A general election with a People’s Brexit is our escape route from this Westminster quagmire, argues Lindsey German
May looks like it's turning out to be the cruellest month for the Tory government. Bookended by two sets of elections, the Tories have already received what even the BBC now calls a ‘drubbing’ in the locals. This will most probably be put in the shade compared with the likely humiliation Theresa May will receive at the hands of voters in the European Parliament elections in just over two weeks’ time.
The last thing anyone needs now is a deal which rescues her and which will implicate Jeremy Corbyn in her travails – and which in any case would only last until the next general election, likely to be later this year once the Tories dump the loser May.
The loss of 1300 councillors is a catastrophe for the Tories, almost as bad numerically as the loss John Major suffered in 1995 but in reality almost certainly worse given the Tories’ declining membership and its bitter divisions. The lost councillors represent 1% of the whole membership and a recent Financial Times article pointed out that the party is near totally dependent on councillors and their families for its activists. All the signs are that even more voters will desert them in the Euro elections, voting and sometimes even campaigning for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.
The elections were however not good for Labour. It is of course ludicrous to equate the performance of the two parties – given that Labour lost net 82 seats whereas the Tories lost 15 times that number. Yet the media by and large has done just that, as they tend to do every time the Tory crisis deepens, arguing that the electorate has declared a plague on both their houses.
However, Labour did not expect to lose seats overall and clearly it has not done as well as it hoped. According to a very interesting graphic in the Financial Times, Labour’s losses were heavily concentrated in areas that voted strongly Leave, whereas those of the Tories were mainly in Remain areas. The Lib Dems, who did well mainly at Tory expense, saw their biggest gains in Remain areas but also performed strongly in some Leave areas. They performed very poorly in 2015, so to some extent this is a bounce back for them rather than a positive endorsement.
So Labour is losing votes no doubt to those dissatisfied with its stance from both sides – but more so from Leave areas. This is underlined by where their losses were concentrated – very heavily in the north east, especially in Sunderland and Teesside, and in the east Midlands, notably Ashfield and Bolsover where they lost heavily to independents. At the same time, Labour gained some seats in an election not altogether representative or favourable to the party – there were no elections in the two biggest cities London and Birmingham, and the shire counties dominated - areas where the main opposition is the Lib Dems.
And while Brexit dominated the elections, it was not the only issue as both main parties did worse where they were incumbents, suggesting a range of issues from cuts and austerity to Sheffield’s privatised destruction of trees had an impact. Both the Greens and Lib Dems claim all their votes for Remain, but a large proportion of their votes will have been protest votes over some of these issues.
There were also a very large number of independents who got elected – not all of them on the right wing, but the majority seem to have been – and many of them will have been pro-Brexit. This, plus the fact that Labour was clearly seen as too much pro-Remain for some of its Leave supporters, makes nonsense of the claim that all the Remain parties gained votes and all the Leave parties lost votes.
I think this will be apparent from the Euro vote where it looks to me that Brexit will come first with Labour second. I hope it is the other way round but the only way of achieving this is for all those who want to defeat Farage to vote Labour as the only party capable of beating him. So far in opinion polls, the two parties are neck and neck with the smaller Remain and Leave parties far behind. That isn’t going to change much whatever the Lib Dems and Greens say, and they are already competing against each other, as is the case in elections.
Brexit party leaflets came through doors in London at the weekend, well produced (money no object), Farage talking about trust, honesty and integrity, highlighting a range of supposedly appealing candidates. None of the hate speech or scapegoating of migrants which we saw three years ago. Farage is running this election as a rerun of the referendum and he will do well. Already he has held big rallies in south Wales.
Labour is winded by these results, not least because they weren’t expected, but it has to fight back in the Euros. Firstly against Farage, the fascist ‘Tommy Robinson’, UKIP and all the rest of the racist right. But as importantly, by putting an agenda which argues for a People’s Brexit (something Labour seems to have abandoned in the face of its own Remainers), and for a completely altered set of priorities on domestic issues – ones which protect and extend workers’ rights, builds on the vote to declare a climate emergency, which delivers decent and secure jobs, a council house building programme, nationalisation of water, rail and other utilities.
It is these that can break through the Brexit cloud which hangs over British politics at present, and can hopefully unite those on different sides of the divide.
My advice to Jeremy Corbyn this week would be the following. Don’t do a deal with May – it won’t mean anything and will only damage your reputation. She has already made clear it will not bind a future government and there will be such a government in another month or two – and likely a general election by the autumn. Demand that general election and a People's Brexit, and redouble efforts to campaign around other issues – climate emergency, austerity deaths, housing.
There is anger, discontent and frustration in Britain across the political spectrum. If Labour does not try to give voice to those sentiments from a left and progressive point of view, then we all know where it can end.
Occupation is still a crime in Palestine
I’ve spoken at several meetings on Palestine lately and I’m part of organising the demonstration next Saturday in London round the slogan ‘exist, resist, return’. Meanwhile the situation there goes from bad to worse. Gaza has been under aerial bombardment this weekend again, and the plan of Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu is to effectively use repression, blockade, annexation and illegal settlement to end any prospect of a Palestinian state.
The despair felt by many Palestinians and their supporters is understandable. The two-state solution hailed after Oslo is pretty much finished, and only one state where those of all religions and races live with full equality is viable. This is not what Netanyahu wants, as has been made clear by recent legal changes in Israel. Both the Prevent programme which targets the Muslim community in particular, and the debate over antisemitism inside the Labour party, has often put Palestine activists on the defensive.
Saturday’s demonstration is about solidarity with the Palestinians. It is also about challenging a narrative in Britain which wants to minimise organisation and discussion around this central question. So be there if you can.
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
- Lip service to the left, but moves to the right - weekly briefing
- Do not be fooled: Trump is the problem
- Soleimani assassination is an act of war
- Past mistakes, future opportunities - weekly briefing
- What we should take from the election and what we do next
- Where do we go from here? – election briefing 13 December
- We have a world to win – election briefing Polling Day