Notes from the front – of the week 22/7/2015

The left can advance – the Tories are weak

A political offensive is being waged to promote the absurd claim that the Tories are impregnable and the only way Labour can advance is by shifting sharply to the right. The myth put forward by Labour’s right-wing, and widely in the media, is that Labour was crushed in May and will never win again unless it accepts the Tory agenda. The Tories are depicted as a strong party that has moved to the centre ground.

This is evidently all nonsense. Cameron is firmly on the right and is pursuing a more aggressive assault on living standards than Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, but he has been elected with five per cent less support than her. The Tories only got 36.8 per cent of the vote this year, the lowest support ever for a Tory majority government. Of all majority governments this past 100 years only Blair in 2005 secured a lower share of the vote (see chart). That is a weak Tory government that could easily be replaced in 2020 by an effective opposition.

Cameron has a parliamentary majority of just 11, so could be defeated on many issues in this parliament, particularly if Labour and SNP together opposed his policies.

The government has already had setbacks. Earlier in July it was forced to withdraw its attempt to relax the foxhunting ban in England and Wales after the SNP announced it would vote against it. Cameron has also had to delay voting on his ‘English Votes for English Laws’ proposal and the repealing of the Human Rights Act over fears of not having sufficient support. If Labour was opposing the Tories welfare Bill it is possible the vote on it on 20 July could have defeated the Tories as the government’s majority was only 184 – the same number as Labour MPs who abstained on the Bill as directed to do by Labour’s interim leadership. Were Labour to work with the SNP on opposing this government Cameron would find it difficult to get anything passed except the most uncontroversial of legislation.

As Labour will not regain Scotland in 2020 – though it may take back some seats from the SNP – it is the case that Labour on its own is unlikely to have a parliamentary majority after the next election. However it could easily be the largest party and therefore form the government, but it would need SNP support. Labour should drop its absurd hostility to the SNP, work with it appropriately in this parliament, and look to an agreement with the SNP for after the next election. Labour should be prepared to offer support for a further Scottish independence referendum in return for this agreement – in which Labour would undoubtedly campaign for a ‘No’ vote.

Austerity is increasingly unpopular. It is the main reason the previous government’s coalition parties lost a 14.4 per cent share of the vote. In 2020 discontent with government policies will focus entirely on the Tories as there is no coalition partner to take any blame. So the Tories will most likely to lose office.

It is the fact that the Tories are weak not strong that means the capitalist media is in such a frenzy to shift Labour to the right. As they think the Tories will lose in 2020, it is vital that Labour is committed to the same policies.

They have also shifted to building up the Lib Dems. After castigating and ridiculing Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems in the run up to the last election, to ensure they paid the maximum price for the policies of the Coalition government, they now become a useful tool against Labour. The Lib Dems under new leader Tim Farron are being built up to capture votes defecting from the Tories, positioned to the ‘left’ of the Tories (and Labour) on key issues of austerity and war.

Labour should be aiming to replace the Tories in government at the next election by setting out progressive policies and working towards an agreement with the SNP.

But Labour’s right wing is determined upon taking the party in the opposite direction, capitulating to the Tories’ framework. The interim leadership backed Osborne’s proposed £12 billion welfare cuts and refused to vote against his iniquitous welfare Bill which, among other things, cuts tax credits, limits tax credits to two children and reduces the household benefit cap to £23,000 in London and £20,000 elsewhere.

Jeremy Corbyn’s clear opposition to this welfare Bill did force some of the other Labour leadership contenders to temporarily reconsider their position, but when it came to the vote in Parliament on 20 July, of the four candidates only Corbyn voted against. The other three went along with Harriet Harman’s demand for Labour to abstain. The previous day both Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper had indicated they would oppose these cuts. The quick change by Burnham and Cooper, to the same position as Liz Kendall, is indicative of the course both would follow if elected Leader.

In the end 48 Labour MPs, one fifth of Labour’s parliamentary party, voted against the government’s welfare cuts. Jeremy Corbyn joined with Helen Goodman in leading the rebellion. Diane Abbott also played a leading role, which encouraged her fellow London Mayoral selection candidates David Lammy and Sadiq Khan to rebel. The latter two have rarely voted with the left, but this summer they need the votes of Labour Party members.

The Lib Dems in their new ‘left’ guise voted against the welfare Bill, as did the SNP.

Jeremy Corbyn’s support in the local Labour Parties continues to increase, last week he had the highest number of CLP nominations. Now he is leading the field alongside Andy Burnham. As at 21 July the four candidates had the following numbers of CLP nominations: Andy Burnham 73, Yvette Cooper 60, Jeremy Corbyn 73 and Liz Kendall 12. Jeremy is also leading the field in the YouGov poll of Labour members/supporters published in the Times on 22 July.

In the London Mayoral candidate selection the main Blairite candidate, Tessa Jowell, is not following Liz Kendall’s strategy of simply echoing Tory policies, instead her campaign claims she intends to improve living standards. Whilst the rhetoric is contentless, it has protected her campaign from crashing like Kendall’s.

Support Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign visit here.

Support Diane Abbott ‘s campaign visit here.

Victory for Iran

The Iranian government has secured an agreement on its right to a civil nuclear programme, including the right to uranium enrichment, after years of US opposition. This is a great achievement, given the attempt to prevent this through debilitating sanctions and the threats of military action by the US, its EU allies (Britain, France, Germany,) and Israel.

The source of this victory is two-fold. Firstly, it lies in the limits on direct US intervention, following its failures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Increasingly forced to rely upon regional proxies, the US negotiating position has been weakened. Secondly, it lies in the determination of the Iranian people to maintain their national sovereignty despite the terrible hardships imposed upon them. The Chinese and Russian governments played an important role in facilitating this negotiated victory.

From 2003 the US and EU 3 insisted that Iran was attempting to build nuclear weapons, and that uranium enrichment should never be allowed on Iranian territory. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2005 to the effect that the production, possession and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden, and that the Islamic Republic of Iran would never acquire such weapons. He reiterated this many times. Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA from 1997 to 2009, repeatedly stated that there was no evidence that Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons.

Despite having to make concessions to secure the agreement, the Iranian government has won a pathway out of sanctions whilst holding onto its nuclear programme. This has prompted furious denunciations by the reactionary opposition to Iran in the US, Israel and the Gulf states. The fury of its enemies is testimony to the strengthened economic and political position of the Iranian people that flows from this agreement

Cameron’s Secret War

On Friday 17 July, following a freedom of information request from the campaign group Reprieve, the Tory government announced that 20 British military personnel have been embedded within coalition forces carrying out military action in Syria. This includes RAF pilots engaging in military strikes whilst flying foreign planes. This is despite the 2013 parliamentary vote against military intervention in Syria.

At a Stop the War public meeting on 18 July Diane Abbott said that Syria had ‘turned out to be David Cameron’s secret war’. The deceit of the Tories must be a spur for the whole anti-war and labour movement to oppose the authorisation of war upon Syria that Cameron will bring to Parliament in September.