The crisis for Theresa May and the Tories continues to deepen, their only lifeline would be a second referendum, argues Lindsey German
Is this the week when the Tory party finally explodes over Brexit? Certainly Theresa May is running out of room to manoeuvre. The summit in Brussels will have to make concrete decisions but any such decisions are likely to break May’s fragile parliamentary majority and lead to civil war within her party and her cabinet.
Already she has lost two very high profile cabinet ministers – Boris Johnson and David Davis – as a direct result of her Chequers deal. There are threats of further resignations this week. Davis has called for a revolt of the Cabinet against May, and Jacob Rees-Mogg has declared that he is not going to blink over Brexit.
Meanwhile, Arlene Foster, head of the deeply unpleasant DUP, is threatening the government that it will vote against the budget later this month unless its dictatorial and dogmatist demands over the Irish border are met.
That border is one of the main – but not the only – points of issue between May and her pro-Brexit critics in the Tory Party and the DUP. They fear that the backstop deal with the EU over Ireland will effectively be open-ended, meaning that the UK would remain in the customs union indefinitely. The DUP in particular – whose whole existence is based on the notion that a part of Ireland is in reality part of Britain – is furious at the thought of a border in the Irish Sea. Foster has already declared that she would rather there was a no deal Brexit than accept this.
As May casts around for support for her increasingly desperate and unpopular position, she may be thrown a lifeline from a group who should be doing absolutely nothing to help a Tory prime minister – right wing Labour MPs. According to media reports, up to 30 Labour MPs are prepared to defy Jeremy Corbyn and vote with May to get the Chequers deal through parliament.
It should be made absolutely clear to these people now that if they do so they will immediately lose the Labour whip. There should be zero tolerance of Labour MPs from working class constituencies voting with an anti-working class government and allowing May to continue her rule. Many of these people have been discussing forming a new party – if that is what they want, they should have the honesty to do so rather than masquerade as Labour supporters.
Some of Labour’s right will also be out in force later this week, on a demo for a ‘people’s vote’ – or for a reversal of the 2016 referendum as it would be in reality. It will be by all reports a large demo. However, its goal is not justified – if we want a decisive vote then we should have a general election rather than trying to reverse the 2016 vote – and it seems to me, it is in reality an attempt to organise people who oppose leaving the EU in uncritical support of an institution which has very little to recommend it and which embodies neoliberal principles throughout its institutions.
The campaign also involves the political rehabilitation of Alastair Campbell who spun the lies about WMDs in Iraq, of the Lib Dems who gave us austerity and tuition fees, and of David Miliband who presided over extraordinary rendition.
There will be a number of left wingers on it regardless, promoting the myth that ‘another Europe is possible’. It certainly is, but not if you pin your hopes on the EU. The position of 'stay in and change the EU' is simply utopian, since there is no democratic mechanism for doing so, and relies on a wilful refusal to look reality in the face. The growth of the far right in Europe is being fuelled by EU policies, and the resultant victories for far right politicians are blithely accepted in most cases. Flexibility at work, low wages, shameful treatment of migrants, all are deliberate policies from the EU. So it's not the time to be sowing illusions in it, or giving failed politicians a leg up.
Anti-fascism: four steps to a united campaign
The rise of far right and fascist politics across Europe is a major cause for concern for everyone on the left. In some countries – Italy, Austria, Hungary – far right politicians are in extremely powerful government positions. In Germany, the far right AfD has more than 90 MPs. In France, Marine Le Pen’s fascists are a major force. Throughout the EU, next summer’s European parliament elections will almost certainly bring a sizeable increase in far right support.
Here in Britain, there has been relatively little electoral success for the far right in recent years, and as a result we have seen a growth in fascists and right wing organisations on the streets. Partly this has been fuelled by UKIP’s turn towards street organising following electoral failure, partly by the encouragement and funding by the US alt-right and the role of Donald Trump, and partly from the demagogic Tommy Robinson campaign around grooming and Muslim terrorism. The so-called Democratic Football Lads Alliance marched last weekend in London around these questions and that of migration.
It should go without saying that the left should not accept these arguments. The threat of terrorism is real, but it has increased massively since the War on Terror began, as those of us who opposed that war always made clear. Bombing, war and invasion have helped create and perpetuate the things it was supposedly meant to end. We are also seeing a rise of far right terrorism – Anders Brevik in Norway, who targeted socialists at a youth camp, a far right murder gang in Germany who targeted migrants, and here a whole number of racist attacks and murders including that of Jo Cox MP and the attack on Finsbury Park Islamic centre, which was aimed originally at Jeremy Corbyn.
Grooming of young and often very vulnerable girls should be condemned whoever the perpetrators. But sexual attacks of this sort are not mainly carried out by Muslim men – they exist throughout society and have been prevalent in many institutions including the Catholic church and the BBC. The cases involving Muslims are criminal cases and should be dealt with appropriately but they should not be politicised to justify racism against all Muslims.
The far right have been successful in a number of countries in banning women wearing certain items of Muslim clothing, and in highlighting women as the targets of Islamophobia.
Last weekend I took part in a counter demo against the DFLA in Westminster. The very good news was that the fascists and far right only mustered around 1000 – far fewer than their previous outings in the summer, and a sign at least in part that increased awareness of their true nature is beginning to hurt their mobilisations. We need much more exposure of who and what they are, what is wrong with their arguments, and why no one should be taken in by their ‘concerns’ over these issues. They are out to build a fascist movement which sees as its central enemy the organised working class.
The bad news I suppose is that although our own side mustered more than them, our demonstrations were divided. I was on the Stand up to Racism one, which had a very short march and then a static protest with speeches. The other one marched from the BBC and managed to halt or break up the DFLA march. I think credit is due for doing that, but I also think we need to look at how we build an effective movement. The demo I was on was 2000 at most, perfectly respectable but not massive; the other demo was according to reports a similar size. Both good and all credit to everyone who went on either of them. But it is obvious to me that one united demo would have attracted more than the sum of those two.
So step one is we need a united campaign. There are many tactical differences and differences of politics involved here. But those have to be resolved or at least resolved sufficiently so that we can work together, otherwise we will not mobilise the numbers we need.
Step two is that we need a mass campaign. The numbers are, let’s face it, only a small fraction of those who agree with us on this and who could potentially come to a demo. We have to reach layers of people who might not have heard of our campaigns but who dread the rise of the far right and everything it stands for. They certainly don’t know the ins and outs and histories of the left which sometimes divide us.
Step three is that we have to leave sectarianism at the door. The division on Saturday is not between those who want to confront the fascists and those who don’t, as some have suggested, ludicrously. The differences are about how you do it – and there is room for these differences as long as we unite around the main aims.
To me, the real standouts in the history of anti-fascism have been where protests combined mass mobilisation with direct action or confrontation with police and/or fascists. This was true of Cable Street, Lewisham, Welling, and it can be true again. There is no shortcut to building this. I would like to see a broadening out of the movement so that we try to go much deeper into working class communities and involve all sections of the left, and this is a big challenge, which can’t be dealt with by just carrying on doing the same thing.
But it also means mobilising large numbers who may not necessarily agree on every tactical nuance but who hate racism. That was the major success of the Anti-Nazi League in the 70s. We face very different political circumstances today, but that idea of a mass – and militant – movement is crucial. One road we should not go down is that of what is sometimes called ‘squaddism’ – or small groups of people going around engaging in fights and skirmishes with the fascists.
This was a big argument on the left in the late 1970s, as I well remember. I lived in London Fields, which was very much run down, relatively white and with a lot of racism, and we had a local ANL group that met in my living room. South Hackney overall was not good, with pockets of fascists, some of whom traced their allegiances back to Mosley and the 1930s. The temptation of some was to get into effectively street fighting with groups of fascists. It ended very badly, both politically and personally for many individuals, some of who ended up in prison, because this action was a substitute for building a movement. We can’t let that happen again.
Step four is we have to build the November 17th demo against racism and fascism as widely as possible. Everyone, whatever their attitude on all this, should see it as a major step in organising to defeat the fascists. And we should take heart this weekend from Germany when over 200,000 marched in Berlin with the wonderful slogan Unteilbar – Indivisible.
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
- Testing times, but no trace of a government strategy - weekly briefing
- No country for old men? – weekly briefing
- Trump goes viral - weekly briefing
- When Towering Inferno meets Groundhog Day - weekly briefing
- Protecting war criminals and torturers: the Tory bill and Starmer's shame
- Second time farce, but it will lead to tragedy - weekly briefing
- Where next for the left? - Lindsey German