By Oliver Wilson
The crisis around Brexit in political terms is the deepest one for Britain since World War II and from a legal/constitutional viewpoint it is unprecedented for over 300 years. Such a depth of crisis can therefore only be propelled by huge social forces. The reason this conflict could produce such a profound crisis is because Brexit is not about a ‘trade bloc’, peripheral to the key choices in British politics, as some on the left mistakenly analysed, it is about the entire domestic and geopolitical orientation of the British state.
It is equally a major misunderstanding to see Brexit within purely a domestic British context outside its international framework. Brexit is an integral part of a major offensive by the most powerful imperialist power, the US under Trump, to reshape the entire world economy and political framework in its interest. The specific goal of this offensive around Brexit is to ensure an even more tight subordination of Britain to the US and in particular to Trump.
If this reality was unclear to some at the beginning of the Brexit crisis it is becoming clearer with every day that passes and every deepening of the crisis. Furthermore, for the same reason, this US offensive around Brexit will not stop, it will intensify every time an obstacle is placed in its path. Therefore, the first defeats of Johnson’s offensive/coup in the last days are only the first battles in the full-scale war that it is to come. It is therefore crucial that the left clearly understands the huge stakes involved and which has created the Johnson/Trump attempted coup. Because of the stakes involved in this fight wrong analyses of Brexit need to be cast aside by the left.
Boris Johnson’s attempted coup
To judge the true huge scale of present political events in Britain it is sufficient to make a brief survey of British history. Via revolution and Civil War in 1642-1649, culminating in Charles I’s execution, the British capitalist class established the law-making supremacy of its ‘legislative council’ Parliament – the English bourgeois revolution. Parliament in 1688 successfully overthrew the last British monarch, James II, who attempted a counter-revolution to reverse the verdict of that revolution and Civil War.
From then on, for over three hundred years, Parliament was unchallenged by governments, was supreme and embodied the rule of capital. Whatever their other differences no government even sought to challenge this constitutional/legal framework of capitalist rule – which, among other purposes, allowed the different sections of the capitalist class to decide their periodic conflicts.
But in the Brexit crisis Johnson, with the Trump’s full backing, has for the first time for three centuries used the government to attempt to block Parliament, to openly threaten that constitution and Parliamentary sovereignty. First, Johnson has used the rights of the monarch to suspend Parliament for five weeks to stop it debating or controlling the situation – because Johnson cannot get a majority in Parliament for his No Deal Brexit from the EU. This was followed by at least three ministers, including the Prime Minister, and other Tory leaders openly threatening to ignore laws made by Parliament.
The government’s threat to violate the law
As the Daily Telegraph noted on 7 September: ‘Boris Johnson would rather defy the law than ask for another Brexit delay… The Prime Minister said he “will not” carry out Parliament’s instructions to seek an Article 50 extension if he fails to agree a new deal, adding he was only bound “in theory” by a law passed on Friday… In the event that Mr Johnson cannot force an election and fails to reach a deal with the EU, Mr [Iain] Duncan Smith said the Prime Minister must deny the will of Parliament…
‘On a visit to Scotland Mr Johnson said: “The Bill that is still before Parliament would in theory mean that the government of the UK was obliged to write a letter to Brussels asking for a pointless delay…”… Asked if that meant he would not seek an extension even if the Bill was passed into law (which it later was) he replied: “I will not. I don’t want a delay.”… ‘“They [the majority in Parliament] just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do.”’
The Guardian noted: ‘The prime minister reportedly wrote to Tory members… pledging to break the law that will require him to seek an extension of article 50. “They just passed a law that would force me to beg Brussels for an extension to the Brexit deadline. This is something I will never do.”
‘Earlier… he said he would not entertain seeking another deadline extension from Brussels… compels him to if no agreement is in place by 19 October. “I will not. I don’t want a delay,” Johnson said…
‘The former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith encouraged Johnson to break the law, saying he would be seen as a Brexit “martyr” if judges opted to put him jail for breaching parliament’s terms.’
Johnson’s and his supporters threat was so extreme, in terms of breaking with the entire constitutional framework, that it was openly opposed even by some Tory MPs who had not already openly revolted against Johnson and been deprived of the Conservative whip. ‘David Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister when Theresa May was in Downing Street, said it would set a “dangerous precedent” if Johnson chose to disobey the law.
‘Lidington, a former Europe minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is such a fundamental principle that we are governed by the rule of law that I hope no party would question it.”’
These events therefore make abundantly clear that the statement that what is being threatened by Johnson is an anti-parliamentary coup, expressed in the popular hashtag #stopthecoup, is no exaggeration or hyperbole, it is the literal situation. It was also striking that a poll found 50% of Tory voters wanted Johnston to violate the law compared to 34% who believed he should obey it.
Whether Johnson can successfully defy the law, thereby calling into question orderly capitalist rule, is another issue – probably he can’t. If what was threatened was capitalism’s existence the monarchy, the government and other forces would certainly be prepared to violate the law. But to violate Parliamentary law on something which does not pose the existence of capitalism, as at present, would seriously undermine illusions in the neutrality of the capitalist state, and the existence of the monarchy which is regarded as a key prop of capitalist rule – and therefore it would almost certainly not be attempted. That is, if Johnson did attempt to openly violate the law in the present situation he would almost certainly be prevented from doing so by the bourgeoisie itself in order to preserve that class’s strategic interests. But, from a political viewpoint both the suspension of Parliament during a national political crisis, and even the threat from the government to violate the law, makes this the deepest crisis in Britain since World War II – and from a constitutional/legal point of view the deepest crisis for three centuries.
It is the first time for centuries that a government has attempted a coup. That is a measure of the scale of the crisis that has unfolded. As such a crisis could only be driven by huge social and class forces it is necessary to clearly analyse these.
The US connection to Johnson’s attempted coup
Diane Abbott, the Labour Party shadow Home Secretary, has explained with great clarity what is internationally behind the present political crisis in Britain.
‘Around the world, coups are normally international events. Short of war they have been a preferred mechanism to achieve what has become known as “regime change”. And the last time there was a successful coup in this country in 1688 that too was an international affair, with Mary and William of Orange being installed as a monarchy. That was a coup by parliament against an over-bearing monarchy.
‘The current situation is quite different. We are living through a coup against parliament by a minority of parliamentarians, who have seized control of the Tory party from the right. They intend to impose their will against the majority of elected representatives and against the will of the public.
‘They are able to attempt this because this too is an international affair. Boris Johnson hopes to prolong his premiership by crashing this country out of the EU with a No Deal Brexit. But the key beneficiary of this project is Donald Trump and the interests he represents, and the project has his full backing.’
Diane Abbott entirely accurately analysed that the aim of Trump/Johnson is to subordinate Britain directly to US trade, and consequently economic, policy by taking Britain out of any customs union with the EU and into a trade arrangement with the US:
‘Any significant agreement with the EU would necessarily include some degree of alignment with European rules and tariffs. They are not going to formulate an entirely new set of rules and tariffs simply to accommodate us – any more than the US will. For Trump, No Deal is imperative.
‘The effect of those US rules and tariffs are truly frightening. Contrary to the false promises and blatant untruths of the leaders of the Leave campaigns, we will not be entering a new golden age of peace and prosperity as a subordinate state to Trump’s MAGA project…
‘On trade, you only have to recognise how he treats US allies, like Canada, Mexico, India and the EU, to understand how trade negotiations will go. It will be an imposition not a negotiation. Similarly, it is clear Trump will drag this country into new conflicts, with countries such as Iran and China. Some in the Tory party are only too eager to follow him.
‘Being Trump’s vassal will affect every part of our lives, from the Americanisation of the NHS, to the decimation of the car industry, the assault on British farming and much else besides. American workers have even fewer rights and benefits than workers in this country, and there will be a major offensive to ‘level down’ our rights. Donald Trump is also a climate crisis denier.’
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to the TUC
Jeremy Corbyn spelt out the consequences of this reality clearly in his speech to the TUC: ‘‘They [the Tories] will use a No Deal crash to push through policies that benefit them and their super-rich supporters and hurt everyone else – just as they did after the financial crash.
‘Under the cover of No Deal they will sell off our public services, strip away the regulations that keep us safe, and undermine workers’ rights.
‘And they will cement all of this in a race-to-the-bottom trade deal with Donald Trump.
‘Be in no doubt – a No Deal Brexit is really a Trump Deal Brexit, leading to a one-sided US trade deal negotiated from a position of weakness.
‘It will put us at the mercy of Trump and the big US corporations itching to get their teeth further into our NHS, sound the death knell for our steel industry and permanently drive down rights and protections for workers…
‘A Trump Deal Brexit would be a betrayal of the generations of workers who went before, who fought so hard to win the rights and build the public services that bind our society together.
‘That’s their legacy, their gift to us. We’re not going to let Boris Johnson trade it all away for a sweetheart deal with Trump.’
This is indeed the content of Brexit. It is a ferocious attack on living standards, an attempt to reshape British society in cooperation with, and to the advantage of, the most reactionary circles in the US.
Close links of Trump and Johnson
In line with this reality the facts demonstrate how directly Trump is involved in Johnson’s attempted coup.
- Breaking previous norms of relations between states Trump openly supported Johnson to become British Prime Minister.
- It has been admitted Johnson and Trump speak two or three times a week on the phone.
- Following Johnson’s recent Parliamentary defeats Trump reaffirmed explicit support for Johnson declaring he ‘knows how to win’.
Trump and Farage
In addition to Trump’s links to Johnson, after Trump was elected president the first British politician he met was not from the ruling Tory Party, as would expected, but the leader of the Brexit Party Nigel Farage. Why?
To understand the relation of Trump, Johnson and Farage it must be grasped that through Farage Trump can largely control Johnson. Farage, who is totally close to Trump, is a dagger pointed at the throat of the Conservative Party. If Farage’s Brexit Party runs seriously against the Conservatives in an election Johnson will lose. Trump controls Farage so therefore Trump can say truthfully to Johnson ‘if you do not do what I want I can guarantee your defeat.’
Farage is therefore the mechanism by which Trump gives Johnson, for his own survival, no choice but to orient to a Hard Brexit.
Trump’s aim is an anti-China US-UK trade deal
To grasp precisely what Trump wants from control of Johnson and Farage it is necessary to understand that Trump has concluded that the multilateral world trade system does not give sufficient advantages to the US. The US and its companies are being outcompeted within that system by other countries which can produce numerous goods at equal or better quality and at lower prices than domestic US producers – in particular, among large economies, China and Germany do this. This means such goods’ prices are kept down for international consumers, including the working class, which is better for their living standards. But this creates problems for US companies operating from their domestic base. Trump is therefore attempting to replace as the main framework of international trade a multilateral system with a series of bilateral trade deals in which the US entirely dominates. Within this bilateral trading system US companies, operating within the US, would be given protection from international competition. This, however, constitutes an attack not only on US competitors but on US working class living standards by forcing US consumer to pay more for products.
Establishing this system of US dominated bilateral agreements started with Canada and Mexico – countries particularly under US pressure. As a typical example, anti-China clauses are embodied in the new proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Defining China as a ‘non-market country’ this states: ‘3 months prior to commencing negotiations, a Party shall inform the other Parties of its intention to commence free trade agreement negotiations with a non-market country.’ And: ‘that Party shall provide the other Parties with an opportunity to review the full text of the agreement.’ Third: ‘entry by any Party into a free trade agreement with a non-market country, shall allow the other Parties to terminate this Agreement.’
Therefore, in practice, the USMCA gives the US veto rights over Canada and Mexico entering into trade agreements with China – or other countries the US choses itself to designate ‘non-market’. Cutting off such products from China is calculated to cost the average US household $800-$1,000 a year – constituting a serious attack on US working class living standards. If the US can successfully attack China, and US working class consumers do not rebel against the price burden Trump is imposing on them by turfing him out of office, Trump has already made clear he will then turn his sights on Germany, again raising prices for US working class consumers. As was noted during the then US National Security Adviser John Bolton’s visit to Britain to negotiate with Johnson: ‘”when it comes to trade negotiations the EU is worse than China, only smaller”, the [US] official said.’
The working class should be entirely indifferent to which of the ruling classes of the US or Germany wins in any inter-imperialist struggle but it is not indifferent to whether measures are taken which raise prices, and reduce living standards, for US workers by tariffs and other measures – whether these measures are taken against Germany, China or any other country.
Trump’s aim is a US dominated US-UK trade deal
Trump’s aim in Brexit is clearly and explicitly to include Britain in this system of US dominated bilateral trade deals. Immediately after Johnson became Prime Minister, which was itself achieved with Trump’s backing, Trump sent ultra-hawk US National Security Adviser John Bolton to negotiate with Johnson. Bolton declared a UK exit from the EU was ‘very much in our interest’.
The reason Brexit, more precisely a Hard/No Deal Brexit, is ‘very much’ in US interests is that to achieve Trump’s US-UK trade agreement Britain has to leave a customs union with the EU – because without this Britain is bound by EU rules, which does not allow Britain to negotiate a unilateral deal with the US or one so subordinate to the US. As the Financial Times therefore noted: ‘Bolton said Trump wanted “a fully comprehensive bilateral trade agreement” with Britain “as soon as possible”’.
Johnson’s present attempted manoeuvres with the north of Ireland/DUP fall within the same framework. Naturally Trump/the US does not care what is the economic situation of the north of Ireland – it is much too small to enter into their calculations. What they are concerned about is that the main British economy, which is still the fifth or sixth largest in the world depending on the method of calculation, is taken out of a customs union with the EU and into a trade agreement with the US. Whether this involves preventing or accepting economic barriers between the north or Ireland and the rest of Britain is a purely tactical question, which from the point of view of Trump/the US could be decided either way, provided that Johnson/Trump’s strategic goal, getting Britain out of a custom’s union with the EU and into a trade agreement with the US, is achieved.
The USMCA would provide the template for a US-UK trade agreement. It would give the US control over numerous aspects of the British economy, its food standards, the health service and other areas – precisely the threats Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott pointed out.
US backing emboldens Johnson
It is this international US offensive, and explicit backing for Johnson’s actions, backed by the threat of unleashing Farage in a general election, which explains Johnson’s determination to force through a Hard/No Deal Brexit and helps give those backing him the audacity and nerve to break with the
forms of British bourgeois rule which have existed unchallenged for three centuries. It also explains why Johnson is prepared to countenance a No Deal Brexit which is economically irrational from the point of view of the overall interests of British capital.
No Deal would devastate advanced industries in Britain, such as automobiles and pharmaceuticals, which are far too large scale to be able to produce for a domestic market and which rely on access to the EU’s customs union and single market. The devastating blow to such industries, which employ many hundreds of thousands of workers, would in turn deliver a severe blow to working class living standards.
But for Trump, naturally, not merely the interests of the British working class but also the interests of British capital are irrelevant. Therefore, while parts of the Tory Party, who are under pressure from sections of British capital, are prepared to oppose Johnson/Trump’s attack, Johnson/Trump/Farage themselves are prepared to press on with it despite the economic damage it does to significant parts of British capital.
It is for this reason also that even if Johnson/Trumps first attacks are defeated, as during recent Parliamentary events, Trump/Johnson/Farage’s assault will continue.
The situation in Britain in historical terms is therefore both ‘astonishing’ and deeply serious. For the first time for 300 years a fight is taking place to block an anti-Parliamentary coup, but the aim of this coup is to subordinate Britain even further to the US and Trump.
Jeremy Corbyn’s tactics have been spot on
Confronted with this extremely serious attack by Johnson/Trump Labour’s tactics in dealing with Johnson’s attempted coup, led by Jeremy Corbyn, have been spot on. In particular:
- Labour has directly worked with all opposition parties, and Tory rebels, to defeat the first attempt of Johnson to impose a No Deal Brexit.
- Labour has blocked Johnson’s attempt to impose a General Election with a timing which he chose to allow him the possibility to force through a No Deal Brexit on 31 October, and which would be held before any clarification of the consequences of his damaging course and its goals is clear to the electorate.
These Labour steps, with the decisions taken by Corbyn, were decisive. If they had not been taken Britain would either have left the EU with No Deal on 31 October or would be hurtling towards a totally confused General Election in which the initiative was with Johnson/Trump – or both. It would have been even better if a law had been passed through Parliament preventing its proroguing, but this may not have been possible to pass due to the cowardice of the Tory rebels, and Labour has succeeded in blocking the key points of Johnson’s current offensive.
But instead of hailing this big Labour victory some sections of the left, disoriented by a wrong analysis of Brexit, a failure to see that Brexit is an offensive by the US and Trump, launched entirely incorrect attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. As such attacks came from overall supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, that is they were, to use Chinese correct terminology, ‘a contradiction among the people,’ it is necessary to understand clearly why Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and others were correct in their decisions and their critics were wrong. Furthermore, given that, as already seen, what has just occurred is only the first wave of the coup attempt by Johnson/Trump, which will continue with new attacks, it is crucial to have an accurate understanding of the situation.
Disorientation, produced by a wrong analysis/view on Brexit, was shown by George Galloway, who has a long anti-imperialist record, actually calling for a vote for Farage’s Brexit Party against Labour at the European elections. He also refused to unequivocally oppose Johnson’s coup declaring: ‘This parliament is a sink of treachery venality and incompetence. It should be dissolved. Don’t ask me to go to war for Anna Soubry Oliver Letwin Chuka et al.’
The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) advocated a No Deal Brexit, the same outcome as Trump/Johnson/Farage, tweeting ‘Britain should leave the EU on WTO terms, Communists propose’. It opposes Labour/Corbyn’s policy of establishing a Customs Union with the EU; ‘Locking Britain into the EU Customs Union would make any such agreement even worse’. It opposed any measures blocking or postponing No Deal Brexit, saying ‘Britain’s Communists urged the labour movement to reject “anti-democratic manoeuvres” to extend Article 50.’ The CPB also refused to call for a vote for Labour in the European elections: ‘A month ago, our party’s political committee discussed how best to implement the executive committee’s decision to call for a boycott. This was the first time we have made such a call in our 99-year history. ‘
The Morning Star attacked Labour tactics. Its support for Brexit led it to attack Labour’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s key steps in blocking Johnson’s coup, declaring in an editorial ‘Parliamentary pacts carry grave risks for Labour’ that: ‘It is hard to see the outcome of the cross-party discussions [which decided opposition tactics to block Johnson] as a victory for Labour…
‘Labour… has accepted the proposal of the SNP that Parliament legislate to prevent no-deal…
‘This seems calculated to feed Johnson’s narrative that Labour is at the head of a conspiracy to prevent Brexit going ahead…
‘Labour has retreated. From talking of rejecting a bad Tory deal but committing to negotiate one that gave Britain freedom from EU competition and state aid laws, the party shifted towards proposing a deal that would actually have kept more of the EU’s anti-socialist regulations in place than Theresa May was proposing.
‘That didn’t satisfy the Remainers, who applied further pressure until Labour said it would commit to backing a second referendum on any deal; next, that such a referendum would include a Remain option…
‘Participating in legislative trickery to evade a departure from the EU that Parliament has had more than three years to settle encourages popular mistrust of MPs.
‘It puts Labour’s entire radical mission “on the back burner” and subjects the socialist leadership of the party to the priorities of its political enemies.’
A Morning Star editorial, instead of 100% condemning Johnson’s coup had arguments which erroneously ‘sanitised’ it, ‘We must beat Johnson with democracy, not Parliament’. Instead of 100% condemning Johnson’s coup this contained semi-apologies for it:
‘Boris Johnson’s intention to prorogue Parliament has provoked much contrived outrage from opposition politicians and Commons Speaker John Bercow…
‘This present parliamentary session has been one of the longest in modern British history and is not over yet, despite the current recess….
‘It is nothing out of the ordinary that a new prime minister at the head of a new government wants to suspend Parliament briefly in order to prepare a new legislative programme.
‘Nor is there anything out of the ordinary about a parliamentary shutdown so that politicians can attend their autumn party conferences…
The editorial also noted that:
‘Johnson has an ulterior motive, namely to squeeze the parliamentary time available to anti-Brexit MPs to legislate against a “no-deal” departure from the European Union, seek a fourth postponement of Brexit day and perhaps even revoke Article 50 and keep Britain in despite the referendum result of June 2016. These factors make today’s announcement of a forthcoming prorogation abnormal. ‘ But it went on to argue: ‘It [suspension of Parliament] comes in circumstances that have been created by anti-Brexit MPs and the House of Commons. They have had three years to agree a way to honour the people’s vote to leave the EU. Moreover, the vast majority of those MPs were elected on pledges to do just that.
‘Instead, they have tried every parliamentary trick in the book — in this case Erskine May’s Parliamentary Practice — to block and delay any and every kind of exit from the EU. Their wealthy supporters outside Parliament have tried using the courts and launching public campaigns to the same end.
‘Now Johnson has decided to take them on with a trick or two of his own.
‘Had more MPs been honest about their full intention, their own protestations about prorogation being a “constitutional outrage” might at least have the ring of sincerity. As it is, they are the squawkings of a bunch of unscrupulous plotters who are now being played at their own disreputable game.’
Not to distort the position of the Morning Star, in later coverage it turned to forthright opposition to the coup, but this came after its initial reaction. But the Morning Star has continued to give publicity to savage attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership, for example Arthur Scargill’s claim: ‘“Jeremy Corbyn voted against the Lisbon Treaty. Why is he now putting together a platform which is indistinguishable from the 21 MPs who have left the Tory Party?” And Eddie Dempsey’s claim: ‘I’ve never seen anyone run as quick as John McDonnell in these last few weeks.’
Counterfire, another Brexit supporter, was unequivocal in opposing Johnson’s coup, but it has nevertheless attacked Labour’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s approach in blocking it, with John Rees declaring: ‘The ruling class can sniff a solution to their crisis emerging… with Labour becoming a fully Remain party, and with the emerging proto ‘national government’ pact with the opposition, the establishment sense a way forward.
‘Here is what it is: they get what they want, staying in the EU, and delay what they don’t want, an election that may produce a Corbyn government. They’ll lengthen the delay if they can…
‘And all the while the story that some on the left swallow is that this is the height of tactical genius when it is really just playing the establishment’s game… but the Labour leadership just proudly go on about acting in the ‘national interest’ seemingly having forgotten this always really means in the interest of capital.’
Lindsay German repeated attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s cooperation with other parties. Under the heading ‘Labour’s retreats too far’ arguing:
‘While there are major opportunities for Labour and the left because of the Tory travails in the last week, there are also huge dangers. In particular, Labour is in danger of being subsumed into a strategy of defending the “national interest”’ rather than fighting for its policies…
‘Labour has already gone too far down the road of appeasing this wing of parliamentary opinion. Its original plan of no confidencing Johnson was abandoned in favour of parliamentary manoeuvres.’
From a different angle Paul Mason put forward the bizarre Russophobic idea that the main force driving Brexit was not Johnson/Farage/Trump but Johnson/Farage and …. Putin! This is in line with Mason’s attacks on Russia but support for organisations such as NATO: ‘Saturday was a picnic compared to e.g. No Deal chaos, or the week after Remain wins second referendum. The British state is not strong enough to contain the chaos Putin, Bannon and Farage are stoking up.’
Contradictions between the people and the enemy or contradictions among the people
It is necessary to be clear on this situation. The above forces genuinely want to support Jeremy Corbyn. The main political contradiction in Britain at present is for or against Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party – Corbyn is opposed to austerity and attacks on the working class, while any other practical leadership of Labour in the present situation would support capitalist attacks on the working class.
To put it in precise Chinese Marxist terminology, the contradiction between those supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party and those who oppose it is the contradiction ‘between the people and the enemy’. Differences among those who support Corbyn against the attacks on his leadership are, again to use precise Chinese Marxist terminology, ‘contradiction among the people’ – issues to be resolved through comradely discussion. But a wrong analysis of Brexit led some to seriously wrong views on tactics – refusal to vote for Labour in the Euro elections, attacks on Labour’s cooperation with other parties to block Johnson, supporting instead of opposing Johnson’s demand for an immediate general election at a time and in terms dictated by the Tories – that if implemented would have seriously damaged Labour and Jeremy Corbyn.
It was a wrong analysis of Brexit which led some who genuinely want to support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party into supporting positions that would have damaged it in the most serious British political crisis since World War II. As the reality of the forces behind Brexit becomes clearer every day it is deeply to be hoped that these comrades adopt an analysis that is in line with domestic and international reality – the very serious attack on the working class launched by Johnson/Trump.
Labour’s support on the eve of a general election campaign
The implications of wrong analysis of Brexit was also seen in the development of public opinion this year, leading to the most significant setback suffered by Labour since Jeremy Corbyn became its leader – the results of the Euro election. As Figure 1 shows, as long as Brexit remained a largely ‘theoretical’ future question it did not greatly influence political parties support – Labour and Tories remained essentially neck and neck and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats were entirely marginalised (as was UKIP). But as Brexit became a ‘practical’ question, that is the deadline for it became close, it violently influenced party support with the pro-EU Lib Dems surging, taking votes from Labour, and the Brexit Party taking votes from the Tories.
Figure 1 demonstrates this by showing an average tracking poll. Labour’s support, which had been persistently over 30% before the deadline for Brexit approach, sharply fell into the 20%s as it lost support to the pro-EU Lib Dems, and to a smaller extent the pro-EU Greens, as Brexit became a practical and immediate issue.
Figure 2 shows the same trends in MORI – polls for other companies shows similar trajectories. It was this sharp loss of Labour voters to the Lib Dems/Greens that opened up the chance for the Tories to move ahead of Labour – a situation which had not existed since the 2017 election. Naturally in a general election some of those who voted Lib Dem/Green in the Euroelections would have voted Labour, but it would be extremely unwise to be complacent and believe that all those who deserted Labour for the Lib Dems in May’s election will automatically return. There is no support for such complacency either from polls or from recent local government elections. Labour will have to win back these voters both with its overall policies and with its policy of opposing a No Deal/Trump Brexit. That is why Labour’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s position of taking any deal on Brexit back to the people in a referendum with an option for Remain is so crucial and why Labour’s tactics in fighting Johnson’s coup were so correct.
The conclusion of the present situation is clear. Brexit is not at all simply about a ‘trade pact’, which would easily be pushed aside by other issues, as some tried to believe. The assault waged against the working class by Trump/Farage/Johnson around Brexit is on a scale at least equal to or greater than Thatcherism. Jeremy Corbyn’s and Diane Abbott’s explanations of this are entirely accurate. It is an attempt to reorient the whole of British society onto a new path entirely subordinate to the most reactionary groups in the US. That is why it has produced the deepest political crisis in Britain since World War II and the first attempt to challenge the capitalist constitutional settlement for over three centuries.
The present situation remains extremely serious. The first attack of Johnson/Trump’s coup has been defeated due to Labour’s skilful tactics under Jeremy Corbyn. But there should not be the slightest illusion that this is the end of the war. Johnson/Trump/Farage are determined to press on with their assault to force Britain into an even more subordinate position to the US and to reshape British society, with an attack on the working class, to secure this. As has been demonstrated a correct analysis of Brexit is vital for waging that struggle. Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and other leaders of the Corbyn left have set that out. They were right and their critics were wrong.
It is vital to understand that while Johnson’s is, as it is put after the name of Chris Mullin’s book, ‘A Very British Coup’ it is a coup which is simultaneously and most fundamentally ‘Made in the USA’.