Notes from the front – of the week 3/9/2015

Prepare to defend Labour’s new Leader

The results of the Labour Party’s Leadership election will be announced on 12 September, with a Jeremy Corbyn victory widely anticipated. Having been taken off guard by the left’s campaign, big business, the Tories and Labour right-wing are preparing a stepped up offensive to reverse this advance. The left has to prepare to defend Corbyn.

Obviously there should be no complacency during the last week in which voting takes place. The ballot closes on 10 September, with possibly 50% of voters still not voted. So the priority for now remains getting out the maximum vote for Corbyn, and in London also the vote for Abbott to be the Mayoral candidate.

A Corbyn leadership of Britain’s main opposition mass party, committed to ending austerity, is totally unacceptable to big business. Across Europe capital is determinedly fighting to crush all such political currents. There will be an intense offensive in Britain.

Inside the Labour Party the right-wing are preparing a serious fight. The different currents are seeking unity, with all the Blair, Brown past differences set to one side. The Blairites are joining with the more socially illiberal Labour right. They want to use the latter’s more backward social agenda as a lever to try to break up Corbyn’s support.

Peter Mandelson has clearly set out this approach in the FT, where he has called for engaging those ‘who regard themselves as “blue” rather than “new” — those in the Labour family who stress the place of national and local identity, of traditional culture and language in our politics.’ Liz Kendall has been integrating this framework into her campaign.

The Blairites cannot win support based on their policies such as the Iraq war or privatising public services. So the political objective is to channel growing discontent with austerity, particularly within the unions, down a reactionary path that confronts Corbyn’s genuinely progressive framework. Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt have established a new group, ‘Labour for the Common Good’, to knit together this ‘Anybody But Corbyn’ initiative.

If Corbyn becomes Leader, then to replace him the Labour right needs to win a subsequent Leadership election. They can easily get sufficient MPs to nominate a candidate against him (46 are needed as the threshold is 20% of Labour MPs if there is a Leader in post), but to win the vote amongst members and supporters will require breaking up the alliance that has come together this summer.

Corbyn’s support reaches well beyond the traditional Labour left and into the centre ground of the trade unions. The Labour right-wing’s efforts will be directed at driving down this support. This will be their focus, and they will be backed by the Tories.

The tactics the left adopts to defend Corbyn and his policy positions will need to take account of holding on to the support of hundreds of thousands who have voted for him in this contest, maintaining the broader labour movement backing that underpinned his trade union nominations, plus reaching out to the millions of voters necessary for a Corbyn-led Labour Party to win the next general election.

Stormont put into crisis to undermine Sinn Fein’s advance

The latest crisis threatening the political institutions in the north of Ireland is yet again the product of right wing attempts to divert attention away from the real issues at the heart of actual crisis — around opposition to right wing austerity policies in Dublin and Westminster; and the ongoing resistance to the peace process by reactionary, anti-Agreement unionism, assisted by the British government.

The current crisis, unlike that around the attempts to impose austerity and welfare cuts, is actually a fake crisis. Comments at a police press conference about the investigation into the murders of two men in Belfast have been seized upon by unionists, right wing politicians in the south of Ireland, the British government and many sections of the right wing media, to create a fake furore about the existence – or not – of the IRA.

Despite the fact that the PSNI Chief Constable was clear in asserting that the Provisional IRA `does not exist for paramilitary purposes’ and is promoting `a peaceful, political republican agenda’, a ludicrous furore has been whipped up, with the Ulster Unionist Party even resigning from the power sharing executive.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has been crystal clear in spelling out that the IRA does not, in fact exist, stating `the war is over and the IRA is gone and is not coming back’.

As well as the UUP’s resignation, which Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly condemned as being hypocritical and `driven by inter-unionist rivalry and self-interest’, the DUP have been demanding that the British government suspend the institutions, while some unspecified sanction or punishment is applied against Sinn Fein. Martin McGuinness has rejected the calls to suspend the Assembly over the issue.

The facts are that no one in the police has alleged any IRA involvement in the two murders – let alone any Sinn Fein connection.

Elsewhere, the right wing government and party leaderships in Dublin have been keen to exploit the fake crisis, to attack and denigrate Sinn Fein, alongside lurid newspaper headlines. It is no accident this takes place as Sinn Fein’s support is growing as it continues to be the most prominent party leading opposition to austerity in the 26 counties, as well as in the north. As Sinn Fein leaders joined the huge numbers marching against water charges last weekend, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail politicians were lining up to say that Sinn Fein had to be `taken out’, as one particular news headline graphically put it.

Indeed the anti-Sinn Fein bias in the press over the issue, and lack of impartiality has been ludicrous in the extreme, failing to grasp to grasp the contradiction of arguing that   republicans were now working with criminal gangs, who Gerry Adams points out are `riddled with agents and informers’ and are made up of people `inherently opposed to the peace process and Sinn Fein’s peace strategy’. This clearly ridiculous scenario is being pedalled non-stop in order to distract attention from the key issues threatening the peace process.

Meanwhile, death threats against Sinn Fein MP Francie Molloy failed to meet the same level of consternation or condemnation.

In reality, both Sinn Fein and the republican movement, as Gerry Adams points out in his recent blog, have over the past decades taken incredibly challenging initiatives and taken huge steps in order to ensure the peace process was possible. Without this, the Good Friday Agreement would not have happened.

This latest example of turning reality on its head is in fact about distorting the current agenda, to distract attention from the real issues. The key task now is to support Sinn Fein in getting the agenda back to those issues. First this means exerting pressure on the Tory government to reverse its austerity agenda which is putting dangerous pressure on the political institutions. Sinn Fein has consistently resisted the welfare cuts and budget cuts and solidarity with that fight is important for progressives in Britain. Labour has essentially conceded the Tory cuts agenda for the north — and even attacked Sinn Fein for refusing to agree the welfare reform cuts. In the context of the current leadership debate, that also has to change, and instead those opposing the Tory cuts must be supported. Secondly, the ongoing undermining of the good Friday Agreement, caused by British Government disengagement and acquiescing to unionist opposition to change also has to be reversed. All those in Britain supporting the peace process have to get behind Sinn Fein and others to assert a pro-Agreement agenda.

In the South, the right wing parties, with an eye on next year’s General Election in the 26 counties, are also attacking Sinn Fein as the main opponent of their austerity agenda. Sinn Fein should also be supported and linked up with in this regard, alongside the growing anti-austerity movement there, at present mobilising against the water charges.

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness has been clear in urging politicians `to show real leadership to overcome the current challenges facing the political process.’ He has called for `a united focus on the real difficulties facing the political process, the cuts agenda of the Tory government, as well as issues around parading, identity and addressing the legacy of the past.’ This should be fully supported by the left in Britain and by Labour.

Huge protests against Japanese remilitarisation

An estimated 120,000 people protested outside the Japanese parliamentary buildings as the government voted to alter the Japanese constitutional prohibitions against offensive military action. The legislative change will allow greater freedom for the Japanese military and is a clear break with its post-World War II ‘pacifist’ Constitution.

The Japanese economy remains in crisis but increasing budget for the military is the government’s priority. The constitutional change and increased military spending have the clear backing of the US administration, which is too weak by itself to dominate the Pacific and use its military muscle to enforce its interests against China.

The bills still need approval in the upper house but this is widely anticipated. Even so, the turn towards remilitarisation is provoking a response domestically and internationally. Reports suggest the protests in Tokyo are drawing in new layers of the population opposed to militarism and fearful of its consequences.

Both China and South Korea, among the principal victims of Japanese militarism historically are strongly critical of the moves. In an effort to maintain its dominance in the region, the US is willing to ally with some of the most reactionary forces and encourage military destabilisation. But its actions also provoke renewed resistance and pose new alliances among those who oppose its militarisation plans.