24 December 2017

6 Months after the Election & 3 Resignations Later Labour Has Still Not Found an Effective Message

Theresa May Should Have Gone by NowLabour’s Incoherence Over Brexit is Hurting 

Corbyn should not be afraid to call for a Second Referendum

It is said that Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them.  However that is not altogether true.  How an Opposition plays its cards can have a decisive effect on the fortunes of a Government.  At the moment Labour gives every impression of sitting back and hoping that the Tories will simply collapse of their own accord.  The problem is that the Tories can survive if the price they make us pay is high enough.

Brexit is a key political issue and it also has an impact on every other area.  There is not only a lack of clarity over the Brexit but on the NHS, Housing, Student Fees and much else besides.  All of these issues are tied to Brexit, for example the opening up of the NHS to US multinationals in any new trade agreement will increase the rate of privatisation.
As the only blog to predict a hung parliament from the start of the General Election in April and again in June it is clear to me that the failure to oppose Brexit is hurting Labour.  Having a lack of clarity is not a bonus in politics where people expect you to provide them with answers to problems not offer a half way house.  Labour is not leading on Europe it is following.

We have had 3 cabinet resignations in a fortnight, Theresa May lost a crucial amendment on the European Union Withdrawal Bill last week and yet, Labour is still treading water.  Far from being on the political ropes, Theresa May’s position has stabilised. Labour is not offering an alternative to Brexit other than some vague notion of a soft as opposed to a hard Brexit.
It is, or should be clear that Brexit is already affecting the economy negatively.  Not only is there a rise in inflation but the economy is suffering from reduced growth.  If Britain loses access to European markets, in particular financial markets the economy and production will take a severe hit and with it working class living standards.

Nobody seriously believes that Brexit will have a positive economic effect other than the lunatic fringe of the Tory party.  Yet Labour’s position of remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union whilst remaining outside the EU is incoherent.  If you are going to pay, as you must, to remain in both then what is the purpose or point of leaving Europe?  

The only argument I have heard from Emily Thornberry, who is proving disastrous as shadow Foreign Secretary, is that we must ‘respect’ the vote to leave?  Why?  It’s one thing to recognise it for what it is, a disastrous mistake, it is quite another to respect it as if it were some ancient god.
It is clear the negotiating strategy, if you can call it that, of Theresa May and David Davies, is based on a wing and a prayer.  Davies admits there hasn’t even been an impact study in the different economic sectors.  May’s request or was it a plea, that the transition period be at least 2 years was contemptuously rejected.  21 months it is.  Jeremy Corbyn needs to grab the reigns of power not smile at them.  This government could be put on the ropes by a determined opposition.

The reality is that although people voted narrowly for Brexit they did it for a number of incoherent reasons – such as a protest against the effects of austerity and in the mistaken belief that immigration was the cause of the decline in living standards.  As is becoming blindingly clear, immigration has a positive not a negative effect on the economy and services - e.g. the NHS.

What  people didn’t do was to deliberately vote for a reduction in their standard of living and the services they expect.  It was an act of protest mainly by those in the North of England against deindustrialisation and the transfer of wealth from poor to rich.

People did not vote to make themselves poorer yet that is what the result of Brexit will be.  Crashing the economy is not a socialist strategy.  It is also clear that Brexit will mean a new assault on workers’ rights such as the Working Time Directive.  Free of the Brussell’s bureaucracy there will be no ‘red tape’ inhibiting the ‘setting free’ of the Labour market.
Those on the Left who supported Lexit swallowed the nonsense of economic nationalism in one country.  Tony Benn always argued that we would regain our economic sovereignty but this always begged the question, did Britain ever have it, at least since the early part of the 20th Century?  And even more pertinently what we are talking about is the sovereignty of the wealth and the rich.  Working class people have never had control over their destiny or the political economy.

The reality will be that Britain’s economy outside Europe will be in hock to the United States and Donald Trump.  The idea that Trump is going to cut Britain a quick and easy deal flies in the face of his American First policy.   The Tories in the shape of Liam Fox are going a begging to the court of Donald.

What then should Labour do?  If Labour believes that the Brexit vote was a mistake, and most Labour voters and most Labour Party members do, then there is only one conclusion.  That people should have the right to change their mind.  There is nothing undemocratic about having a second vote given the lies about £300m a week going to the NHS.

Of course Nigel Farage and Rees Mogg and co. will kick and scream ‘betrayal’ but the truth is that a second vote will be more not less democratic than the first vote.  People will now have seen something of what Brexit is likely to look like.  How can anyone object to another vote on democratic grounds?

Of course this doesn’t mean that in an increasingly right-wing Europe that socialists should be content with things as they are.  We should be firmly opposed to a bankers Europe, neo-liberalism and the growth of the far-Right as in Austria where a far-Right government has been elected.  In or out the politics of Europe are shifting in a nationalist and racist direction.  Labour should make it clear that Britain retains the right to for example nationalise the major infrastructure areas of economic activity such as rail, the utilities and post office.  However anyone who believes that there is anything ‘socialist’ in leaving Europe for Trump’s warm embrace really does need their head examining.

I also suspect that a clear policy difference on Europe will help splinter the Tories and hasten the demise of Strong & Stable.  Instead of treading water we will be treading Tories!

Tony Greenstein 

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