By Jules Clarke
This autumn Britain will enter its biggest political crisis since World War II as Johnson, Farage and Trump launch their attempt to force through a No Deal/Hard Brexit – a fundamental attack on the working class and oppressed. Simultaneously Labour has adopted a position of calling for a vote for Remain against any Tory Brexit Deal or No Deal.
Given the extreme seriousness of the issues involved in this crisis it is vital to thoroughly understand the forces operating, which are far bigger than just domestic British ones, to understand why Labour’s position is correct, and to understand the implications for political campaigning for the Labour Party.
Jeremy Corbyn’s message to Labour Party members
‘Whoever becomes the new Prime Minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or No Deal, back to the people in a public vote. In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that Labour would campaign for Remain against either No Deal or a Tory deal.’ This position was sent by Jeremy Corbyn to all Labour members. It decided the issue between those who wanted to back a referendum and vote Remain to block a Tory Brexit, and those who wanted Labour to oppose a referendum and to orient to either accepting a No Deal Brexit (a fringe position) or wanted Labour to come to an agreement with the Tories on a deal to leave the EU.
Jeremy Corbyn’s definitive stand was the same as the united position adopted by all the major trade unions on this issue: ‘The Labour Party should confirm that whatever deal is negotiated by the new Tory Prime Minister or an exit based on no deal should be put to the people in a public confirmatory vote. The options must be:
‘1. Accepting the deal or a Tory no deal in the knowledge of its terms,
‘2. Remaining in the European Union.
‘In this event, the Labour Party should campaign to remain in the European Union.’
Resolutions to Labour Party conference and polls already showed that the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members support Remain. Jeremy Corbyn has therefore succeeded in getting a very big majority of Labour to support both a referendum and voting Remain in one – an important task for a Labour leader. Regretfully, those who fought against this position have damaged Labour by allowing the Lib Dems, who two years ago were essentially a marginalised party, to take a significant part of Labour’s electoral support and once more become a serious electoral force – at present appreciably lowering Labour’s electoral rating.
This is very serious because electing a Jeremy Corbyn led government is absolutely crucial for the working class and oppressed in Britain. It is the only government that will oppose austerity, it is the only government that will seriously oppose racism, that will seriously oppose the imperialist policies of Trump, that will seriously push forward the rights of women, that will fight for the radical policies to prevent the climate change which is a threat to humanity.
Therefore, now the position of Labour of calling for a referendum and voting for Remain against any Tory deal/No deal has been clearly established, one this website has long argued for, it is vital that an accurate estimate of the present political situation is made. This is the pre-requisite for Labour winning back support which was lost in the last period and therefore ensuring a Jeremy Corbyn led government. Successful socialist strategy must be based on the real facts of the situation and cannot be based on wishful thinking.
The new Tory leader will attempt to force through a No Deal Brexit
The working class and oppressed of Britain today face the extremely dangerous threat of a No Deal/Hard Brexit, which would represent a fundamental attack on living standards, on the NHS, on jobs, on environmental protection and on workers rights. Faced with that severe threat it is vital to achieve agreement for practical action to oppose a Tory No Deal/Hard Brexit.
Given the time scale, and the Parliamentary arithmetic, such united action must include not only every possible part of the Labour movement, but it will have to go beyond it to include Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, Tory rebels etc. It is therefore crucial in the vital coming weeks to make an accurate estimate of the relation of forces and terms for such united action against a No Deal/Hard Brexit and to successfully fight against the forces obstructing it.
Both Tory leadership contenders have expressed support for a No Deal exit from the EU if the latter does not agree to their proposed Hard Brexit. The EU will not make such an agreement, as the Conservatives in fact propose to undermine the foundations of the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market to meet demands of the US and their Tory allies. The key political facts therefore show it is almost certain that the next Tory Prime Minister, Johnson, will try to push through a No Deal.
Severe underestimation of the risk of No Deal results from seeing Brexit only in domestic terms and failing to understand that Brexit has become an international issue – a key part of Trump’s attempt to strengthen the position of the US in Europe. Trump, through his puppet Farage, with whom Trump has the closest links, has constructed in the Brexit Party a dagger pointed at the throat of the Tory Party – which Trump/Farage can decide to press, or ease the pressure on, at will. Any Tory leader who does not attempt to secure a No Deal/Hard Brexit will face immediate sabotage from Trump/Farage, in the form of even greater covert or overt support for the Brexit Party, to ensure that Britain is not in a Customs Union with the EU – and that Britain can therefore be subordinated to a trade agreement with the US that would be a fundamental attacks on working class living standards. This issue is looked at in more detail below.
Trump in essence threatens: ‘either the Tory Party follows my line of a No Deal/Hard Brexit, or I will electorally wreck the Tory Party through unleashing Farage.’ Only if the Tories agree to a No deal/Hard Brexit will Farage’s Party be wound down. As Trump, naturally, has no specific loyalty to the Tories, only to his own US interests, this threat is not a bluff – as a new Tory leader will understand. Furthermore, Tory members now overwhelmingly agree with Farage and Trump that the UK should leave the EU without a deal and should subordinate itself further to Trump/the US. This is the real context of the coming crucial fight over a No Deal/Hard Brexit.
The Trump/Farage/Johnson Brexit axis
The close alliance of Trump/Farage/Johnson was illustrated graphically, for those who could not already see it in the fundamental economic/social relations, in Johnson’s grovelling to Trump in the enforced resignation of the British Ambassador to the US. This resignation was forced after leaks of his messages by a high level Brexiteer, and, as it was rightly put on Twitter, the Ambassador was: ‘In effect, sacked by Johnson on the orders of Trump.’ As the Daily Telegraph accurately put it in an article headline, ‘The Kim Darroch row is a message to Theresa May’s successor – Get Brexit right or face Donald Trump’s wrath.’ The analysis, which the paper thoroughly supported, was entirely clear and accurate:
‘Donald Trump’s evisceration of Sir Kim Darroch was more than a political execution by Twitter.
‘It was a warning to the next prime minister to deliver Brexit, and quickly, or themselves face the considerable wrath of the US president.
‘Contrary to popular opinion Mr Trump does not have a thin skin for criticism. In fact, he has the hide of a rhinoceros on steroids. He was only mildly upset by the substance of Sir Kim’s comments…
‘Only a few months ago Gerard Araud, the outgoing French ambassador, used very similar language to Sir Kim, publicly calling the US administration “totally dysfunctional,” and Mr Trump “a big mouth who reads virtually nothing.” That barely caused a ripple at the White House.
‘The difference this time was that Mr Trump is already frustrated with the glacial pace of Brexit. He wants it, and a US-UK trade deal, done, and done yesterday. With Theresa May leaving office he felt no compunction in using the current diplomatic spat to deliver a parting blast.
‘His message was clear. The next prime minister, and their next “man or woman in Washington,” must be a true Brexiteer…
‘Word also began filtering through to Mr Trump from allies in the UK. Nigel Farage, whose judgment the president trusts, was among the first to demand Sir Kim’s recall to London.’
This reflects the core of Brexit, which only those on the left who are attempting to ignore reality cannot see – that Brexit is a project to subordinate Britain even more firmly to the US and Trump. In essence Brexit is a project to make Britain the 51st state of the United States – only Britain would not have a vote! As it was aptly put, the real project of Brexit is to reduce Britain in relation to the US from the status of poodle to that of lapdog.
Given this combination of Trump/Farage/Johnson there should be no expectation whatever that if a vote on No Deal comes again to parliament there will be anything in the remotest resembling the 160 to 400 defeat for No Deal that was achieved in an indicative vote in March. Claims in parts of the media that Parliament will certainly block No Deal are far too complacent. Due to the success of the attacks by Trump/Farage there has been a substantial parliamentary swing towards No Deal among Tory MPs and members. Only 10 Tory MPs voted with Labour’s effort to block No Deal on June 11. A very mild amendment by Dominic Grieve attempting to make more difficult, not even blocking, the anti-democratic proroguing of Parliament to stop No Deal was only passed by one vote.
This reflects the power of Trump/Farage’s intervention. Trump/ Farage will secure another victory when their ally Johnson becomes Prime Minister and Tory leader – thereby achieving further pressure which can be applied to Tory MPs. If, even with this pressure, Johnson cannot secure a majority in Parliament for No Deal, he refuses to exclude even extreme means such a proroguing Parliament to force through No Deal – in essence a ‘soft’ coup d’etat against Parliament. Faced with such a threat the courts do not constitute a reliable obstacle as John Major and Gina Miller appear to think. With the combined pressure of Trump/Johnson/Farage, therefore there is a very grave risk of a No Deal Brexit being both attempted and implemented.
The huge economic and social scale of this Trump/Tory/Farage attack on the British working class was analysed in detail in ‘A Hard Brexit = Trump + Thatcherism 2.0.’ United action to defeat this very serious threat is therefore vital.
The relation of forces against a No Deal Brexit
Any united front to stop a No Deal/Hard Brexit must start from an entirely realistic assessment of the situation and relation of forces – socialist strategy can only be based on real facts, not on pie in the sky wishes or ostrich like putting of the head in the sand.
The Euro-elections were regrettably the most serious setback for the Labour Party since Corbyn became leader. Labour’s vote fell from 40.0% in the General Election of 2017 to 13.7% in the Euro elections of 2019. That is, Labour lost almost two thirds of its vote – see Table 1.
There was no ambiguity as to the cause of that loss of votes and where they were lost to. They were lost to unambiguously pro-Remain parties. Opinion polls show that Labour lost three votes to Remain parties for every vote it lost to a pro-Brexit party. Actual voting results are even clearer. Compared to the 2017 General Election Labour’s vote fell by 26.3%, while support for non-Labour Remain parties rose by 26.7%. That is, the fall in Labour’s vote was almost identical to the rise in the vote for unambiguously pro-Remain parties – in net terms the entire net loss of Labour votes was to pro-Remain Parties.
The Liberal Democrats, who at the 2017 General Election were marginal at 7.4% of the vote, at the 2019 Euro elections went ahead of Labour gaining 19.6% of the vote. Virtually the only Lib Dem policy known to the public is support for a new referendum on the EU and for Remain. Refusal to admit that this big Lib Dem increase, and major loss of Labour votes, was due to Remain/support for a new referendum was precisely to attempt to bury one’s head in the sand.
Simultaneously, the party bloc which is prepared to accept a No Deal/Hard Brexit (Tories, UKIP/Brexit Party) actually lost votes at the Euro elections compared to the General Election – its total vote falling from 45.1% to 40.0%.
|Votes in 2017 General Election and 2019 Euro Election|
|2017 General Election||2019 Euro Election||Change 2017-2019|
|Vote for major parties rejecting a Hard Brexit|
|Non-Labour parties opposed to Brexit||12.5%||39.2%||26.7%|
|Total opposed to Hard Brexit||52.5%||52.9%||0.4%|
|Vote for major parties accepting a Hard/No Deal Brexit|
|Total accepting Hard/No Deal Brexit||45.1%||40.0%||-5.1%|
The real electoral trends
The overwhelmingly dominant trend at the Euro election was therefore that Labour lost two thirds of its vote to pro-Remain parties, a real defeat. Some well-intentioned but unfortunately misguided people on the left have attempted to obscure this basic reality by pointing to a few results in the North East of England – the sole region of the country where there genuinely was a significant shift to Hard Leave parties. But dealing with individual and untypical examples, instead of the overall situation, is exactly the type of distortion Lenin warned against in his classic article ‘Statistics and Sociology’: ‘we must seek to build a reliable foundation of precise and indisputable facts that can be confronted to any of the “general” or “example-based” arguments now so grossly misused in certain countries. And if it is to be a real foundation, we must take not individual facts, but the sum total of facts, without a single exception, relating to the question under discussion. Otherwise there will be the inevitable, and fully justified, suspicion that the facts were selected or compiled arbitrarily, that instead of historical phenomena being presented in objective interconnection and interdependence and treated as a whole, we are presenting a “subjective” concoction to justify what might prove to be a dirty business. This does happen … and more often than one might think.’ Refusal to face the facts of the overall results, and instead focussing on a few untypical constituencies, is precisely an example of what Lenin warned against.
The development of a very large swing to Remain parties was also clear in the build up to the Euro elections – with the second and third largest demonstrations in British history demanding Remain, and six million people signing the online petition for simple revocation of Article 50.
It is true that the Euro elections were ones in which the issue of Brexit would be particularly dominant. Some voters would certainly have voted Labour if it had been a General Election and not a Euro election. But there is not the remotest room for complacency. Labour lost two thirds of its vote in the Euro election compared to the General Election and it is not plausible, it is wishful thinking, to claim that all these voters will simply automatically return to Labour at a General Election. Furthermore, the polls show clearly this is not the case. At the General Election, and following it, Labour’s vote was around forty percent. Now it has fallen in polls on voting intentions at a General Election to the twenty percents range – significantly too low to count on for victory in a general election given that Farage can be called off by a simple decision of Trump to boost the Tory vote if the Tories carry out a line agreed with Trump. So far, the polls give no evidence anything like all Labour’s lost votes are being automatically regained.
The threat to Corbyn
Given that it is vital for the working class and oppressed to secure the election of a Jeremy Corbyn led government the defeat suffered by Labour at the Euro elections, and the loss of Labour support which has continued afterwards, was a setback for every progressive cause in Britain. It is therefore crucial to understand why this issue of Brexit had the ability to take millions of votes from Labour, which no previous attack had achieved, and why it has reshaped British politics.
Brexit, particularly a hard Brexit, is an attack on the living standards and rights of tens of millions of people. As already seen this attack is thoroughly backed by, and linked to, the US Trump administration. Therefore, it was inevitable that millions of people would react to such a fundamental attack on them by opposing it. As long as Brexit appeared only an abstract question in the future, that is during the two years before Article 50 expired, that reality did not necessarily move the position of millions of people. But once the deadline for Brexit came close, that is in early spring this year as the original March 2019 deadline for leaving loomed, and dominated the centre of the political stage, the huge social forces involved in Brexit inevitably began to move the position of many millions of voters.
It is therefore vital that the left understands this reality. By far the most powerful attacks which have been launched on Corbyn and on the left are not due to failure in organisation but on politics. It was therefore the political issue of Brexit which delivered by far the most serious setback to Labour – as could be foreseen.
Better organisation can certainly aid the left. Previous attacks on Labour, such as on ‘antisemitism’, could also lose a few percentage points for Labour but not very seriously threaten its electoral position. This was, first, because these attacks were entirely untrue. Jeremy Corbyn is not remotely an antisemite, he is a dedicated anti-racist, and second because this issue did not directly affect the position of tens of millions of people in Britain. Brexit was entirely different in its scale of impact – first, because it is not a fake issue, a hard Brexit will significantly negatively affect people’s lives, and second because it will affect tens of millions of people. Brexit could, therefore, potentially add to or take away many millions of votes from Labour, precisely as it did in the Euro elections.
Why there was the strong shift to Remain
The reason that such a large proportion of the population, when faced with the threat of a Hard Brexit, switched to Remain as their first choice, and not to a soft Brexit, is also clear. Remaining in the EU is the position which has the strongest guarantee that Britain will have access to EU markets, and it will not become more subordinated to Trump/the US. For reasons analysed below a united front against a No Deal/Hard Brexit should certainly include both supporters of Remain and supporters of a Soft Brexit (i.e. one which includes a customs agreement with the EU).
But the mass of the population never concerns itself with secondary details. Inevitably, if it is vital to stop a No Deal/Hard Brexit, as in reality it is, then the great majority of those supporting this position would inevitably support the strongest option securing this – Remain. As the demand for a new referendum on any proposed deal for leaving the EU was seen as the strongest way to stop a No Deal/Hard Brexit there was therefore overwhelming support for this from the mass of those opposed to such a Brexit. A referendum was seen as the most effective way to stop a Hard Brexit – simple permanent revocation of Article 50 would be unlikely to command a majority in Parliament.
It was therefore vital that Labour has taken the position on a referendum and Remain in Jeremy Corbyn’s statement at the beginning of this article. He was publicly supported in this by Diane Abbott and John McDonnell – Labour did not make support for a Referendum a main feature of the Euro election campaign, despite having voted for it several times in Parliament, and therefore suffered a setback.
Some people in Labour argued that Labour should oppose a confirmatory referendum. This is, first, illogical – if the most dangerous development is a No Deal/Hard Brexit, and a referendum would block this, then a referendum must be supported as one possible way to achieve this goal. Second, it was bad politics. It made Labour appear not determined to block a deeply damaging Brexit by any means. As public understanding of the danger of a No Deal/Hard Brexit is greatly rising any equivocation on this issue would be punished by the electorate, as it was at the Euro elections, and would endanger the entire Corbyn project.
Clearly if a ‘soft’ Brexit would secure a majority in Parliament or a referendum to defeat a No Deal/Hard Brexit, and Remain would not, then Labour should vote for a soft Brexit. But, for the reasons given, the reality is that the great majority of those opposed to a No Deal/hard Brexit support Remain. It is politically absurd and electorally damaging for Labour to tie itself to a position, a soft Brexit, which commands far less support than Remain. That is why it was crucial that Labour adopted the position not only for a referendum against a Tory Deal/No Deal but that it would support Remain against it. Those who want a soft Brexit should similarly vote for Remain against a No Deal Brexit.
Labour can regain the initiative on Brexit – a united front against a No Deal/Hard Brexit
All opinion polls confirm what was demonstrated beyond question at the Euro elections, that a big majority of those opposed to a No Deal/Hard Brexit support Remain – as do the overwhelming majority of those who voted for Labour at the 2017 General Election, Labour members, and Corbyn supporters. Some do not wish to acknowledge these facts because they in fact support Brexit. But any attempt by Labour to stick its head in the sand and ignore the real political facts would inevitably be seriously punished by the electorate – as already seen. This would seriously damage the entire Corbyn project of a radical reforming Labour government.
Despite the significant setback at the Euro elections Labour has the potential to regain the initiative on Brexit, and to refocus the political agenda on far wider issues, after the precondition for this was achieved by Jeremy Corbyn’s statement on Brexit. This is precisely because the next stage in that fight is to attempt to stop a No Deal/Hard Brexit. That fight is certain to take place in Parliament, actions outside Parliament, and may result in a General Election – although the Tories will do everything possible to attempt to prevent the latter until they have dealt with Farage either by an electoral agreement or by attempting a No Deal Brexit.
In this struggle against No Deal, Labour, because of its Parliamentary weight, and because it is the only Party capable of stopping the Tories winning a general election, is the key force – not the Lib Dems, Greens, or SNP. Therefore, a flat-out campaign, using every means available, against a No Deal/Hard Brexit can place Labour at the centre of that campaign and win back voters who failed to support it at the Euro elections. With a correct position on a referendum/Remain adopted, and therefore an obstacle to winning wider support removed, Labour can succeed in successfully widening the political agenda. This is shown clearly in the first polls after Labour’s position on Brexit was adopted seeing Labour’s support moving upwards – although it is still significantly lower than in polls a year ago, and it will take some time to regain some support which has been lost. This situation means clearly seeing on Brexit what the main enemy is, and that the main focus must be on opposing, a No Deal/Hard Brexit and that all forces opposing this must be united in attempting to coordinate effective positions.
Uniting for an all-out campaign against a No Deal/Hard Brexit
Such a flat-out campaign against a No Deal/Hard Brexit is particularly achievable given both Labour’s unequivocal position for a referendum, and for voting Remain in it, and the extremely wide consensus in the Labour Party and wider labour movement on the vital necessity to block No Deal.
The leaderships of all the large unions have all been very clear that they strongly oppose No Deal. Unite’s Len McCluskey said he was, ‘not full of optimism’ after his meeting with Theresa May in January, ‘but the talks had been a chance to re-emphasise that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous’. Len McCluskey also made clear that if there were a new referendum and the choice is between No Deal and Remain he was for Remain.
The TUC’s Frances O’Grady has castigated Theresa May for refusing to take No Deal off the table. Unison’s Dave Prentis has said, ‘A ‘no-deal’ Brexit must be avoided at all costs, and the Prime Minister needs to rule this out immediately.’ He added that, ‘Crashing out of Europe would be catastrophic for the economy, public services and everyone who works in our schools, hospitals, town halls and police forces. However, people voted in June 2016, no-one – especially those who are just about managing – was choosing to be worse off.’ The GMB’s Tim Roache said, ‘Pretending nothing has changed is simply not good enough. The threat of a no deal disaster now must be taken off the table and Article 50 extended.’
As far back as January, when the first real threat of it emerged, Jeremy Corbyn was arguing against a No Deal Brexit, telling Theresa May she should ‘remove the prospect of a catastrophe of a No Deal Brexit.’ He has repeatedly voted against and whipped for Labour MPs to vote against No Deal. And, of course Labour party members and supporters, who overwhelmingly voted Remain, are militantly opposed to No Deal.
Overcoming obstacles to unity to oppose a No Deal/Hard Brexit
Only a fringe of the labour movement, who are politically disoriented, fail to oppose a No Deal/Brexit – for example the Communist Party of Britain, which calls for a Brexit on WTO terms (a No Deal Brexit) and failed to support Labour in the Euro elections, or George Galloway who, despite his staunch anti-imperialist record on Iraq and other issues, called for a vote for the Brexit Party. Disgracefully there was a fringe of 8 Labour MPs who previously voted against Corbyn’s line, with the government and to facilitate No Deal – Kevin Barron, Ronnie Campbell, Jim Fitzpatrick, Caroline Flint, Stephen Hepburn, Kate Hoey, John Mann and Graham Stringer. Absolute maximum pressure must be put on to stop even one or two of these MPs voting for what would be to sustain the Tory government and launch a savage attack on the working class.
But all these are fringe positions within the Labour movement. Nevertheless, various obstacles exist to achieving the unity necessary to block a No Deal/Hard Brexit. Given that the fight on this is likely to be extremely close in terms of votes it is crucial to overcome these and therefore the position of major forces outside the Labour mainstream must be examined to understand what obstacles exist.
For important sections of the Labour right, their real priority was not to block a No Deal/Hard Brexit but to block Jeremy Corbyn. This was most explicitly represented by Chuka Umunna and the other splitters from Labour, but it continues to inform the line of Tom Watson, the Guardian and similar forces and this determines their tactics and rhetoric. The weight of Labour and public opinion must be used to reduce to a minimum the space for operation of these splitters and fake ‘determined’ opponents of a No Deal/Hard Deal Brexit.
The Lib Dems and SNP are also forces that, in practice, have usually placed the fight against Jeremy Corbyn ahead of the fight against a No Deal/Hard Brexit. This, for example, has been shown in Parliament in their not voting for any other measures to stop a No Deal/Hard Brexit other than a Referendum/Remain – thereby placing one tactic ahead of an all-out fight against No Deal. This position, however, is not shared by many supporters of these parties. A Labour all out fight against No Deal can therefore put great pressure on those parties. By Labour running a flat out campaign against a No Deal/Hard Brexit they will either find the Lib Dems/SNP/Greens taking the same positions as Labour, which should be welcomed, or they will show that the Lib Dems/SNP/Greens priority is not to stop Brexit – in which case the base of these parties will begin to move towards Labour.
The People’s Vote campaign has shown it is divided over the fight against Brexit. Some forces within it, of the Chuka Umunna/Watson type, really have the priority of blocking Corbyn, not blocking Brexit. That is why, for example, they put down votes for a referendum in Parliament when they knew they were going to be defeated – because their priority was to try to attack Corbyn. The second wing of People’s Vote sees the main priority as to block Brexit. Labour can make alliances with these latter forces in the fight against a No Deal/Hard Brexit despite other differences.
Some of those who support a Referendum/Remain, such as Paul Mason, have launched unacceptable and sectarian attacks on figures in Jeremy Corbyn’s office. This is deeply destructive behaviour. The figures attacked have been central to maintaining Jeremy Corbyn’s position. Some were wrong on the question of Brexit, and therefore have to be argued against on this, but unfortunately Mason has shown he cannot distinguish between ‘contradictions among the people’, that is those trying to maintain Corbyn’s position, and ‘contradictions between people and the enemy’ – that is with those trying to overthrow Corbyn. The left should extremely strongly express its rejection of Mason’s approach.
A final key issue is that of Tory rebels – this is crucial as without Tory rebels in Parliament it is impossible to defeat a No Deal Brexit. These rebels have been notable by their small numbers, and, with a handful of exceptions such as Dominic Grieve, their cowardice in votes in parliament. Typical of the fake rebels, actually capitulators, is Amber Rudd who has now declared she is prepared to support a No Deal Brexit. At present, with a possible purge of opponents of No Deal from a Johnson Cabinet, both David Gauke and Sam Gyimah claim there are least 30 Tory MPs prepared to vote against No Deal. If that were true a No Deal can be stopped. Given previous Parliamentary votes, however, there is reason to be sceptical that there are so many. But on such a crucial issue sectarianism is unacceptable, if Tory MPs are prepared to vote against No Deal that is evidently to be strongly supported.
Certainly, the British ruling class is split on the issues of a Hard/No Deal Brexit. For some sections of the ruling class, for example in manufacturing, a No Deal Brexit would severely damage their interests – and Tory ‘rebels’ reflect such forces. Other sections of the ruling class, hedge funds, sections of financial capital etc, are totally tied to the US and would gain from a No Deal Brexit. But first Trump, naturally, is indifferent to problems confronting any section of the British capitalist class. Second, Farage/Johnson know that for more than a century the British ruling class has placed itself in strategic subordination to the US and they calculate this will continue over Brexit. It is for this reason that the pro-US Tory ERG forces have shown themselves far more determined than the pro-EU ‘rebels’. Nevertheless, there are a few Tory ‘rebels’ and without their votes a No Deal Brexit cannot be blocked.
For success in the fight against No Deal it is crucial to understand the pressure on these Tory MPs and Johnson’s necessary tactics. The Tory Party faces an electoral catastrophe unless it can deal with the issue of Farage – Farage is Trump’s knife pointed at the throat of the Tory Party. Given the direct personal relation between Trump and Farage it is highly likely Farage and Trump directly discuss policy on what is an important issue for the Trump administration.
There are two ways that the Tories can deal with Farage:
- The first is for an electoral agreement between the Tories and Farage. Farage has been urging this, and it is supported by some Tory media, but there are good reasons to believe this is a difficult route for the Tories to go down at present. Farage would demand seats to gain a significant number of MPs – which would be opposed by Tory MPs who would have to sacrifice their seats or Tory candidates who wanted to become MPs. It would also give Farage a permanent ability to destabilise a Tory government, something the Tory leadership would dislike. Therefore, as analysed below, Johnson would like to find another way to remove the Farage obstacle.
- The second way for the Tories to deal with Farage is to win back the Brexit Party’s base – either without, or more probably with, Farage’s agreement. Farage really only has two policies, a Hard Brexit and racism, and therefore to try to win back the Brexit vote the Tories will make a sharp turn to supporting a No Deal Brexit and launching a massive racist campaign – doubtless aimed mainly against Muslims and following up the line of Johnson’s notorious burka ‘letter box’ Daily Telegraph column. The deep racism of Tory members, with polls showing 60% claiming Islam is ‘generally [a] threat to Western civilisation’, means such a campaign would be welcome to them – and would be whole heartedly launched by the Tory media. The Brexit Party, however, is not a real political party, with serious structures and membership in the way the Tories, Labour, Lib Dems etc are. It can be turned on and off at will by Farage. Johnson’s hope would be that if he essentially adopts enough of Farage/Trump’s agenda, that is a No Deal Brexit and racism, the Brexit Party will be turned off by Farage/Trump and the No Deal Brexit vote will reunify behind the Tories, given them about 40% of the vote, before Labour can regain the votes lost to the Lib Dems and Greens .
Tory calculations on a General Election
The Tories under Johnson will only have a wafer thin majority in Parliament even with the support of the DUP. That will remain the case until the Farage/Trump threat has been dealt with, in one of the two possible ways. So it is a risk for the Tories to call a general election, it could lead to a massacre of the Conservative Party if the Brexit Party runs in a large number of constituencies. Johnson’s hope is that he can win back enough of Farage’s support, preferably with the help of Farage/Trump, that the Tory vote can be reconsolidated while the primarily Remain vote is still split between Labour and Lib Dems. That is, Johnson’s hopes are pinned on that Tory reconsolidation before Labour can win back the votes it lost to the Lib Dems in the last period. In that case Johnson could hope to win an election.
But to get Farage/Trump to remove the dagger pointed at the throat of the Tory Party Johnson will have to persuade Trump he will in fact deliver the US Hard Brexit agenda. That is why Johnson is doing everything possible to cultivate Trump – we may be sure that the phone lines will be buzzing between 10 Downing Street and the White House immediately Johnson is installed as Prime Minister and a visit to Washington will not be long delayed. The aim of this would, of course, be to assure Trump of Johnson’s willingness to be a lapdog to any command from Trump and therefore that Farage should be called off. As the Daily Telegraph noted under the self-explanatory headline ‘Boris Johnson to seek Trump trade deal in first move as leader’: ‘Boris Johnson wants to make resetting relations with President Trump one of his first acts in Downing Street by travelling to the United States to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal.
‘The former foreign secretary is ready to fly there as soon as possible if he wins the leadership contest to try to secure a limited agreement in time for his “do or die” deadline of October 31.
‘ “The key to the whole thing is the US…”an ally of Mr Johnson said.’
But until Johnson has persuaded Trump that he will grovel sufficiently in all policies that Trump will ensure Farage is called off it is a risk for the Tories to try for an election.
For that reason, while Labour must, of course, be prepared for a general election it is not at all the only variant which can occur – as some people appear to believe. The precondition for Johnson to call an election is first to remove the Farage/Trump threat.
This fact that until Farage is dealt with it would be dangerous for the Tories to have an election is why it is also improbable that many Tory MPs, even ‘rebels’ will vote no confidence in a Tory government – as this could precipitate an election. The position of almost all Tory rebels was more accurately spelt out by Sam Gyimah interviewed on Sky by Sophy Ridge. Gyimah claimed ‘30 plus’ Conservative MPs would vote to block a No Deal Brexit: ‘l think you’re talking like, about thirty, thirty plus. But, what they’ll be looking to do is stop the new Prime Minister from proroguing Parliament in order to deliver no deal but, also, create options for the new Prime Minister so, that no deal is not the option we face on 31 October.’
But as Ridge noted Gyimah: ‘did, however, rule out voting against the government in a vote of no confidence: “I’ve been very explicit about, that’s not something I intend to do. You know, I think it’s the nuclear option. I don’t want to go there. I know some that are considering it but, I wouldn’t go there.’ [Ridge] ‘Can you rule it out?’ “Yes.”
It is because the Tories see a risk in calling an election until they have solved the Farage/Trump issue that the issue of a new referendum comes on the agenda – Tory rebel MPs would be more likely to vote for a referendum, which would not bring down the Tory government, rather than to vote No Confidence in the government leading to a general election before the Farage/Trump threat is removed.
That was a reason why it was so crucial that Jeremy Corbyn has made clear that any proposal/deal on Brexit, which may include any attempt to secure a No Deal Brexit, must go to a confirmatory vote. Those who opposed a referendum and voting Remain in it were wrong.
United Front in practice
What is in reality necessary is the strongest possible united action against a No Deal/Hard Brexit. People in Britain are more used to the united front in the form of ‘single issue’ campaigns. A united front is the effort to maximise the unity of all the workers and their organisations in the struggle for certain, specific objectives. Most frequently these fights have been for a single partial objective, such as ending Apartheid, ridding Britain of nuclear weapons, fighting austerity or opposing racism, and so on. This is somewhat different to a No Deal/Hard Brexit, which is an all-out political assault on the working class. By its nature any united action involves forces who do not agree on long term goals but agree on an immediate objective. They are united to fight against the main enemy on a specific issue.
In this instance, the united front is opposed to the key aspect of Trump’s project for Britain, his political representatives in the Tory party, and his puppet Farage. Activists are well-acquainted with the difficulties in forming, maintaining and then pursuing a united front. Sharp disagreements can arise over tactics and priorities. It is important to distinguish between legitimate and even inevitable disagreements within a shared framework, and tactics which are designed to disrupt or sabotage the united front as whole.
The same applies, on a higher level, to the fight against No Deal. The appropriate tactics are the ones necessary at each phase to build the broadest possible support for the opposition to No Deal, and to reject all tactics that are counter-productive and will lose support. So, parliamentary votes, speeches and media interventions, rallies, marches and public meetings, votes of no confidence in the government, denunciations of the Trump/Johnson/Farage cabal, calls for a general election and campaigning for a referendum to block Hard/No Deal Brexit are all included in the armoury of what may be necessary to defeat such an outcome.
If Labour takes this approach of attempting to construct the widest and most effective unity possible against a No Deal Brexit it will also reveal who is really fighting against a No Deal/Hard Brexit and who is not. Because this issue is crucial for tens of millions of people, forces exposed as having other goals than blocking a No Deal/Hard Brexit can suffer major electoral consequences.
Labour now has the possibility to successfully widen the electoral agenda
The lessons of the Brexit issues for the Corbyn left are also clear. The most powerful attacks on Labour, the ones that could prevent the election of a Jeremy Corbyn led government, are political issues. The question of Brexit took millions of votes from Labour in the Euro elections, and, on a smaller scale at present threatens to do so in a General Election. It was therefore vital for Labour to adopt a correct position on Brexit and on a referendum. Because of the huge social forces involved in Brexit, if this was not done, whatever the excellent policies Labour put forward on issues such as social protection, the economy or climate change the Lib Dems/Greens, because of their position for Remain, would continue to seriously eat into Labour’s vote. The fact Labour how now adopted the correct position on a Referendum/Remain – one that corresponds to the objective interests of the working class, to the views of its voters, and to the view of its members – means Labour has now achieved the precondition to regain lost voters. But it would be complacent to believe that a return of voters to Labour will simply occur simply automatically. It does, however, give Labour the ability to win voters over due to its much wider agenda. The fact that the Johnson/Farage/Trump No Deal Brexit is such a fundamental attack on the living standards of the great majority of the population indeed gives Labour the chance to link its opposition to No Deal to its wider economic and social agenda.
This is Labour’s decisive electoral advantage compared to the Lib Dems. Labour defends and seeks to improve the living standards of the great majority of the population while the Lib Dems were the implementers of austerity in government, and they still defend it. The Lib Dems are simply ‘Euro austerity’ as opposed to the Tories ‘Trump/US austerity’. In 2015 and 2017 this reality of the Lib Dems totally marginalised them. However, the threat on multiple fronts to living conditions from Brexit was sufficiently large, that as long as Labour had not taken a clear position on a Referendum, and voting Remain in it, the Lib Dems were able to overcome their marginalisation and attract a significant part of Labour’s electorate. Labour’s position on a referendum and Remain now removes the Lib Dems main weapon to attack Labour and means Labour can get back onto the terrain of the issue of defence of living standards. The clearest possible explanation of how the Lib Dems have consistently supported austerity is a vital part of this.
The Greens in 2017 were far too marginal to greatly affect Labour. But at the Euro elections they received a major vote – 11.8%. A significant part of that came from Labour. The Greens, however, have increasingly tied themselves to the pro-austerity Lib Dems. Now that Labour has a clear position on a referendum and Remain, and with its strong policies on climate change and the environment, Labour has a real chance to win back those who voted Green.
In Scotland Johnson is a disaster for the Tories – both because of his overall politics and in particular because of his position on Brexit in a Scotland which overwhelmingly supports Remain. This undermining of the Tory ‘revival’ in Scotland creates a significant opening for Labour.
Some forces on the left argue that the position taken by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour on a referendum and Remain quoted at the beginning of this article is a big mistake. In fact, it would have been preferable to take that position earlier before a change was enforced by the defeat of the Euro elections. Jeremy Corbyn, as party leader, has to attempt to keep the party as united as possible, but those who argued for a prolonged period against the position which has now been adopted helped create the biggest setback the vital task of creating a Jeremy Corbyn led government has suffered. The position taken by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour, at the beginning of this article, is indispensable for Labour to rebuild its support after the setback of the Euro elections, to meet what will be under Johnson/Farage/Trump an attack on the working class on the same scale as Thatcherism, and to allow Labour to win back as rapidly as possible votes lost to the Lib Dems and Greens.
The reason parts of the left have this wrong position of incorrectly criticising Jeremy Corbyn’s position is that they have a wrong objective analysis of Brexit. The present is not a situation in which a Labour government is moving forward with a socialist economic programme which is being blocked by the EU, and which therefore Labour has to exit the EU to implement it – under those circumstances Brexit would be correct. Brexit today is a massive attack launched by the most reactionary mass forces in international and British politics – Trump, Farage and Johnson – aiming to reduce the living standard of the British working class and oppressed. It is therefore vital for the most effective united action against this attack to take place.
A wrong analysis of the objective character of Brexit led to a wrong understanding of the political and electoral dynamics Labour faced with Brexit. Because Brexit is an attack by the most reactionary forces in society on the well-being and living standards of tens of millions of people equally inevitably millions of people would oppose it in the most radical way they could see to do so. That is why the second and third largest demonstrations in British history took place against Brexit, why six million people signed a petition to simply remove Article 50, and why millions of voters for wrong but analysable reasons did not vote for Labour at the Euro elections but voted for the Lib Dems and Greens. The social forces involved in the Brexit attack were so powerful that the pro-austerity fakers of the Lib Dems and disoriented progressive forces choosing between Labour and the Greens could on this issue outweigh the effect of Labour’s far superior policies on other issues.
In summary, for both objective social/economic and political reasons it was vital for Labour to take the position on Brexit, a referendum and Remain, which Jeremy Corbyn outlined. Far from being a setback, as a minority on the left claimed, Jeremy Corbyn’s message to Labour Party members has opened the way to Labour overcoming the setback of the Euro election and to most effectively fight for what Britain desperately needs – a Jeremy Corbyn led government.
But in the coming months the British working class and oppressed are going to face, from Johnson, Farage and Trump, the biggest attack they have faced for decades. For that reason this autumn Britain will face its biggest political crisis since World War II. Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn is the only force in a position to lead the fight against that attack. With the clear position on Brexit and a referendum which it has now adopted Labour can integrate that fight with its overall policies and lead the fight against the attack by Johnson, Farage and Trump. It is vital for everyone that it wins that fight.