8 February 2017

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.
Wishful thinking
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 have shown. 

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 proportions.

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.

Tony Greenstein

Posted: 30 Jan 2017 02:33 AM PST

By Pat Tanner
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.
The imposition of a three-line whip on the Article Bill is a blunder. It is widely understood that Labour MPs have strongly-held views on opposite sides of the Brexit debate. The imposition of any three-line whip was always going to cause divisions, splits and resignations. It stands in contrast to the free votes on Trident and on bombing Syria, which was in the most literal sense a matter of life and death. It also does not correspond to the views of Labour’s members, as 90 per cent of them voted to Remain or to the views of Labour voters, as 63 per cent also voted Remain.
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 does.
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 standards.
It is becoming increasingly public that leaving the Single Market will be deeply damaging. A large number of international businesses announced they would be seeking to relocate jobs after Theresa May’s clearly ‘Hard Brexit’ speech as she confirmed she would be looking to leave the Single Market. The chair of Toyota said the carmaker would have to ‘examine how it would survive’, if the UK leaves the Single Market. Many other businesses will be doing the same.
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 here and Stoke here. Also Momentum are organising carpools for activists (see the Facebook groups: Carpool to Copeland and Carpool to Stoke).

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