Don’t be fooled by the Labour right’s manoeuvres on the EU Single Market

By Brian Jackson

The Labour right suffered a severe defeat due to Labour’s strong result at the General Election under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. For the moment they are forced to keep their heads down and don’t dare to challenge Corbyn’s leadership openly. But don’t believe the right have given up the struggle to impose their support for austerity and wars. They have merely been forced to adopt more indirect tactics.

A major example of this is coming at Labour Party Conference. This should be the Labour conference at which, after a big success, Labour focuses on unity behind Corbyn and spelling out Labour’s anti-austerity, anti-war, anti-racist agenda against an increasingly divided and discredited Tory Party. With Tory support already undermined by falling living standards the Tory ranks are increasingly openly divided by manoeuvrings by Boris Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove and others to succeed the increasingly unpopular Theresa May. This sordid fight, which is merely about how to cut living standards further, is cementing Labour’s lead over the Tories in the polls.

Since the election, Labour under Corbyn has already won the debate in public opinion against the pay freeze for low paid workers and against student fees; these follow on the earlier success on tax credits and the Tories dropping of the dementia tax during the election. Corbyn’s Labour is therefore already defending people’s living standards before it comes to office – and of course the popularity created by this helps achieve the goal of a Corbyn-led Labour government.

Capital is of course determined to block both Labour setting the political agenda and the election of a Corbyn-led government. But they are worried that the Tories may be so discredited and divided they are incapable of achieving this. Therefore, an alternative is being cooked up – to try to claim that the biggest divide in British politics is not for or against austerity, and therefore for or against Jeremy Cobyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, but for or against Brexit.

This line is most openly championed of course by the Lib-Dems under Vince Cable – he of the cynically broken promises on student fees and five years sitting in a Tory led coalition Cabinet imposing austerity. All Cable wants to do is replace the Brexit programme of austerity and cutting living standards with a pro-European policy of austerity and cutting living standards – of the Macron type in France.

But this is also precisely the policy of the Labour right – Chukka Umunna and his trade union allies. The result of such policies would be exactly the same as for Macron – an attack on living standards and collapsing support. It is precisely because the most right wing Labour forces support austerity, but provided it is done to support a Euro-austerity project, that they are manoeuvring to get the issue of the Single Market onto this year’s Labour Party conference and also why this should be clearly opposed.

At present, Labour has a clear position, endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn and supported by a huge majority of the Party, on how to approach the EU negotiations and the Single Market – the exact reverse of the claim made recently by the Financial Times that Labour had ‘wide divisions’ over how to approach the EU negotiations. To safeguard living standards and jobs Labour will argue for the same access to the EU Single Market as at present with a deal that excludes free movement of labour. Looking at recent opinion polls, which show a shift against ‘hard Brexit’, this policy is probably pretty much close to the public mood.

Labour has every right to try out this approach, even if, in the end, such a combination proves not to be on offer, this can only be found out in the process of negotiation. If such a combination is not available, Labour should then chose to safeguard living standards and jobs by remaining within the Single Market with free movement of labour, rather than lowering living standards and losing many jobs by leaving the Single Market. But that discussion will arise if posed by the negotiations. Therefore, as this policy has a big majority within the party, Labour should proceed on its present policy for a period before assessing the results.

At this conference, Labour should present a united agenda setting its policy on austerity, for a National Investment Bank, against the public sector pay freeze, against student fees and on numerous other issues. Given recent policy successes and polling results, coupled with divisions in the Tory ranks, Labour has every chance of advancing.

Why do the Labour right want to force the issue of the Single Market onto this Labour Party conference agenda? They are not primarily concerned to win Single Market membership – because it is obvious that to secure this, it is better to wait for the unfolding negotiations which will make the real choices clearer. It is simply because they want to find a way to attack or weaken Jeremy Corbyn by shifting the main issue on the agenda from being for or against austerity to being for or against Brexit. That is why they are pushing for a totally unnecessary vote on the Single Market at this Labour conference.

Whatever the position people take on the Single Market there should be no support to the Labour right’s attempt to force it onto the agenda of this year’s Labour conference. As always, the Labour right is just seeking a way to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, in order to pursue their pro-austerity, pro-war agenda.