By Brian Jackson
The left in Britain now has a very serious chance to achieve what many people have worked their whole political lives for – to create a genuine left-wing Labour government. That is the meaning of Labour’s success under Jeremy Corbyn at the last election and the clear strengthening of the left at this year’s Labour Party conference. Because this is a truly historic opportunity, which would be a huge step forward for ordinary people both in Britain and internationally, it is necessary both to celebrate the successes already achieved and to prepare to overcome the resistance capitalism and reaction will put up to achieving that goal.
· The strengthening of the left at the Labour conference, both objectively and subjectively, was clear. No one dared openly challenge Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership (right wing plotting was forced into the bars and cafes).
· No one anymore dared champion austerity (even those on the right who argued for years Labour should embrace it).
· Momentum and others brought discipline and cohesion to the left (not only by winning Party elections but by easily defeating the right’s attempt to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership by claims that Brexit, not for or against austerity and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour, is the most important divide in Britain).
· The left does not yet control all the levers of power in the Labour Party, although progress is being made, but at present the right has no credible leadership and no credible alternative policies.
But capital and their agents, the Labour right, have not given up. They will still throw every obstacle they can, and there are many, to try to block a Corbyn led government being formed. So the left must focus on consolidating the gains it has made, analyse the situation carefully, and prepare to confront the road blocks capital and its reaction are going to put up.
Tory chaos and Lib Dem failure
The first part of the situation in Britain which will continue to favour Labour is the chaos unleashed in the Tory Party by its support for Brexit and opposition to the EU Single Market. The aim of Brexit/exit from the Single Market is to unleash a massive attack on working class living standards, reducing Britain to a low tax, low paid, low welfare free-market island off the coast of Europe – the dream of the Tory right articulated by Boris Johnson in his bid to become Tory leader.
The problem for the Tories is that the combination of the international financial crisis and the inflation created by the pound’s devaluation since Brexit is already leading to the worst fall in living standards for over 100 years. It means Britain is not even significantly gaining from the partial upturn in the Western economies this year and British growth has once more been revised lower. Brexit will make this situation worse. Years of stagnant living standards lie ahead on the Tory Party’s course – continuing to undermine their popularity.
It is because no economically rational policy based on exit from the Single Market is possible under present circumstances that the Tories are in increasing chaos, fighting like rats in a sack. The Tories committed economic self-harm with Brexit and their infighting will just continue.
Faced with Tory chaos one ruling class tactic to attempt to block a Corbyn led government was to try to build up the Lib-Dems. That tactic involved trying to persuade people to oppose Brexit while in fact supporting ‘Euro-austerity’ instead of ‘Brexit austerity’. This ruling class manoeuvre, executed within Labour by the right, Chuka Umanna and others, suffered a very severe setback at the election, was strategically marginalised by Labour’s shift on the Single Market, and was also tactically defeated by refusing an unnecessary divisive vote at this year’s Labour conference. Unless Labour makes a serious mistake the Lib-Dems will remain marginalised and the Labour right unable to openly attack Corbyn – although behind the scenes right wing sabotage will continue.
The economic challenges ahead
Precisely because capital now very much knows a Corbyn led government is a realistic prospect they will do everything possible to block it. There will be numerous new challenges ahead for the left but some are already foreseeable.
Regrettably, there will not be an election in the near term – desirable as that would be. Of course, Labour must remain in permanent campaign mode, but the Tories know an election in the near future would mean certain defeat. Therefore, they will do every dirty deal with the DUP to avoid an election. Labour must act on the assumption it faces years of campaigning before an election, although in that period individual defeats can continue to be imposed on the Tories – as with tax credits, the dementia tax, public sector pay, tuition fees and other issues.
There will be no substantial improvement in the economic situation. The Western economies are locked into at least five years of very slow growth, as even the IMF now admits, and living standards in Britain’s economy will perform even worse than the average due to the economic consequences of Brexit. This means it will be vital for Labour to have a fully fleshed out and very robust economic policy as it will be challenged by attacks by capital.
As growth remains slow, so government finances will be under pressure once more. The recent improvement is unlikely to last as VAT receipts have been boosted by inflation. Consumers cannot and will not spend beyond their incomes indefinitely. At the same time, business investment is stagnant, rising just 1.7 per cent over the last two years.
The consequence is there will be both a greater onus on public sector investment to lead recovery and fewer tax resources to do so. Labour’s plans will have to become even stronger and more developed to achieve the level of investment required to raise prosperity and to fund decent public services. Painstaking work will be needed on maximising state resources and optimising the returns on all public-sector investment. Opposing exit from the Single Market will be a necessary part of economic policy.
A Corbyn led government, very regrettably, cannot in present circumstances eliminate capitalism and introduce socialism. But in order to achieve a real increase in living standards it will have to take strong state measures to relaunch economic development. A good start has been made on developing Labour’s economic alternative but more work remains to be done to put flesh on the bones. This is also vital to win the election – as every capitalist media outlet will be mobilised to attack Labour’s economic policies.
The Tories will turn to even greater racism
The Tories will not stand still. As their policy is leading to an economic car crash, they will ramp up their racist offensive. This is an all-round offensive which already includes mass arrests of Muslims under anti-terror laws only for the overwhelming majority of supposed ‘suspects’ to be released, a constant campaign of press vilification, disgraceful treatment of detainees for deportation, increased stop and search, deaths in police custody, ever harsher immigration rules, and many more besides. Labour must oppose them all and make no concession to Tory attempts to use scapegoats to cover for their own failings.
Refusal to give in to racism has been a fundamental plank of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, shown again at this Labour conference with his clear explanation that it wasn’t immigrants but ruthless and unscrupulous bosses who were responsible for falling wages, and his firm support of Diane Abbot against vile racist and misogynist attacks. This total opposition to racism is not only right in principle but vital practically to prevent the Tories setting the agenda. It will be tested many times in the coming period and alongside Jeremy Corbyn’s stance at the top building the grass roots movement of Stand Up To Racism is vital.
The threat of wars
In the present international situation the threat of wars is very real. The US-Saudi-Israeli alliance has suffered a serious setback in Syria with the defeat of the ISIS-spearheaded attempt to seize power from the Assad regime, but US-Saudi-Israel attempts to consolidate reactionary forces in the Middle East will continue. The US is also making threats of a war in Korea in which hundreds of thousand could die.
One of the most fundamental planks of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics has always been opposition to imperialist wars. While compromises can be made on Trident, despite it being a grotesque waste of money, no compromises can be made on actual wars. Jeremy Corbyn has always been totally firm on this and it was also good to see Labour MPs speaking at this years Stop the War fringe meeting after the disgraceful media attacks on it.
It is very improbable we will get through the next years to the election without further major imperialist wars. Opposition to austerity, opposition to racism, opposition to imperialist wars must remain three of the most fundamental of all bedrocks of Labour’s policy and the core policies of a Corbyn government.
The situation within the Labour Party
In addition to these outward facing campaign the fight to ‘Corbynise’ the Labour Party has taken major steps forward but is not yet over.
This year’s Labour conference agreed left leaning changes to the party’s rule book. The amendments reflected the degree of agreement currently achievable between Corbyn’s supporters and the left in the unions.
Firstly, it was agreed to marginally reduce the hurdle an MP has to get over in order to stand in a contest for Labour’s leadership when the post is vacant. The threshold for nominations was lowered from 15 per cent to 10 per cent of MPs and MEPs. But this is still high enough to block a Corbynista from being on the ballot paper. Corbyn’s supporters will continue campaigning against MPs having this undemocratic veto and for the members to be able to vote for their choice for Leader.
Secondly, four extra seats were added to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), three representing party members and one for affiliated unions. The effect of this will be to add a net two left/centre left to the NEC and reverse the effects of last year’s changes, when two right wing places were added to the NEC. If Richard Leonard, the left-backed candidate, wins the leadership of Scottish Labour, the left/centre left will gain another seat on Labour’s NEC.
Also the conference started to assert its new powers to reject parts of official documents submitted to the conference. It ‘referred back’ for further consideration policies on social security, health and education.
A bloc of Corbyn supporters with the trade union left was able to defeat Labour’s right wing in the main battles at the conference. The right’s proposal, to prioritise Brexit motions for debate, was defeated. Also the centre left in the CLPs won two places on Labour’s disciplinary body – the National Constitutional Committee – securing 70 per cent of constituency party vote.
Right wing attempts to disrupt the success of the Corbyn-union left alliance were defeated and the attempt to falsely portray the left as anti-Semitic had little purchase amongst Labour activists.
Key to tying Labour members into Corbyn’s agenda has been Momentum. It helped Labour win seats at the general election and, working with other Labour left campaigns, it has successfully backed candidates in Labour’s internal elections. Strengthening this Corbynista current is important for the battles ahead.
Keep Corbynising Labour
All this therefore amounts to clear priorities and much work for the left against the attacks from capital which are continuing and which will intensify. It means to continue to ‘Corbynise’ Labour in terms of policy. It means to further consolidate Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters grip on the Labour machine against right wing obstruction which will continue. ‘Corbynising’ Labour during the next years is the key to defeating the attacks from capital and creating a government that will achieve the dreams, aspirations and practical goals of ordinary people in Britain and of generations of the Labour movement.