Concessions to Labour’s remainers can only damage and disorientate the Corbyn project, argues Lindsey German
Can things get much worse for the Tories? According to all reports they are set to do very badly in Thursday’s local elections, with the loss of over 1000 seats. Polls show them tanking at around a quarter of the vote when it comes to Westminster voting intentions. But these results are positively encouraging compared with predictions for the European elections, due to be held in under a month’s time. Here the Tories are showing a very poor third, lagging behind Labour and Nigel Farage’s Brexit party which has come from a standing start to a very high position in most polls.
The Euro elections were never going to be easy for either main party, given the impasse over Brexit. One of the downsides of the dismal failure of Theresa May to deliver her Brexit deal is that we are now faced with these elections which no one really expected and which many people did not want. It is a remarkable fact that almost three years after voting to leave the EU we are expected to choose representatives to sit in a parliament with no real powers for an indefinite length of time. What a waste of time and money.
However, it is hardly surprising that many in political parties from across the spectrum don’t see it that way. From both leave and remain sides there will be attempts to use the Euro elections to rerun another proxy referendum. At present this is giving the advantage to the Brexit party. According to polls, Brexit is attracting many supporters from the Tories and from UKIP, and to a lesser extent from Labour.
The name is ideally suited for this election and the message will be simple - tell them again. Don’t let the remain parliament sabotage Brexit. It seems from the polls and from personal observations that Brexit and Labour will be the top two parties - hopefully with Labour in first place but that is by no means certain given present political volatility.
This will be a huge defeat for the Tories who look like they are losing not just their voters but much of their membership and cadre to the Brexit party, at least for this election but maybe on a more permanent basis. This may mean the end of Britain’s historic party of the ruling class and one which has formed governments for the majority of the 20th century.
We should not underestimate how bitterly disappointed and angry so many of the party’s supporters are for this failure to deliver Brexit or how much they despise the awful Theresa May who is only in place because the alternative would be a general election and a Corbyn government.
Labour’s present poll standing is not great but it is much better than its internal and external enemies hoped and quite remarkable given the onslaught on Labour in the early months of this year, with the renewed antisemitism attacks, with the departure of a handful of disaffected right wing MPs to set up The Independent Group, and with the open attempt by deputy Tom Watson to set up a party within a party to defeat the left.
Polls suggest the party will pick up votes from both leave and remain voters - in other words across the spectrum of usual Labour support. In this sense, the policy of trying to unite leave and remain voters - and to offer policies about issues other than Brexit - is paying off. But there are warning signs that if Labour’s policy changes then it could lose support. This is especially true if Labour moves towards a more firm commitment to a second referendum or confirmatory vote as some call it.
The remain fanatics argue the opposite - that Labour will be finished if it doesn’t adopt a second referendum policy. But there is no evidence for this from current polling. The strongest remain parties and those advocating a second referendum are trailing in the polls. On the other hand, there are clearly people who would generally see themselves as Labour supporters in the strongly leave areas who are contemplating voting Brexit because they are fed up with the possibility of a second referendum, of Labour politicians regarding them as stupid or racist because they voted leave and bitterly resentful that most MEP candidates are remainers. No doubt when Brexit gets a good vote in places like Yorkshire, these same Labour politicians will again denounce them for not understanding the need for a second referendum.
The argument in Labour for a second referendum is driven by some of the party’s right but has wide support. It is however seriously misguided and will only drive Labour voters towards the only clear alternative on this which is to the right.
Jeremy Corbyn should give no ground here but should insist at Labour’s NEC this week on the manifesto not going further down this road.
Meanwhile any party which wants to win the votes especially of working class people, and especially from Farage or UKIP or the vile fascist ‘Tommy Robinson’ who is standing in the north west, needs to be raising the issues which will have resonance beyond the referendum divisions: decent jobs with good pay, provision of public services, housing, ending privatisation of the NHS. One party incapable of doing this is the Change UK bunch. This breakaway looks to have been the biggest flop of the year so far. Appealing to a mythical centre, obsessed with staying in the EU, a lash-up between Labour and Tories, it refuses to support a no-confidence vote in May, fearing a general election above all as not one of its MPs would retain their seats. It will not challenge austerity or inequality in any serious way.
So much for Change. But now we see that two of its candidates for the Euro elections have had to stand down following revelations of racist remarks. Coming after the ‘funny tinge’ remark about non-white people by one of its MPs, does the party have a problem with institutional racism?
Take from the old and give to the young? Yeah, right
The report by a cross-party committee of the House of Lords which says that resources should be shifted from the old to the young should be treated with the contempt it deserves. The myth that pensioners are living the high life based on the property boom, feather-bedded pensions and treats doled out by the state is just that.
I still work full time and most pensioners I know do at least part-time work. Not because they are celebrated concert pianists who enjoy the work (although there are many talents among them) but because they cannot live on the state pension and many have no other (especially women). Most occupational pensions are small - unlike those that every member of the House of Lords will receive.
Life has got much worse for younger people it is true but that Is not the fault of old people. It is the fault of greedy landlords, stingy employers, governments who have forced them to pay tuition fees. If money is taken from the old you can bet your life it won’t go to the young.
There are rich pensioners to be sure. They should be subject to proper rates of tax so that they contribute to helping the young in a fair and equitable way. At present however the British state pension is one of the lowest in Europe. Which is one reason there are a few universal benefits which accompany it: free travel on local public transport, a £200 per year heating allowance, and free TV licences for over 75s. Even with these all added together a state pensioner on the top rate would struggle to come close to £1000 per month or £12000 a year. All of which pensioners paid for through taxation over their working lives.
The free transport is in any case of marginal cost as the buses and tubes have to run anyway, and pensioners using this transport contribute to the economy through working in low paid jobs, volunteering, shouldering huge amounts of childcare for grandchildren, or even just going into town and buying a cup of tea. Being able to travel also contributes to their physical and mental health and general wellbeing.
I confidently predict riots if we have to give up our passes. And young people will be welcome to join us.
Shut him down
Trump’s back - this time for a state visit. Theresa May obviously didn’t get the message last time. Or maybe she wants to be remembered as the prime minister whose last big photo op was with a vile racist and misogynist. Whatever. Protests are planned for June 3-5 and this time should be even bigger and more militant than before. We’ve recently had the Extinction Rebellion occupations and the school student strikes over climate change. Added to that opposition to his policies on war, Palestine, migration, women’s rights, LGBT rights and the rest, we can get a crowd big enough to shut down London. And shut him down.
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’.
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