Corbyn’s Disastrous Brexit Strategy – Labour’s slow moving car crash
Corbyn’s Disastrous Brexit Strategy – Labour’s slow moving car crash
Support for Article 50 is a failure of principle and strategy
The current members of the European Union
If love is blind, then falling out of love can seem like an
emotional roller coaster. So it is with Britain’s relationship with the EU and Labour members relationship with Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn was the Accidental Leader of the Labour Party.
He only became Leader because no one thought he’d actually win and
because Ed Miliband believed that allowing all of Labour’s members a vote would
guarantee that the Left would never come to power.
There was, of course, a third factor. The unexpected victory of David Cameron in
the 2015 General Election on 36% of the vote, which caused a political backlash
in the Labour Party. If Labour’s Right
misjudged the chances of Corbyn winning they also misjudged the mood of the
country with their talk of aspiring Waitrose shoppers. The mood music was more that of the Clash
than D:Ream. For most people things could
only get worse.
The EEC before the accession of Eastern European countries
Indications of the changing mood were the Peoples’ Assembly
march in June 2015. Large numbers of
people felt that Cameron’s victory had no legitimacy. The Tories had only achieved a majority on the
backs of the collapse of the Lib Dem vote.
Cameron had no escape route from his rash promise of a referendum on the
European Union. This backlash manifested
itself in the doubling of Labour’s membership and the thousands of people who
became registered supporters.
Robert Schumann and Jean Monnet – founding fathers of the European Union
Corbyn is the first person to admit that he was not cut out
to become Leader of the Labour Party. He
might have been a serial rebel but he was also seen as a genuinely nice
guy. Unfortunately this had its negative
consequences as well. Although his
niceness has been spun as straightforward, honest politics it has also meant that
he lacks the killer instinct. This was
painfully obvious when pitted against David Cameron, the Flashman of British
politics, at the dispatch box each week.
With Theresa May Corbyn has had an easier task, but still he hasn’t
landed any killer blows despite her wooden performance.
But even more seriously is Corbyn’s inability to take
control of the Labour Party. In the
aftermath of his victory last September, he had the golden opportunity to send Iain McNicol, Labour’s treacherous General
Secretary packing. This was a man who
had not only tried to fix the vote but had gone out of the way to prevent him
even standing. For a Labour leader not
to have any control over his civil service is a fatal mistake. His failure to support the Left in the party
has meant that the Right, although a minority, has managed to keep control of
the Conference and the NEC.
There have also been policy failures. Corbyn should have made it clear that the
railways would be nationalised within the first six months of a Labour victory
and that compensation would be capped.
Instead there is the absurdity of waiting for 15 year contracts to
expire. He should have come up with a
radical programme on housing – immediate return to security of tenure in the
private sector, controlled rents and massive council house building. On utilities there has also been nothing in
terms of the massive fuel poverty that people are suffering from. On all of these issues and more Labour’s
message is muffled. The attack on
benefits – from the abolition of Council Tax Benefit to the Bedroom tax – has been
met with silence.
seat of high authority Luxembourg
It should have been obvious, as Al Jazeera’s The Lobby has
demonstrated, that the ‘anti-Semitism’ crisis was wholly manufactured. His failure to call the anti-Semitism
witch-hunt what it was, allowing a destabilising campaign to take hold just
before the local elections, has severely weakened his leadership. Furthermore, Corbyn’s repeated proclamations
that he will not tolerate anti-Semitism in the Party can only give the
impression that there is a problem. He
has completely played into the hands of his political enemies and it was
embarrassing at the Zionist debate with Owen Smith for him to declare that he
admired Israel’s ‘spirit and verve’ given
his long work with the Palestine solidarity movement.
The biggest policy failure is the decision to support
triggering Article 50 and to accept the inevitability of Brexit (which despite
all the punditry may not be inevitable).
As the article below from Socialist Action argues, the result of pulling
out of the Single Market will be a serious decline in working class living
standards. If May chooses to make
Britain a tax haven then this will mean that with far less tax revenue not only
will there not be enough resources to fund an expansion of the welfare state
but a Labour government would be a rerun of previous austerity governments.
It was New Labour’s failures that gave Farage his chance
Access to the single market, both for manufacturing and the
financial services is crucial. London
faces the prospect of losing its role as the world’s leading financial sector
to New York, Frankfurt and Paris.
Companies which are located in Britain because of tariff free access to
Europe will simply move. The fact that a
narrow majority of people were fooled into voting against their own interests,
for good reasons, by nationalist bile is not a reason to accept the
decision. Parties exist to change
peoples’ minds not to pander to their prejudices.
Those who thought that Lexit was a nice phrase will find out
that hitching your wagon to Nigel Farage can only lead to disaster. That that is the position of Britain’s two
far-left parties, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party,
demonstrates how out of touch modern day Trotskyism is. It should have been obvious from the rash of
racist attacks in the wake of the Brexit vote that the political mood was not
one of an independent socialist Britain but a retrograde and nationalist little
England (& Wales).
The idea that an independent British capitalist state is
preferable to European capitalism is nothing more than an attempt to march
backwards into history. Marx and Engel’s
described this best in the Communist Manifesto when they wrote that feudal
socialism was ‘half lamentation, half lampoon; half an echo of
the past, half menace of the future; at times, by its bitter, witty and
incisive criticism, striking the bourgeoisie to the very heart’s core; but
always ludicrous in its effect, through total incapacity to comprehend the march
of modern history.’
The Mail, like most of the Tory press is all in favour of Brexit
A beautifully poetic
description of the belief that there is a nationalist road to socialism. National or nationalist socialism isn’t
exactly a road paved with glory, be it in Germany or Israel. The attempt to unify Europe economically and
politically, which is the proclaimed goal of the European Union cannot succeed
under capitalism. That should be
obvious. But the attempt to try and
attain that goal is progressive. For socialists
to oppose it is backward and reactionary.
The attempt to form a single currency is progressive but without
economic and fiscal and thus political union, it is doomed as the recent crises
The debate around leaving the
EU was never going to be about anything else other than the wonders of an
independent British capitalism. Theresa
May’s humiliating itinerary, from Trump to Erdogan and Netanyahu shows how
absurd this belief is that Britain can go it alone.
Socialism has not been advanced
one iota by Brexit or Lexit. Unfortunately
Tony Benn was wedded to the idea that Parliament could regain its sovereignty.
It was an illusion then and it still is today.
What should be the position of
Corbyn? He should be implacably opposed
to withdrawal from the Single Market as it will have a devastating effect on
the welfare state or what is left of it.
Socialism is not best served by advocating policies that lead to a
recession. The only argument that May
has for leaving the single market is one of the EU’s three pillars – freedom of
movement for workers. It isn’t an
argument that Labour should avoid. There
is no mileage in competing with Farage.
We should be saying loud and clear that the reasons people voted for
Brexit, the industrial wastelands of the Midlands and the North were not caused
by immigration but the free market principles of Thatcher. It wasn’t immigration that closed the mines
and the shipyards but Tory economic policies.
The same policies that UKIP represent.
It is no accident that the most
reactionary section of the American ruling class, as represented by Trump, also
favour Brexit. They want to see the
break up of the EU because it will enable the US to gain privileged access on
its terms to the European market.
The wiser members of the Labour
left, including Dianne Abbot with her diplomatic illness can see this. Corbyn thinks that he will gain something by
trying to compete with May and Farage on the terms of our exit from the
EU. It is an utter delusion. What Labour should be doing is pointing out that the referendum campaign
was won on the basis of a lie that can never be delivered. Our bonus from Brexit, £300m for the NHS turned to dust the minute
the result was announced. With a base of
48%, it should be clear that a principled stance in opposition to Brexit can
very soon, if not already be a majority position in the country. Corbyn could have won respect for a clear
stance on this and not left it to the Labour Right. It is a failure of leadership of immense
The European Union came about
because the capitalist leaders of Germany and France, Robert Schumann and Jean Monnet,
wished to create the economic, political and social conditions that would
prevent a recurrence of world war. At
first this was via the Iron and Steel Community and the 1951 Treaty of Paris which
morphed into the European Common Market via the 1957 Treaty of Rome and then
the European Union with the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht when Euro-scepticism
first began to poison the British body politic.
Corbyn has been heavily
influenced by the petty nationalism of the Communist Party’s British Road to
Socialism. There is still time for him
to change course but I suspect not much time.
It is clear, and becoming increasingly publicly
evident, that in the coming period the living standards of the British
population and British workers cannot be maintained without membership of the
European Single Market. The inflation that will be created by the plunging
pound will significantly cut living standards, while refusal of companies to
invest without free access to a European market which is many time bigger than
any UK one will lead to heavy job losses. The significantly lower economic
growth that will result will put further pressure on social spending.
It is for this reason
that May’s only threat to try to maintain Britain’s economic growth is to make
it what is called by the media and the Tories a ‘tax haven’. But this conceals
the reality, a ‘tax haven’, a country without an adequate tax base, is one in
which social protection and social services would be slashed. The economic path
May proposes outside the European Single Market is actually one of a low wage,
low job security country with massively reduced social protection.
These economic forces are so powerful they would
overwhelm in their effect of living standards measures which are desirable in
themselves proposed by Labour such as a National Investment Bank, and rational
industrial policy etc. There must therefore be no illusion – if Britain leaves
the European Single market living standards will fall and substantial job
losses will occur. Labour, therefore, cannot really defending working class
living standards without maintaining membership of the Single Market.
It is because of this economic reality that there
are significant divisions even within the Tory Party on the Single Market. For
the time being Theresa May can unite her party by making the reduction of
immigration the priority. But not merely is such a course to be rejected
because it is racist but because it cannot solve the negative economic effects
on living standards and jobs of leaving the Single Market..
These objective economic realities mean that Labour
needs to unite around membership of the EU Single Market.
Labour has tabled seven amendments to the
parliamentary Bill authorising Article 50 to be triggered
(and is supporting two others on workers’ rights). They should all be supported
and the first two are particularly important. They give parliament a vote on
the terms of the Brexit deal that the Tory government agrees with the EU.
Secondly, they “establish a number of key principles the Government must seek
to negotiate during the process, including protecting workers’ rights,
securing full tariff and impediment free access to the Single Market.” This
corresponds to the actual requirements of the British economy and would protect
jobs and living standards. Labour’s priorities are the correct ones.
But the political process has been mishandled and
the major effect could be to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour
Party. Corbyn’s leadership is decisive in maintaining the Labour party’s
opposition to war, austerity and racism, and its policies in favour of peace,
investment and equality.
It is the imposition of a minority position that
has provoked the splits. Corbyn’s enemies within Labour have now been handed a
cause celebre to rally around. This was totally unnecessary and self-inflicted.
Because of Labour splits and the Tories’ temporary unity, Labour’s vote was
never going to be decisive on this issue. Article 50 will pass whatever Labour
Instead, Labour should fight for its amendments,
attempting to get the other opposition parties to support them and trying to
draw in pro-EU Tories. For Labour, the paramount issue must be jobs and living
Derby and Deeside, the locations for the big Toyota
plants both voted to Leave, as did Sunderland.
But they did not vote for unemployment. Labour can unite and build a majority
by opposing the devastation caused by leaving the Single Market. The same point
applies in numerous sectors and locales.
The fantasies swirling around the referendum
campaign are being blown away. The vote is already lowering living standards and
cutting investment. The sole realistic prospect for the economy outside the
Single Market is not a free trade land of plenty, but a trade deal with Trump.
This would destroy the NHS, abolish environmental protections, devastate
farming and remove food safety standards. Most sectors of the economy would
face severe disruption. The sole major sector where the UK is arguably more
competitive than the US is finance.
This is not a perspective Labour can accept or
embrace. It has to fight for the interests of the majority, which for the
foreseeable future must mean remaining in the Single Market.
There will be two parliamentary
by-elections on Thursday 23rd February. To assist Labour’s campaigns activists are encouraged to
participate in the events in Copeland hereand Stoke here. Also Momentum are organising carpools for
activists (see the Facebook groups: Carpool to Copeland and Carpool to Stoke).