By Mark Buckley
As the deadline of 31 October approaches it is entirely clear that the political situation is polarising around a choice between Boris Johnson’s attempted coup against parliament to achieve No Deal and Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts to stop it.
The stakes are now very high. Boris Johnson knows there is no parliamentary or popular majority for No Deal, hence the threats to mount an effective coup against it by threatening to dissolve Parliament and only allow a General Election after Britain has crashed out of the EU on a No Deal basis . His is an undemocratic attempt to block MPs from preventing No Deal. The argument that people ‘really’ voted for No Deal in the 2016 referendum is completely false. It was not even on the ballot paper, most leaders of the Leave campaign ruled it out explicitly and consistent polling majorities are against it.
Corbyn leading the fight against No deal
Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to parliamentary leaders and Tory MPs opposed to No Deal places him and Labour firmly at the head of the anti-No Deal majority. It decisively and effectively puts into practice Labour’s policy to oppose a disastrous Tory No Deal by a pledge to a referendum with Remain as an option and a general election. The welcome from the SNP, Tory rebels, Paid and the Greens leaves the Lib Dems completely isolated. Either they will have to fall in line with Corbyn’s proposals or increasingly pay a huge price as the facilitators of a Johnson hard-right premiership and No Deal Brexit.
Jeremy Corbyn’s approach and tactics in issuing this letter have been spot on. First, it is to unite all forces opposed to No Deal. As Labour is by far the largest of these both in popular vote and MPs, it must of course take primary place in such a coalition. But then he has proceeded on the basis of the real weight of forces in the struggle, beginning with the SNP who are the next largest force, through to the Tory rebels, Plaid and Greens.
The Lib Dem initial response mirrored the hard right No Dealers in the Tory Cabinet by attempting to cheat the real balance of forces and act as if they are the leadership of all those opposing No Deal. This is not simply arrogance. For some time, and especially since the ‘Orange Book’ Lib Dems took control of the party it has been a ‘liberal’ Thatcherite entity, fully supporting austerity, the Tories’ racist policies such as the ‘hostile environment’ and offering support for all British collaboration with US military interventions. Now Jo Swinson is faced with an excruciating choice, either ditch the Thatcherism (at least temporarily) and side with Corbyn to block No Deal, or side with the aggressive Thatcherites running the Tory party and allow No Deal. But many Liberal Democrat voters entirely rejected this approach by the Lib Dem leadership – they genuinely saw the main task as to stop a No Deal Brexit. Hence the hostile response even from Lib Dem supporters to Jo Swinson’s initial reply to Jeremy Corbyn
Because Jeremy Corbyn’s approach was spot on, he has laid the basis to begin to win back the votes Labour has lost to the Lib Dems over the past period because they were seen as more anti-Brexit.
The SNP have taken the correct response to Corbyn’s initiative.
It is important to note the developments in the Tory party too. Philip Hammond’s letter signed by 21 Tory MPs effectively announces a new faction in the Tories. It is a grouping of people who supported May’s deal on all 3 votes, but which strongly opposes crashing out with No Deal. Significantly, the grouping does not include the ‘usual suspects’ who had wanted a much softer Brexit than May’s deal, Ken Clarke, Grieve, Letwin, Boles and others, which also amounts to a separate number of 6 to 8 MPs.
No doubt these numbers will be whittled away by threats, bullying and cowardice. But if any vote of no confidence is passed it is likely only to be by the slimmest of margins. Every vote will count.
That is why the Lib Dems votes will matter, and why they are in danger of committing one of the great betrayals in recent British politics. Since at least the referendum, the Lib Dems have sought to portray themselves as the most resolute Remainers. This is false. For example, their abstentions (and a net 4 votes against) ensured that the amendment supported by Jeremy Corbyn and Labour to keep Britain in the customs union fell by just 4 votes. The customs union would have helped maintain key manufacturing industries’ participation in EU supply chains, and blocked No Deal. Now the LibDems risk being crushed by Corbyn if they reveal their true colours as Thatcherites more interested in opposing him than opposing No Deal.
Plaid Cymru took the similar position to the SNP, as did the Greens after some dithering. It should be remembered that much of this debacle could have been avoided if the bribes to the DUP were not working to prop up a minority Tory government. The reunification of Ireland is a pressing matter for any progress in Britain too.
Boris Johnson runs a severe risk in calling an election until he is sure that he has got rid of the electoral threat from Farage and the Brexit party. As Farage is supported by Trump, who wants No Deal, it seems that the only way forward for Johnson is to actually leave without a deal. The election would have to follow. As parliament will not vote for No Deal, Johnson is threatening a coup to prevent parliament sitting.
There is too the argument that, even if he decided to call an election, because of the two-thirds majority required in the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, he can only call one if Labour agrees. Clearly, Labour should not agree to an election which suspends parliament in order to get No Deal through.
For socialists there is every reason to oppose an anti-parliamentary coup against parliament. The bicentenary of the Peterloo massacre reminds us that parliamentary democracy, however imperfect, was a right working people fought and died for against the landlords, the capitalists and the state which served them. It is certainly preferable to the naked dictatorship of pro-US capital Johnson proposes.
There is too the huge damage that No Deal will do to living standards across the vast majority society, the environmental degradation, the assault on workers’ rights and accelerated sell-off of public services, including the NHS. Johnson will be eager to please his master in Washington, and to participate in Trumps’ military sanctions and interventions. Jeremy Corbyn will not. This is a crucial fight in the interests of the workers and poor in this country, and well beyond.
Jeremy Corbyn has taken a crucial step in the fight against No Deal and has the right to demand the flat out support of the entire labour movement and Labour party in this fight.