Notes from the front – of 14/4/2016

Rally behind Corbyn to kick out the Tories

With three weeks to go till elections in Britain, Labour has intensified its campaign and inflicted further damage on the Tories. Jeremy Corbyn’s challenges to the Prime Minister to come clean, over income from tax-avoiding offshore funds, resulted in David Cameron’s worst week in office. Tory policies are being increasingly questioned as claims that ‘we are all in it together’ are further exposed as completely false.

The Tories only secured 36.8 per cent at the 2015 General Election and their support is already slipping. Labour needs to be positioned as the leading party opposing this government, systematically attacking its policies and putting forward an alternative to raise living standards. That is why the Labour Leader is maximising the fight against the Tories.

Corbyn is correct not to campaign as the Tories’ ally on the EU Referendum. Sirens calling on him to minimise the differences with the Tories on this issue are luring Labour towards the same rocks that wrecked it in Scotland.

The Labour right remains determined to remove Corbyn. But with the 5 May election approaching, its tactics have shifted from frequent coup threats to other ways of attacking the leadership and undermining the Labour Party. The right clearly considers the most important issue is power, on which it is correct, so it is focussed on fighting to regaining it.

Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is a 33-person body that internally presides over the implementation of the party’s rules, including for Leadership elections. Twelve seats are held by trade union and six by constituency representatives. Whilst there is a lack of clarity in Labour’s leadership election rules this committee has a very important role to play.

Firstly the NEC can eliminate the possibility of a coup by submitting the appropriate rule change proposal to Labour’s national conference to tidy up Labour’s rules. Secondly, if there is a leadership challenge against Corbyn, the NEC decides whether he is automatically on the ballot paper, or not. Thirdly, in the event of the right wing obtaining a court ruling that Corbyn is not on the ballot paper, the NEC can decide to accept that or to convene a special conference that tidies up the rule book so that Corbyn is on the ballot paper.

Given the pivotal role this committee can play in defending or ousting the Leader, the Labour right is waging an offensive to win this year’s NEC elections.

The right has already secured the Youth place on Labour’s NEC, in an election mired in irregularities, at Labour’s Youth Conference in February. Despite the closeness of the result, right 49.55% to centre left 49.41%, a margin of a single vote, requests for a recount were rejected by party officials. There was also significant evidence the right had breached Labour’s guidelines for internal elections by coordinating a smear campaign against the left candidate. Left Futures has published screenshots of the right’s Facebook discussions encouraging its supporters to label the left candidate anti-Semitic.

The six constituency NEC places are also being elected this year, with nominations by local Labour Parties being made up until 24 June and ballot papers being sent to all members around 7 July. Currently the centre left holds four of these six seats and the right is determined to win these.

The Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) NEC candidates are Ann Black, Ken Livingstone, Christine Shawcroft, Claudia Webbe, Darren Williams and Peter Willsman. The CGLA NEC candidates will defend the Corbyn leadership from the undemocratic attacks of its die hard opponents. The Tory media, which in the past NEC elections has not been interested, this year is running stories attacking centre left candidates and promoting the right. All six CLGA-backed candidates need to be supported for nominations and in the subsequent vote.

The right wants to roll back Labour’s internal democracy to stop a left wing Leader being elected in future. It is campaigning to end the ‘one member one vote’ system under which Corbyn was elected and for scrapping the involvement of Registered Supporters.

The issue of power in Labour Party needs to be taken as seriously on the left as it is on the right, with attention given to Labour’s NEC elections and tidying up unclear rules.

However, for the next three weeks the number one priority is the 5 May elections. Getting out the vote and building support for Corbyn’s Labour – that is the best way to defeat the Tories.

Grand coalition in Ireland? United in reaction

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil appear to have opened tentative negotiations following the inconclusive outcome of the general election to the Irish Dáil. No party came close to gaining an overall majority and the only feasible parliamentary combination is one which brings together the two supposed enemies.

This enmity is revealed as fake, even if the current negotiations end in failure because of personal or other ambitions. It arises from the Irish Civil War but both parties long ago accepted partition of the country and what was in effect a counter-revolution. In the modern era both parties are united in reaction; their support for austerity, Ireland’s own oligarchs and the Troika combining with a craven attitude to British rule in the North.

But the difficulty for them arises precisely because there is real opposition to all these policies in the form of Sinn Féin. Allowing them to become the official parliamentary opposition too is very dangerous for the established parties. This concern is often cast in terms of the establishment parties’ base of support. It is true there is some vestigial antipathy, but many were happy to transfer votes to each other in the recent election.

The real problem arises because the next government will continue with austerity and an opposition led by Sinn Féin, supported by independent radicals and leftists can offer a governmental alternative. The pro-austerity Labour party will naturally try to pose to the left in order to confuse matters.

But if Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil do form a coalition agreement of some sort this will be from a position of weakness, and Sinn Féin can press its alternative. Otherwise, Irish voters may be faced with another general election and should punish the establishment parties who refuse to take office simply to maintain a charade of political disagreement.

Latin America: the struggle heats up

As Latin America’s economies continue to slow, the class struggle is intensifying. Currently there is an intense political fight over the preparations of a constitutional coup in Brazil and increased conflict in Venezuela.

In Brazil a congressional impeachment committee voted on 11 April to recommend a Senate trial of the President Dilma Rousseff. She is being accused of juggling the presentation of accounts to make her government’s economic performance appear better ahead of an election two years ago and denies any wrongdoing.

On 17 April the Chamber of Deputies is expected to vote on whether to proceed with sending the matter to the Senate for trial. That vote requires a two thirds majority to pass, so this week both the pro- and anti-impeachment sides are campaigning to maximise their vote. If the Chamber of Deputies approves the impeachment motion then the Senate is expected to follow suit.

There are huge demonstrations taking place across Brazil of both the supporters and opponents of this attempt at a coup. The Workers Party (PT), trade unions and social movements are mobilising in support of Rouseff and if she is impeached this fight will continue.

In Venezuela the left is battling against the right wing controlled Assembly. The courts have sided with President Nicolas Maduro, restricting the lawmakers’ power to remove judges and ratifying a Presidential emergency decree. Also on 11 April the Supreme Court overturned legislation to free about 120 prisoners, including those involved in political violence.

Whilst the left is preparing for a long political fight, the right has launched a new wave of killings against its opponents. This past month a mayor has been gunned down in a drive by shooting, a legislator has been shot by paramilitaries, a solidarity activist killed and two police officers run over.

The situation in Latin America is going to remain unstable in the coming period. Both the right and the left have big social forces. The left has huge support because of the rise in living standards it previously delivered and it is not going to give up.

The left has suffered its recent setbacks in the region – the Argentinian presidential election, Venezuela’s legislative elections and the Bolivian referendum – because it has been unable to sustain economic growth. This issue needs to be addressed.

The commodity price boom, that underpinned the left’s ‘revolution in distribution’, is not expected to return. So the left needs an economic policy that can deliver a ‘revolution in production’.

Meanwhile the right wing is not able to consolidate its own advances; because where it gets power its policies further aggravate the economic situation, fuelling the struggle against them.