Notes from the front – of the week 27/10/2015

Corbyn inflicts first defeat on Tories

On 26 October a Labour motion in the House of Lords dealt a blow to the government’s proposed tax credit cuts. By 289 votes to 272 it voted the cuts should be delayed and those affected compensated in full. As a result Tory Chancellor George Osborne has been forced to rethink the proposed cuts and has indicated he will announce changes to the plans in the Autumn Statement on 25 November.

The significance of the Tories’ first political defeat since the General Election should not be underestimated. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s anti-austerity agenda, after only six weeks, is already proving a success.

Unlike Labour’s right-wing, which did not want the party blocking Tory welfare attacks, the left is setting an agenda that puts the Tories on the run.

As the 26 October published Ipsos MORI poll revealed, Corbyn’s leadership is popular with Labour supporters. He enjoys a net 48 per cent positive satisfaction rating with the way he is doing his job. He has a higher net satisfaction score (-2 per cent) across all voters than the Tory (-9 per cent) and Lib Dem (-5 per cent) leaders. The poll also reported the Tory lead over Labour falling to just 4 per cent.

Poland moves right

Polish politics has shifted even further to the right after the Law and Justice Party (PiS) became the first party since 1989 to win an overall majority in parliament. PiS won 37 per cent of the vote, defeating the ruling centre-right Citizens’ Platform (PO), which gained just 24 per cent.

After winning the Presidential elections earlier this year, PiS now holds total political power. It appeals to many of the poorest sections of society, whilst aiming to introduce a conservative right wing government similar in style to Orban’s in Hungary. Its leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has replicated Orban’s racist anti-refugee rhetoric and the party supports such things as a total ban on abortion and in-vitro treatment. It is likely that the new government will be more Eurosceptic and hostile to Russia. PiS are joined in parliament by a new right-wing populist force (the Kukiz movement which won 9 per cent of the vote), and includes members of the fascist National Movement.

The elections were a complete defeat for the left. The United Left (ZL) coalition narrowly failed to cross the 8 per cent threshold needed for coalitions to enter parliament. This coalition was organised around the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) alongside some smaller left parties. It was unable to distance itself from its past failures in government nor promote a coherent alternative to the parties of the right. A new left wing party Together (Razem ) gained 3 per cent of the vote, allowing it access to state funding for parties. Razem is made up of young activists who concentrated on attacking the ‘post-communist’ left. This division on the left was part of the reason that for the first time in Poland’s history there will be no representatives from the left in the Polish parliament.

Portugal: this is a coup

The Portuguese President Cavaco Silva has engineered a constitutional coup by installing a right wing PaF government even though it failed to win the recent general election and cannot command a parliamentary majority.

Thousands have taken to the streets in major cities to protest at the blatantly anti-democratic decision. In his speech the President appeared to rule out ever allowing parties to participate in government who questioned a series of EU treaties or international arrangements. This is a clear reference to the Left Bloc and the Portuguese Communist Party who increasingly oppose the EU austerity treaties and NATO.

It is not clear that this pro-austerity government of the right can last. It won less than 37 per cent of the popular vote and has no overall majority. The election represented a rejection of further austerity and, after an historic agreement, a government of the workers’ parties and left could be formed. The coup is thus an attempt to cheat the real balance of forces in the country.

This is the latest in a series of anti-democratic interventions by pro-austerity forces, after a technocrat government was imposed in Italy, the Cyprus government was overthrown with a banking crisis and Syriza was derailed by the Troika. The forces fighting against austerity will increasingly have to fight for democratic rights too.

International solidarity with the Portuguese anti-austerity parties will be needed in the period ahead.

Tony Blair ‘apologises’ for other people’s mistakes

In a recent interview with US station CNN, Tony Blair responded to questions on the Iraq war. He was under immediate pressure due to the publication of the April 2002 memo from Secretary of State, Colin Powell, which confirmed to President Bush that: ‘On Iraq, Blair will be with us should military operations be necessary’. This was prior to his supposed preparedness to allow UN weapons inspectors to investigate Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Blair has also seen the sections of the Chilcott report on his role in the decision to go to war. He clearly felt the need to justify his role, before publication. In characteristically Blairite fashion, he feinted to apologise but actually blamed others for his failure.

‘I apologise for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong’. Poor Tony, he was misled. If David Kelly was alive, he would surely testify that Blair applied no pressure on the intelligence services to justify his predetermined support for the invasion.

‘I also apologise, by the way, for some of the mistakes in planning, and certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.’ Unclear is ‘mistakes in planning’ – perhaps it refers to not having the power-point presentation in time?

But notably the post-invasion mistake was ‘our’, not ‘my’, mistake. The brutal occupation, the destruction of the sovereign state apparatus, and the consequent social misery and chaos were a result of the invaders’ policy. Blair tied Britain’s foreign policy into a sub-contract of US imperialism. The British statesman sadly accepts US government failure.

‘But I find it hard to apologise for removing Saddam’. So that seems to be accepting full responsibility then for ousting the dictator, obviously achieved unaided, and still a good thing. Let’s pass over the hundreds of thousands of war-related deaths.

When asked whether the Iraq war prompted the growth of ISIS, he almost agreed. ‘I think there are elements of truth in that’. But elements of untruth too, apparently – ‘ISIS came to prominence from a base in Syria not Iraq’. This ignores the fact that the leadership of ISIS came from Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the leader al-Baghdadi was actually a prisoner of the US in Iraq, before being released.

All in all, Blair remains convinced he was right, and therefore unappreciated, except by himself. ‘We tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq. We tried intervention without putting in troops in Libya. And we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria. It’s not clear to me that even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies have worked better.’

We can overlook the fact that UK and US special ground forces played a part in the Libyan war. Facts aren’t so essential to the Blairite cannon. This is confirmed by the line ‘we’ve tried no intervention at all’ in Syria. Actual policy by US/UK governments since 2011 has been to train an armed opposition, provide intelligence and logistical support to same, work with the Turkish government and Gulf states to arm the opposition, deploy special forces inside Syria (including SAS), air raids (included embedded RAF personnel), target assassinations (including RAF drones), disrupt attempts to achieve political process, etc. All of which is a little stronger than ‘demanding regime change’.

An actual apology from Blair is not in view.

Neo-liberal right advances in Argentine election

Following the Argentinian Presidential Election on 25 October the left in Latin America and more widely has been shaken by the unexpectedly strong showing by the pro-US right-wing candidate, meaning he could possibly oust the left from the Presidency.

The left candidate, Buenos Aires province governor Daniel Scioli – who was expected to win comfortably – took only 36.5 per cent, while the right’s candidate, Buenos Aires city mayor Mauricio Macri, secured approximately 10 per cent more than opinion polls had predicted and took 34.7 per cent of the vote. A third candidate, Sergio Massa, took 21 per cent.

Under Argentina’s electoral rules the winner needs to receive more than 45 per cent to avoid a second round or 40 per cent plus a 10-point lead over the runner-up. As no candidate achieved these conditions, there will now be a run-off election between Scioli and Macri on November 22.

Daniel Scoli, backed by President Cristina Kirchner and her Peronist Front for Victory party, is the candidate who would maintain Argentina’s alliances within the Latin American left.

Mauricio Macri leads the US-backed ‘Let’s Change’ coalition and supports neoliberal economic policies of sharp cuts to subsidies and greater concessions to Argentina’s international creditors, who have been in a long-running dispute with the government.

How the votes cast for Sergio Massa divide in the run-off election will determine the result. Whilst formally a Peronist, he had split away from the government and also campaigned for a change of direction. He has not said who he will back in the run-off.

The right made a further surprise advance on 25 October. María Eugenia Vidal, the ‘Let’s Change’ coalition candidate, defeated the Peronist for the regional governorship of Buenos Aires. The province had been previously held by the Peronists for 28 years and is where one in every four Argentines lives.

The right is advancing because the left is no longer delivering improvements to the population’s standard of living. The international economic slowdown has ended the previous decade’s commodity price boom, which for Argentina helped fuel annual economic growth peaking at 9.5 per cent in 2010. This had fallen to 0.5 per cent in 2014, causing living standards to shrink, and poverty has started to rise again.

The ending of the commodities boom is having a tumultuous effect across the continent, with Brazil and Venezuela also heavily exposed. Significant policy adjustments are needed, driving up investment to restore economic growth, to avoid political defeats.

Egypt’s elections

The first stage of the parliamentary elections in Egypt took place last week, with run-offs continuing this week. 286 seats are contested in this stage. A second stage for a further 282 seats will take place on 30 November and 1 December. In each stage there is a list system of 60 seats for parties, with the remaining seats going to independents.

The results of the first round saw all 60 list seats go to the ‘For the Love of Egypt’ group. This is composed of parties that are all close to President Sisi. Indeed, all the party lists are supportive of the military coup in 2013. The opposition parties boycotted the election. The Freedom and Justice Party, the largest party in Egypt, has been outlawed.

The turn-out was only 26.5 per cent. This compares to 59 per cent in the 2012 parliamentary election. This low turnout is despite government employees being given time off to vote. This represents a snub to the regime, and a victory for the opposition. It demonstrates that Sisi’s dictatorship does not command support amongst the majority of the population.

David Cameron has invited the dictator to Britain next week. A coalition of organisations has organised a protest for4 November at 5pm opposite Downing Street. The coalition includes the Egyptian Revolutionary Council, Egyptian Solidarity Initiative, FOSIS, Muslim Association of Britain, StopSisi Campaign, Stop the War, 6 of April Movement. Letters of protest from activists and academics have been published in the Guardian and in the Independent.