Labour is a government-in-waiting

By Ian Richardson

The latest opinion polls show that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is on course to win any early general election. This is why not just the Tory Party but the entire political and economic establishment is desperate to prevent there being any early election, despite this meaning a weak and ineffective government.

The main divide in British politics thus remains for or against Corbyn’s leadership – and the opposition to him will be ruthless in blocking an early election and in its renewed attacks on him personally as soon as it sees an opening. But with the economy once more stagnating, living standards continuing to fall and serious Brexit negotiations finally having begun it is not at all certain this ‘stop Corbyn’ project will work.

There have been just three opinion polls published since June 8, two from Survation and one from Panelbase. Labour is clearly ahead in all three polls and the average is Conservatives 40.3 per cent versus Labour’s 45 per cent. This appears to be direct switching from Tory to Labour voters, as all other parties have remained almost exactly unchanged since the election. Any election result in line with this would lead to Labour winning 50 seats more than the Tories, and it would be the only party able to form a government.

For the Tories to remain in government and prevent the possibility of a Corbyn-led government emerging from a new election will inevitably mean a series of shabby deals, and not just with the DUP. The deal with the DUP has already shown that the Tories are clearly willing to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which has brought peace and begun to erode institutionalised discrimination in the north of Ireland, in order to stay in office.

But keeping the Tories in office clearly has no grand purpose beyond keeping Corbyn out, as, aside from Brexit, the Queen’s Speech was threadbare. Its only goal was to prop up a zombie government – for an unprecedented two years – by putting forward nothing that could prevent it gaining a narrow majority to form a government.

On the one decisive issue in the legislative programme – Brexit – the Tories are already in disarray, with Hammond openly disagreeing with May over a ‘hard Brexit’. May’s slogan – no deal is better than a bad deal – has been effectively dropped. Davis and the other negotiators are already retreating on the issues that he promised would be the ‘row of the summer’ accepting that the discussion on exit terms will precede any discussion on new tariff arrangements and not run in parallel. While on EU nationals the Tories appear to have already capitulated and abandoned their attempt to make their rights a bargaining chip, a development which is both morally correct and positive for the economy and society in hopefully slowing the drain of EU talent that is leaving and preparing to leave the country.

But the negative impact of Brexit will continue to work its way through. Key European agencies, such as the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, are preparing to relocate out of the UK, taking thousands of jobs and service contracts – for legal, marketing, research and financial services – with them.

Because this entire situation means a deepening crisis for the Tories, siren voices have suggested Labour should enter into some sort of national alliance to ‘pursue British interests’, either through a new parliamentary committee on Brexit or some other device. But there are no shared interest between Labour’s framework of defending living standards and the Tories – or indeed the LibDems, especially with arch neoliberal Cable at its head – which both want to use Brexit to rip up the ‘welfare state’, the post-World War II social settlement. The call is purely cynical, designed to draw Labour into a trap of helping the Tories through a crisis of their own making and for which they would then try to blame Labour for the negative outcome or which would be ditched at the most opportune time for them.

Both the Lib Dems and the Labour right support austerity and therefore share the Tory determination to stop Corbyn and have begun manoeuvring for position using the issue of Brexit.

Cable has said he has been in ‘secret’ talks to form a bloc with Tory Remainers. Of course Cable is more than happy to form such a bloc as his economic policy is no different from the Tories. He defends the record of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, particularly its disastrous austerity policies and, like the Tory Remainers, his bottom line is to maintain austerity within the EU. Cable will almost certainly lead the Lib Dems into propping up this failed Tory government, alongside the DUP, on the basis that only a bloc with Tory Remainers can deliver a ‘soft’ Brexit. In the process he will not only align the Lib Dems with the most reactionary forces in the UK, but will probably use weaselly words to betray his party’s own principles on Brexit for the sake of a bloc with the Tories, in the way he and Clegg did on PR to form a coalition with Cameron.

Similarly the letter from Labour MPs and MEPs headed up by Chuka Umunna calling for Britain to remain in the Single Market, was chiefly about the Labour right reorganising their forces after the bruising of the election result which confounded their attacks on Corbyn, rather than a serious contribution to the debate on how to proceed on the Brexit talks. It puts forward nothing new, maintaining the illusion that Britain can be in the Single Market without accepting freedom of movement – ‘membership with reforms on immigration’. Despite its lip service to Corbyn’s framework of a ‘jobs and living standards’-led approach to the Brexit talks, and some correct points on how it will be harder to end to austerity outside the Single Market, it was ultimately self-serving with zero impact on the discussion in Labour.

In reality only a Corbyn-led government would aim to defend living standards and negotiate the best deal on the Single Market. On Brexit, as John McDonnell says, ‘The issue for us has always been the TUC’s position, which is protecting jobs and the economy.’ Labour is building a winning coalition, and everyone who wants to stop the Tory attacks should join it.