Jeremy Corbyn's original position, when he argues for a People's Brexit, made a lot of sense.
I don't really see how the change in Labour policy enunciated by Keir Starmer in Sunday's Observer is good news for anyone who wants a People's Brexit. The plan that there will be a transitional period after March 2019, where Britain remains in the single market and customs union may well prove difficult for Theresa May, beset as she is by rows within her own party. But it is also the policy which is at one with the City of London and big business in Britain. It will allow complete continuation of business and trading conditions as they now exist. It will also allow free movement of labour. But Starmer has made clear that this is up for negotiation and that he will be seeking some limits on it at the end of the transition period.
The proposal has been greeted with great enthusiasm by MPs such as Chuka Umunna. The Blairite MPs are strong Remainers, and hope that this sort of transitional deal will delay and in the end possibly negate the need to leave the EU at all. It has been widely heralded by broadsheet opinion as Labour coming to its senses. Among much Labour and trade union opinion, it is also seen as a means of winning votes and setting Labour up as a stable party of opposition which can hopefully become a government in the not too distant future. I think that's a mistake. Jeremy Corbyn's original position, when he argued for a People's Brexit and where he put forward essentially a compromise position between Leave and Remain Labour voters made a lot of sense. It represented what is probably the major position on both sides now - that the result has happened, that it can't be reversed and should be respected, and that Labour is the only party capable of delivering this.
That position did him no harm at all in the June election. It would have done him no harm at all in a future election. This position, on the other hand, holds two dangers which he has so far avoided. The first is that it will be used against Labour by the right. Already Ukip is saying that Labour has betrayed its voters on this. Any suggestion - and there are already several being touted on social media - that this, in reality, will mean abandoning Brexit altogether would be politically disastrous for Labour. It would, in addition, be a denial of democracy, which no one on the left should support.
The second danger is that such a retreat towards mainstream ruling class opinion would make it much harder for Jeremy Corbyn to implement a radical manifesto of public ownership, job creation and ending precarious working conditions. Accepting the single market contains all these dangers within it. And to accept all this without guarantees of free movement makes no logical sense.
We should remember as well that the EU itself is becoming more riven with divisions between member states. France's Macron, gearing up for a major confrontation with trade unions and the left next month, has come into conflict with the Polish government over the question of posted workers, whose conditions are linked to those of their home country, not where they work. Hungary and the Netherlands have had a big diplomatic fallout over the remarks of the outgoing Dutch ambassador. Both conflicts reflect genuine tensions within the EU over some of the issues which led to Brexit - the dominance of the older EU states especially over the accession ones in Eastern Europe, and the role of migration and cheap labour within the EU.
The argument put in favour of Starmer's shift from the left is that it neutralises the role of the Blairites by taking some of their ground, and makes Labour more electable. It is also claimed that it will allow a bloc with dissident Remain Tories to bring down May's government. I wouldn't hold your breath about that one, given the Tories record and their determination to hang on whatever the cost. Have people already forgotten that Jeremy Corbyn's success has been in going against the conventional wisdom, in fighting for what he believes in despite the pressure, in rejecting the sorts of compromise that Starmer wants? The commentators and mainstream politicians are desperate to get back to two party business as usual. We shouldn't let them.
You can choose your friends...
Talking about business as usual, newly elected MP for north west Durham Laura Pidcock has caused outrage by saying that she wasn't prepared to be friendly with Tories in parliament because of the effect of their appalling policies on her constituents. Who would have thought this would be the subject matter of whole newspaper columns. Their tone was usually patronising, suggesting that she would get over this unworkable and undesirable position and that anyway MPs from different parties had to work together. Of course, she was making a different point, which is, don't be friendly with people who work in an institution which has a civilised veneer but which implements sometimes barbaric policies. This is anathema to most people in and around Parliament. Generations of left wingers have entered the Palace of Westminster with good intentions, only to find themselves sucked into a cross between a gentleman's club, an Oxford union debate, and a prep school dormitory. Very few have survived the pernicious atmosphere and those who do deserve much credit. Hopefully, Laura will be one of them.
A particularly woeful column on this came from Jess Phillips MP who argued against it on the grounds that of her grandmothers one was Labour and one Tory. But we're not talking about family Jess. We're talking about whether, when you choose who to socialise and be friendly with, you choose people who go against your ideas and vote against your policies. And that shouldn't be too difficult a distinction. The trouble is, if too many MPs thought like Laura, it would mean the end of that cross party consensus. We can only hope.
Have the generals taken over the White House?
The summer has been an amazing spectacle in terms of Trump's White House. One after the other, some of the scariest figures from Trump's closest retinue have been forced out of their positions, sacked unceremoniously. Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, Sebastian Gorka, have all been forced out in the most ignominious way. It says a lot, above all, about how Trump doesn't control the White House and how the political and military establishment have moved to ensure that as far as possible - with a president that many regard as a major liability - they remain in control of what really counts. What really counts is preserving US power around the world, and ensuring that US society is run for the benefit of capital. So we now have a chief of staff who is a former general. No surprises then that Trump abandoned his pre election pledge not to escalate wars and has just escalated the catastrophic war in Afghanistan. Nor that he is promising war, sanctions and anything in between to countries as diverse as North Korea and Venezuela.
One turning point was, of course, his defence of Nazis and their friends in Charlottesville, a step much too far for most of the political establishment who prefer to keep Southern pro Confederacy politics as its own dirty little secret. The backlash against Trump has led to major mobilisations on the streets in US cities. One argument is that Bannon et al will now push their agenda by mobilising the far right. We shall see, although the far right mobilisations so far have been frightening but not massive. Much more frightening, in my opinion, is the sense in which the military are playing a key role. Never far from US politics, they are in key positions now in a dangerous time for US imperialism. And with Trump as president.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
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