By Brian Adams
The British working class now faces the sustained and determined offensive by the Johnson Tory government to ‘Americanise’ British society that was always the aim of Brexit. The seriousness of this offensive makes it even more vital that Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon are supported for Labour’s leader and deputy leader. Only they among the candidates for Labour’s leading positions will resist the attacks that are to come.
In particular, the whole record of, and the forces around Keir Starmer, presenting himself with fake ‘left credentials’, and appealing to the great majority of Labour Party members and voters who supported Remain in the struggle over Brexit, will fail to fight this Tory offensive. It is therefore vital the entire Labour movement sees this situation and its dynamics clearly.
Brexit and the Trump international offensive
Brexit is a central part of the international offensive by the Trump administration to reorganise the international economy, and international politics, even more directly around the interests of the US – this has been analysed elsewhere on this website and is therefore not dealt with in detail here. But the fundamental goal of this offensive within Britain is to introduce cuts in workers’ rights, social, and environmental protection which would have been unlawful if Britain had been part of the EU – illegal not because the EU is a progressive institution, it isn’t, but because of the social relation of forces expressed across the whole of Europe, in which the Americanisation of Europe would also require a decisive defeat of the German and French working classes which has not so far occurred.
With Brexit this US offensive can now be stepped up, as with withdrawal from the political structures of the EU, a series of steps to reduce workplace rights and environmental protections which would previously have been illegal under EU regulations will now become legal after the end of the ‘transition period’ on 31 December 2020.
Johnson’s is no ‘one nation’ Tory government
Talk that Johnson’s government is a return to ‘one nation’ Toryism, in newspapers such as the Financial Times, and partially repeated in the Guardian and other media, is pure nonsense. Johnson did not go to all the effort of Brexit, including such drastic measures as making Britain the only advanced state in the world to have a customs border within its own boundaries, down the Irish Sea, and ruthlessly purging the Tory Party in Parliament of all its ‘wets’, in order to pursue ‘one nation’ policies.
The lies by Johnson that the Tory Party was abandoning austerity did not survive even two months after the general election as Johnson/Javid ordered an across the board 5% cut in all departments dealing with social protection.
The emphasis by Johnson, Javid, Gove and others that Britain will ‘diverge’ from the EU, even at the expense of euphemistic border ‘frictions’, that is, tariffs and/or quotas, simply means that workplace, social and environmental protection will be reduced to bring them closer to the minimal protections in the US.
Johnson’s record personally shows he is interested only in his own career, and may initially even calculate that this is best served by some initial signs of his government disagreeing with the US on a few tactical issues, but even this will soon be squeezed out of the Tory government as the US applies the pressure of the economic nutcracker it will possess if Britain passes outside the economic framework of the EU’s customs union – as Johnson proposes. As a trade agreement with the US is Johnson’s sole international economic strategy, the US/Trump will apply remorseless economic pressure to secure their goals. The drive to progressively ‘Americanise’ British society will dominate the next five years of the Tory government.
Lib Dem capitulation to Johnson
The political facts show clearly that there should not be the slightest confidence that any major party other than Labour has the potential or willingness to lead resistance to Johnson/Trump’s Brexit offensive.
The Lib Dems have continued, in an ill-disguised fashion, their long record as ‘yellow Tories’ – previously shown completely transparently in the 2010-2015 coalition with the Tory Party. It was solely the Lib Dems refusal to vote for a customs union with the EU in the last Parliament, when the amendment supporting this by Ken Clarke would have been passed with their votes, that delivered Johnson’s hard Brexit. The Lib Dems voted that way because they wanted to appear as more ‘radical’ over the EU than Labour and Jeremy Corbyn. The priority of the Lib Dems was always to defeat Corbyn/Labour, not to defeat the Tories and Brexit, and these Lib Dem positions were in the end the sole reason why Johnson’s hard Brexit was passed.
Similarly, it was the Lib Dem, together with SNP, decision to support a general election at a time of Boris Johnson’s choosing that delivered Johnson his electoral opportunity to gain a firm majority in Parliament and ensured a hard Brexit would happen.
The failure of the Lib Dems to secure more seats in Parliament at the general election was ‘poetic justice’ for their policies – but their systematic pro-Tory policies will not stop the Lib Dems attempting to rebuild themselves by trying to conceal their ‘yellow Tory’ character. Their entire record shows not the slightest confidence can be placed in the Lib Dems to lead any opposition to Johnson.
The SNP’s numerous fakeries
The SNP was equally responsible with the Lib Dems for granting Johnson the ability to have an election at a time of his choosing – thereby ensuring both a hard Brexit and the blocking of the possibility of a referendum on Scottish independence for five years. For the SNP, blocking Brexit and securing the right to a referendum on Scottish independence, which could only be granted by a Labour government, was much less important than trying to secure a few seats in Parliament.
Now, instead of preparing serious resistance to the Johnson government, including using the powers of their leadership of the Scottish Assembly, the SNP are trying to focus on a new referendum on independence which they, and every thinking person, knows has not the slightest chance of being granted under a Johnson government. And even on this terrain the SNP is preparing its capitulation to Johnson by ruling out even an indicative referendum organised by Scotland itself. By Sturgeon insisting ‘any referendum “must be legal and legitimate”’ what she in fact means is that the SNP will accept Johnson’s veto on an independence referendum.
The SNP, of course, have implemented austerity in Scotland. But in parallel with the LibDems, they are therefore sell-out artists not only on issue of Brexit but even of Scottish independence. No reliance whatever can be placed on the SNP to seriously fight Johnson’s offensive.
The role of Keir Starmer is entirely clear within this overall framework of Johnson’s offensive. Starmer’s personal record is clear. He opposed the fight against austerity or social security attacks – abstaining on the 2015 Welfare Act. He participated in the 2016 ‘chicken coup’ to attempt to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn. He is fully supported by the right wing of the Labour Party led by Labour First. In short Starmer is the sole serious candidate of the Labour right – Lisa Nandy, as with Jess Phillips before her, is just a diversion to allow Starmer to attempt to falsely portray himself as the ‘centre’ candidate between the right and the left supporting Rebecca Long-Bailey/Burgon.
Former members of the left, such as Paul Mason, who are supporting Starmer are being used as tools of the Labour right in exactly the same way that the ‘soft left’ was used around Kinnock in the 1980s – and it was Kinnock who opened the way to Blair and New Labour. The term ‘former’ members of the left is entirely operative – all those supporting Starmer are in fact supporting the right and place themselves outside the Labour left.
The consequences of a Starmer victory
But the consequence of Starmer taking the leadership of the Labour Party, would be still more serious that those of Kinnock and New Labour. New Labour was created and largely existed before the 2008 international financial crisis. New Labour in its early period, from 1994-2008, crushed democracy in the Labour Party, led to a mass exodus of members from Labour, and pursued policies in the invasion of Iraq and elsewhere there were responsible for many tens of thousands of deaths. But in a period of relatively rapid capitalist expansion, before the international financial crisis, New Labour delivered for part of its period in government significant resources to the NHS, and it established devolved government in Scotland and Wales. Since the international financial crisis even such economic and socially reformist policies as pursued by New Labour are not possible. Blairite/New Labour policies under the new circumstances are completely incapable of resisting the attack on the working class and will indeed directly participate in it.
The electoral reflection of this was inevitable under both New Labour and the ‘soft Left’ and is confirmed across Europe. Gordon Brown’s, that is New Labour’s, 29.0% of the vote secured in the 2010 general election, or the ‘soft left’ Ed Miliband’s 30.4% in 2015, were both lower than Jeremy Corbyn’s 32.2% in 2019, let alone his 40.0% in 2017.
In other parts of Europe, the results of right-wing policies have been even more electorally disastrous – in France the Socialist Party has virtually disappeared as a significant electoral force while in Germany the SPD’s support has fallen to levels not seen for a hundred years. The only countries in which Socialist Parties have been successful in electoral terms, Portugal and Spain, were those where they shifted to the left – explicitly forming alliances with parties to their left. In Britain Jeremy Corbyn’s policies ensured Labour’s support remained at levels far higher than the marginalised right-wing Socialist Parties in Europe.
The offensive against a mass Labour party
But even before the inevitable economic, social and electoral consequences of Starmer become clear, the attack on resistance to Johnson’s Brexit offensive that Starmer would represent is also entirely clear. Right wing Labour emphatically does not want a mass Labour Party with nearly 600,000 members. Such a mass party means Labour is financially secure, but it means it is susceptible to popular pressure – the latter being an intolerable situation for the Labour right. What the right wants is a progressive return to the hollowed-out Labour Party, with few and powerless members, which was produced during the New Labour era. Indeed, the increase in Labour Party membership since the general election is undesirable for the right wing. As Starmer and the right will clamp down on democracy, and disgust many members with the policies it will pursue, this radical reduction in Labour membership can be begun almost immediately – long before the next election. A shadow cabinet packed with the rotten faces of New Labour, who showed their complete disloyalty to the Labour Party chances of victory in the last four years, will further alienate members – leading many to the mistaken but comprehensible position to quit Labour. Such a membership exodus from Labour would be entirely welcome to the Labour right, as it would remove an obstacle to consolidating their policies and power.
Certainly, even a Starmer-led Labour Party will come under attack from the Tory media, who support the Americanisation of British society involved in Brexit. But a right-wing Starmer-led Labour Party will respond to that by moving further to the right, as did Ed Miliband – which would both undermine the struggle against Johnson’s policies and damage Labour electorally.
A switch to the right on foreign policy
Such a capitulation by Starmer will come even more rapidly on foreign policy than on domestic ones. While the response of Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon to such dangerous steps as US escalation of the aggression against Iran was immediate and strong, Starmer’s initial response was pathetic – and only corrected, probably under the influence of his former left wing advisers, simply when it became clear it would damage him in the context for the Labour leadership. But once Starmer has taken the Labour leadership he can and will progressively dump the influence of former leftists who have made the decisive mistake of supporting him.
In summary, both domestically and on foreign policy only the victory of Rebecca Long-Bailey as Labour leader, and Richard Burgon as deputy, will give any chance for Labour to continue to resist the US offensive.
A long struggle
The necessity to support Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon becomes even clearer when the domestic form Johnson’s Brexit offensive will take is understood.
The negative effects of Brexit, and its drive to Americanise British society, will not be a single action but a prolonged offensive against the working class over the next five years. All the talk of ‘food shortages’, ‘drug shortages’, ‘inability of the ports to cope’, ‘immense traffic jams around Dover’ etc which were supposed to be the horrors of a ‘no deal’ Brexit were besides the point even if they had been true – and much of it wasn’t.
The damage of the threat of Johnson’s ‘hard Brexit’ is not any such short term effects but that it cuts Britain’s economy off from the international division of labour and its markets in the EU. To understand the impact of this it is only necessary to see the situation in advanced manufacturing industries. For example, 81% of British car production is exported, with half going to the EU. If there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit with the EU, now euphemistically called an ‘Australian’ agreement by Johnson, the automobile industry, its suppliers, and those who depend on its relatively highly paid workers, will be devastated with tens of thousands of job losses. This is inevitable if the 10% tariff on car imports to the EU, which applies under WTO rules, is the outcome. A similar process will occur with the pharmaceutical, aerospace and other technologically advanced, and therefore highly paid, industries.
The damage done to working class living standards will therefore not be a single short-term blow (‘food shortages’ etc) but a prolonged grinding down of advanced and highly paid industries. This will run in parallel with the Americanisation of the economy in terms of reduction of workplace rights, social security, and environmental protection. In summary there will be a relentless downward pressure on the working class.
Summary – to resist Johnson’s Brexit offensive vote for Long-Bailey/Burgon
The situation for the next five years is therefore clear. The working class suffered a serious defeat at the general election and now faces Johnson’s Brexit offensive to Americanise British society. In that context, Starmer is using the fact that the great majority of Labour members opposed both these attacks and were Remainers to present himself as a ‘centre’ candidate. The reality is, as with Kinnock before, he is simply an instrument being used by the right. To make a comparison, while Ed Miliband’s leadership created ‘soft left’ conditions which turned out to be a point of transition from right-wing New Labour to the left led by Corbyn, Starmer would be the point of transition from left leadership of Labour back to open domination by the right. But this would be in conditions where Brexit means that the pro-US drive of Brexit means a much greater attack on the working class than anything which occurred under New Labour.
It is therefore vital that there is an all-out fight to secure the victory of Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon. This is the only way to secure Labour’s resistance to Johnson’s Brexit offensive, which will dominate the next five years.