The Trump protests will demonstrate the best elements of our movement, but these have to be broadened and developed to ensure real advances, argues Lindsey German
Just remember when they next tell you there’s no money to fund a day care centre, or that your kids’ school has to be closed early on Fridays because of education cuts, that in the next few days hundreds of millions of pounds will be spent on pomp and ceremony, helicopters and cavalcades, and unprecedented levels of security. All of this will be done to promote, pander to and protect one of the most unpleasant people on the planet, Donald Trump.
The unlamented Theresa May is spending her last days in office fawning round Trump in what has turned out to be a particular form of torture for her, not the triumph of foreign policy that was predicted when she made her invitation to a state visit back in 2017. Predictably, the lame duck prime minister is being humiliated by Trump who has already declared Boris Johnson to be a splendid future prime minister, has praised a no deal Brexit and has urged that Nigel Farage be included in the Brexit negotiations.
So all the fawning, all the banquets, lavished on Trump have only emboldened him to push his right-wing agenda even further and to boost two of the most noxious people in British politics. There is every reason to oppose Trump: his attitudes towards women’s rights, his scapegoating of Muslims and migrants, his opposition to addressing the dangers of climate change, his threats of war with Iran, his wilful disregard for Palestinian rights. London Mayor Sadiq Khan is right to say that he is reminiscent of 20th-century fascists. But as the Clash song goes ‘If Adolf Hitler flew in today, they’d send a limousine anyway.’
That is why, despite it being a weekday, there will be tens of thousands on the streets of London, Portsmouth, and towns and cities across the country during Trump’s visit. Street protests are hugely important to demonstrate both the breadth and depth of opposition to the man. However, longer term political strategy dictates that we understand where this political phenomenon comes from and how we defeat it.
In essence, it and the rise of other far right political formations comes out of the banking crisis of 2008, the attacks on living standards and the imposition of austerity on working class people in Europe and the US. The discrediting of social democratic politics, the collapse of the political centre and the polarisation to both left and right has allowed the growth of the far right on a scale not seen since before the Second World War.
Much of the polarisation has been because traditional worker’s parties such as Labour or the German SPD accepted the rulers’ agenda and so have alienated their traditional base. Unfortunately, while some of those have moved to the left, too much has gone to the right. We will undercut this not by referring to such people as ‘deplorables’, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016, or by lumping Trump in with the 17 million who voted to leave the EU.
There are two ways to undercut the far right. One is to take on their arguments directly – over abortion rights, race, sexuality, war and the rest. The other equally important one is to find ways of proving in practice to those who have suffered from austerity and the rest that the left has an answer to their problems. This led to some success for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017, and Labour’s left needs to return to providing this alternative agenda rapidly and forcefully. The stakes are high and time is short.
Wishing and hoping won’t change the reality
The fallout from the Euro elections continues, not least with the row over Alastair Campbell’s expulsion for voting Lib Dem. It’s clear that many right-wing Labour figures not only voted this way (not Green for the most part but for an anti-working class, pro-austerity party), but also urged others to do so. These are the people who want a second referendum for one reason only – to overturn the original vote and stop Brexit. The People’s Vote campaign is the Remain campaign rebooted.
The country is almost evenly split again if these votes are anything to go by, but the Brexit party vote is quite extraordinary. This is a party with nearly a third of the vote without policies, without any lengthy preparation, and in the process destroying Farage’s previous vehicle of UKIP. The party campaigned on nothing but democracy and respecting the referendum result. As far as I could see there was little overt racism in the campaign, although this is never far below the surface.
What this tells me is that there is a boiling anger about the non-delivery of Brexit which Farage has capitalised on and which could go in an even worse direction. This isn’t just the ‘northern industrial towns’ as it’s often portrayed, but pretty much everywhere in England and Wales outside of the major cities and university towns – the south west, Kent, south Wales, the West Midlands, as well as Lancashire, Yorkshire and the north east, all recorded high votes for the Brexit party.
As I said last week, everyone is using the election results to confirm their own opinions, so there is increased clamour for Labour to back a second referendum. Personally, I think it would be the end of Labour as a major electoral force, losing massively in leave areas and not recouping sufficiently from pro-Remain parties in Remain areas. So I am very strongly against it for that reason and for reasons of basic democracy.
But I also don’t get what the people so desperately advocating it think another vote will achieve. Even if like in a Disney film they could make their wish come true, there is every likelihood that either Leave would win again or that the vote would still be so narrow as to continue the bitter divisions.
So what would they do then? How would they deal with a right-wing backlash, or how would they cope with accepting a second Leave vote? About time they thought some of this through and told us the answers. The middle classes like Campbell and Blair really couldn’t care less about working class people as long as they get their way. But those on the left advocating this course really need to consider why they are turning their backs on swathes of working-class people, rather than trying to find solutions to the problems that have got us to this place.
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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