Johnson’s victory

he election of Johnson as Prime Minister is a time to reflect on the dangers the working class movement now faces. Johnson can win as long as he avoids imposing a no-deal Brexit and avoids a general election before the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. After the deal is ratified by the Commons, Johnson will use this patriotic kudos to call and win a general election.

In 2016 the centre ground shifted as millions of people voted to leave the EU in England and Wales and to remain in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Nobody voted to leave the single market and the customs union. Of course any deal negotiated with the EU must be referred back to the people for ratification.

Labour’s policy was very close to occupying this centre ground. After 2016 Labour became a ‘remain-democrat’ party signalled by Corbyn agreeing to trigger article 50. This policy was then set out in the 2017 Labour Manifesto and the 2018 Labour conference policy. It enabled the Parliamentary Labour Party to remain sufficiently united to defeat May’s deal. Labour led a series of victories over May’s Tory Brexit which led to her sacking.

Labour has recently made a big tactical blunder that will help Johnson secure a Tory Brexit. The party abandoned the centre ground and swung to the left to become a ‘Remain and Reform’ party to fight it out with the Liberal Democrats. It is a crack pot idea pushed onto Corbyn by Blair, Campbell, Wes Streeting and fronted by arch witch finder, Tom Watson. Corbyn could have fended them off until Thornberry, McDonnell, Abbott and other left MPs like Clive Lewis backed a remain referendum.

This has created a Labour shambles not least because ‘remaining’ is in contradiction to calling a general election for a Labour government to go back to Brussels for another deal. But more than this it has released around 29 Labour MP’s who had been shackled by the promise to respect the referendum result. It had enabled Tory Brexit to be blocked by Labour MPs from both leave and remain.

Now the new PM is a man with a plan. He is going to get Tory Brexit through the Commons and then fight a general election. How can he pull it off? He is threatening no-deal as a negotiating tactic. In practice he will seek to come back with a disguised version of the May Deal. The Tories will see through this disguise but pretend not to notice.

Fear stalks the Tory party. Vote for the Johnson Deal or hand the keys to number 10 to the extreme ‘Marxist’ Jeremy Corbyn. At the same time 29 Labour MPs released from their obligations by Labour’s switch to an ultra- remain party will back the Johnson deal and get it over the line.

Peter Mandelson and his mouthpiece, Tom Watson, will have delivered a win-double – helping the Tories to secure a majority in the Commons and hence to win a victory over Corbyn in the general election.

Of course there is a democratic case for working people to vote in a ratification referendum (i.e. Yes/No without a Remain option). The idea there is a parliamentary majority for a second referendum with a remain question is for the birds. The only practical purpose for adding a remain question is to undermine Corbyn and further divide the working class.

We can only guess how Johnson will get his revised May-deal. The most straightforward is to draw the economic border with the EU down the Irish Sea and do the checks in Liverpool etc. There is then no need for an Irish backstop. Of course Johnson will have to throw the DUP under the bus. Yet the Tory rank and file have already said they would happily lose Ireland if only they could get Brexit and defeat Corbyn.

This is not to say that Johnson is brave enough to sacrifice Irish Unionism so essential for Tory politics. Perhaps they will come up with something more complex to save the Tories from a terminal crisis. The main point is that Watson’s ultra-remain victory was a setback for Labour and may be the point when Corbyn was finally scuppered by a fatal combination of his enemies and his allies.

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Corbyn switches

The 2016 referendum marked a significant change in the UK’s constitutional practice. It shifted the democratic centre of British politics. England and Wales voted to leave the EU and Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain. Nobody voted to leave the single market or the customs union. It required Her Majesty’s Government to negotiate a deal with the EU and, in recognition of popular sovereignty, return to the people to ratify in a Yes/No referendum.

The Tories rejected most of this. Leaving the single market and customs union is the crucial aspect of their version of Brexit for their plan for a free trade with Trump and US health corporations and to ramp up immigration control and a build up hostile racist environment. The Tories, as English unionists, are determined to impose their policy on the majorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland who voted to remain in the EU.

Corbyn seized the centre ground. He took a ‘remain-democrat’ stance when he voted to trigger Article 50, in the 2017 general election manifesto and in the 2018 Labour conference resolution. Labour already supported a ratification referendum but not a Remain question. However Labour fudged the democratic issue in calling for ‘a’ customs union, instead of remaining in the actual one, and aligning with the single market instead of remaining in it. Most significantly Labour failed to demand the democratic right of Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU.

Nevertheless, Labour’s imperfect version of a remain-democrat position enabled Corbyn to block Tory Brexit and wage a successful parliamentary struggle against it. May was beaten three times in the Commons and eventually forced to resign. Thanks to Labour’s fight, the UK is still in the EU at least until 31 October. Those who oppose leaving should be singing Corbyn’s praises. The very opposite is true. He has been isolated as former allies like John McDonnell, Diane Abbot, Paul Mason and others have backed Watson.

There has been a massive campaign waged by Tom Watson and the Labour right to destabilise and eventually overthrow Corbyn. Watson’s transitional programme demands Labour switch to a second referendum for remain and reform, expel the socialist left through the anti-Semitic witch-hunt, and demand the sack for Corbyn’s closest advisors. It has been a continuous barrage of lies, slanders and misrepresentations which has brought Labour into disrepute.

The real winners in Watson’s battle against Corbyn are the Tories. By adopting a liberal ‘remain and reform’ unity in the Labour PLP may break-down. Mays’s deal, which was defeated in parliament, could conceivably be resurrected and repackaged. As section of Labour MPs released from any need to follow Labour discipline may vote with the Tories. The unintended consequence of Labour shifting to remain could be victory for Tory Brexit.

Corbyn has been resisting and standing by the 2018 conference policy, backed up by Len McCluskey. But on Monday five union leaders, including Unite, backed a switch. Corbyn signalled the change after the shadow cabinet meeting. He wrote to Labour members saying “As democrats, Labour accepted the result of the 2016 referendum. In our 2017 manifesto, Labour also committed to oppose a No Deal Brexit and the Tories’ Brexit plans – which threatened jobs, living standards, and the open multicultural society that we as internationalists value so much.” He continues “Labour set out a compromise plan to try to bring the country together based around a customs union, a strong single market relationship and protection of environmental regulations and rights at work”.

He reassures members “We continue to believe this is a sensible alternative that could bring the country together” and says “Whoever becomes the new Prime Minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or No Deal, back to the people in a public vote”. So far democrats can agree.

However Corbyn has added the call for a remain question on any ballot paper. This introduces a new compromise into Labour’s existing compromise. Labour still wants a general election for a Labour government to go the Brussels and negotiate an alternative deal. But then Labour comes back and supports ‘remain’ in a referendum against its own deal! This is a real problem without an answer as yet.

9 July 2019

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Remain-Democrat: Labour’s Brexit option

Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender offer critical support for Labour’s Remain-Democrat position on Brexit, but argue Corbyn needs to lead by making the democratic case more powerfully.

General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) Dave Ward (New Statesman, 7 June 2019), says “Labour won in Peterborough because it was able to cut through the Brexit issue” by avoiding the pitfall of a second referendum and refocusing people’s minds “on the other profound issues facing our country and their local communities”. He continues “I can tell you now that Labour would not have won in Peterborough” with the demand for a second referendum. “Coming out, all guns blazing, for a referendum to keep us in the EU would have been a gift to the Brexit Party and deflated Labour’s turnout operation”.

“Across England and Wales there are hundreds of seats – just like Peterborough – that Labour must win to secure a majority in parliament at the next election. It certainly will not do that if it ends up nailing its colours to the idea of overturning the result of a democratic referendum which the political class promised it would respect”. This is fine as far as it goes. Labour has avoided, for now, the poison chalice of a second referendum. Ward’s argument against it is based on the balance of votes to be won or lost. In 2017 Labour had eight million remain voters and four million leave voters. Defeating Labour at the next election requires driving a wedge between these two sections of its social base.

Labour needs to anchor its position in social democratic ideas if it is to sustain itself against the tidal wave of liberal and reactionary attacks. Political struggle in the UK today is a contest between three broad trends – reactionary, liberal and social democratic. Historically, these have been squeezed by the corset of the British constitution into two major parties, on one side, a coalition of reactionaries and liberals and on the other, of liberals and social democrats.

The UK’s conservative politics has been severely disrupted, first in 2015 by the election of Corbyn as Labour leader, and then in 2016 by the EU referendum. Out of this crisis we can perceive three shadow ‘parties’, which we will call ‘Ultra-Leave’, ‘Remain-Democrats’ and ‘Ultra-Remain’. These haven’t replaced the major parties, but reflect a growing polarisation and division as demonstrated by the Brexit party and Change UK.

James Ball (New European, 16 May 2019) identifies these ‘parties’ from opinion polling data collected before the recent European elections. He points to Pro-Brexit parties with total support of 47% and the Pro-Remain parties predicted at 38%. The Labour Party is placed in the middle with 16% between the two extremes. Labour’s position arises from its democratic values and the central importance of the working class, one deeply divided over the EU. This is a dangerous situation which presents possibilities for the far right to consolidate its base among working people.

The European election results were close to Ball’s prediction with the Ultra-Leave parties winning 44% and the Ultra-Remain parties securing nearly 41% with Labour taking 14%.  In Northern Ireland and Scotland the pro-remain parties confirmed the vote from 2016. In Wales, pro-remain Plaid secured an increase in its votes. Peterborough presents a different picture, more like a general election, than this slightly unreal substitute ‘referendum’ on the EU.

Remain-Democrats

In 1975, Tony Benn told his constituents, before the referendum on the Common Market, that “The whole nation, and all political parties, is divided on the Common Market question. We must respect the sincerity of those who take a different view from our own. We should all accept the verdict of the British people whatever it is, and I shall certainly do so”. (The Spectator, 18 January 1975) This is a good starting point. ‘Remain-Democrats’ support remaining in the EU, but have accepted the democratic mandate given by voters in 2016. They recognise Remain was in the minority, but continue both to exercise their right to criticise the rampant corruption in the Referendum and to explain the case for remain, while respecting the majority mandate to leave. Labour’s Brexit is a policy which seeks to address the contradiction of a post-Referendum, divided working class.

Although, Remain-Democrats defend the democratic mandate to leave the EU, this includes neither leaving the single market nor the customs union, because the question put in the 2016 referendum, as defined in law (i.e. leave or remain) did not include these two options.

Remain-Democrats should recognise that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain, as did Gibraltar. Democrats and internationalists must recognise their right to remain and oppose any agreement that does not respect and secure their right to self-determination. Crucially, this is a republican not a Unionist interpretation of the 2016 referendum.

Remain-Democrats can never back any imposed settlement on the people. A deal negotiated by any government must secure a majority in parliament and be endorsed by the people through a ratification referendum. Such a public vote asserts the democratic accountability of the government to the people by emphasising their right to decide on whether the 2016 mandate has been carried out or not.

Importantly, a ratification referendum is not a second referendum; i.e. one seeking to reverse or overturn the 2016 result. Therefore, the ballot paper would not contain any option to remain. It simply focuses on the actual proposal on offer from the government. If the deal is rejected, then next step is to seek to negotiate an alternative, which might involve, for example, a general election. Such a referendum is equivalent to trade unions putting a proposed settlement of a pay dispute back to members for ratification.

Corbyn and Labour Brexit

The Corbyn Labour Party pitched its tent on ‘Remain-Democrat’ terrain as the party of remain which accepts the 2016 result. Labour campaigned for remain in 2016 and told voters in June 2017 that it would respect the result and carry it out. On the basis of that election result it successfully blocked the Tory version of Brexit. So far General Corbyn has been able to keep his parliamentary troops relatively united, rebuffing a Tory Brexit and pushing them to dump May. His greatest successes include the 2017 general election result, which wrecked May’s parliamentary majority, three defeats of the Tory Withdrawal Agreement and, finally, derailing the decision to leave on the 29 March, which finished May. Consequently, Corbyn can take the lion’s share of the plaudits for enabling the people to vote in the May 23 European election. However, this European election has left the parliamentary arithmetic unaffected.

There are three democratic omissions from Labour’s Brexit. First, Labour must adopt the democratic demand for a ratification referendum while rejecting a second, or repeat referendum, with any remain question on the ballot paper. Second, Labour should clarify their support for England and Wales leaving the EU, but remaining in the single market and customs union. Third, Labour should support the democratic right of Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU.

A ratification referendum is Labour’s democratic answer to reactionaries in the Tory and Brexit parties flaunting their fake democratic credentials. It is Labour’s democratic answer to the liberals who have no respect for the working class, no policy for austerity and simply support British capital remaining in the EU.

The weakness of Corbyn’s position is not as Paul Mason (Guardian, 27 May 2019) and the liberals argue, that he doesn’t back a second-remain referendum. Corbyn is under massive pressure from the national press to do so. However were he to support it then the media would soon pivot to attack Labour for betraying its leave voters. Corbyn is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

Labour must make it absolutely clear its opposition to a ‘second-remain’ referendum: the time for a second remain referendum is when the working class has shifted decisively in favour of remain. This has not yet happened. Opting for a second-remain referendum would be highly controversial, highly divisive and a dangerous gamble. And it will not get through the present parliament. It would weaken the opposition to no-deal, divide the Labour opposition and benefit the Tories.

Therefore, the only practical outcome of a Labour left demand for a second-remain referendum will be to help Tom Watson and the liberal wing of the Labour Party to overthrow Corbyn. This Ultra-Remain demand will, by undermining Corbyn, enable Tory Brexit to win. This is what Paul Mason has done by adopting this demand. The call for a second referendum with remain on the ballot paper and the allegations that Labour under Corbyn is an institutionally anti-Semitic party, are the two prongs of the liberal attack on social democracy.

Defeating no-deal

The choice is now stark between no-deal (WTO) or another extension beyond 31 October. First, Labour will make the democratic case that the new Tory Prime Minister should face a general election. This is Labour’s current policy. This must not be a token parliamentary effort for a vote of no confidence, but a country-wide campaign linking Tory Brexit with austerity: Corbyn sheds his parliamentary persona and gets back on the road as ‘Corbyn the campaigner’. Of course, the Tories and the DUP will the votes to block a general election.

Second, Labour will then resume its central role in defeating any Tory Brexit, including a no-deal Brexit, in Westminster. Corbyn should reject the imposition of no-deal, with special reference to Scotland and Northern Ireland which voted remain. He should warn the Tories that in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the next Labour government will facilitate a border poll in Northern Ireland and a second independence referendum (IndyRef2) in Scotland.

Third, Labour must not rely on parliament to block no-deal (on World Trade Organisation terms). The demand for a ratification referendum is a key demand. This is essentially a democratic backstop and a principled means of preventing a no-deal Brexit before 31 October. The question should ask “Do you support or oppose a no-deal Brexit? Yes or no?”

Fourth, Labour must clearly reject the call for a second-remain referendum which will divert the battle against no-deal into a dead-end, undermining Labour’s strategic position, fatally weakening Corbyn, further dividing the working class and strengthening the Labour right, the Tory right, the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party. If a majority vote against no-deal in a referendum, then there will have to be an extension, perhaps for a general election and a new round of negotiations.

Philip Stephens (Financial Times, 31 May 2019) believes an extension is the most likely scenario. He says, “So the Brexit deadline most likely will be extended again. And then what? Well a sizeable slice of the UK population will remain noisily unhappy. They will accuse all and sundry of subverting democracy. But the noisier they become and the further we travel from 2016, the more eccentric Brexit will seem to a wider audience”. He concludes that, “barring a referendum, doing nothing looks more and more like the default option. Better to leave the fight unsettled and talk about something else than to reopen constantly the old wounds. Perhaps limbo is not such a terrible place when the alternative is Brexit hell”.

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Studied Ambiguity

Carla Roberts (Weekly Worker 1255 13 June 2019) reports on the Peterborough election which highlighted the crisis in the Labour Party over the Brexit referendum, anti-Semitism and trigger ballots to recall Labour MPs. She describes Corbyn’s policy on the referendum as “studied ambiguity” which the Labour Party Marxists have also signed up for.

Carla says “from a limited electoral perspective Corbyn’s position still makes a lot of sense. Coming out firmly on either side of the binary debate will do nothing to increase Labour’s chance in the ballot box”. She adds that “Corbyn quite rightly refuses to pick a side, he has also not attempted to break out of his false ‘in or out’ dichotomy”.

Corbyn has taken sides. He has refused to side with the Ultra-Leave or Ultra-Remain, but has taken his stance as a ‘Remain-Democrat’. He is somebody who campaigned to remain but accepted the decision to leave. This is what the Labour Party did in 2016 and in the 2017 election manifesto. He has tried to find a version of leave which protects working class interests.

This is an honourable approach to take. More than this, it is political good sense not least because of the divisions in the working class, the Labour Party and amongst Labour voters. My criticism is not about compromise, but that he has not found the right kind of compromise. He should have looked more carefully at the democratic mandate from 2016 and married this with the interests of the working class.

However this is not simply about Corbyn. It is Labour policy that should be examined not least because Corbyn doesn’t stray far from it. Labour’s 2018 Brexit resolution includes the following: “Conference accepts that the public voted to leave the EU” and that “Conference believes we need a relationship with the EU that guarantees full participation in the Single Market”.

“Conference also believes a no-deal Brexit should be rejected as a viable option and calls upon Labour MPs to vigorously oppose any attempt by this Government to deliver a no-deal outcome”. A number of Labour MPs did not act in line with this policy recently in parliament. They should be called to account and face a trigger ballot.

Along with the Zionist inspired ‘anti-Semitism’ campaign, the key issue to oust Corbyn and defeat the socialist movement is the liberal demand for a second-referendum with a remain question. This is being pressed by Alistair Campbell, Tom Watson, Emily Thornberry, Paul Mason, Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Another Europe etc.

This Ultra-Remain attack cannot be defeated or even beaten back without deploying the weapon of working class democratic demands. The Labour Party conference, influenced by working people through their trade unions, spells out the answer. “Conference notes that when trade unions have a mandate to negotiate a deal for their members, the final deal is accepted or rejected by the membership”. It adds that if the government gets a deal which benefits working people “they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public”.

Trade unions enable working people to vote to ratify or reject negotiated deals. The People voted ‘Out’ say the Ultra Leavers (Farage, Rees Mogg etc ) but ‘Out’ only means ‘Out’ when the people (i.e. a majority) decide what ‘Out’ means by voting on it. We have to be able to debate and vote on the actual deal we have been offered, not the vague fantasy Brexit from 2016.

Carla praises Corbyn for refusing to “pick a side” between Ultra Leave and Ultra Remain, but criticises him for not attempting to break out of this false ‘in or out’ dichotomy”. I blame the Labour Party Marxists who have done nothing to help Corbyn break out of this trap. The democratic trade union practice of ratification replaces “this false ‘in or out’ dichotomy” with democratic dichotomy between ‘yes or no’.

Carla and the LPM have offered us a false choice between the Stalinist opposition to the working class having the right to vote in a referendum and the liberal demand for a second referendum slogan to overturn the first masquerading as democracy. Neither Stalinism nor liberalism has the answer to the democratic problem posed by the 2016 referendum.

The 2018 Labour conference never called for a second referendum with a remain question. The resolution said “Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no-deal, Conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the Government. In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election”.

It adds that “If we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote”. There is no reason for “studied ambiguity” on this. A public vote is no more than a ratification referendum. It was Keir Starmer and the right wing of the Labour Party who have tried to turn “remaining on the table” into a ‘remain question’.

The Labour Party Marxist policy, whether it is Stalinist opposition to the working class having the right to ratify, or merely “studied ambiguity” over diffent kinds of referendum helps the right wing of the Tories, the right wing of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats who are aided and abetted by socialists like Paul Mason and Another Europe who are acting as their ‘useful idiots’.

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EU elections as a confirmatory referendum

The European elections are more or less irrelevant and a distraction from the battle against Tory Brexit. They are of course useful to assess the state of public opinion but not for deciding strategy and tactics. Paul Mason saw the results and drew the wrong conclusions. He argues that Labour must shift further to the right to embrace the liberal position of “remain and reform and the call for a second referendum on any deal” (Guardian 27 May 2019)

He thinks that “Given the scale of the reversal, it looks likely that the Labour right will launch a new leadership challenge against Corbyn. They may wait until after the Peterborough by election and the announcement of a formal probe into alleged anti-Semitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission”.

Yet getting smashed in an election that nobody expected, and with a low turnout, suggests people understand reality. It was an opportunity for Faragean grandstanding, not least in offering to join the next EU negotiating team whilst saying there is nothing to negotiate. Paul Mason says “Labour supporters have to look reality in the face” before he himself fails to do so.

The Corbyn Labour Party has rightly pitched its tent on the ‘Remain-Democrat’ hill as the party of remain which accepts the 2016 result. On this little hillock it subsequently constructed a small fort from which to resist Tory Brexit. These fortifications are not strong enough and will eventually be overrun.

However so far General Corbyn has been able to keep his parliamentary army relatively united to beat off Tory Brexit and push the Tories to dump May. His greatest hits have included the 2017 general election that wrecked May’s parliamentary majority, then three defeats of the Tory Withdrawal Agreement and finally halting the decision to leave on the 29 March. Corbyn can take the lion’s share of the congratulations for enabling the people to vote in the May 23 European election.

His leadership of Labour’s divided party allowed the people to have this confirmatory referendum. Not surprisingly an angry public confirmed they did not like it. They decamped on mass to the rival protest parties for Ultra Brexit or Ultra Remain often encouraged by Labour members.

Still this is no time to race round like Corporal Jones shouting “Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring”. But panic ran away with Emile Thornbury and Paul Mason. All the mainstream media cheered and demanded that Corbyn abandon his little fort on the hill and join them in the valley of death. Let cowards flinch and traitors sneer but it is time to stick to the Remain-Democrat position for the next stage of the battle with a tweak or two.

Labour had eight million remain voters and four million leavers in 2017. If you want to stop Corbyn winning the next election then you must drive a wedge between these two sets of voters. This is exactly what the Ultra-Remainers are trying to do, including many socialists such as Paul Mason, Another Europe and the AWL acting as the ‘useful idiots’ for the liberals who all want a remain-referendum and a “reformed” (sic) EU.

Corbyn’s confirmatory EU referendum confirmed what we already knew. Not much has changed since 2016. Unlike the last time nobody agreed to carry out the ‘will of the people’. Westminster will continue with the same dead-locked parliament as before, with a new Tory PM. None of those new European MEPs will be in the Commons where the next battle will take place in September.

The one most important lesson from this confirmatory referendum is that up to two million EU citizens were again denied a vote. History was repeating itself. If the Ultra-Remainers were serious they would be calling this out. The result should be declared illegal.

All democrats should recognise this was gerrymandered by incompetence, duplicity and inefficiency. By making the democratic case against this ‘referendum’ we remind everybody about the deliberate exclusion of EU residents from the last one and which created such a mess.

The Guardian reports that Corbyn has shifted a little. He says “Labour will support a second referendum on any Brexit deal”. We have not had a first referendum on any Brexit deal never mind a second one! But at least this goes beyond holding a referendum only on a ‘bad’ deal. He should remember Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in 2016.

Corbyn says “Labour’s preference would be for a general election but any Brexit deal has to be put to a public vote”. (Guardian 28 May 2019). I agree with that. If he doesn’t go beyond ratification then he is still on his little hillock in his small fort and not with Paul Mason in the valley of death with the rest of the light brigade.

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European elections and opposing Tory Brexit

On Thursday 23 May we are invited to vote in an election that was never going to happen. It is a special European election when the normal rules don’t apply. As far as England (and Wales) is concerned I will be voting Labour. Northern Ireland and Scotland are different cases. You can’t vote Labour in Northern Ireland. I would not support voting Labour in Scotland since the party has done nothing to support Scotland’s right to remain.

Yesterday I went to Vauxhall to canvass with Labour Party members. Jeremy Corbyn, Emile Thornberry and Richard Burgin turned up. So I was able to talk to them and with the Labour leader about a ratification referendum. I emphasised the important distinction between ratification and repeat-remain (or multiple-choice) referendum. The democratic case for the former and need to oppose the latter got a fair hearing.

As a republican I don’t normally vote for Her Majesty’s Labour Party which is institutionally loyal to the constitutional monarchy and the British union. It has produced Labour governments responsible for the Iraq war, support for NATO and Trident and continuing Thatcher’s neo-liberal assault on the working class etc. So this is no auto-Labourism where you vote Labour every election out of routine, or from ‘proletarian’ dogma, or because you are a loyal member of the Party.

Jonathan Freedland says “If you don’t vote Labour on Thursday you are not abandoning the party for ever; you are not even committing yourself to voting the same way at the next Westminster election. That will be a different contest. Each election is about the decision in front of you at the moment”. (Guardian 18 May 2019) I agree with this but draw the opposite conclusion.

In this election Freedland wants Labour members to back any Remain party. The anti-Corbyn Labour MP Margaret Hodge urged something similar. Tory grandee, Michael Heseltine, is going to vote Liberal Democrat this time. So in the game of Brexit musical chairs I would urge working class people in England and Wales to vote Labour as the best means to finish off Tory Brexit and oppose the Brexit party but from a republican socialist perspective.

Federal Republic

A European Federal Republic would be a most radical extension of popular sovereignty and democracy. It would empower people across Europe and strengthen the political influence of the European working class. A pan-European democracy would be better able to challenge the corporate free market with a social republic.

The UK, like the EU, is not a democratic republic. A federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales and a united Ireland would be a democratic step forward or advance on the current state. A radical extension of popular sovereignty and democracy requires a voluntary unity between nations and hence the right of nations to self determination through a referendum.

A federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales requires the abolition of the British Union, the sovereignty of the Crown-In-Parliament and a parliament for England based on popular sovereignty. It does not prevent any nation becoming a democratic republic by exercising its right to self determination. On the contrary republicans in the UK support the right of people in each nation to take their own road to a democratic republic.

A European federal republic which includes England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland is a democratic alternative to the United Kingdom’s antiquated and broken liberal state and to the European Union liberal semi-state. It makes the call for a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales obsolete and unnecessary.

The 2014 Scottish referendum and the 2016 EU referendum provide concrete evidence of from which to estimate the state of public opinion. The suspension or break down of the Good Friday agreement adds to the picture. This indicates that Scotland and Ireland are heading towards a republican future. England is now the largest nation in the EU without its own parliament or written constitution.

Republican Exit

Republicans oppose the EU and the UK on democratic grounds. The British Crown and the European Commission have too much unaccountable and unelected power. The EU should be opposed in a similar way and for similar reasons to opposition to constitutional monarchies like the UK and Spain, from a democratic republican position. Hence republicans support the Catalan republic and the right of the Catalan people to self determination.

Republicans oppose British Exit or ‘Brexit’ because only England and Wales voted to leave and Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain. As democrats we reject every version of Brexit which forces Northern Ireland and Scotland to leave the EU, the single market and customs union against their democratic will. British unionists ignore the votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland in favour of imposing an All-UK exit. This is a heinous crime against democracy and encourages nationalism.

A ‘Republican Exit’ is a based on the democratic mandates given by the people in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. It recognises the sovereignty of the nations in the UK state and their rights as nations to self determination. A ‘Republican Exit’ demands that any proposed settlement negotiated between the EU and Her Majesty’s Government must be returned to the sovereign people to be approved or rejected in a ratification referendum.

Remain-Democrats

The current political paralysis goes back to the 2016 EU referendum. It realigned UK politics into three camps – Ultra-Leave, Remain-Democrat and Ultra-Remain. ‘Remain-Democrats’ are those who in 2016 supported remaining in the EU but recognise that a majority voted to leave and this should be acted on.

The Labour Party leadership has positioned itself as the party of Remain-Democrats. It seeks the middle or centre between Ultra-Leave and Ultra-Remain. Both Sinn Fein and the SNP should be identified as Remain-Democrats since they are defending the democratic right of Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU.

James Ball examines the polling data. (New European 16 May 2019). He divides the results into three camps. On the right are the “Pro-Brexit parties” with total support of 47%. This breaks down into the Brexit Party 34%, Tories 10% and UKIP 3%. On the opposite side are “Anti-Brexit” with 38%. This breaks down into Liberal Democrats 15%, Greens 11%, Change UK 5% and Others 7% which probably refers to the SNP and Plaid.

Voting projections suggest the Brexit Party will have 32 seats and the Tories 4. Labour will hold 12 seats. Then the Liberal Democrats will hold 10 and the Greens 8 with the SNP 3 and Plaid 1.Chukka and Co will win 0. (Times 22 May 2019).

In the centre of this poll is the Labour Party with 16% as the pivot between “Pro-Brexit parties” and “Pro-Remain” parties. The centre ground is an uncomfortable place to occupy. But for socialists the ‘Remain-Democrat’ position is not just about accepting the majority vote. It recognises the importance of the working class, deeply divided over the EU. That is a dangerous situation which opens up possibilities for the extreme right to build a larger base among working people. No socialist or trade unionist can ignore this.

Corbyn’s Labour is trying against the odds to find and hold the centre ground in a party whose divisions reflect a divided working class. Both the Brexit and Remain press have laid siege to Labour’s confusion. Jonathan Friedland says “There’s Tom Watson who says “We are a Remain and Reform party”. But there is also Barry Gardiner who says Labour is not a remain party now”. (Guardian 18 May 2019)

Republicans in England and Wales, who recognise the importance of the working class, should locate their case in the ‘Remain-Democrat’ camp which Corbyn’s Labour is occupying. This is ‘critical support’ whilst raising the rights of Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU and the democratic right to ratify any settlement whether from a Tory or Labour government.

Ultra-Remain

Ultra-Remain does not accept the 2016 referendum and aims to reverse the decision by means of a second-remain referendum. The liberals back a second referendum to overthrow the 2016 result. It is a stupid idea and dangerous too. The battle for working class opinion has to be won before such a referendum could be considered.

Labour peer, Andrew Adonis, writes about “Decoding Double Speak”. He identifies examples of Orwellian newspeak. He says “the funniest is the second referendum which became a Peoples Vote, then a public vote and is now a ‘confirmatory vote’ with an option to remain – except the last five words sometimes have to be construed because they are not always stated”.(New European 16 May 2019)

A ratification referendum is another term for a confirmatory referendum without an option to remain. Including “an option to remain” on the ballot paper turns it into a second or repeat referendum. Liberals and reactionaries have joined forces to sow confusion. Corbyn should be supporting a ratification referendum and opposing a second-remain referendum.

Corbyn and the fight against Tory Brexit

There are many options or policies towards the EU from No Deal, Tory Brexit, Labour Brexit, Republican exit and Remain. The only one that confronts us is Tory Brexit. The others are theoretical or politically impossible. At present there is only one deal facing parliament and the people – the Tory ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ negotiated by the May government – a zombie deal that has refused to die.

The zombie deal is highly toxic in poisoning the body politic. As it drags on it gives every encouragement to reactionary forces to grow fuelled by the impossibility of dealing with austerity and poverty. Some people may think ‘Brexit’ and poverty are two separate questions facing the people. But politics and economics are connected as Tory Brexit is to Tory austerity.

Fighting and defeating Tory Brexit is the spearhead against Tory austerity not least in making an early general election necessary. The opposition to Tory Brexit in parliament led by Corbyn’s Labour not the Ultra-Remain MP’s and parties. They have at every stage sought to undermine Corbyn Labour with the slogan of a second referendum and thus undermine the fight against Tory austerity.

Corbyn’s victories

The main stream media have kept up a constant war against Corbyn, slandering him as an anti-Semite and claiming he is confused (does not know what is doing) and dishonest (a secret Brexit supporter). He can be criticised for being less than robust in making his positions crystal clear not least in rebutting false claims about anti-Semitism and on the ratification referendum question.

Corbyn Labour, despite accepting the 2016 result, has so far torpedoed Tory Brexit. The 2017 general election was a massive blow against it. May wanted an even bigger majority to deliver it and lost her majority. Despite the many knives sticking out of his back from his own MPs, Cobyn won a remarkable victory. He has kept his ship afloat with a ‘Labour Brexit’ which may yet be a movable feast.

May lost her majority and became dependent on the DUP. Corbyn’s ‘victory’ made the Irish question an impossible stumbling block. His centrist coalition handed out three parliamentary defeats to Tory Brexit. The UK was due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. This was an unmovable deadline which the Tories swore to deliver. The UK is still in the EU and now holding elections that were never going to happen.

Corbyn has to get credit because he was able to keep his parliamentary Labour Party sufficiently united to be the main force blocking May’s deal. So while the Ultra-Remain and Ultra-Leave have continued to savage Corbyn and undermine him at every step, it is his Labour Party that means we are still in the EU months after we were due to leave. Yet at some point Corbyn’s line will run its course and become a block on opposition to Brexit. The ‘weapon’ of Labour Brexit will be overtaken by events.

So in conclusion I support Labour in this European election in England and Wales for a republican perspective. If I lived in Northern Ireland I would be tempted to support Sinn Fein. I say “tempted” because I do not know the situation on the ground. In Scotland republicans should be looking for a party that fought for Scotland to Remain in the EU and supported a ratification referendum whether held by the UK government or called by the Scottish parliament.

22 May 2019

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Civil War or Civil Peace

Recently I wrote to Labour MP Helen Hayes, urging her to support a ratification referendum on May’s Withdrawal deal (or even a May-Labour version). This is a democratic right which enables both leave and remain supporters to reject (or support) the Tory deal.

I opposed including a remain question saying it “would be dangerously divisive to try at this time to reverse the 2016 vote and would be a gift to the Tories and the extreme right in many working class communities suffering from Tory austerity”.

My only qualification is that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and should not be forced to leave the EU against their will. If they are, they should fight for a referendum on leaving the UK.

Helen Hayes replied that “I continue to hold the view that in any future referendum remain must be an option on the ballot paper. I have consistently held this view”. Many Labour MPs, Tiggers, Greens and Liberal Democrats support this.

The Brexit crisis has polarised people. Many working class Leavers now support a Full Total Brexit. A referendum which offers working class Leave supporters a choice to vote for May’s deal OR Remain will be seen as betrayal and cause outrage. Surely they will boycott it and take to the streets?

In England and Wales a “May Deal or Remain” referendum plays into the hands of the Tory right and the neo-fascists. They will think Christmas has come early, whilst socialists will remember that liberals have always been the midwives of authoritarianism and fascism.

We are at a fork in the road on the referendum question. One sign says “Civil Peace” and the other says “Civil War”. The democratic demand for ratification is the road towards peace. A Remain ballot risks civil war.

Rex Dunn’s article in Weekly Worker (No 1246 11 April 2019) highlights the war path. He says “Hatred and intolerance is on the rise. This is the ‘ugly face of Brexit’ as the pro-Brexit demonstration on March 29 clearly showed”. He continues “if there is a general election – or another referendum – there could well be fighting in the streets. If that happens, of course, this would not be the first time that there would be civil violence in Britain”.

Rex says “today if fighting does break out in the coming period, it will be between pro-‘remain’ and pro-Brexit supporters: a civil war without class struggle, because it crosses class lines”. Boycotting referenda is not like boycotting civil war.

All civil wars in capitalist society involve struggle between classes which ‘cross class lines’. In his discussion of the national question, Lenin rejected any notions of pure class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in which one side lines up “for capitalism” and the other “for socialism”. Revolution and civil war is a messy business.

Labour MP Helen Hayes has naively chosen the path of civil war although there is as yet no majority in parliament to issue the call to arms. Liberals don’t care. They have a stick to beat ‘peacenik’ Corbyn, who seems reluctant to back a second-remain ballot. He should rule it out and not beat about the bush.

The Corbyn ‘peace plan’ without the democratic right to ratify echoes Stalinist bureaucratic politics that fears and avoids the democratic verdict of the working class. It would be disastrous if Labour makes a Brexit peace deal with the Tories. It is even more dangerous if working people are denied the right to ratify or reject it.

The working class needs its own independent democratic policy rather than simply following the reactionaries and liberals. This includes following the path of civil peace not civil war and hence fighting for a ratification referendum and rejecting a dangerous attempt to MP’s like Helen Hayes to include a remain question.

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Dangerous Times

Jack Conrad (Weekly Worker 28 March 2019) says “the UK is in the grip of a profound constitutional crisis” and “the left must reject referendum as a matter of principle” and instead “we need our own programme and our own tactics”.

The first and last of these three statements are undoubtedly correct. A “profound constitutional crisis” and the need for “our own programme and our own tactics” go together. But the meaty “principle” in the sandwich is surely infected with mad cow disease. Nice bread but crap sandwich.

Let us ignore the constitutional crisis and concentrate on programme and tactics by contrasting three examples – Corbyn-Labour, Labour Party Marxists and a working class democratic programme and tactics.

The Corbyn-Labour Party accepts the 2016 referendum result and is in favour of leaving the EU by securing a customs union and close regulatory alignment. Labour calls for a general election and is prepared to support a second remain referendum. This places Labour in a dangerous position just to the left of the Tories.

The Labour Party Marxists seem to support a British (or UKanian) republic etc. This is like the CPGB programme from ten or twenty years before Cameron’s Brexit referendum. It has little or nothing to say about Brexit except to oppose a second referendum.

A democratic programme supports Northern Ireland and Scotland remaining in the EU and England and Wales leaving the EU but not the single market or customs union. Such a democratic exit recognises the ‘will of the people’ which, despite its obvious flaws, remains valid until working class opinion changes significantly.

A democratic exit is totally opposed to every kind of British Exit whether Tory or Labour. Of course no democrat would try to impose a democratic exit on the people. So this includes the democratic demand for a ratification referendum on any deal.

All this is located in the struggle between ‘reactionaries’ and ‘liberals’ which Jack describes in his article. The reactionaries are opposed to another second referendum because they don’t trust the people and fear voters will betray them. The liberals want a second referendum to overthrow the 2016 vote. This must include a Remain question, otherwise it has no purpose.

The EU is, as Jack describes, a capitalist semi-state with “anti-union laws” and a “constitutional commitment to the market and neo-liberalism” which has imposed “barbaric austerity on Spain, Portugal and Greece” and more. Yet this is not a case for leaving the EU because outside will be worse.

Working class democracy is not neutral between ‘reactionaries’ and ‘liberals’. The future of democracy is in Europe not outside it. We need an independent democratic programme which links our democratic future with the future of European democracy. The starting point is the democratic questions thrown up by the 2016 referendum.

Groucho Marx famously said “these are my principles and if you don’t like them …well, I have others”. Labour Party Marxists generally oppose all referenda on principle. But Jack argues they could call a referendum or participate in voting either for or against any proposition on the ballot paper.

I won’t now go over the argument that referenda are tactical questions not matters of principle. Suffice to say that ‘principles’ cannot distinguish between a ratification referendum and repeating the 2016 referendum with the intention of reversing it.

The liberals are fighting for a second referendum. Working class democrats are opposed to that, not because of some fake ‘principles’ but simply because it is the wrong time and the wrong approach to a divided working class.

With Corbyn talking about a deal with May, working class democrats have to make the democratic case that any dodgy deal must be put to working people for ratification in a referendum, whether a Tory or a Labour deal or a Tory-Labour deal.

The problem with Jack’s ‘no referendum’ principles is that it is incapable of distinguishing between a ratification referendum, like on the Good Friday Agreement, and a second referendum like Scotland’s plans for IndieRef2 or recognising the duplicitous liberals using the former as camouflage for the latter.

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European elections

Hardly a day goes by without the ‘Brexit revolution’ taking some new turn. The plot to overthrow May was slapped down when she called the conspirators to her Chequers country palace. Next day in parliament she ruled out ‘no deal’ and pulled the Withdrawal Agreement to avoid a third meaningless vote. Parliament has taken over. Yet her Zombie deal is very likely come back again.

During the debate a series of senior backbenchers highlighted a deep political crisis threatening the Tories. “What on earth has happened to our pragmatism, our self-restraint and our common sense?” asked Tory MP Nicholas Soames. “Like many others, I have found myself truly distraught at the painful, difficult and intractable position in which our country finds itself”. (Guardian Rafael Behr 26 March 2019)

Jeremy Corbyn told May – “The government’s approach to Brexit has now become a national embarrassment. Every step of the way along this process the government has refused to reach out, refused to listen and refused to find a consensus that can represent the views of the whole of the country, not just her own party.” (Guardian Rafael Behr 26 March 2019)

What is wrong with Corbyn Labour’s position? First is the immediate programme. He is not talking ‘democracy’ but about reaching out, finding consensus and listening. Labour has tried to find a middle ground between reactionary Leave and liberal Remain, calling for a customs union and remaining close to the single market. There is no democratic rationale for this.

A democratic programme is not about consensus but taking seriously the votes in Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain and England and Wales to leave the EU. Let us call this, the ‘Republic of 23 June’ and remember that England and Wales did not vote to leave the single market and customs union. Respecting this is consistent with the rights of all UK citizens to move freely around the EU.

Labour should have reinforced its position by making it clear that any settlement would be put to a ratification referendum. Any deal would not be imposed on the people. It is a democratic right to vote to approve whatever comes through. Labour must commit to that.

The one thing that Corbyn does have right is his continued opposition to the Withdrawal Agreement. Yet because of his adoption of ‘consensus’ he is vulnerable to being pushed and pulled to compromise. It is easier to oppose Mays deal on democratic grounds than a ‘consensus’ which has one foot in the Tory cess pit.

Then we have Labour’s tactics. The party has made the call for a general election its first demand and only later a peoples vote. If Labour’s tactics were correct he would be marching at the head of one million people demanding a general election. What other weapons does he have? Wait for the Tory coup? Move a vote of no confidence in May?

In an interview on BBC Radio 4 Today (25 March 2019) Deborah Matinson, from the ‘Britain Thinks’, explained that people are hostile to the idea of a general election. Only 13% thought it would help the Brexit debacle, 45% thought it will make it worse and 32% thought it will make no difference.

People blamed May for the mess but were “bemused” by Corbyn’s call for a general election. They thought a man of principle was now “playing politics” with a national disaster. This was not building up trust in Corbyn or Labour’s leadership. The offer of a ratification referendum is something which engenders trust because it implies Labour trusts working people with important decisions.

Then we have the failure to turn up and support the Peoples march. One million people were not marching for a general election but the right to vote. It is not ruled out by Labour’s own policy. Of course this campaign is being led by liberals to the right of Corbyn who want a Remain question on the ballot paper.

Corbyn needed to be brave enough to explain the distinction between ratification and a second remain referendum which prematurely tries to reverse the 2016 vote and could deepen divisions in the working class. By staying away he left the door open for his arch enemy, Tom Watson, to speak at the demo and offer to back May’s deal in exchange for a second referendum May Deal or Remain.

The crisis is deepening. Now the Leave section of the working class has been abandoned by its Brexit leaders, Johnson, Ress-Mogg, Davies etc who condemned May’s Agreement and are now going to support it. The sense of betrayal by their rotten millionaire leaders will make them angry. They too have a right to ratify. But a referendum on May’s deal versus remain simply cuts them out of the process and should be unacceptable to any democrat.

It is not necessary to revoke Article 50 but democracy and any alternative to May’s deal will require a long extension as offered by Germany. Labour should declare it is ready to fight the European elections and Corbyn should take his message to European working class.

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Putrid Porridge

Tony Blair (Observer 3 March 2019) said “President Macron is right. Any extension of the article 50 process should be for a reason. It should be to eliminate the blind Brexit Theresa May proposes. But first her deal must be defeated”. Blair has put his finger on the key issue – defeating May’s deal. He says “if I were an MP I wouldn’t want to own this putrid porridge of poor political leadership”.

Today May’s deal went down. It has now been defeated in parliament twice. Has it finally been killed off or will it comeback for a third time? While May survives this is surely possible and the Tories are unlikely to get rid of her unless really forced to because they fear a general election.

We are in a peculiar constitutional situation between Crown, parliament and people. The ‘sovereign people’ voted to leave even though they have no place in the constitution. The Crown, through the PM, promised to carry out the will of the people. Despite repeated evasions and defeats in parliament, the PM has continued ‘representing’ the people against parliament.

In the UK constitution the people are not sovereign and have no authority to halt the parliamentary farce by taking control of the decision. Of course, there is no need for a ratification referendum if the May deal is finally finished. But is it? It may now hide in the shadows awaiting a moment to come out again. The people seem powerless to prevent this nonsense carrying on unless they can force a vote on her deal.

The Observer editorial (10 March 20019) says “The principled case for a referendum on May’s deal remains as strong as ever. It is critical that the negotiated agreement is put before voters for ratification or rejection. This is not re-running the 2016 referendum, but about making sense of its result: the government has not been able to secure what voters were promised, and it must give the public the chance to accept or reject the deal”.

Unfortunately liberals, like Blair, are playing a different game. Last week he said if all else fails MP’s should “accept her deal” but “with a Kyle-Wilson amendment for a confirmatory referendum”. This is smoke and mirrors. In the name of ‘confirmation’ Blair and his allies want to us to vote against putrid porridge and for remaining in the EU.

Keir Starmer takes the same line. He calls for a public vote between “May’s deal and Remain”. (New European 6 March 2019) He is backed up by John McDonnell MP and no doubt deputy Labour leader Tom Watson under the banner of a second referendum. Michael White is cautious about this. He says “I am not sure remain will pull it off”. (New European 6 March 2019).

There are two obvious objections to voting for “May’s deal or Remain”. It will be seen as illegitimate by many who voted to leave. There would be no question in this kind of ballot for millions of leave voters who want No-deal. It will be seen as the liberal elite fixing the result.

Polling evidence suggests that public opinion has not changed much among those who voted. It may even have hardened people’s views. But there is a shift towards remain because new young voters have joined the electoral register. Re-fighting the 2016 referendum with a marginal shift among those who voted first time will deepen the divisions and settle nothing.

Hence White says “I remain nervous about the prospect for a second referendum. It is hard for reason to defeat zeal, especially when coupled with anger and mendacity on a scale likely to be far nastier that the last time because leave voters will insist that the 2016 verdict must stand”. (New European 6 March 2019)

Corbyn seems to have been dragged into a ‘confirm or remain’ second referendum because he, his advisors and his supporters don’t seem to have grasped the basic democratic case for a ratification referendum. If May or her deal survives, it is Labour’s only route to an early general election with the prospects of a Labour victory. Otherwise there is a danger the Corbyn will drown in a bowl of putrid porridge, with a Tory dollop of alleged anti-Semitism and a dash of Hezbollah sauce. Let us see what happens when the dust settles.

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