Editorial of the Socialist, issue 1026

“The moderate politics we’ve had since the end of the English Civil War could be under threat”.

This was the panic stricken warning of Tory transport minister Chris Grayling.

Behind this remark lies the recognition of him and others that the increasing inability of capitalist politicians to control events could presage their worst nightmare – the working-class majority stepping onto the scene of history.

After all, the current, unprecedented mess in the Palace of Westminster was triggered by the result of the 2016 referendum.

The root cause of millions of working-class people voting for Brexit was a revolt against the existing capitalist establishment.

Two and a half years, later the Tory government is suspended in mid-air, seemingly unable to find a way to agree a Brexit withdrawal agreement and, in the meantime, unable to function as an effective government.

In this bizarre, Alice in Wonderland world, Theresa May’s Brexit deal has been defeated in the biggest parliamentary revolt in history, with her own backbench MPs voting against her by a margin of three to one. Yet the next day she won a vote of confidence, and then came back to parliament to put a ‘Plan B’ which was identical to the one that had just been annihilated!

At the time of writing, May still appears to be trying to win over the ‘hard Brexiteer’ wing of her party and the DUP MPs via attempts – so far in vain – to win reassurances from the EU on the ‘Irish backstop’. Clearly this strategy has failed miserably so far, but she hopes against hope that – faced with a choice of accepting a delay in Brexit or voting for her deal – she may still be able to shift them her way.

Her alternative way forward is to move towards a Brexit where Britain would remain permanently in the Customs Union and the Single Market, with all its neoliberal rules. Such a move would be welcomed by the capitalist class, the majority of whom would rather have stayed in the EU. There might well be a majority for such a deal in parliament, but May could only force it through by splitting the Tory party down the middle.

Had Labour still been led by a Blairite, the capitalist class would have by now turned to a Labour government to try and force through a pro-big business version of Brexit. Unfortunately for them, however, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party makes it an unreliable tool to act in their interests.

Up until now they have favoured keeping this zombie government in power, rather than risk a Labour government that could act in the interests of the working-class majority rather than those of the billionaires. Nonetheless, the utter intractability of the crisis can leave no option but for a general election to be called, either via May ‘going to the people’ or losing a no-confidence vote.

No-confidence votes

We cannot rely, however, on the government collapsing. The no-confidence in the government motion Corbyn called 16 January was narrowly lost – with Tory MPs openly explaining that they had no confidence in May but couldn’t risk their worst nightmare – a Jeremy Corbyn-led government. The pro-remain Liberal Democrats have also suggested they may not automatically support future no-confidence votes.

Regardless of this, Corbyn is right to threaten future no-confidence votes and to keep demanding a general election. But this must not, any longer, be left at the level of parliamentary manoeuvres. It is urgent that Corbyn and the trade unions start to call for a mass campaign to demand a general election.

Such a campaign could very quickly force May from office. Look at how the ‘gilets jaunes’ (yellow vests) in France won £7 billion from the Macron government despite the failure of the trade union leaders to call general strike action. Imagine how a movement to force out this incredibly weak May government could become unstoppable.

Inevitably the pro-capitalist, Blairite wing of the Labour Party is attempting, at every stage, to cut across calls for a general election. If May was to make a decisive turn towards a ‘Norway-style’ Brexit, with Britain remaining in the Single Market, it is probable that a section of them would back her, effectively forming a kind of unofficial ‘national government’ to prevent a Corbyn-led government.

At this stage, however, many of them are concentrating their fire on demanding a second referendum. Corbyn is under huge pressure to bend in this direction. It would be a serious mistake to do so. We understand why, with parliament deadlocked, sections of the population have started looking to a second referendum as a way forward. In fact, this would be far easier said than done, as parliament would have to agree not only the principle of a referendum but what the question or questions would be.

More importantly, at this stage any vote which included the option to reverse the result of the 2016 referendum would be very divisive, and be seen as trying to reverse a democratic decision, and a betrayal by many of the millions of working-class people who voted for Brexit in a revolt against the establishment.

Socialists are not opposed to referenda in principle, including a second vote on an issue in some circumstances. Ultimately our attitude depends on whether holding one would help to increase the confidence and cohesion of the working-class majority. At this stage, that would clearly not be the case here.

A serious, mass campaign for a general election, however, could unite broad sections of the working class, and enthuse millions who are currently looking on in horror at Westminster, provided it was linked to a clear socialist programme – including, but not only, on Brexit.

In his Wakefield speech on 10 January, Corbyn said: “If you’re living in Tottenham you may well have voted to Remain. You’ve got high bills, rising debts. You’re in insecure work. You struggle to make your wages stretch and you may be on Universal Credit, and forced to access food banks. You’re up against it.

“If you’re living in Mansfield, you are more likely to have voted to Leave. You’ve got high bills, rising debts. You’re in insecure work. You struggle to make your wages stretch and you may be on Universal Credit and forced to access food banks. You’re up against it. But you’re not against each other. People across the country, whether they voted Leave or Remain know that the system isn’t working for them.”

He should build on this correct approach of working-class unity by declaring now a radical general election programme including abolishing Universal Credit and introducing decent benefits, reversing cuts to public services, immediately introducing a £10-an-hour minimum wage, as a step towards a real living wage, and a programme of mass council-house building. This should be combined with nationalisation of the major corporations and banks, under democratic workers’ control, to take the levers of power out of the hands of the capitalist saboteurs.

A socialist alternative to the EU

This could be linked with a manifesto for a socialist Brexit, which would mean negotiating in the interests of the working class. ‘Red lines’ would be opposition to all neoliberal, pro-capitalist rules. On this basis Corbyn could make a call for international solidarity with workers across Europe.

A Corbyn-led government would, of course, need to seek a trade deal with the EU, but he would be in a far stronger position than May to achieve this on the basis of having won a clear election victory on bold, socialist policies – which would electrify workers across Europe.

In addition, a Corbyn-led government would be able to use a programme of nationalisation to take the ability to inflict job losses, closures or reductions in pay and conditions, out of the hands of any corporations that move to take that path.

Preparing for a general election also means taking urgent measures to transform the Labour Party into a party that represents the interests of the working class. The fundamental reason for the crisis of the major political parties in Britain is the crisis of capitalism, which offers the working and middle class a diet of endless low pay, insecure housing and overwork.

For Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour left it is long overdue that attempts to seek unity with the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party cease. Urgent preparation for a general election means starting the ‘trigger ballot’ process now, which allows local Labour parties to select new candidates for a forthcoming general election.

And an emergency labour movement conference should also be called, open to all anti-austerity forces, including the Socialist Party and non-Labour affiliated unions like the RMT, to discuss how to urgently recreate Labour on democratic, socialist lines to prepare for the stormy events to come.

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