By Robin Wilson
The hard Tory Brexit, Trump, Farage threat
Following the Euro-elections, and May’s announced resignation as Tory party leader, due on 7 June, it is clear the Tories’ hard right Brexiteer wing, backed by and/or working with Trump and Farage, will take control of the Tory Party. Johnson is currently favourite to win the party leadership and become next Prime Minister, but if it is not him it will be the hardest of the Brexiters that Conservative MPs allow to be presented to the Tory membership that will win the contest.
The goal of the Tory hard Brexiters is to tie the UK into even closer alignment with the US in general and Trump in particular. This is why the Tories’ hard Brexiteer wing opposes May’s EU withdrawal agreement – because the Irish Backstop could lead to the UK remaining in the EU Customs Union, which could then block Britain from achieving the hard Brexiters’ goal of a trade agreement with the US.
This hard-right Tory Brexit project is a deadly serious threat to the working class and oppressed population of Britain. This Brexit project is to move Britain towards a US model of a low tax, low social protection, low welfare society. The US would also insist on deregulation and the opening up of public services, in particular the NHS, so that they can be further privatised and run by US corporations. Consumer protection, for example on food, where currently such imports as chlorinated chicken are banned, would be wiped out by such a trade deal.
Before there is even such a bad trade deal, that fully subordinates Britain to the US, the breaking of the current economic links with the EU, which a hard Brexit entails, would deliver devastating blows to major industries such as cars and pharmaceuticals, and therefore the jobs in them, and would severely harm living standards through the devaluation of the pound and inflation that would result.
In order to attempt to divert attention from these economic attacks a hard-right Tory government will try to further slash public services and welfare, demonising ‘welfare scroungers’ and unleash a heightened racist offensive against black people and Muslims. Women would bear the brunt of many of these attacks.
Under such a government there will be no progress on tackling climate change – even the current Tory government has stepped up its support for fossil fuels. Every progressive cause is likely to come under attack.
In foreign policy the Tory hard-right’s admiration for Trump and desire to subordinate Britain even more thoroughly to the US is clear.
Given the extreme seriousness of such a hard-right Tory/Farage/Trump Brexit offensive the fight against this is vital for all progressive forces in Britain.
Supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is vital
The scale of this Tory hard-right/Farage/ Trump attacks makes it even more vital to maintain Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Only a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn will really fight against this hard Brexit economic and social agenda rather than capitulate to it as the Labour right, the Lib Dems and Change UK would do. The defence against these attacks will require an intensified fight against austerity, racism, war and climate change – the key issues of political struggle where Corbyn’s Labour opposes the government. The Labour right shows by its record that it always surrenders on such issues.
Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is also vital for a general election. Labour needs a left, anti-austerity policy in order to win the next general election. Corbyn’s policy agenda would improve people’s lives and living standards and in 2017 was shown to dramatically build Labour’s electoral support. The right wing of the Labour Party will not put forward a defence of the working class and oppressed from the huge assault being prepared by the hard Brexiters, nor will the Lib Dems who in their coalition with the Tories imposed austerity policies. The right wing of Labour will step up its fire on those resisting this offensive, particularly the Corbyn leadership. The disastrous electoral consequence of such right-wing policies would produce the same general election result for Labour as in Germany, France and other countries where Socialist Parties have suffered devastating defeats.
The strength of forces to fight against this Tory hard-right Brexit right/Farage/Trump offensive is shown by the result of the Euro-elections. Contrary to what is claimed in the pro-Brexit/pro-US Tory media these elections showed a decline in support for hard Brexit forces – all Farage’s Brexit Party did was cannibalise the existing Tory/UKIP vote while the size of the overall pro-hard Brexit bloc declined.
The results available at the time of writing, with almost all votes in, give a clear indication of this overall voting pattern. The voting was Brexit Party 30.5% (up 3.9% on the UKIP vote in 2014), Tories 8.8% (-14.3%), Lib Dems 19.6% (+13.0%), Labour 13.7% (-10.7%), Greens 11.8% (+4.9%), Plaid Cymru 1.0% (+0.3%), SNP 3.5% (+1.1%), Change UK 3.3% (+3.3%) and UKIP 3.3% (-23.4%).
In terms of seats won the results were Brexit Party 29, (up 5 compared to UKIP in 2014), Lib Dem 16 (+15), Labour 10 (-10), Greens 7 (+4), Tories 4 (-15), Plaid Cymru 1 (+0), SNP 3 (+1), Sinn Fein 1 (+0), DUP 1 (+0), Alliance Party 1 (+1), Change UK 0 (+0) and UKIP 0 (-24).
Compared to 2014 these election results show a clear decline for the major hard pro-Brexit parties. The Tories + UKIP in 2014 received 49.7% of the vote, and in 2019 the Brexit Party + Tories + UKIP won 42.5% – a fall of 7.2%. Therefore, all the Brexit Party achieved was to cannibalise the Tory and UKIP vote while the overall support for major hard pro-Brexit parties fell – see the Table below.
Furthermore in 2014 minor pro-Brexit parties (BNP, English Democrats etc) received 5.8% of the vote. At the time of writing in 2019 support for such parties collapsed to 1.6%. Therefore support for total pro-Brexit parties declined from 55.5% to 44.1% – a very sharp fall of 11.5%.
In contrast support for hard-Remain parties (Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and others) rose very steeply from 19.4% to 42.0%. Labour’s vote, as is well known, fell sharply by 10.7%.
Naturally these results of the Euro-election do not indicate what would have happened if it had been a UK general election on 23 May. The 2019 Euro-election campaign was dominated by the issue of Brexit and became a proxy vote on the issue. Turnout was far lower than in a general election.
People treat voting for the European Parliament, which has few direct powers, different from voting for the Westminster Parliament, which can determine the political make-up of the UK government. If there had been a general election Labour’s vote would have been higher. That is evident from the 2 May local election results and is confirmed by most recent opinion polls of general election voting intentions.
Nevertheless, some patterns in the Euro-elections were so large that their conclusions are clear. The results show clearly that Labour losses to the Brexit Party were small in comparison to its losses to the clear Remain parties – that is former Labour voters were significantly attracted by pro-Remain parties. In addition to the obvious overall results of the election, on polls Labour lost three votes to Remain parties for every vote lost to the Brexit party.
Labour’s strategy needs to be based on overall national trends. Claims that Labour’s principal challenge is the loss of its voters to the Brexit Party are just a myth based at best on isolated results and anecdotes that run counter to the overall shift taking place – as is shown not only be the overall result but the detailed regional ones.
Only two regions, the North East and Scotland, registered gains for the hard-Brexit bloc of the Brexit Party/Tories/UKIP – and the rise in Scotland was just 0.5%. Every other region saw a decline in support for the hard Brexit bloc – in most cases very large falls. There was also a strong rise for hard Remain parties. Not only was the strong swing against hard-Brexit parties clear overall but even the claim by Lexiteers that there was a rise in support for Brexit in Labour’s ‘heartlands’ is the opposite of the actual situation.
In such a vital matter as fighting against the Tory hard-right/Farage/Trump offensive, and maintaining Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party those sections of the left that do not base themselves on the overall trend, which was a clear shift to Remain, and who insist on merely analysing a few constituencies, do a disservice – strategy for socialists has to be based on facts not on wishful thinking or ostrich like putting the head in the sand to ignore reality. This election clearly showed a strong sentiment among Labour voters to support Remain – confirming in a real election what every opinion poll has showed.
Socialist Action, taking the same position as Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, argued for Remain in the 2016 referendum and has consistently argued against a hard Brexit, which would be the most damaging outcome for living standards, and against the interests of the working class and oppressed. All evidence, polls, Labour conference motions and votes, shows that this is also the position of the overwhelming majority of Corbyn supporters. As polls and the Euro-elections show it is also the overwhelming position of Labour supporters. Furthermore, the Euro-elections show that this position of the great majority of the Corbyn left was in line with the electorate.
Objectively, achieving a Corbyn-led Labour government is the most important task – the record shows a right wing led Labour Party would merely capitulate to the coming Tory attack. If the facts showed Labour was losing votes mainly to Brexit-supporting parties we would have to say so honestly, as it would be an important factor in the campaign to get Corbyn into office. But it is not the case. On the contrary the shift in the electorate has clearly been towards Remain. All supporters of Corbyn must treat the actual situation objectively, on the basis of facts, otherwise they risk damaging the Corbyn project.
Errors of Lexiteers
Earlier this year Labour’s tactics in votes in Parliament, where Jeremy Corbyn was very directly in control, were brilliant. They put Labour at the centre of the fight against a hard Brexit – voting for membership of a customs union with the EU or for blocking Brexit altogether by a new referendum. But unfortunately, Lexiteers did not welcome this position – as they viewed every step which aided or moved towards Remain as a danger or setback, not as part of the fight to stop a hard Brexit by all means. They therefore argued against Labour’s tactics, including Jeremy Corbyn’s support in parliamentary votes for a new referendum – some breaking the Labour whip to do so.
Some of the Lexiteer forces argued for keeping Labour in the negotiations with the Tories for too long, hoping that an agreement with the Tories would secure Brexit. It has become known Jeremy Corbyn wanted to end the talks earlier as it became clear the Tories would not make serious concessions on issues such as a customs union. The influence of some Lexiteers in the Labour Party apparatus was also felt in the mass Euro-elections campaign where, instead of welcoming and identifying with the clear shift in the public mood against the pro-Brexit parties (which was shown in the polls and confirmed at the election), they stood aside from this trend as it was clearly contrary to the Brexit project. The result was an unnecessary defeat for Labour.
Undoubtedly most Lexiteers genuinely subjectively want to aid Jeremy Corbyn, but unfortunately their politics in the Euro-elections damaged him. However it is not yet clear if the Labour right will feel emboldened enough to attempt to launch another anti-Corbyn coup, which must of course be resisted by every means possible.
Regrettably, in addition to errors in tactics, this election saw serious disorientation among some Lexiteer parts of the left in Britain who considered that securing Brexit/Lexit, not defence of Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, was the most important issue. This led to some forces even voting for Farage against Labour, and others calling for abstention, therefore failing to support Corbyn’s Labour, in the election.
There was also a fake ‘left’ intervention undermining Labour’s ambitious policies, such as on climate change, that is putting forward unworkable policies which will therefore inevitably be used to attack Labour by its opponents.
All these wrong positions, which have been shown to be in error and therefore damaging, have to be fought against to maintain Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of Labour and his election as Prime Minister. Many of those who switched from Labour to the Greens and Lib Dems at the Euro-election would have voted for Labour at a General Election, but the loss of their votes at this election was damaging and any complacency on that would be damaging. There is a risk that at least some part of such voters may not switch back to Labour in a General Election and they showed by their actions at the polls that they consider defeating a hard-Brexit, and also supporting Remain, is a serious issue which will affect their votes.
Labour’s manifesto for the Euro-elections represented a substantial policy shift to the left from its 2014 campaign and confirmed the strongly progressive character of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. This year’s manifesto set out an agenda: to end austerity, invest in the economy, tackle climate change, introduce new workers’ rights and campaign for equality. It again set out the Corbyn-led party’s opposition to the Tories anti-migrant agenda, stating that ‘Labour believes that immigration has positive benefits for our communities and economy’ and that ‘greater diversity … enriches our culture ….’
Labour’s radical manifesto was naturally systematically not aired by the media and it was clear that in a Euro election not anything except Brexit would dominate the campaign. But the progressive character of the manifesto, and the overall course of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, makes clear that the most important divide in British politics is for or against Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Indeed, for the reasons already given, this is even more true now that there is the direct threat of a hard-right, pro-Trump, pro-hard Brexit Tory government.
It is therefore vital to continue to understand the main political contradiction in the situation – which is for or against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. Brexit is indeed a significant issue, Labour’s position on this makes it easier or harder to attack the working class and Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. The Euro-elections show the importance for Labour of having a correct position on it, but it is subordinate to the most fundamental issue of maintaining in place the only leadership of Labour which will seriously resist the coming onslaught from the Tory Hard Brexit, pro-Trump right.
Confronted with what is now a very serious hard-right, pro-Trump, pro-Brexit Tory onslaught it is even more vital to defend Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. The European Election results show that it is possible to defeat this hard-right Brexit project and a major onslaught against the working class. A majority against hard Brexit and No Deal Brexit exists. But only an immense struggle against Johnson, Trump and Farage will stop it. Supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is central to that fight.