds of their shared experience of austerity is hard to explain on the doorstep, in the context of a political discourse that drowns out everything but Brexit. In the next general election, a simpler position needs to be developed that places the blame for the realities facing both sections of society more squarely on those responsible. I’m going to suggest: “Tax the rich!” In order to restore and rebuild communities in Britain, the economic elite must be made to pay back the social resources they have leached out of privatization of necessities and fraudulent contracts.

The way to win the war against the right is to campaign on the message: “Rebuild our towns! Rebuild the NHS! Tax the rich!”

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Trump and May: Wrecking the Social Compact in the U.S. and Britain (if we let them)


Despite the different social contexts, there are significant transatlantic parallels between the political situation in Europe and America. Sarkozy’s humiliation in France’s centre-right presidential primary has been attributed to a “revolt by the French people against the political class” by François Fillon, the winning candidate. In the US, the election of Donald Trump is equivalent to a Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen achieving presidential office, against the wishes of the political class. Now the centralization of executive branch powers that continued under Obama will be handed over to Trump, whose politics are scaringly shallow.

In the UK, after the Brexit vote to leave the EU, the Conservative party establishment quickly asserted control over its anti-EU faction. Prime Minister Theresa May rode the Brexit tiger by moving the government sharply to the right, but while she maintains a Thatcher-like image of unflappable control, in reality she is improvising from day to day in negotiations over the country’s transition. She hints she will keep key industries in the single market while being able to reduce immigration from within the EU, which European leaders have already denounced as unacceptable.

Her Cabinet is reportedly split to the point of paralysis over what strategy to follow. A recent memo by a Deloitte analyst pointed out that more than 500 separate commercial treaties would have to be re-negotiated in the event of a hard Brexit (leaving the single market), which would need the recruitment of another 30,000 civil servants and would be far “beyond the capacity and capability” of the government.

Across the Atlantic, the Washington Post argues that “Trump took the elements of an independent candidacy — the lack of clear ideology, the name recognition of a national celebrity and the personal fortune needed to fund a presidential campaign — and then did what no one seemed to have thought of before. He staged a hostile takeover of an existing major party. He had the best of both worlds, an outsider candidacy with crosscutting ideological appeal and the platform of a major party to wage the general election.”

Now that he has been elected, however, Trump has turned to the Republican establishment for help in building his administration. Trump’s initial appointments, including the neo-fascist Steve Bannon, appear to be aimed at appeasing his energized base – the tea party and hard-right racist wings of the Republicans – but he is already negotiating with establishment figures like Romney and Priebus and has embraced Paul Ryan’s budget plans.

Political theorist Theda Skopcol writes that after his unexpected election victory, Trump’s inner circle “provided little in the way of expert allies to help him fill tens of thousands of federal government jobs and plan comprehensive policy agendas. Especially on the domestic side, Trump has responded by immediately outsourcing much of this work to experienced GOP officials, including key players in his emergent White House and in Congress who have long been groomed by the Koch network. After apparently denouncing and opposing GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan during the election campaign, President-Elect Trump did a quick about-face to fully embrace Ryan and his radical government-shrinking policy agenda.”

This means the Republican-controlled government will ram through the Koch policy agendas of privatizing Medicare, cutting taxes even more for the rich, busting unions, deregulating business and abandoning environmental regulation. Some Democratic politicians like Chuck Schumer advocate holding Trump to fulfil the more populist of his campaign promises. But this can only sow illusions about the new administration: it will be the most corrupt, anti-labor and anti-jobs government in the U.S. since 1776.

Trump’s plan for rebuilding infrastructure, for example, which sounds like it would create construction jobs, is in reality “a tax-cut plan for utility-industry and construction-sector investors, and a massive corporate welfare plan for contractors. The Trump plan doesn’t directly fund new roads, bridges, water systems or airports, as did Hillary Clinton’s 2016 infrastructure proposal. Instead, Trump’s plan provides tax breaks to private-sector investors who back profitable construction projects. … Because the plan subsidizes investors, not projects; because it funds tax breaks, not bridges; because there’s no requirement that the projects be otherwise unfunded, there is simply no guarantee that the plan will produce any net new hiring.”

Skopcol points out that “Liberals and Democrats could be so focused on Trump’s racial and international policies that they fail to mobilize widespread American popular support to save programs like Medicare. Ironically, however, the pending Koch-inspired eviscerations of the U.S. social insurance system are likely to disillusion many of Trump’s ‘make America great again’ voters. … With total GOP control of Washington DC about to happen, the Koch network dream of an enfeebled U.S. domestic government is on the verge of realization. Unless Democrats learn to speak clearly and organize in many states and counties, no one will even be available to make the key changes visible or explain what is happening to disillusioned voters.”

That’s the key issue: Democrats must speak clearly and organize against the dismantling of social entitlements, but that means overcoming the corporate Wall Street Democrats who are responsible for the party’s electoral defeat. Adam Green of the Progressive Change Committee criticized Clinton for not addressing the central issue of a rigged economy that was so important to voters. “The Democrats need to be willing to say that our economy is rigged against the little guy, our democracy is corrupted by big money and we will fight Trump’s pro-corporate agenda and dedicate ourselves to fixing this rigged system,” he said.

And Robert Reich slams the Democratic party for its corporate perspective. “The entire organization has to be reinvented from the ground up. The Democratic Party has become irrelevant to the lives of most people. It’s nothing but a giant fundraising machine. … “This new Democratic Party has got to show very vividly that Donald Trump … is fraudulent. And expose that fraud. And offer people the real thing, rather than the fake variety. … we need a political party, a progressive, new Democratic Party that’s going to be organizing in every state. And not only for the state elections, but also organizing grassroots groups that are active on specific issues right now in many, many states – including many of the groups that worked for Bernie Sanders – that need to be connected.”

While being in the forefront of the fight against the racist policies of the state, the left must participate in this struggle to change the Democratic party from within, as the only organization that can coordinate national resistance to Trump’s presidency. Millions of Americans are afraid of what they expect to happen and want to know what to do. They urgently need a roadmap of how to succeed in the fight for adequate housing, health, jobs, and a $15 minimum hourly wage; and a clear strategy to defend constitutional civil liberties and the hard fought gains of the Civil Rights Era. That makes it necessary to campaign on issues that will unite disparate groups and undermine Trump’s political support. A major battle inside and outside Congress to defend Medicare is an ideal opportunity to drive a wedge between Trump and those who supported him in the belief he cared about the needs of ordinary people like them.

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Filed under 2016 Election, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Medicare, political analysis, Trump, Uncategorized

Trump, Farage, and the Transnational Right-Wing Axis: Containing the Tide of Reactionary Nativism in Britain and the U.S.


British UKIP politician Nigel Farage’s defense of Donald Trump’s misogynistic comments caught on video, dismissing them as “alpha male boasting,” underlines the existence of a transnational right-wing political axis that relies on aggressive rhetoric to mobilize specific constituencies against liberal elites and immigrants.

The crisis of globalization has created a pronounced trend to economic nationalism, politically allied with implicit and explicit racism. The achievement of Brexit by Farage’s party therefore is not a purely British phenomenon, but a consequence of the failure of the political establishment throughout Europe to acknowledge the interests of deindustrialized working class communities or suburban communities fearing loss of their steady middle-class existence. The Tory right, backed by the major media outlets, was able to deflect these communities’ anger away from the billionaires accumulating wealth from the system and onto immigrants and minorities.

Former economic advisor to the Obama administration Lawrence Summers notes that the biggest concern of the world’s finance ministers and central-bank governors today is that “traditional ideas and leaders are losing their grip and the global economy is entering unexplored and dangerous territory … with Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the strength of right-wing nationalists in Europe, Vladimir Putin’s strength in Russia, and the return of Mao worship in China — it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the world is seeing a renaissance of populist authoritarianism. … Publics have lost confidence both in the competence of economic leaders and in their commitment to serving broad national interests, rather than the interests of a global elite.”

A globalized economy does not supplant national states, but relies on them to enforce trade and labor discipline; if traditional forms of consensus are losing their grip, that is a serious problem for international trade agreements. The European Union is taking a very hard line with the UK because it faces internal centripetal forces threatening to break it up. European governments are concerned to shore up their own eroding domestic positions: Angela Merkel, for example, is losing support from the German electorate and has insisted on the acceptance of free movement of people as a condition for access to the single market.

In Britain, prime minister Theresa May has called for restrictions on immigration in order to appease the hardline Tory grassroots and keep her party intact. Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith comments: “May has succeeded in uniting a large swathe of the country, both Leave and Remain backers against her, including many with her own party, with her hardline anti-immigrant posture. It’s a confusing wild lurch in Tory politics, throwing big business, London, social liberalism, elites, liberal Brexiteers under the bus and courting UKIP voters.” More importantly, she has triggered a collapse in the pound and the likelihood that the financial industry will lose its lucrative passporting rights that enable it to work in the eurozone.

According to the Guardian, “The French finance minister, Michel Sapin, said on Friday that eurozone governments would not accept the City of London remaining the main euro clearing centre once Britain left the EU. … The leaders’ statements reflect an increasing feeling in European capitals that the hard line the prime minister and others adopted during the Conservative conference – including the home secretary, Amber Rudd’s plans to prevent migrants ‘taking jobs British people could do’ – may reveal a far deeper hostility to the EU than they had imagined.”

As the Washington Post commented: “Ironically, the European referendum — a poll that was intended, in the words of its proponent, to make Britain’s Parliament sovereign again — has made British legislators almost irrelevant. May has declared she will not allow a parliamentary vote on the timing or nature of the British break with the European Union. She will not allow the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland, where voters opposed the changes, to have any voice in the process.”

This absolutely vindicates Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s demand for negotiating a “new relationship with the EU: one that protects jobs, living standards and workers’ rights.”

Across the pond in the US, Trump will likely lose the presidential election, but his disgruntled supporters will remain a political force on the right. Particularly worrying is his support from the security forces and police, together with his threats to lock up political opponents if he wins the election. Despite the release of the damning video of his remarks, Josh Marshall points out, “he has a massive amount of support among the most engaged Republican voters. The last 24 hours has probably lost him significant support in the race against Hillary Clinton. … But in the context of intra-Republican politics that leaves him with massive levels of support intact.”

This is confirmed by the New York Times: “Trump’s perceived character — a strong leader with a simple message, never flinching from a fight, cutting through political correctness with a bracing bluntness — resonates in places like Appalachia where courage, country and cussedness are core values. … It’s not that the economy is bad in all of Kentucky; the arrival of the auto industry has been a boon, and the unemployment rate is just 4.9 percent. It’s that all the old certainties have vanished. Far from the metropolitan hubs inhabited by the main beneficiaries of globalization’s churn, many people feel disenfranchised from both main political parties, angry at stagnant wages and growing inequality, and estranged from a prevailing liberal urban ethos.”

The ideology of the Democratic establishment does not enable it to effectively counter this force. It tends to write off these workers as homogeneously deplorable, without attempting to address the real causes of their alienation. It stems from the meritocratic outlook of the professional class, which sees education as the magic cure for poverty, and has benefited from the demographic changes that white workers perceive as threatening their status and wages. To his credit, Bernie Sanders has consistently refused to write off this layer of the working class and advocates fighting for the ending of the export of well-paid industrial jobs.

Harold Meyerson writes in The American Prospect that white millennials who are thinking of voting for the Green or Libertarian party candidates in the upcoming presidential election, rather than Hillary Clinton, are expressing their white privilege. “On the afternoon of the opening session of this summer’s Democratic Convention, I was walking into the convention arena while hundreds of young demonstrators, many carrying signs backing Green Party candidate Jill Stein, shouted and occasionally hurled invectives at those entering the hall—an odd tactic, I thought, since more than 40 percent of the delegates entering the building were Bernie Sanders’s. The friend I was walking in with—a Latino legislator from California—cast a cold eye on the demonstrators and noted, ‘They’re all white’.”

He adds: “The gap that’s opened between white and minority millennials should come as no surprise; it tracks their different life experiences.” A recent survey found that “48 percent of young blacks had experienced racial discrimination in looking for a job, compared to 30 percent of Latinos and just 10 percent of whites. It found that 57 percent of both black and Latino millennials were concerned about someone in their household being laid off, while just 41 percent of young whites voiced that fear. But surely, the gap also reflects the greater and more direct danger that a Trump presidency poses to minority communities, immigrants, and Muslims than it does to whites.”

But while Sanders’ millennial supporters are opposed to a Trump presidency, they need to overcome the political confusion that inhibits them from voting for Clinton in the upcoming election alongside citizens in the African and Latino American communities, which would be the basis of vital alliances in the fight against racism in the US. Brexit has already led to a marked increase of racist attacks on immigrants in Britain; Corbyn and his supporters have made public their opposition to the government’s demonization of immigrants, despite pressure from within his own party.

Right-wing nativism threatens to erode the social contract of democracy and rights for all peoples in Britain and the United States, for which giants like Martin Luther King gave their lives. In Abraham Lincoln’s words: “A house divided cannot stand.” Voters in the US have a political duty to stop Trump lest they condemn themselves to a repetition of the worst of American and European history.

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Filed under 2016 Election, African Americans, Bernie Sanders, Democratic Party, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party, racism, Uncategorized