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Is the Labour Left Scared of Real Power? #LEXIT

Cameron must be absolutely kicking himself. A promise that he never thought in his wildest dream he would ever have to fulfill has come back to haunt him. And how.

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Just over a year after his unexpected electoral triumph (on only 24% of the possible popular vote, that’s democracy for you) the prime minister faces the real and present danger of being forced from office if the UK votes to leave the EU. This is a self inflicted wound borne, once again of extremely poor judgement. Cameron is typical of the current politics where short term consideration trump all.

In January 2013 Cameron was leading a government on the ropes and his 2010 intake backbenchers, a rowdy right wing lot, wanted to see the Conservative Party do something decisive; something which chimed with their Eurosceptic values. They wanted clear blue water between the Tories, their coalition partners and the austerity lite Labour front bench. In addition the pm was feeling the heat from UKIP on his right flank. Rumours of SDP scale defections bankrolled by ex Tory and multi millionaire donor Stuart Wheeler swirled around the Westminster Village.

Thus Cameron and his team thought up the genius idea of chucking a dead cat on the table. Everyone would start talking about it and ignore the other pressing problems such as a tanking economy (again) and disquiet about the return of destitution rather than just poverty. Europe has been the Tories’ achilles heel since Thatcher’s infamous 1988 Bruges speech and effectively destroyed John Major’s government. So a grand gesture, which could later renege on citing Lib Dem opposition on this subject seemed the obvious way to unite his Party.

In January 2013 David Cameron made a grand announcement. If returned to power with a majority his government would hold a substantial re negotiation of our place in the EU and then that re negotiated settlement would be put to the people via a referendum.

Unfortunately Labour was in such a mess by polling day in 2015 that the unthinkable actually came to pass and the most inept prime minister possibly ever (and there is a comprehensive list to chose from) was returned to office albeit with a slim majority.

Cameron now had to pursue his much vaunted “re negotiation”. The problem was that the other 26 leaders were unanimously in the, “am I bovvered?” camp. The pm’s local difficulties with recalcitrant Tory euro sceptics such as Andrew Percy and Jacob Rees Mogg were of absolutely no interest to them, especially when compared with the refugee crisis and the grinding failure of the economy across the Continent.

The re negotiation is the thing that dare not speak its name during this campaign. Why? Because Cameron got nothing except a future loss of future influence. If the vote is Remain then the UK is busted flush in European politics. We will never be taken seriously again.

The referendum has fatally damaged the Tories and they are now as weak and divided as they were under John Major. Maybe more so as last week 57 Tory MPs signed a letter to Osborne indicating that they would vote down any post referendum emergency budget. Talking of which why hasn’t HM Government made any contingency plans in case of an out vote? There are two possible explanations. One is that they are so arrogant about the result or they are incompetent. Either way it’s totally unacceptable for an elected government not to have anticipated any other outcome than the one they want, especially when it based on a democratic decision.

Therefor the Labour Party should be in the wings, organised, united with coherent policies that reflect what the membership voted for in 2015, and presented as the government in waiting. Instead they are as disorganised and in the same paralysed state of disarray as the Conservative Party.

The Left narrative for LEXIT (Left Exit) is being silenced by the media and the most depressing argument being wheeled out is that somehow you are in cahoots with Farage if you are in favour of leave. Is this honestly the best that can be said?

This is a weak and divided government and it is to the eternal shame of the Left Leadership that they have sacrificed this opportunity and not listened to their voters, especially those outside of London. Now the Left is in a position to take power they appear “frit” at the prospect. The Labour establishment has given up and the likes of Burnham are looking to build a power base away from Westminster as they see no prospect of a Labour Government.

It is difficult to find a time in modern UK political history where both the ruling Party AND the Official Opposition as in such a mess, and it’s only a year in the Parliament.

The Left were elected to lead Labour on the explicit basis that they would adopt Socialist policies. Corbyn and McDonnell had a consistent history of opposition to the EU regularly joining the likes of Tony Benn, Kate Hoey and others in the Lobby to vote against Bills such as the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties which saw wider UK/ EU integration.

But as with many key issues the Left leadership have backed away from a principled stand due to fear of a showdown with the more established viewpoints in the Parliamentary Labour Party. Indeed the shadow chancellor, having praised rebel councillors in Hull who defied the whip at a Public Meeting told the Guardian less than a month after being elected that despite a local government funding black hole of £18 billion he would match Osborne by, “living within our means….

This is the opposite of what nearly 1/2 million people voted for. One of the Left’s major promises in the leadership election was that would be accessible and listen to ordinary Labour Party members and the public. The Leader made great store of putting a question written by a resident to Cameron at PMQs. But when thousands of emails and a Party membership survey overwhelmingly rejected bombing Syria they were ignored and the shadow foreign secretary Hillary Benn used his talents as an orator to comprehensively reject  grass root views to lead a rush to expand the war. Instead of standing firm the leadership capitulated by offering a free vote.

There is considerable disquiet about the EU amongst Labour voters, especially outside London who feel detached and that politics is something that is done to them. Due to recent circumstances I have spent a great deal of time talking to a cross section of people from our area and they feel powerless, overwhelmed and cynical that those in leadership positions have any idea about how they live and the worries they have to deal with day to day.

Making ends meet is a huge challenge for many. For many young people the aspiration of interesting, well paid and secure work is a pipe dream and as for housing… forget it. Insecure and astronomical rents are the norm and the idea of home ownership is over the hills and far away. And for the record I have very rarely heard any antipathy regarding immigration let alone racist attitudes. And when such views are expressed it is usually by a much older person.

This last year, with the crushing inevitability of a Tory government, has seen a sea change. There is desperation for change. It is literally an open goal for Labour and of immense frustration that the PLP and local government leaders simply refuse to accept the will of the voters for Socialism (albeit a watered down return to the failed State Capitalism model) and a rejection of Austerity whether it comes from London or Brussels.

When it comes to the EU the Left leadership is falling between two stools. Their natural position is best summed up by Hannah Sell. Writing in the June edition of, “Socialism Today” magazine she describes the EU as, “an agreement between the different Capitalist classes of Europe  in order to create the largest possible market in which they can maximize their profits”.

 The idea that the EU is a force for good, offering workers protection is frankly risible. Where was the EU when the Thatcher trade union legislation was enacted? What role did it have in the institution of a minimum wage in the UK (none as the EU doesn’t have a view on this)? How did the EU respond to the decimation of Britain’s industrial base or the 18 year long strangulation of the NHS until 1997? It was UK Labour Governments that extended maternity rights (which are way ahead of the EU) introduced paternity leave and enacted the Disability Discrimination Act building on legislation brought in by the Wilson/ Callaghan on race and sex discrimination.

Former BBC Industrial editor and Channel Four finance reporter Paul Mason sums up the EU thus, ” The Austerity derided by Corbyn as a political choice is written into the last EU Treaty as a non negotiable obligation… a Corbyn led Labour Government would have to enact its programme in defiance of EU law”. As a result the Left are going against their natural position and it shows in underwhelming performances by Corbyn and McDonnell in the media. It is obvious that their heart isn’t in it.

UNITE’s Len McCluskey holds a similar position to Corbyn. In September 2015 he told the Labour Party Conference that Union members would vote to leave unless Cameron promised to defend workers rights. He also promised to hold a Special Conference to determine the Union’s position. That never happened. Why? I suspect that the prospect of leave frightened him. That way the Union leaders might have to er, lead. There is a tantalising possibility that a behind the scenes deal has been done the nature of we have yet to learn.

 

At the end of the day the debate is framed in Capitalist terms. That’s why we need a new Party of the Left which can offer a Socialist programme rather than one which just rearranges the deckchairs on the Titanic. State Capitalism, which is the best the Labour Left can offer cannot even be delivered within the EU framework as Mason explains so we are effectively back to Ed Miliband’s offer to the UK people, Austerity lite with some of the rougher edges removed, which was rejected in 2015.  We need a planned economy, an end to the lottery of Capitalism and proper workplace democracy. LEXIT will remove one barrier and it’s up to us to get organised and re build our country, Europe and the world.

 

 

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About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.

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