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No “People’s Vote” – fight for a general election now!


The British viewing public on Wednesday evening was treated to the sight of Tory prime minister Theresa May calling on other politicians to find a solution to the problems of her disastrous Brexit plan for the sake of the national interest. What she really meant was for the sake of the irretrievably fragmented Tory party. She appeared oblivious to the devastating parliamentary rejection of her plan the day before, which has further deepened the crisis of the British political class. Among this class are centrist Labour MPs calling for another referendum, or “People’s Vote,” which they hope would reverse the decision of the first one.

These Labour MPs ignore the fact that a new referendum could only be called by the Tory government, which would control the questions to be asked and would not include Labour’s position of a customs union and the preservation of workers’ and consumers’ rights. In addition, such a referendum would take at least seven months to organize, while European parliament elections are to be held in May. Since it would have no representation in the parliament, Britain is effectively out of the European Union already.

Gary Younge commented: “May has spent her premiership not trying to unite the country but her party. She has failed, but her party appreciates the effort. It wasn’t Westminster who backed her [in the no-confidence vote] on Wednesday but the Tories and the Democratic Unionist party, who were paid £1bn for their trouble. Last month a third of Tory MPs said they would rather have another party leader. But having failed in that bid, they would rather have May than Corbyn as leader of their country. So more than 100 Tories voted first to get rid of her, and then to keep her.”

The government is caught in a constitutional conundrum. While a majority of MPs would prefer to remain in the European Union, parliamentary sovereignty was superseded by the electorate’s participation in the referendum. As Chris Bickerton of Cambridge University pointed out, MPs have repeatedly voted to implement its result. “For the House of Commons to endorse a second referendum, it would have to repeal past Brexit legislation in a manner that flouts the position adopted by the main parties in the last general election. Were this to happen, it would tear up established relations between executive and legislature, pitting popular and parliamentary sovereignty against one another. Parliament would in effect be seeking, in a Brechtian fashion, to dissolve ‘the people’ and put another in place that will vote differently in a second referendum.”

May’s negotiations with Brussels have been protracted because of her “red lines” – her insistence on ending freedom of movement, leaving the customs union and single market to pursue an independent trade policy, and ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.  Her dogged insistence on these conditions stem from her need to balance between the Tory party’s ultra-right leavers and centrist remainers. Her fixed strategy is to run out the clock in order to force acceptance of her deal as the only alternative to the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. Moreover, the inflexibility and arrogance of her negotiating stance has alienated any possible allies within Europe. Tom Kibasi, the director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, remarked after it emerged she had misled business groups about her withdrawal agreement: “It was as if May sincerely believes that she alone is the arbiter of the national interest and that it should be self-evident that she is right.”

Only a change of government would be a sufficient cause for the EU to renegotiate a deal, which would make it possible to ditch Theresa May’s red lines. According to the Independent, the EU would reopen talks if the red lines were dropped. “Speaking the morning after MPs rejected the prime minister’s deal, Michel Barnier said that the European Council ‘unanimously’ agreed and had ‘always said that if the UK chooses to shift its red lines in the future, and if it makes that choice to be more ambitious and to go beyond a simple free trade agreement, then the EU will be immediately ready to go hand in hand with that development and give a favourable response’.” But there could be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement, including the “backstop” hated by the DUP and the Tory ultra-right.

In a supreme historical irony, the Northern Ireland border has become a major stumbling block to any agreement. Partition was enforced in 1921 by the British imperial state to enable the protestant Unionists to stay dominant in the north, where they are a majority. Now the prospect of a hard border in Ireland is being vetoed by the independent Irish state, backed by the EU, while the DUP are implacably opposed to a border in the Irish Sea since it would mean Northern Ireland being treated differently from the UK.

The referendum itself exposed the erosion of parliamentary legitimacy in Britain. Many voters wanted to return to the more stable social-democratic society of the 1950s. For example, Burnley leisure worker Hazel Allen, explained to the Guardian that she voted Leave to protect the NHS, after the town’s A&E unit was closed with no plans to reopen it.  “I have not changed my mind and I don’t want another vote,” she said. “I am deeply disappointed with the government. They could have worked together to achieve what the people wanted, could have been stronger. What we have seen is just weakness and fighting. We voted for something but it doesn’t feel like we’re going to get it. What is the point?” In Glasgow, Lorne Bourhill said that she is against a second vote. “I didn’t want to leave the EU, but people have made their choice. The government should get on with it and find a deal that has enough support. How can I tell my children to vote in a general election if they see decisions being overturned like that?”

The Guardian’s deputy opinion editor, Joseph Harker, wrote a comment piece that was in marked contrast to the paper’s editorial line: “There’s been little attempt to acknowledge the widespread poverty, deprivation, insecurity and marginalisation of so many towns and cities that led them to seek such a drastic solution [as Brexit] to their problems. … I was born and raised in Hull, a medium-sized, solidly working-class city in east Yorkshire. I remember the Thatcher recession of the 1980s, and the hit the city took, along with the collapse of its fishing industry. I also remember feeling incredulous when the media, over the following years, reported the economic boom: the yuppies, the ‘big bang’ in the City of London, the ‘share-owning democracy’. None of that was felt anywhere near us.

“And little has changed. The only two regions of the UK that have recovered after the 2008 crash are London and the south-east. So, during the referendum campaign, to raise the economy as a reason for staying in Europe was always likely to fall on deaf ears – and it did. Yet since 2016, remarkably, most remainers seem to feel that if they keep repeating this message, somehow people will change their minds. It won’t work. … Certainly, few of them are likely to be persuaded by the leading voices in the people’s vote campaign – almost all wealthy and middle class, and most of them southerners. … ‘Why won’t Labour’s leader help us and make all this nightmare end?’ they say. It is of little importance to them that Labour, as a national political party, has to listen to the voices of its northern voters; nor that Corbyn has, so far, played a tactically astute game.

“They forget that in the general election of 2017, less than two years after becoming leader, he gained 3.5 million extra Labour votes (and 1.5 million more than David Cameron had for his majority government in 2015). Corbyn did this backing a soft Brexit. And he did this when there was a clear remain option on the ballot paper – in the form of the Lib Dems, whose vote bombed. Much as the Labour membership is clearly pro-EU, Corbyn’s stance helped Labour in large parts of the country beyond the south-east – it held on to all three seats in Hull, a city that voted 68% leave. He correctly judged that, above all, people wanted to be listened to, and for the misery of austerity to end.”

For Labour to win a general election, it needs the support of voters in swing northern constituencies like Hull as well as its voters in the cities. Corbyn’s strategy is to unite leavers and remainers by focusing on the social problems facing all of them. He told an audience today in Hastings: “While Brexit consumes all the government’s energy, the vital issues that affect people most directly – cash-starved schools, the NHS at breaking point, rising bills, unaffordable housing – have all gone to the back of the queue. Two and a half years of Brexit bungling and failure have left parliament in deadlock. Nothing can be decided. Nothing can get done. We believe that the best outcome for the country remains a general election to break the deadlock and find a solution that works for the whole country.”

The centrist Labour MPs’ call for a second vote should be ignored in favour of Corbyn’s strategy of fighting for a general election to elect a Labour government. There is no point in remaining in the EU if it means keeping a Tory government in power.

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Filed under Brexit, Britain, British elections, British Labour party, british parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, theresa may, Uncategorized

After the General Election, What Next for British Labour?


The shock result of Britain’s general election last week, with Cameron’s Conservatives achieving a parliamentary majority against all expectations, masked the fact that, in England, the public could only choose between a blatantly bankers’ party and one that proposed minor restrictions on the activities of the super-rich. Even though Scottish voters decisively rejected austerity policies, the banking class won Westminster overall – attested to by the surge in the stock market after the Tory win. The UK is now headed for massive cuts in the welfare state and privatization of the National Health Service in order to force through more tax cuts for the rich.

The Guardian reported: “It couldn’t have been clearer who were the real winners from Thursday’s poll. Buy-to-let investors have dodged the threat of long-term, rent-controlled tenancies; City bankers have avoided a new bonus tax; utilities will not be forced to submit to tougher market intervention. As one Financial Times headline had it, ‘Wealthy breathe a sigh of relief at Tory victory’.”

The Conservatives didn’t so much win the election as Labour spectacularly lost it. The Tories were able to manipulate the first-past-the-post electoral system, targeting marginal seats in middle England with a fear campaign about Labour’s management of the economy, immigration, and how the SNP might dominate a minority Labour government, while Labour retained the hardcore loyalty of cities like Newcastle and Liverpool.

John Lanchester blogged: “Labour’s share of the vote in England went up by 3.6 per cent. That’s more than the Tories: their share of the English vote only went up by 1.4 per cent. … The Tories smashed it in the marginals. In the battleground constituencies Labour were down on their 2010 performance by 0.7 per cent. Labour’s overall improvement in England was driven by success on their own turf: 3.5 per cent increase in the North East, 6 per cent in the North West. Where there was a genuine contest with the Tories, the Tories did better. … The Tories out-campaigned Labour in the places where they needed to.”

Miliband was unable to answer the Tories’ fear campaign because his party is internally divided between Blairite neo-liberals and union-backed social democrats, with Miliband performing a delicate balancing act between the two. Labour therefore never challenged the Conservative narrative, endlessly repeated by the media, that Gordon Brown’s Labour government was responsible for the 2008 recession, bank bailouts and the size of the public debt, and so had made spending cuts inevitable.

Cameron had slowed down austerity after 2012, leading to a slight improvement in the economy that was mainly confined to the prosperous south-east, but Labour candidates in some declining northern towns whose constituents had been hammered by the coalition government’s austerity measures had to struggle to convince them to vote at all – and if they did, it was likely for Ukip.

According to the Guardian, “The more a seat looked like London – young, ethnically diverse, highly educated, socially liberal, large public sector – the better Labour did, on the whole. … Labour fell short with voters outside this ‘London core’, leaking support in multiple directions. The aspirational voters of suburban England – middle-class seats with falling unemployment and rising incomes – swung behind the Cameron-Osborne ‘long-term economic plan’, while Ukip surged in seats with large concentrations of poorer, white working-class English nationalists, many of whom sympathised with Labour’s economic message but not the people delivering it.”

What next for Labour? A special correspondent writes:

I am a Labour voter and, were I living in Scotland, I would be an SNP voter. I am very depressed at the outcome of a Tory government. The surprise defeat of Labour was a shock. The extent of the defeat is exaggerated by the voting system and the sudden resignations of three main party leaders, Ed Miliband for Labour, Nick Clegg for the LibDems and Nigel Farage of UKIP. All is not as it seems: Ed Miliband has not been a strong leader and Labour wanted rid of him before the election, although he ran a good campaign; Nick Clegg has been his party’s lightning conductor for their unpopularity when he campaigned on free university education and then participated in a 300% increase in university fees from £3000 to £9000 per year; Nigel Farage’s resignation is more Mirage than Farage as he proposes to stand for the leadership of UKIP again – he is just (temporarily) resigning to carry out a promise he made for the eventuality that he would lose his own personal election bid.

Labour were caught between two nationalisms: Scottish and English. They lost support in Scotland attempting to keep the Union together and campaigning with the Tories against Scottish independence and the Tories left them to it. The Tories’ reward for Labour was to accuse them of planning a coalition with seditious Scots whose main goal is to break the Union of England and Scotland. The Tories changed their election focus from their stewardship of the economy to attacking Labour for ‘siding with the enemy’ and from the outset of the Independence outcome, fuelling English nationalism.  The arguments on their ‘successful’ handling of the economy was founded on blaming Labour for the banking crash in 2008 when George Osborne opposed every attempt to regulate the banks at that time. As a global phenomenon emerging from dodgy US bank loans fuelling their housing boom, it is a transparent lie, but they have been successful with it.

The situation now faced by the new government is that they have stirred up a hornets’ nest of antagonisms between England and Scotland that can only lead to division of the union and with knock-on effects on Ireland, if not also in Wales and the Labour north of England. Statesmanship by the Tory party was noticeable only by its complete absence after the Scottish referendum campaign for independence. Short term party political interests were the only explanation for the stirring of English Nationalism by the “English Votes for English issues (?)” campaign that followed immediately after the referendum result.

We have divided parties: the Tories are split between its extreme anti-Europe right wing and its centrist ‘one nation’ Tories (an ever diminishing group); Labour is split between its Blairist centrist pro-business group that was able to work with Murdoch’s press and its more left-wing working class base; the LibDems are so shattered at all levels, local and national that its strong base of local activists in well-defined parts of the country is broken completely. The Scottish Nationalists are not split and have an inspirational leader: immediately on succeeding Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon produced an anti-austerity policy and an inclusive policy that I only wish Labour had had the strength to follow, instead of opposing.

The collapse of the Lib Dems also explains a lot that is unique to this election. Their 23% share of the vote fell to below 8% and it fell everywhere including all their regional strongholds. 5 years of taking the blame for the coalition’s unpopular policies had broken the base of thousands of local councillors and activists. The last coalition government, as a group, lost 22 seats plus the remaining 8 LibDems are no longer part of government, so the coalition lost 30 seats overall. This is not much of a victory, even despite the election arithmetic. The government majority has fallen from over 70 to 12. Six by-election defeats over a government lifetime is to be expected and in the last parliament, the coalition lost 8 seats and the Conservative won zero seats. Should that happen again this government will lose its majority, which is likely as the Conservative austerity programme is more severe than before as they were held back in their ideologically-driven cutting of benefits by their LibDem partners.

We have two winners of this election, both elected on opposing manifestos: The SNP were overwhelmingly elected on an anti-austerity, socially fair ticket, and the Conservatives in England were underwhelming elected on an anti-Scottish, anti-Europe, anti-benefits, anti-immigrants but pro-big business ticket. The SNP is united with strong leadership. The Conservative are split and despite all his bluster, David Cameron is weak, as his unconvincing clashes with the EU and indeed by his fear of UKIP reveal. The coming clashes between these two winners starts now, over the federalisation of the UK. It moves over 2 years of uncertainty onto the EU referendum, which Cameron is very likely to lose. The Tories big business backers oppose withdrawal from Europe but the English nationalism set lose by Cameron in his attempt to win back UKIP supporters is virulently against the EU as is the greater part of his party. Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP, has already posed the question that UK withdrawal from the EU requires all nations within the EU to agree to it. If the UK is a serious Union and not dictated to by its large English establishment, it must agree to this or accept the legitimacy of another referendum on Scottish independence should the UK take Scotland out of the EU against its wishes. The Scots overwhelmingly rejected austerity that England voted for and are very likely to vote for the EU when England doesn’t, as will the Irish too where the EU is also popular.

Where does Labour go now? It already has Tony Blair intervening saying it should abandon its left wing policies for a return to the middle ground. It certainly needs a more charismatic leadership, and not just the leader but all those who surround the new leader. I think the policies of Labour in 2015 were not its weakness but the failure to combat the Tory rewriting of history around the 2008 banking failures, the pincer movement of twin nationalism, so ably exploited by the Tories. The role of the press and the media including the BBC needs to be combatted by some means or other. Murdoch completely backed the Tory party as did the others, but Murdoch went further by promoting the SNP victory by the Scottish Sun while demonising them, on the same day, in their English Sun, the largest of the English gutter press. The model the Labour party needs to follow is already given to us by the one absolute success story, the SNP. For God’s sake, get an anti-inequality alliance and basic policies of gender and social equality and hence tax rises to pay for a rebuilding of the welfare state and decent jobs worth having. Form alliances with the SNP and the Greens on a platform of well-defined issues such as the environment and on federalism that is genuine. They can also support Scottish Nationalism and allow Scottish Labour to do its thing and be successful again in an independent Scotland. A successful social democratic state as our neighbour can only encourage English Labour to grow and fight harder. London and the North believe in more social justice, so there is a basis for change, even in the heart of England and those Tory shires. The problems of inequality, housing costs, soup kitchens and poverty are not suddenly going to go away.

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