Aug 30 2019

It’s the constitution stupid – After the Boris ‘coup’ let’s fUK it!

Allan Armstrong gives his response to the latest constitutional crisis hitting the UK state

 

It’s the constitution stupid – After the Boris ‘coup’ let’s fUK it!

 

Contents

  1. A constitutional and legal coup under Crown-in-Westminster sovereignty
  2. The UK’s growing constitutional crisis, the retreat of neo-liberalism and liberal unionism and the growth of right populism and reactionary unionism
  3. The continued rise of right national populism and the hard right in the UK
  4. The May 23rd Euro-elections – Farage’s right populist victory paves the way for the hard right take-over of the Tory Party
  5. The asymmetric polarisation of UK politics
  6. From Maybynism to Borisbynism? – Labour’s role in helping to move official politics to the right
  7. Neo-liberal attempts to turn back the right populist challenge over Brexit
  8. The right and centre Remainers take politics to the streets
  9. The Lexiters’ (and Irexiters’) economism and abstract propagandism
  10. The emergence of left Remainers, Another Europe Is Possible, and their turn to the streets
  11. Conclusions

_________

  1. A constitutional and legal coup under Crown-in-Westminster sovereignty

The decision taken by Boris Johnson and his backers  to prorogue Westminster on the 28th August represents the culmination of a prolonged constitutional crisis, which began with the Scottish independence referendum between 2012-14, and has been accelerating in the aftermath of the Brexit vote in 2016. Today we have liberals (in all the mainstream British parties), and even some conservatives, bemoaning  the unconstitutional and illegal nature of the decision taken by the unelected prime minister, Johnson, along with privy councillor, Jacob Rees-Mogg (Tory MP representing the eighteenth century), and the unelected head of state, queen Elizabeth. However, the UK state, based on the sovereignty of the Crown in Westminster, with its armoury of anti-democratic Crown Powers, gives enormous power to the dominant section of the British ruling class. Proroguing parliament is both constitutional and legal.

Westminster quite constitutionally and legally presided over centuries of chattel slavery, and when slavery was abolished, compensated the slave owners not the slaves. Westminster presided over the centuries long land grab which has led to Great Britain, especially Scotland, having the greatest landownership inequality in Europe. This followed enclosures and clearances, with tenants evicted,  sometimes having their homes burnt over their heads. Westminster presided over a system where workers’ organisations were never  given rights but were reluctantly conceded ‘immunities’ – toleration not equality – and since the 1980s many of these immunities have been withdrawn under anti-trade union laws.  When the City banksters helped to precipitate the 2008 Financial Crisis, Westminster ensured that, instead of these people facing jail sentences, they continued to receive massive bonuses. Their debts were offloaded on to the people in an austerity offensive.  When Westminster presided over the 2012-14 Scottish independence referendum campaign, it was quite consistent with ruling class duplicity to make a ‘Vow’ sanctioned by David Cameron and Gordon Brown, which they had no intention of honouring. When Westminster presided over the 2016 EU referendum, it excluded EU residents and 16-18 year olds (who had been allowed to vote in the Scottish independence referendum), and compounded this in the 2019 Euro-elections, by not doing anything about the removal of a large number of legally-entitled EU voters from the electoral register by ‘administrative means’.

If you want to make the very understandable outrage against Johnson’s hard right Tory Brexit government (propped up by the even more hard right DUP) effective, then moaning about constitutionality and legality will be of little use.  The immediate answer to their constitutionality based on and the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster is our republican democratic principle of the sovereignty of the people. The immediate answer to their Westminster legality is our social justice. [1] And the immediate answer to their effective denial of national self-determination within UK’s unionist set-up is for us to  break-up the anti-democratic UK state along ‘ internationalism from below’ principles.

The link between the future of the state’s relationship with its constituent units, and with the EU, have been demonstrated in Scotland, which currently is in the front line of the challenge to Johnson and the hard  right Tories. The resignation of the socially liberal, Ruth Davidson as Scottish Conservative and Unionist leader, on the same day as Johnson’s ‘coup’, marks the end of her leadership of the strident defence of the union in Scotland. She was a committed Remain supporter in 2016, but ever since the Brexit vote, like so many other Tories, has continually retreated in the face of the hard right Tory Brexit offensive. She ended up backing the DUP’s stance on the Irish backstop. In the Tory leadership election, she first backed the hard right Brexiter, and sacked cabinet minister, Priti Patel,[2] but ended up backing the hard right Brexiter and the wannabe Trump’s man, Jeremy Hunt. But as Scottish Tory members moved their votes to Johnson, Ruth, the Tory unionist darling, found herself increasingly isolated. ‘Tank commander’ Ruth was for photo-shot opportunities, not for leading Johnson’s UK state clampdown in Scotland.

This article outlines how the constitutional crisis arose, how the now dominant right national populist section of the British ruling class intends to ‘resolve’ it; how the ‘opposition’ has facilitated this, and how the Left, bogged down in its economistic concentration on ‘bread and butter’ issues, has been unable to step to the fore and offer a political lead. This despite the division in  the British ruling class – the classic feature of a pre-revolutionary situation. Most of the Left have echoed Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign slogan. “It the economy, stupid!”[3] However, in today’s conditions of global economic and environmental crisis, very little advance can be made without a political challenge to the existing political set-up. ‘It’s the constitution, stupid’!

 

  1. The UK’s growing constitutional crisis, the retreat of neo-liberalism and liberal unionism and the growth of right populism and reactionary unionism

The constitutional issue has been central to UK politics, both with regard to the state’s relationship with its constituent units – Scotland, Northern Ireland and to a lesser extent Wales – and also to the EU.  The political crisis that has enveloped the neo-liberal unionists,[4] was first highlighted by the 2012-14 Scottish independence referendum and was accentuated by the 2016 EU referendum.

The highpoint for the liberal unionists, who had been responsible for the ‘New Unionist’, Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, had been between 2011-12. The neo-liberal drive, underlying this settlement, was the desire to create the optimum constitutional framework throughout these islands to maximise corporate profits. This was underwritten by the UK, EU and USA. These constitutional arrangements were then accepted by all the mainstream unionist parties – New Labour, the Lib-Dems and the Conservatives. On March 3rd, 2011, Cameron’s Conservative/Lib-Dem government backed new law-making powers for the Welsh Assembly in a referendum.[5] On the June 27th, 2012, former IRA commander, Martin McGuinness shook hands with the queen.[6]

However, in Northern Ireland the loyalists, including the right populist DUP, Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)[7] and other reactionary unionists,[8] had grown more determined in their opposition to the direction of UK politics, and in particular to the liberal unionist GFA.[9]  From December 3rd, 2012, loyalists organised Flag Protests in Belfast.[10] An immediate target was the liberal unionist Alliance Party office in East Belfast, which was petrol bombed. The loyalists were determined to undermine the GFA, with its ‘parity of esteem’ between unionists and nationalists.[11] Although the DUP has faced pressure from other reactionary unionist forces (TUV, the Progressive Unionist Party  – which emerged  from the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer  Force – and UKIP) and from the liberal unionist, Alliance Party, it has increased its already dominant Northern Irish presence at Westminster. However,  Sinn Fein reached parity with the DUP in the number of MLAs at Stormont in 2017  (contributing to the DUP’s continued support for its suspension after January 2107[12]).

Although the Flag Protests ended, loyalists have maintained street activities such as triumphalist Orange marches through nationalist areas, massive hate-fuelled bonfire celebrations, and intimidating non-unionists out of what loyalists consider to be ‘their’ housing areas. Whenever the DUP leadership shows the slightest sign of being prepared to compromise with Irish nationalists, or even a Tory government, the loyalists threaten such mayhem that the DUP, dependent upon their votes, quickly bows to their demands.

Since 1998, successive Labour, Con-Dem and Conservative governments had been prepared to leave politics in Northern Ireland to local parties, preferring to use the power of the UK state to exert influence there. However, UKIP, a right populist and reactionary unionist party, took an increasing interest in Northern Ireland. Many people, who joined Nigel Farage’s UKIP, were former Tories, who had opposed the setting up of the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. What UKIP learned from the DUP was the art of undermining a devolved assembly from within, rather than just condemning it from without. What UKIP offered to reactionary unionists in Northern Ireland, was a wider all-UK party, which wanted to undermine, not only the liberal unionist GFA, but also the wider ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, to leave the EU, and to reinforce the UK state.

UKIP began to organise in Northern Ireland. It won 1 local councillor in 2011 and 4 in 2014. It gained an MLA in 2012. When EU membership became an increasingly significant election issue, UKIP came top of the non-Executive party candidates in the 2014 European elections and the 2015 Westminster general election (although winning no seats). Most people consider UKIP to be just an English right nationalist party (and this is a significant factor in its support), but it has been able to relate to a wider reactionary unionism, reinforced by the unionist nature of the UK state with its Crown Powers. Together these underpin ‘Ulster’-, Scottish- and Welsh-Britishness.[13]

Another indication of this wider hybrid unionist appeal was UKIP’s breakthrough in Wales where, in 2011, it gained 1 Member of the Welsh Assembly (MWA)  and  in the 2016 Assembly elections it gained 7; in the 2012 Welsh local election it won 2 councillors; and in the 2009 and 2014 Euro-elections in Wales it won and maintained an MEP, moving in to second place. Even in Scotland, where UKIP has never been able to win a single councillor or an MSP, it gained an MEP in the 2014 Euro-election. Thus, UKIP could claim to be the only all-UK party, with representation in all of the state’s constituent units.

The next event undermining the liberal unionist, ‘Devolution-all-round’, constitutional order was the 2012-14 Scottish independence campaign. Cameron’s Conservative/Lib-Dem government, backed by the ‘One Nation’ (read ‘one state) Labour Party, conceded a Scottish independence referendum, because they were convinced that this was an SNP-only affair, and given the 2012 polling predictions, a ‘No’ vote would be a walkover, and send the SNP into retreat. However, the wider ‘Yes’ campaign became much more broadly based and more radical than the SNP leadership had originally envisaged. It led to a ‘democratic revolution’, where an unprecedented 97% registered and 85% voted.[14]

Labour  provided the liberal unionist front (making promises they had no power to deliver) to an essentially conservative unionist, ‘Better Together’ campaign.  Although Scottish independence was defeated 45% to 55%, the 2015 Westminster general election did not see the unionists’ expected revival. The SNP won 56 out of 59 MPs. The issue of Scottish independence had been mainstreamed, something that represented a major setback for unionism.

At Westminster, Holyrood and the Scottish local councils, Labour and the Tories now fought over which was the most vehemently unionist party, with the Tories winning out in the 2016 Holyrood and 2017 Westminster general election contests. However, in an indication of how panicked the Labour Party had become, some Labour controlled local councils (e.g. Glasgow and North Lanarkshire) moved to accommodate the reactionary unionist Orange Order. After the 2016 Scottish local election results, the Orange Order claimed they now had 6 Scottish councillors – 5 Labour and 1 Tory![15]

In March 2016, Cameron re-registered his party as the Conservative and Unionist Party.[16]  This was an indication of his awareness of the two-fronted constitutional battle he knew he now faced – with challenges from constitutional nationalist parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and from the reactionary unionists, not only in Northern Ireland, but now in Great Britain too, in the form of the Tory Right within his own party and UKIP without. On the very night that the 2014 ‘No’ result had been announced, Cameron had shafted his liberal unionist ‘Better Together’ frontman, Gordon Brown. Cameron moved on to take up the challenge from the reactionary unionists by appealing to  right wing English nationalism. He announced his support for ‘English votes for English laws’,[17] a move that would virtually rule out the possibility of any non-English PM at Westminster. Cameron was appealing to UKIP’s English right nationalist base, who were winning more support for leaving the EU.

When, a few years after  the 2008 Financial Crisis, the German state-backed Eurobank had considered greater regulation of banking activities in the EU,[19] the City prodded the Eurosceptic, neo-liberal, David Cameron into taking a stronger oppositional stance. This went along with his attempt to curtail some EU migrant workers’ rights. Together these (and his wish to dish the Tory right and UKIP) formed a significant part of his reasoning to go for a Euro-referendum in 2016. For Cameron, these demands amounted to a bargaining chip to gain further exemptions. But, in the process, he gave the green light to the Europhobic[20] Tory Right and their right populist allies in UKIP. Both wanted to leave the EU altogether.

The central demand of the Brexiters, promoted by the Tory Right-led official ‘Vote Leave’, with the support of Nigel Farage’s ‘Grassroots Leave’, was ‘Take back control’. This was designed to reinforce the bulwarks of an already very undemocratic UK state, in the face of pressures stemming from the EU upon the City banksters, and the impact of the EU’s rights covering workers, consumer, environmental and minorities (especially over language rights), and also from the democratic challenges in Scotland, Northern Ireland/Ireland and Wales.

In November 2015, Farage’s principal UK financial backer, Aaron Banks, tweeted that, “Increasingly the Norway option looks the best for the UK,”[21] whilst Farage himself hinted at the possibility of such an option.[22] What this indicates is that at this early stage, even for UKIP, removing the UK state from the interstate EU treaty alliance was its first priority, the better to strengthen the UK state. This took precedence  over UKIP’s desire to remove EU migrants and asylum seekers.   If  ‘taking back control’  could be achieved first, that offered the possibility for further UK distancing later, when the UK was no longer part of the EU. Then the anti-migrant offensive could be stepped up. Internationally, politics had not moved far enough to the right to publicly promote an unambiguous, anti-Customs Union or anti-Free Trade Brexit, far less a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.

However, Farage quickly latched on to the possibilities opened up by the racism cultivated by successive governments, state agencies and the right-wing media, and to the Tory government’s official commitment to immigration targets. In order to popularise ‘take back control’, Farage did very much link his campaign  to attacks on migrant workers and asylum seekers. This was raised to fever pitch by the notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster in May 2016.

The symbiotic relationship between the Tories’ ‘Vote Leave’ and UKIP’s Grassroots Leave’ campaign disguised a difference over immigration. Most leading Tory Brexiteers want to ditch the official  immigration targets after any Brexit. Instead they want to introduce a gastarbeiter-type system of immigration control, which could open up the UK to much cheaper labour, with differential rights of residency, employment and welfare provision, according to immigrants’ incomes, or to the employers’ immediate labour requirements. This is  part of their  divide-and-rule strategy to lower wage costs across the board. Non-EU workers already experience a taste of this regime especially under the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Laws.

UKIP’s campaign was more openly racist and contributed to a spike in hate crimes. The impact of the rise in racism prompted by the Brexit campaign was first signalled by the murder of Jo Cox on 16th June by the far right, Thomas Mair. He targeted Cox because she was a ‘“passionate defender’ of the European Union and immigration.”[23] Soon after the Brexit vote was announced, Arek Jozwik was murdered on the streets of Harlow in Essex for speaking Polish, and Dagmara Przybysz, a Polish schoolgirl, committed suicide after racist bullying.

The ‘Leave’ vote on June 23rd, 2016 took on a global significance. The 2008 Financial Crisis had ended the political hegemony of neo-liberalism, opening the doors to left and right national populist challenges. The Brexit vote in the UK, though, proved to be the catalyst for the global domination of right populism, which up to this point had been confined to particular and more peripheral states in the global order without any common political or economic link, e.g. Putin’s Russia, Modi’s India, Orban’s Hungary and Kaczinski’s Poland. [24] although all were national chauvinist with strong racist undercurrents. Following the 2008 crisis, though, right populism was able to make significant inroads amongst sections of the ruling classes in the imperial heartlands. Donald Trump emerged as the leading right populist contender.[25]

Trump’s backers used Farage’s ‘Grassroots Leave’ campaign as a testing ground for their own planned take-over of US politics. Large sums of ‘dark money’ were involved.[26] Trump cheered the Leave vote victory, saying he represented ‘Brexit, plus, plus, plus’. ‘Take back control’ was to become ‘America First’. Within a few months, Trump was elected president of the USA. Since then, he has continually backed Farage. It is not just Farage’s parties’ electoral successes that have given him purchase over the Tories, but the fact that he is Trump’s man in the UK, and hence has a lot of heavyweight US corporate backing. Hard right Brexiteers know they enjoy the support of the most powerful man in the most powerful state in the world, and that since Trump has taken office, right populism (and the far right) have grown considerably in influence throughout the world.

Until the Brexiteers’ victory on June 23rd and Trump’s presidential victory on November 8th, 2016, the right populist and anti-EU section of the British ruling class was in a minority. Trump’s election shifted the balance of forces in both the US and UK ruling classes. The old-style neo-liberals were now on the retreat. They have found that their two respective states – the US with its imperial presidency, and the UK with its Crown Powers – offered them relatively little protection against Trump’s  and Johnson’s right populism. Right populists have been as able to make use of their states’ anti-democratic powers as the neo-liberals had been able to, and they have more contempt for any supposed constitutional constraints.

In a revamped version of the ‘Special Relationship’, Trump’s ‘America First’ is prepared to accept a loyal ‘Britain Second’ in a US dominated global order. Trump’s prime concern is to challenge those states that have emerged most strongly in the world since the collapse of the USSR – China foremost, but also a possible new Germany-led European state-in-the-making. Trump’s relationship with Putin’s Russia became more ambiguous than that of anti-Russia, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. Trump has seen some potential for bringing Russia into his own global schemes both in Europe and the Middle East, particularly Syria.

The earlier US neo-liberal foreign policy, which had promoted China’s adoption of a ‘capitalist road’, and backed the EEC/EU as a barrier to the USSR (coupled to US control of NATO in Europe[27]), had produced ‘blowback’, as their growing economic power threatened US global domination. Thus, Trump abandoned the longstanding US state policy of using the UK to discipline the EEC/EU from within, switching to using the UK to weaken and possibly break-up the EU.[28]

For the Tory Right, despite some Empire2 posturing, the real alternative to continued membership of the EU is for the UK to move even closer to the USA, fully replacing EU bureaucratic rules with US corporate business rules.[29] Thatcher had always seen the role of UK membership of the EU as being to act as a Trojan horse for US-style neo-liberalism. This was to eliminate the social/christian democratic, social market principles which had prevailed in the EEC/EU, with its regulations protecting workers’, consumers’, environmental and minority rights. Even when the balance moved decisively from social/christian democracy to neo-liberalism, following the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, there were still too many remnants of the older principles for the Conservatives and then New Labour. Their continued Euroscepticism meant pressing for more exemptions, particularly with regards to workers’ rights.

The global shift to the right, represented by Brexit and Trump, has allowed the Europhobic right in the UK to move beyond getting exemptions within the EU, to pushing for being exempt from the EU altogether. Trump’s continued backing for Farage prevented May from halting the political slide in UK politics even further to the right. This was despite her ability to a see off UKIP in the 2017 general election, by her adoption of a ‘No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal’. Yet Trump continued to show his contempt for May, and his backing for Farage.  For May, the ‘No Deal’ threat was meant to be another bargaining chip to get a harder ‘Brexit Deal’. But ‘No Deal’ soon became mainstreamed, moving politics even further right. Furthermore, in a sign of the leverage Trump exerted over nearly all shades of Tory Brexiteer, because a new US/UK trade deal is their prime alternative to remaining in the EU, May’s Tory government still fell over itself to bow to his wishes over a state visit to meet the queen on June 3rd2019.

And following the loss of the Tories’ overall Westminster majority in the 2017 general election, May now depended on the 7 ultra-unionist DUP MPs to maintain her government in office. Reactionary unionism had been ahead of the UK game in Northern Ireland, and the DUP had increased its number of MPs from 5 to 7 (out of a total of 11).[30] The UK’s political system’s anti-democratic, First-Past-the-Post elections were another part of the Crown-in-Westminster system which benefitted the Right. Northern Ireland had voted to remain in the EU.

One indication of the political drive to the hard right amongst the Tories could be seen in Scottish Conservative and Unionist party leader, Ruth Davison. Her social liberalism and her Irish lesbian partner had led her to the Gay Pride march in Belfast on August 2nd, 2016.[31]  A year later, May’s Tories were running the UK in a deal with the DUP. After this there was no sign of Davidson in Belfast. Instead on June 2nd, 2018, the leader of the socially reactionary DUP, Arlene Foster, was across in Scotland, leading an Orange Order parade in Cowdenbeath.[32]

Despite moving the Brexit agenda further to the right, May was unable to get her hard Brexit deal through Westminster on 16thJanuary 2019 (defeated by 230 votes) and again on 12th March (defeated by 149 votes). Her failure paved the way for a new Tory leadership contest announced on 24th May 24th. And in an indication of how far to the right the Tories had moved, both of the final contenders – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt – were prepared to go for a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. They also suggested that a hard stance could still force the EU’s negotiators to retreat and to accept a ‘May+ Deal’, that is minus the Irish backstop. This remains a bone of contention with UKIP.

 

  1. The continued rise of right national populism and the hard Right in the UK

However, the ‘Great Moving Right Show’ put a new lease of life into Farage. The penetration of the far Right into UKIP, after many earlier members had left the party, returned to the Tory Party, or voted for that party again, pushed Farage into making a clean break with UKIP in September 2018.[33] Farage formed his new Brexit Party on January 20th, 2019. To emphasise his orientation upon the Tory constitutional hard right, rather than the extra-constitutional far right, Farage welcomed Anne Widdecombe, darling of the Tory Right, into his party. Annunziata Rees-Mogg, another long-time Tory (and sister of the hard right, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the European Research Group) also joined. These women were to head the Brexit Party lists in their respective constituencies in the May 2019 Euro-elections.

On March 16th, Nigel Farage set off from Brexit-voting Sunderland, with two hundred of his supporters, to Remain-voting London on a ‘Leave Means Leave’ march. However, the scenes at Westminster on March 30th, upon Farage’s arrival, were dominated by the activities of the far right. They came from what remained of his old party, UKIP, and from supporters of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (a.k.a. Tommy Robinson), and the EDL. They assembled near Farage’s platform for their own ‘Make Brexit Happen’ rally. They did not present a pretty public picture, as MPs were accosted and called “fucking traitors”, whilst the SNP MP Joanna Cherry was told to “go back to {her} own country”.[34]

Although Farage is prepared to accept such people as voters, he wants to keep them at arms-length. Their open racism and sexism have to be kept away from any public manifestation of his party. Farage is a master of dog-whistle racism, rather than the more open racism of the far right. He is also very aware of the different contexts in which he operates, stepping up his racism in less public arenas. However, Farage is foremost a British chauvinist, and people of other ethnic backgrounds and sexual identities who share his ‘Britain First’ prejudices had been welcome in his earlier UKIP, e.g. Amjad Bashir, their Asian-British Yorkshire and Humber MEP and David Coburn, their gay Scottish-British MEP, elected in the 2014 Euro-election.

The ugly scenes at the end of the ‘Leave Means Leave’ march, had no doubt further convinced Farage that when his Brexit Party put forward candidates in the forthcoming Euro-elections, he would need to distance them from the far right. UKIP’s continued existence and pole of attraction for the far right, and its readiness to still stand its own candidates actually helped Farage in this. Brexit Party candidates have included people from ethnic minority, female and non-‘straight’ backgrounds,[36] as long as they upheld the UK state and ‘Britain First’.

Support for a stronger UK state (‘Take back control’) and ‘Britain First’ were designed to win over right Tory voters and supporters. Most of these people oppose equality for ‘others’, e.g. ethnic minorities, women, LBGT people, but if these ‘others’ can learn to accept their ‘proper place’ in Great Britain they might be tolerated. And supporters of the Tory Right don’t want authority figures pilloried, and those ‘others’ they dislike left to the unsavoury and often violent activities of the plebian far right. They want a strengthened UK state to deal with any ‘problems’ by official means – especially migrants. The UK state’s own anti-migrant activities, sanctioned by successive Immigration Laws, usually take place out of public sight; or have been delegated to private security companies, e.g. SERCO, where any ‘excesses’ can be disowned.[37]

Farage wants his party either to replace the Tories as the ruling class’s party of first choice, absorbing its membership; or to have his right populist politics take over the Tories in a similar manner to that Trump has achieved with the Republicans in the USA.[38] A merger would mean finding a significant role for Farage and his immediate entourage in any reconstituted Tory Party. Farage has many contacts amongst the Tories including former prominent members. Trump’s ability to shift global politics further to the right, provides ever more favourable political terrain for Farage. He cultivates the hard right, and even elements of the far tight beyond the UK, in the USA, Australia and Europe.

 

  1. The May 23rd Euro-elections – Farage’s right populist victory paves the way for the hard right take-over of the Tory Party

In the May 23rd EU elections, the Brexit Party emerged as the largest British party at Strasbourg with 30.5% of the vote and 29 MEPs (5 more than Farage’s predecessor party, UKIP, had achieved in the 2014 Euro-elections). The Brexit Party now has 26 MEPs in England, 2 in Wales, and 1 in Scotland. In addition, 4 one-time UKIP Welsh Assembly members switched to the Brexit Party. The only place where the Brexit Party had to abandon UKIP’s former all-UK ambitions is Northern Ireland. Here the much more established right populist and reactionary unionist DUP has been able to see off any electoral unionist challengers, whether from the fellow reactionary unionist TUV and PUP, or the recent UKIP incomer; from the conservative unionist UUP and local Conservative Party; or the liberal unionist Alliance.

Farage had learned some lessons from the DUP’s obstructionist undermining of the Good Friday Agreement from within. He acknowledged their reactionary unionist supporting role and the  new Brexit Party did not stand in the EU elections in Northern Ireland. UKIP still stood  but its vote fell from 3.9% in 2014 to 0.89% in 2019.  As a regular visitor to Northern Ireland,[39] Farage is confident enough of fellow reactionary unionist DUP support. The more distant and aloof May had to make continuous financial bungs to keep the DUP on board. And as well as supporting the DUP’s  ‘No Deal’ Brexit with no Irish backstop, which will reinforce partition, Farage will also support the hard right Tories in undermining the post-1997, ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement elsewhere in the UK.

The EU election results also showed what a shrewd calculation Farage had made in setting up his new Brexit Party and ditching the now increasingly far right UKIP (and its flirtation with Yaxley-Lennon, who had also been courted by some senior UKIP members). UKIP lost all of its remaining MEPs and failed to get any other candidates elected. Its share of the Euro-vote fell from 27.5% in 2014 to 3.2% in 2019. Yaxley-Lennon, now standing as a far right, celebrity candidate in the North West of England constituency, received only 2.2% of the vote and lost his deposit. He couldn’t match the vote of the most recent far right party, the BNP, which gained an MEP in this constituency and held it between the 2009-14 Euro-elections. This probably means the far right turning once more to concentrating on street politics, hoping to take advantage of the anti-migrant opportunities presented by Brexit, and the continued official state and right-wing media promotion of Islamophobia.[39]

One thing that became very clear in the Euro-elections was that whole swathes of the Tory Party were prepared to vote for the Brexit Party. This proved to be a major contributor to pushing the Tories even further to the right [40] and to boosting Johnson’s chances as Tory leader. Back in 2016, the statistical unlikelihood of having the two main leaders of the respective Tory led, Remain and Leave campaigns  – Cameron and Johnson – coming from the same school (Eton), university (Oxford) and exclusive private club (Bullingdon) had been highlighted to reveal something decidedly rotten about the old class (more like caste) bound British politics.

But in 2019, both candidates for the post-Theresa May Tory leadership in 2019 – Johnson and Hunt – were prepared to back ‘No Deal’. This shows not only how far to the right the Tory Party has moved, but the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of the UK state, reinforced by the Crown Powers. Under this system, Johnson and Hunt represented the full range of political choices on offer to be the next prime minister, following the overwhelming parliamentary rejection of May’s own hard Brexit deal. In virtually any other parliamentary democracy, a government losing the vote on its main policy, not just once but twice, would have to resign, preparing the grounds for a general election. But the UK’s unwritten constitution, with its Crown Powers, provides multiple barriers  to genuine democracy. The most reactionary sections of the British ruling class  can use these in the defence of their narrow interests. The Crown-in-Westminster is not  ‘the mother of all parliaments’, but  the ‘motherfucker of all democracy’.

There was never much doubt about who would emerge as the victor in the Tory leadership campaign. Johnson’s campaign was masterminded by the hard right Dominic Cummings, and Johnson was Trump’s favoured candidate. It remains to be seen whether, with the emergence of Johnson as prime minister, the Tories will make a more comprehensive right populist transition and marginalise Farage and the Brexit Party. This seems to be Johnson’s hope, wanting to do to Farage’s Brexit Party, what May did to Farage’s UKIP.

However so volatile is the political situation that Johnson can no more guarantee to get his ‘May+ Deal’ or a ‘No Deal’ implemented by Oct 31st, than May could her own deal. Unless Johnson can do this, the Brexit Party is likely to continue to loom large in UK politics. Johnson may be forced into coming to some political rapprochement with Farage. Furthermore, Trump has also retained his support for Farage, hoping that there can be a hard right merger, between the Tories and the Brexit Party, or at least a deal between Johnson and Farage.

Farage, backed by Trump, feels under little pressure to call off his spat with the Tories, even after the election of ‘No Deal’ Johnson’ as leader. Thus, Johnson’s ‘May+’ or ‘No Deal’ Tories and Farage’s even more vehemently ‘No Deal’ Brexit Party stood against each other in the Brecon and Radnor by-election on August 1st. Farage knew that this would cost the Brexiteers the seat. He was hoping, as in the recent Euro-elections and the Peterborough by-election, to overtake the Tories and increase his bargaining power. As it happened, in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, the Tories benefited from the ‘Brexit Boris bounce’. Their candidate held on to 39% of the vote, compared to the Brexit Party’s 10%. The loss of this seat to the Lib-Dems (which they had held from 1997 to 2005) did little to faze the new Tory government. There was not much chance of a Lib-Dem general electoral election victory if it came to that, and any Lib-Dem electoral surge could do as much damage to the Labour Party.[41]

If the right and centre Remainers can ever get their act together, either around an anti-‘No Deal’ national government before October 31st, or a general election pact, then a deal between the two hard right Brexiteer parties could well ‘trump’ this. And any hard right deal to achieve this would be based around a more coherent right populist politics than those of the more fragmented neo-liberal, Lib-Dem, Labour Right and Tory Remainers (with the putative addition of the constitutional nationalist SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Green Remainers only adding to the potential for further division).

The right and centre Remainers have no commonly accepted international backer, but Johnson and Farage both take their wider lead from Trump, despite their current political differences. The EU has no state, no army, no independent police force and no tax-raising machinery – depending on its member states for all these. The US has all of these things and more (including the CIA). It has a more widely accepted two party political system focussed on Washington,[42] whereas the EU political system, divided between Brussels and Strasbourg, and the leaders of its member states in the Council of Ministers, enjoys less legitimacy and is politically far more fragmented. And the recent challenges from right populist and far right parties within the EU, make it much harder for the neo-liberal, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to direct affairs than the right populist Trump in the USA. He has managed to consolidate his ‘America First’ backing.

Behind the scenes, Tory Right negotiations with the US, led by Dominic Raab, are well advanced for a new trade deal. These will end most workers’, consumers’ and environmental safeguards which exist under the EU. The aim is to drive the UK into an offshore, low wage, poor conditions, low regulation economy, with the NHS and farming being particular targets. Perhaps there will be some recognition of the British arms industry, and a ‘Britain Second’ deal which could place the UK even further to the fore in supporting wars and mayhem to advance US imperial interests.

As a quid pro quo for this, the UK would have to increase its NATO contribution. The renewed and increasingly expensive Trident will continue to be an entirely UK-funded contribution to the US armed forces, its deployment solely dependent upon the Pentagon.  And on the foreign policy front, the pressure on the UK would increase to ditch its somewhat half-hearted attempts, in alliance with key EU member states, to rein in Trump’s provocative foreign policies. These have included undermining the Iran nuclear deal and unquestioning backing for the far right, Israeli government and its ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Jeremy Hunt’s decision to have the royal navy seize an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar on July 5th was an indication of just how high the Tory Right is prepared to jump to meet US requirements under Trump [43]  Hunt received no support from the EU member states for his actions.

The UK state will have no voice at  Trump’s US ‘high table’.  US/UK links will be provided by his personal contacts with the most reactionary sections of the British ruling class. In relation to the US state, politically the UK’s status will be below that of Alaska and Puerto Rico. But this is a price the Tory hard right are prepared to pay, to maintain all the trimmings of empire, union, pomp and privilege through their ‘America First’/’Britain Second’ ‘Special Relationship’. Maybe the queen will get a new palace on one of Trump’s US  estates!

 

5. The asymmetric polarisation of UK politics

Thus, one consequence of the period following the 2016 EU referendum is that it has polarised politics, albeit asymmetrically. The more politically coherent hard Leavers have become more dominant than the more politically mixed Remainers.  The range of politics shared by the hard right Leavers extends from getting a ‘May+ Deal’ to going for a ‘No Deal’. However, the right and centre Remainers stretch from neo-liberal Europhiles, through traditional British Eurosceptic EU supporters, to those who would go quite far in accepting a ’softer’ Brexit, to avoid a ‘No Deal’.

On the hard right, Brexiteers have been able to win over the big majority of Leavers, whether originally hard or soft, around the once unheard of ‘No Deal’ Brexit. In the 2016 Euro-referendum, Brecon and Radnorshire had voted 52% to Leave. But the hard right Brexit parties – Johnson’s Tories (39%), the Brexit Party (10%) – got almost half of the constituency vote in the 2019 by-election, highlighting their success in moving most Brexit voters even further to the right.  In 2016, the 48% who voted Remain in Brecon and Radnorshire would have included Europhiles and Eurosceptics. The more Europhile Lib-Dem candidate, who did go on to win the by-election, only gained 44% of the vote (and that included the ‘borrowed’ votes of Plaid Cymru and the Greens – approximately 5%). Although the Welsh Labour Party, under its new leader, Mark Drakeford, adopted a pro-EU position, the party only received 5% of the vote[44] Together with the Lib-Dems, this amounted to a politically less cohesive pro-Remain and anti-‘No Deal’ vote of 49%.

Johnson, though, also benefits from the anti-democratic nature of the UK state. If the Crown Powers twice allowed May to override parliamentary rejection of her deal, Johnson has also used these powers to prorogue Westminster, and attempt to force through a ‘May+’ or ‘No Deal’ Brexit. He has Trump’s approval for this action. Trump sees it this as a good precedent for his use of the US’s imperial presidential powers, which perform a similar role to the UK’s Crown Powers.

The original Leave vote in June 2016 had been very much aided by the official exclusion of EU migrants and 16-18 year olds from the franchise, something the Labour Party did nothing to oppose.[45] Had they been included, it is likely the result would have been to Remain. Since then, behind-the-scenes, in the May 2019 Euro-election, UK state officials have gone considerably further. Although all EU residents are entitled to vote in Euro-elections, it seems that tens of thousands were prevented from doing so, for ‘administrative’ reasons[46] Again the Labour Party has done virtually nothing about this.

This is very much related to the Labour Party – Right and Left – accepting the existing state and its bureaucracy as an adequate vehicle for administering their proposed reforms, rather than seeing it as deeply imbued with conservative, racist and sexist views and practices. These continue to exist despite official anti-racist and anti-sexist laws. The disparity between official anti-racism and actual state practice was highlighted over the Windrush Scandal in April 2018.[47] The death of Sheku Bayoh in police custody in Kirkcaldy,[48] and its subsequent handling, provide another recent example.

If the polarisation of politics, centred on Westminster, is asymmetrically in favour of the hard right Tories, this is less true in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In both cases, the anti-‘No Deal’ forces are in a clear majority. It is clear to larger numbers that the way to end the logjam is to break with the UK. The SNP leadership, which has moved to the right to accommodate Scottish business since the 2014 referendum, is also aware of these pressures, and is desperately manoeuvring to try to avoid an open confrontation with the UK state. However, the succession of huge ‘All Under One Banner’ demos shows that there are still potentially independent forces beyond the SNP leadership’s control.[49]

Furthermore, the growing prospect of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit’ and the example of the AUOB marches, has even led to the emergence of significant Welsh independence forces on the streets [50] These have  involved more people than  the ‘Go For It’ rally held in Cardiff on September 13th 2014, in solidarity with Scottish independence campaigners.[51] The primary base of support for Welsh independence still lies in Welsh-speaking Wales. It is the EU’s protection of language rights, rather than Westminster legislation, which protects  the Welsh language. Without a written constitution, the existing language laws can be weakened. There is significant right unionist hostility to the Welsh language, and the hard right will no doubt be looking to their DUP allies in Northern Ireland about how best to undermine language rights and provision.

And in Northern Ireland itself, what are prospects for a popular mobilisation against Brexit? Sinn Fein is the mainstream political party with the least illusions in Westminster ‘democracy’. Connor Murphy, MLA in the suspended Stormont, stated upon the announcement of the proroguing of Westminster, “This day of all days when the British government decided to set aside parliamentary interests, decided to ride roughshod over the parliament and force their own position, then the argument that Sinn Féin should be sitting in there, as impotent as the rest of the MPs, I think is a nonsense. If they (the government) have that regard for their own political institutions what regard have they got for Irish interests – and our clear view is they have none.”[52]

However, like those other constitutional nationalists in the SNP, Sinn Fein is unwilling to organise popular mobilisations, based say on Border Communities Against Brexit.[53] They also fear the return to armed struggle, promoted by the dissident Republicans, which would represent a decided step back. So, like the SNP, Sinn Fein looks to other ruling class forces to challenge Johnson’s ’No Deal’ Brexit. “Irish interests will not be defended at Westminster, they will be defended by the Irish government, by the European Union, by the Americans on Capitol Hill – those are the people who are defending Ireland’s interests, it’s not being found in Westminster.”[54] But  Leo Varadkar, head of the Irish government, Donal Tusk and Jean-Claude Junker, heads of the EU, nor Capitol Hill are not going to defend the interests of the Irish people. In whatever deals they strike, their first priority is going to be the defence of Irish, European and US banks and other businesses. This is what they did following the 2008 Financial Crisis , when they made private debt (i.e. that of the banks) into sovereign debt (i.e. owed by the public) .

When Johnson became leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party and prime minister, he also created the post of Minister of the Union, reserving it for himself.[55] The constitutional future of Northern Ireland (particularly the backstop and the Good Friday Agreement) and of Scotland have remained central to the UK’s future. The British ruling class is acutely aware of this connection and is pursuing its own all-UK (and all-islands) strategy to address this  constitutional crisis. It is in Scotland,  Northern Ireland/Ireland and Wales that the most determined challenge to the currently hard right led polarisation of UK politics is most likely to take place. This is why a strategy that involves not just opposition to whoever or whatever party is currently in office, but which focusses on the anti-democratic nature of the UK’s unionist and imperialist state, with its Crown-in-Westminster sovereignty is vital. A republican and ‘internationalism from below’ approach is so important.

  

  1. From Maybynism to Borisbynism? – Labour’s role in helping to move official politics to the right

Both Theresa May and Boris Johnson have been able to benefit from Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of Brexit. After May’s initial stumble with her attempted resort to the ‘Henry VIII powers’ to force through Section 50 withdrawal from the EU was thwarted on December 9th, 2016,[56] Corbyn helped her out at Westminster. On 31st January 2017, he put a three-line whip on his MPs to help May facilitate the vote for Section 50, despite her not having provided Westminster with any plan to implement Brexit. In contrast with Corbyn’s earlier record of defying New Labour to vote against the Tories, he was now instructing Labour MPs to vote with May’s Tories and the DUP, and in his party it was mainly right Remainers who defied this instruction.

When, later on June 28th 2017, leading Labour right Remainer, Chuku Umanna proposed “a rebel amendment to the Queens Speech  calling upon the government to ‘rule out withdrawal from the EU without a deal’ and ‘set out proposals to remain within the Customs Union and Single Market’”,[57] he and two others were sacked from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. Ominously, “the Labour leadership argued {that this amendment} conflicted with their manifesto commitment to end freedom of movement.”[58] On labour migration, the Corbyn leadership was now to the right of Cameron in the Euro-referendum.

Furthermore, Corbyn’s much-praised For the Many, Not the Few Labour manifesto for the June 8th, 2017 Westminster general election, did not break with key elements of Ed Miliband’s 2015 election campaign. Miliband had promoted the ‘Controls on Immigration – I’m voting Labour’ mug. Corbyn’s 2017 manifesto included the statement, “Freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union.” Quite clearly the 2.9 million EU residents were not considered part of the “Many.”[59]

Labour reached a new low on January 28th, 2019, when the Tory government brought forward the second reading of the latest Immigration Bill. The purpose behind this is to introduce a new system of migrant labour regulation. In contrast with Corbyn’s three-line whip stance to aid May get through Section 50 in 2017, he only issued a one-line whip to MPs to oppose the introduction of stringent migration controls. Whilst even Ken Clarke and Anna Soubry voted against, 78 Labour MPs absented themselves.[60] May was able to get to get the second reading through. Labour’s pathetic stance ensured that the issue of immigration remained to the fore of Brexit politics. Under Corbyn. ‘Maybynism’ was replacing Tony Blair’s New Labour ‘Blatcherism’ and Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ Labour’s Camerobandism’.

Corbyn’s calculated political ambiguity over Brexit, which his closest centre left Brexiter[61]  advisors persuaded him to adopt in the 2017 general election, with some electoral success, has become less and less able to hold the line. This has become more obvious this year, first in the Newport by-election on 4th April, where the Labour vote fell by 12.7 % points (with no Brexit Party candidate), and the Peterborough by-election on 6th June, where the Labour vote fell by 17.6% points (with a Brexit Party candidate). Just before this, in the May 23rd Euro-election, the Labour vote fell from 24% in 2014 to 14% (their number of MEPs halved from 20 to 10).

The studied ambiguity, which had only cost 7 one-time Labour seats in Leave voting areas in the 2017 general election, allowed it to make more gains in Remain voting areas. But in 2019 this fence-sitting now devastated Labour constituencies in the Remain voting areas, particularly in London, as many Labour supporters abstained, or voted Lib-Dem or Green. In Scotland, Labour lost its last MEP.[62]  Even the Tories, who won only 5.5% of the vote across England, Wales and Scotland, managed to maintain an MEP in Scotland. With Corbyn having paved the way for May to pursue her own hard, but nevertheless failed Brexit deal, the prospect of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit, led by an even further right Tory leader, became more real.

On June 12th this year, following their disastrous Euro-election showing in May, a now panicked Labour Party moved a Westminster motion aimed to prevent a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. It won the support of the SNP, 10 Tories, the Lib-Dems, Plaid Cymru and the Green MP. However, 8 Labour right Leaver MPs voted against and 13 Labour MPs abstained, ensuring the defeat of the motion. Johnson felt the vote had boosted his leadership campaign and mainstreamed the notion of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit. He also said that if he became Tory leader he would amend May’s Immigration Bill to adopt the Australian points based system of labour migration control.[63] This system is backed up by particularly harsh detention centres, especially those on Christmas Island and Nauru.[64] (One can only wonder which  Scottish island will be chosen to facilitate  Johnson’s own proposals!) Corbyn remained silent over this particular threat.

However, there is another political arena in which Corbyn has acted as a successor to Miliband and aided the move to the right. This has been his attitude to the national democratic challenges, which the UK had faced, particularly following the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Miliband’s failure to back a  ‘Devo-Max’ option in that referendum (as opposed to Gordon Brown’s last minute ‘Vow’) virtually guaranteed that if a ‘No’ vote was obtained , the Tories would emerge as the leader of the unionist camp. New Labour had been  the main driver behind liberal unionism, but Miliband’s ‘one state’ Labour handed the baton over to Cameron’s conservative unionism, by signing up to ‘Better Together’.

In the 2015 general election, Miliband decided to try and out-unionist the Tories. He stated that, “I won’t have a Labour government if it means deals or coalitions with the SNP”.[65]  And he got his wish, as the Tories then formed a majority UK government!  The right neo-Blairites and Gordon Brown, who controlled of the Scottish branch of the British Labour Party, were responsible for Labour’s most catastrophic Westminster defeat in Scotland. The number of Labour MPs in Scotland fell from 41 to 1.

When Corbyn took office, it might have been expected that the 2017 Westminster general election manifesto would break from this conservative unionist approach. However, For the Many, Not the Few, stated that, “Labour opposes a second Scottish referendum in Scotland. It is unwanted and unnecessary, and we will campaign tirelessly to ensure that Scotland remains part of the UK.”[66] And this section was entitled Extending Democracy and backed by an illustration of the Union Jack!  Scotland was seen as being part of the ‘Few’ and not the ‘Many’. No attempt was made put forward a radical unionist, ‘Devo-Max’ alternative. The result of this second Labour attempt to out-unionist the Tories, meant that when it came to the limited unionist revival in Scotland in the 2017 general election, it was the Tories who replaced Labour as the second party, with 13  compared to Labour’s 7 MPs (still 42 short of their pre-2015 position).

Thus, Corbyn’s ambiguous Brexit strategy, his vacillation over EU migrants, and his support for the UK state, especially the Union, have continued to assist UK politics in moving to the right. Whereas the hard right Tories have increased their grip over their party, by relentlessly pursuing a hard Brexit, forcing most Tory MPs to accept this; Corbyn, with his strategy of appeasing the right (whether right and centre Remainer or Leaver[67]), and ignoring the wishes of the majority of the new members who are left Remainers, has presided over a Labour Party, over which he exerts considerably less control. Corbyn had willingly prepared the grounds, which allowed ‘Maybynism’ to emerge over the Section 50 vote in 2017; but by June 2019, his compromises with centre left and right Labour Leavers now had the unintended consequence of facilitating ‘Borisbynism’.

 

  1.  Neo-liberal attempts to turn back the right populist challenge over Brexit

In the face of the rising right populist challenge over Brexit, the neo-liberal wing of the British ruling class has been forced to adopt a number of strategies. These have been designed either to prevent Brexit altogether and restore the UK’s Eurosceptic role within the EU; or to go for a softer version of Brexit. The second strategy involves support for variations on a Single Market (as for Norway and Iceland), a Free Trade Area (as for Switzerland), or a Customs Union (as for Turkey).[68]

However, the high prominence given, during and since the 2016 EU membership referendum, to clamping down on immigration (and asylum seekers) makes the Single Market particularly unattractive to the right and centre left Brexiteers, since it permits free movement of people between participant states. A Free Trade Area and a Customs Union, although restricting such movement, also limits the UK state’s ability to make its own deals with non-EU states, as well as placing the much larger and economically more powerful EU in the dominant position in setting the rules. The hard right, with their planned Trump and Empire2 trade deals, oppose these.

For those businesses (including sections of finance), with a high commitment to the EU market, EU regulations are worth accepting. It is to these businesses that the neo-liberal right Remainers looks for support. But for those UK businesses (including others involved in finance, especially hedge funds) with a stronger US[69] or other non-EU orientation, or small businesses merely dependent on local UK markets, the ability to eliminate EU employment, consumer, and environmental safeguards makes Brexit an increasingly attractive option.

And the right populists have shown that they are quite prepared to clamp down on remaining democratic rights to overcome the inevitable resistance. In this they intend to go further than the draconian laws already inherited from Thatcher’s neo-liberal offensive and left largely untouched by New Labour. Since the 2008 Crash, growing sections of the British ruling class, faced with sharply increased global competition, have been prepared to give the right populists a chance. Since the 2016 Brexit vote they have become more willing to accept the heightened inter-state and class conflicts this will lead to. And with Trump as US president, they feel they have powerful international backing.

In their attempt to counter this, neo-liberal backers’ and supporters’ first hope has been to get the Labour Party back on board. Having moulded New Labour to carry on Thatcher’s City-led, financialisation, privatisation and marketisation offensive, the neo-liberal wing of the British ruling class wants to reclaim Labour from its left social democratic leader, Jeremy Corbyn.[70] But his success in winning the second Labour leadership election, with an increased % vote in September 2016, and Labour’s 9.5% increase in the vote in the June 2017 general election, has made this strategy more problematic. But the contradiction of Labour gaining most of its increased 2017 vote from Remainers, whilst Corbyn personally supports a somewhat hazy version of Brexit (particularly over EU migrant rights), has created new tensions, which the neo-liberal right Remainers have been able to take advantage of.

With the backing of much of the media, the decidedly right wing, Labour depute leader, Tom Watson, [71] has created a neo-Blairite ‘party-within-the-party’, based on MPs (and in Scotland, MSPs [72]), councillors and party apparatchiks. Because Corbyn’s political strategy depends on keeping the left, centre and the right of the party united to fight the next general election, the neo-liberals have mounted pressure on the right to defect. On 18th of February, seven right Remainer Labour MPs resigned from the party and formed Change UK – The Independent Group.[73]  Chuka Umanna (a member of Labour’s two most right-wing groupings – Labour Friends of Israel and Blue Labour)[74] became the new group spokesperson. But when three Conservatives joined on 20th February, one of their number, Heidi Allen, was soon made interim group leader.[75] Initially Change UK also hoped to bring the Lib-Dems on board, but the Lib-Dems stayed aloof. By April, Change UK had registered with the Electoral Commission and was putting together a full slate of candidates for the forthcoming European election in May.

Under today’s increasingly unstable political conditions, new parties can appear and rise very quickly. The right populist Brexit Party is a clear example in the UK. However, it was to France’s Emmanuel Macron and his neo-liberal, pro-EU, La Republique En Marche! that Change UK and its backers looked. En Marche! was only established in April 2016. Yet by May 2017, Macron was elected French president with 66% of the vote, whilst En Marche! gained an absolute majority of seats in the June 2017 French legislative elections.

Unfortunately for Change UK, Macron and En Marche! had peaked and fallen away by 2019, in the face of the politically ambiguous Gilet Jaunes protests,[76] which began in October 2018. So, by the time the Euro-elections were held this May, neo-liberal En Marche! support fell behind that of the new hard right, Rassemblement National (RN) (which had grown out of the far right Front National) led by  Marine Le Pen – ‘Madame Frexit’. RN emerged in the lead, with 23.4% of the vote to En Marche!’s 22.4%. So a new neo-liberal party had not been able to stem the rise of the hard right in France for long, a lesson Change UK soon learned when it only received 3.3% of the vote in the UK.[77] Ironically, Change UK found itself in the same electoral league as the now far right UKIP (on 3.2%), but it was the new hard right populist parties, the Brexit Party and RN, which took the lead in the UK and France.

One indication of the tactical nature of certain neo-liberal, right Remainer backers was Sir David Garrard’s funding for Change UK, whilst also continuing to fund Labour depute leader, Tom Watson.[78]  However, both Change UK and Labour’s very poor showing in the May Euro-elections, and the Lib-Dems’ emergence as the second placed party, with 19.6% of the vote, has led more neo-liberals to shift their support to the Lib-Dems. This was underscored by Chuka Umanna’s defection. If Change UK proved to be a political deadened for the neo-liberals, what about the Lib-Dems?

The Lib-Dems have held to their neo-liberal politics, since the triumph of Orange Book Liberalism[79] within the party in the early 2000s. Neo-liberalism dominates the Lib-Dems to an even greater extent than it did in Blair and Browns’ New Labour Party. The Labour Party retained a few small pockets of old-style social democracy, although these were seen as so marginal by the leadership, they were largely left alone,[80] hence the survival of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. The Lib-Dems’ deep commitment to neo-liberalism led them into a coalition with Cameron’s Tories in 2011, with Nick Clegg as depute PM. In the process, the Lib-Dems dropped their manifesto commitment to abolish student fees and their long-term policy of supporting proportional representation (accepting a referendum on the Alternative Vote [81] instead, which they lost). They also took joint responsibility for the Tories’ austerity offensive,[82] headed by chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne supported by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable.  When the 2015 general election came the Lib-Dems were reduced from 57 to 8 MPs.

If Labour needed to break from its New Labour and One-Nation Labour past to make a significant advance in the 2017 general election, then the Lib-Dems need to do more than take up the mantle of being the leading Remain electoral party, in order to become the other party in Westminster’s two party system.[83]  The election of Jo Swinson as Lib-Dem leader on the 22nd July, though, represents a continuation of the already failed neo-liberal politics from 2010-15. Swinson held a junior cabinet position from 2012. With such a past, and with Swinson’s closer affinity to the Tories,[84]the Lib-Dems are unlikely to go much beyond getting the ‘borrowed votes’ of Remainers in other parties.[85] The chances of the Lib-Dems replacing Labour as the ruling class’s ‘fire and theft’ party, in Westminster’s two-party electoral system, are pretty remote. The Lib-Dems are  thwarted by their lack of support amongst trade union bureaucrats, who play an important in the Labour Party, in suppressing working class resistance, vital for the the British riling class’s own ‘fire and theft’ insurance. Furthermore, the Lib-Dems’ orientation towards business and the better-off middle class, means their targeted support can also be wooed by the Tory Right with their promise of big tax cuts for business and the rich

 

  1. The right and centre Remainers take politics to the streets

Although the self-declared revolutionary Left and the Labour Left[86] on the one hand, and the far and hard right on the other,[87]  have long been prepared to take extra-parliamentary action, mainstream parties – Labour , the Lib-Dems, and Conservatives – have traditionally confined their activities to the state, Westminster and its devolved offspring. However, since 2018 this has changed.

Following the 2016 EU referendum vote, pro-Brexit street activity had been confined to the hard right (Brexit Party) and the far right (EDL, Yaxley-Lennon and UKIP). However, since 2018, in a sign of political desperation, it was the right and centre Remainers, who first took their anti-Brexit campaign to the streets. In April that year, the ‘Peoples Vote’ campaign was formed and backed, amongst others, by global financier, George Soros, Britain for Europe and the European Movement.[88] On 23rd June, a march of 100,000 was organised in London, with right Remain Labour and Lib-Dem speakers.[89] They carried split EU-UK flags on  the demonstration.

There was still some ambiguity over what a ‘Peoples Vote’ amounted to. Was it a vote on any Brexit deal, or a rerun of the 2016 referendum on EU membership? But this ambiguity probably helped contribute to the massive 450,000-700,000 strong demo in London on 20th October, led by centre Labour Remainer, Sadiq Khan, the London mayor.[90] This demo brought people on to the streets, way beyond the usual political forces represented by the right and centre Remainers. It included the sort of people who had attended the anti-Trump demos[91] in London on July 13th and in Edinburgh on July 14th. Most of these were left-leaning Remainers, many not in any particular political party.

The leadership of the traditionally staid and very constitutional Lib-Dems now took the language of the streets into their own electoral activities. Vince Cable adopted ‘Bollocks to Brexit’[92]  for the Lib-Dem’s 2019 Euro-election campaign. However, realising that the Lib-Dems usually uncritical support for the EU presented a problem, party strategists came up with the ‘Remain and Reform’ slogan. Their suggested reforms  highlighted their own very British view of Europe as their key demand is to ‘Make MEPs answerable to Parliament’[93] – meaning Westminster. Their other key Reform proposal is support for Federalism, “a thoroughly British concept”[94]  However British this concept may seem, neither the Lib-Dems, nor their Liberal  predecessors, have been able to bring federalism[95] to the nations making up the UK state over the nearly 130 years it has been party policy. The ‘promise’ of federalism has only ever been raised to see off more radical challenges to the UK state, such as Irish Republicans from 1919-23, and  Gordon Brown’s ‘Vow’ in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

Following the Lib-Dems’ success (relative to the Labour Party) in the May Euro-elections (where they came second, their vote improved by 13% points, and they gained 15 new MEPs), they decided to take to the streets again on the ‘No to Boris, Yes to Europe’ demonstration in London on 20th June this year. The Lib-Dems mobilised branches across the country, along with the European Movement. ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ banners were supplemented by ‘Bollocks to Boris’ banners, split EU/UK flags and ‘Remain and Reform’ placards. Nevertheless, the numbers participating fell to about 30,000-50,000 from the peak of 450,000–700,000 on the October 20th, 2018 Peoples Vote demo.

And by June 20th  it was already clear that Johnson would become the new prime minster of a hard right Tory government, with little concern for liberal constitutional niceties. The UK’s Crown-in-Westminster sovereignty and its Crown Powers are not based on any notion of liberal democracy, not even parliamentary sovereignty. The Lib-Dems were never going to defy the UK state and lead a constitutional revolution. Many of those who had attended the much larger October 20th 2018 demonstration understood this.

The Lib-Dems only have limited support amongst the young people who mobilised for the earlier ‘Peoples Vote’ and anti-Trump demonstrations. Some of these young people might loan their votes to the Lib-Dems, when it comes to opposing Brexit, although many tend to show support for the Greens, especially in the face of Corbyn’s continued ambiguity.  However, the memory of the 2010-15 Tory Lib-Dem government remains a considerable obstacle to the Lib-Dems gaining more permanent support amongst younger people, particularly former students.

 

  1. The Lexiters’ (and Irexiters’) economism and abstract propagandism 

Despite all the centre left Brexit and Lexit[96]  promises that a Leave vote would represent a major defeat for the British ruling class and the Tories, events did not pan out as they predicted. So, following the Brexit vote, neither the centre left Brexiters nor the Lexiters have made any attempt to organise independent street demonstrations over Brexit, or to try and join the demonstrations organised by others – quite understandable since they would be met with considerable hostility from the right-wing forces which dominate these. The centre left Brexiters have found a direct political vehicle for their ambitions in Corbyn, with former Communist Party of {the not so Great} Britain (CPB) members joining the Labour Party. But the Lexiters have also abandoned any independent electoral challenge of their own, and now largely act as cheerleaders for Corbyn from outside the Labour Party.

The two key self-proclaimed revolutionary organisations behind Lexit have been the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SPEW) (with its semi-detached Socialist Party of Scotland outrider). These parties are, in effect, hard left, social democratic organisations.[97] It was in SPEW though, that we can see the earlier precedent for Lexit in the NO2EU campaign, a left EU-phobic alliance between SPEW, the CPB  and certain  left trade union leaders, e.g. the late Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT. No2EU fed into the SPEW initiated Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

In the 2015 Westminster general election, TUSC gained its widest backing amongst hard left social democrats.  It was supported by the SP and SWP and had some electoral accommodation with the Left Unity Party (LUP). TUSC put forward candidates in England, Scotland and Wales. It also came to an arrangement in Scotland not to stand against the SSP[98] and RISE[99] candidates.  But all these Left slates performed dismally, with the lowest independent Left vote since the 1990s, when the SP, SSP and later the SWP had decided to stand candidates.

The 2015 election was held shortly after the Scottish independence referendum. The constitutional issue dominated, both in regard to Scotland, the EU and to a lesser extent Northern Ireland.[100] But none of the Left slates in England and Wales, nor in Scotland, had any independent political stance on these constitutional issues. They either ignored these or tail-ended one or other of the mainstream parties.  The Left slates fell back on a deeply engrained economism. whereby they  see the constitution as a ruling or middle-class issue. They prefer to concentrate more on ‘bread and butter’ issues, particularly austerity and the cuts, not seeing that these can no longer be resolved within the current, crisis-ridden constitutional order.

Instead of providing an immediate, republican, ‘internationalism from below’ political alternative to the British unionists’ defence and the constitutional nationalists’ limited reform of the UK state, a section of the Left supplements its economism with an abstract propagandism. In effect the SWP called for ‘No to the EU, Yes to Lexit’. Well the SWP got its ‘No to the EU,’ but instead of ‘Lexit’ they got May then Johnson![101]  SPEW called for a European socialist federation, but completely failed to show how this would come about from right populist and far right-led break-ups of the EU. Neither did the SWP nor SPEW bring their International Socialist Tendency (IST) or Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) members from other EU states on a major Lexit campaign across the UK, nor take their members in the UK on a major Lexit campaign in the other EU member states.

In their propaganda, the Lexiters placed a major emphasis on Syriza’s  notorious climbdown before the draconian austerity demands imposed by the Troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund). Syriza is  an EU-supporting, left populist party. However, the Lexiters failed to organise any pan-EU solidarity, with the Greek people who had voted ‘Oxi’/‘No’ on July 15th, 2015.[102]  Instead they mounted an abstract propagandist Grexit campaign, directed against the Syriza government.

The self-proclaimed, Greek revolutionary left Antarsaya,[103] the Greek Communist Party (KKE) (with its ‘socialism in one country’ tradition) and the neo-fascist Golden Dawn all campaigned for Grexit. The latter two were considerably larger than Antarsya and this should have provided some warning to the Lexiter Grexiters. With the capitulation of the Syriza-led left/right populist (ANEL) government coalition and a forthcoming general election, any revolutionary organisation should have been able to make significant advances, if it had related to those Greek workers who had just been through major class struggles. Antarsya’s vote rose from 0.33% to a still derisory 0.64%, whilst the KKE rose from 4.6% to 5.55%, a pretty poor showing for a party longstanding roots in Greek politics. The neo-fascist Golden Dawn rose from 6.28% to 6.99% and was the only pro-Grexit party to gain an extra seat (mercifully though, this did not represent a far right Grexit breakthrough).

The majority of Greek workers, especially the younger ones, were not at all attracted to a Grexit vision. This Greek nationalist focus seemed like return to the bad old days of Greece’s military junta (and Golden Dawn had links with the Greek military and police). Young people welcomed the opportunities to get better-paid work and access higher education elsewhere in the EU. They were very much opposed to the Troika ‘coup’ but when Syriza backed down, many abstained (there was a 7% drop in the turnout), or reluctantly voted for Syriza in the new September 2015 general election, on the basis of the lesser of evils, rather than vote for Grexit supporting Antarsaya or the KKE. Syriza still managed to win the election on a reduced vote.[104]

The right wing, neo-liberal, New Democracy and centre social democratic Pasok were happy enough for Syriza to take responsibility for implementing the EU’s austerity programme.  So, perhaps this experience would give Antarsya and the other Grexit parties a significant boost. In the July 2019 Greek general election, Antarsya’s vote fell from 0.64% to 0.41%, the KKE’s vote fell from to 5.5% to 5.3%, and more encouragingly the neo-fascist Golden Dawn vote fell from 6.99% to 2.93% (perhaps no longer getting clandestine big business and state security backing as Syriza had discredited itself). The left populist Syriza was ousted from office, after losing 59 seats and seeing the demise of its right populist ANEL coalition partner, as New Democracy took over.

A clue to the pro-European, but EU critical attitude, of many young Greek workers and students was the progress of the Yaris Varoufakis-led European Realistic Disobedience Front (MeRA25), which is part of the wider European DiEM25. This is a Greek left Remain party. It gained 2 seats in the European Parliament in May 2019 and 9 seats in the Greek general election in July 2019.[105] In some ways MeRA25, through its international DiEM25, represents a more internationalist version of Jeremy Corbyn’s and Bernie Sanders’ neo-Keynesian, left nationalist, ‘Green New Deal’ politics confined to one state. Whilst Corbyn and Sanders accept their existing state frameworks – the UK and USA – as adequate vehicles for their proposed ‘Green New Deals’; Varoufakis sees the wider EU institutional framework as something that the Left can gradually take over. By 2025, DiEM25 hopes to oust the neo-liberals who had built up their support in within the then EEC in the 1980s. This culminated in the EU’s 1992 Maastricht Deal, once they had side-lined the post-war social/christian democratic deal. DiEM25 wants to replace and side-line the neo-liberals.

But Varoufakis and DiEM25 have taken as little account of the nature of the EU as Corbyn and Sanders have of the UK and US  states. The EU is treaty alliance of existing states. Its most politically significant institution, the Council of Ministers, reflects this. The EU member states include,  amongst other state forms, a centralised presidential republic (France), a federal presidential republic (Austria), a federal parliamentary republic (Germany),  a  partitioned parliamentary republic (26 Counties Ireland), constitutional monarchies (e.g. Netherlands and Sweden), and multi-nation imperial monarchies (e.g. the UK and Spain).

Two stateless nations lying within the EU have provided a real challenge to its anti-democratic, existing states set-up. These are Scotland  and Catalunya  – incorporated into the UK and Spain respectively. The EU’s much vaunted role in preserving peace amongst its member states, did not extend to preserving peace within its member states, as the experiences of Northern Ireland/Ireland and Euskadi highlighted, whilst the UK and Spain  were EU members. Both witnessed state-promoted ‘dirty wars’, which were in defiance of the EU’s nominal principles.

Today, the imprisonment and show trials of the leaders of the referendum to establish a Catalan Republic, and the exile of Catalan politicians to other EU states, including Scotland, reveal the contradiction between the EU’s universal rules, and the ability of member states like Spain to ignore these. The EU bureaucracy also exerted a negative influence in Scotland when it came to the exercise of national self-determination between 2012-14. And the UK and Spain were two member states which applied this pressure, in a joint exercise to undermine the possibility of self-determination in their constituent nations.

One effect of this is that constitutional issues have become much more central in such states. They have taken on a particularly challenging dynamic when linked to economic (e.g. combatting austerity), social (e.g. language rights) and other political issues (e.g. imperial wars and NATO membership.)

During the UK’s 2015 general election, those parties which did have something to say on the constitution, whether the unionists, e.g. the Conservatives’ EU referendum promise, the DUP’s strident defence of ‘Ulster’-British supremacy; or the nationalists, e.g. the SNP’s support for IndyRef2 and Sinn Fein’s support for a new Border Poll, dominated the election campaign and the results. The economistic and/or abstract propagandist Left were completely marginalised.

The hopes of the retreating SWP and SPEW, following the 2015 election setback for TUSC, lay in their opposition to the EU and support for Leave. There was  an almost complete match between the places where the Lexiters had held meetings during the 2016 campaign, which voted to Remain, and those areas which voted for Brexit, where they held no major meetings or rallies. When, following the 2016 Brexit vote, not the slightest glimmer of Lexit prospects appeared, these organisations stuck to their same attacks on left Remainers, which had formed their main activity during the European referendum campaign.

Lexiters made an attempt  to defend the ‘honour’ of those workers who had voted ‘Brexit’ saying they weren’t all racist. This was quite  true, but those organised racists amongst the Tory Right, UKIP and the BNP had a great deal  more purchase on the Brexit campaign than than Lexiters. And did the Lexiters give a political lead after ‘their’ 2016 referendum victory. As soon as the opportunity came in the 2017 general election, TUSC just disappeared. They  left May’s ‘No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal’ Tories, the  ‘No Deal’ UKIP , and the far right BNP and English Democrats, to  provide the only competition for the Brexit voters  in Great Britain.

Another repetitive Lexiter call has been ‘Kick out the Tories’! (who were supposed to been already kicked out  by the Brexit referendum victory). ‘Kick out the Tories’ is also  a means to tail-end the Corbyn-led Labour Party. Like Labour, the Lexiters largely  ignored the growing constitutional crisis, having little to say about the future of the UK state. Corbyn seems  to view this state  as adequate to deliver his  proposed neo-Keynesian reforms. Lexiters would like  to supplement this by some extra trade union action. Union general secretaries, especially centre left Brexiter, Len McCluskey, will have have something to say about this – ‘Don’t rock the boat’, i.e. HMG’s good ship ‘Britannia’!

One consequence of the drubbing the Left received in 2015, has been either a retreat into Corbyn’s left social democrat-led Labour Party, and into the centre social democrat SNP in Scotland[106] on the one hand; or into individual campaigns, e.g. fighting austerity, racism, or the far right on the other. The SWP, in particular has concentrated on fighting racism and the far right with its front organisations Stand Up to Racism (SutR) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF). The SWP has not even taken account of the main reason for the recent spike in racism and the growth of the far right, (EDL, SDL and WDL). These have come about due to the boost, which the Brexit vote gave to them – in this  they were supported by the SWP!

However, the SWP’s front organisations have always attempted to go for a lowest common denominator alliance with mainstream parties, especially Labour, emphasising their common adherence to the ‘best British traditions’ of racial tolerance, multiculturalism and parliamentary democracy. They tend to see racism and the far right as some nasty foreign import (e.g. the Anti-Nazi League’s focus upon the German Nazis), or as something on the far margins of UK politics, rather than things that have been sustained by UK state laws and the anti-democratic UK constitution.

The draconian 2014 and 2016 Immigration Laws, the exclusion of EU migrants from the 2016 EU referendum franchise, does not feature in the SUtR and UAF campaigns. The virtual ignoring of the UK’s most persistent form of British fascism – the loyalists with their paramilitaries – was a feature of the ANL and is a feature of SUR and UAF. This means that they are unable to effectively challenge the state and constitutional roots of racism and the far right.  By leaving these aside, they only contribute to rehabilitating the state-supporting Labour Party, which then goes on to maintain the constitution, laws and practices which give rise to British chauvinism, racism and to the far right, particularly during periods of crisis. Thus, hard left social democrats are involved in a constant ‘Labour of Sisyphus’. This contributes to the eventual demoralisation of many members.

The SWP, SP, LUP and SSP have undergone a series of internal crises and have suffered fragmentation. Political localism has provided a last ditch, ‘backs to the wall’ defence. TUSC has effectively dissolved, and its last three remaining local councillors now hold their seats under the ‘Putting People First’ label or as Independents.[107] In Scotland, former SSP councillor, Jim Bollan, now sits for the West Dunbartonshire Community Party.[108]

Having developed no class based independent Lexit base, after the Brexit vote, they have resorted to the right Brexiteers’ constant litany of ‘EU-bad’. Some have even adopted  the right Brexiters’ language,  calling those who criticise Brexit, ‘Remoaners’.[109] This criticism is  rather rich given the term originated amongst the supporters of that decades-long continuous ‘moan’ from the Daily Mail with its anti-EEC/EU stories (e.g. about “bent bananas”)[110] Centre left Brexiters, closely associated with leading trade union bureaucrats, have gone even further. They have used the term ‘social dumping;’ to describe migrant workers in the UK, as if they were some kind of garbage. This is the language of the far right.

Another target of Lexiter attacks are the international links pursued by Lib-Dems, constitutional nationalists, right and centre social democratic Remainers, which focus on the EU. The neo-liberal and capitalist nature of the EU is emphasised, as if these haven’t been features of the UK state for much longer. Lexiters  can be more vehement in the attacks on the EU than they are on the international links pursued by the right national populists – Trump, Farage and Johnson, Le Pen, Orban and Bolsonaro. Within a globalised capitalist economy every state has to make  trading links. The Lexiters don’t make it clear what alternative to the EU, Trump or Empire2 they are proposing.  The sad thing is that even the far right have a clearer vision the Europe they want than the Lexiters – the  chilling ‘White Christian Europe’.

The answer to the right populists’ corporate ‘America First’ led world, and to the  the  neo-liberal EU leaders’ abandonment  of any pretence that they are promoting the welfare of the majority in the EU, means  the Left has to take up the baton of European integration. 2.9 million EU citizens live in the UK, and 2.5 million UK subjects live elsewhere in the EU. They already form the basis of a potential new multi-ethnic European citizenship. The Right knows this which is why it is trying to prevent this from happening.[111]

Yet there is one place in the UK where Lexiters have gained a toehold in official politics, and that is People Before Profit (PBP) in Northern Ireland. PBP was set up by the Socialist Workers Party – Ireland (SWP-I).[112] PBP made its original breakthrough in a local council by-election in West Belfast in 2014, and this was sustained in the full local elections. They stood a candidate in the 2015 Westminster general election, gaining 19.2% of the vote in West Belfast. In the 2016 Stormont general election they gained 2 MLAs.

Up to this point though, PBP had not yet adopted an Irexit stance. They had done so by 2017. Unlike their British Lexiter comrades they stood in the Westminster general election that year, and also in the slightly earlier  Stormont election. But their vote fell back significantly in both, losing an MLA at Stormont.  By the time of the 2019 Euro-election, the Lexiter PBP had followed their British Lexiter comrades and they did not stand. This left the political contest over Brexit to others, including UKIP.[113]

In effect, PBP have fallen back on an economistic ‘gas and water socialism’, which came from the old British Belfast ILP tradition. They are now leaving wider political issues, such as Brexit, to others, and concentrating on local issues. If their British Lexiter comrades have been wary of taking to the streets to support Brexit, concerned at who might turn up, then PBP, not surprisingly, are not going to organise a pro-Brexit march in Belfast, where the DUP, TUV and the loyalists are the leading Brexiteers; nor are they keen to provide political cover for the dissident Republicans’ armed Irexit strategy.

Another shortcoming of the SWP-I and PBP is they have never linked their campaigning in Northern Ireland/Ireland with the wider growing constitutional crisis in the UK, whether over Scottish independence, or over the implications of leaving the EU for the other nations within the UK. Like its sister organisation in Great Britain, the SWP-I has suffered fragmentation. This has taken the form of abandoning the need for an independent party, with the SWP-I opting to become the Socialist Workers Network (SWN) – a think tank for the PBP .[114] And like other hard left, social democratic organisations in Great Britain or Scotland, the PBP has also supplemented its economism with localism, to maintain  a niche in Northern Ireland’s politics.  Because of the PBP’s greater relative size, it has had some success, increasing its number of local councillors in Northern Ireland from 1 to 5 in the May local elections.[115] But a fragmented localist presence is not a real political substitute for an immediate republican politics that challenges the UK state, or an Irish internationalist politics that links to the exploited, oppressed and alienated in the other nations of the UK and EU.

Perhaps the last ditch Lexiter defence has been to try and relate to that quite widespread feeling of exhaustion and demoralisation, after three years when Brexit has dominated UK politics. If we just let the warring sections of the ruling class come to  their own Brexit deal, them  we can get back to ‘socialist’ politics – good old ‘bread and butter’ issues like fighting austerity and cuts. But, given the current balance of forces,  every kind of Brexit deal  on offer reinforces the UK state, and a hard right eager to attack workers’ pay and conditions  in alliance with Trump, and opens up migrant workers to swingeing attack.

The economistic politics of the Lexiters goes little further than replacing a now Johnson-led Tory government with a Corbyn-led Labour government following a general election. At the moment, the initiative for any general election lies with the Right. On August 23rd,  Dominic Cummings told a meeting of Tory ministerial advisors that, “I’m going to go and meet billionaire hedge fund managers and get a giant pot of cash from them”.[116] And the Tories are likely to put forward a much more politically united election slate than Corbyn’s Labour party.

And, in the unlikely event of a Corbyn-led government getting elected, he still faces a constitutional crisis, which the Labour Left, with its own economistic politics is also quite unprepared for.[117]  The British ruling class can fall back on the UK state’s Crown Powers, even when its  first party of choice is no longer in office.[118] And furthermore, it can expect the full support of Trump. One of the last left populist governments in office is to be found in Venezuela. The action the US government is taking to in its attempt to overthrow  the elected Maduro government [119] is an indication of the lengths they would be prepared to go to undermine any Corbyn-led government, in a UK state which has so long been an upholder of US imperialism.

Thus the political manner in  which the current constitutional crisis, linked to the battle over Brexit, is resolved, is far from something that the Left can just wish away. For any socialist who who understands that capitalism is based, not only on exploitation, but also on oppression (the denial of democratic rights), then a constitutional crisis provides the best opportunity to advance an immediate republican and ‘internationalism from below’  politics, which can challenge the British ruling class and their UK  sate.

 

  1. The emergence of left Remainers, Another Europe is Possible,  and their turn to the streets

Corbyn and his centre left Brexiter close advisers, ‘the 3 Ms’ – Seamus Milne, Andrew Murray and Karie Murphy – backed, just off-stage by a fourth ‘M’ – Len McCluskey of UNITE, the highest paid UK trade (and indeed all-islands) union general secretary, have gone out of their way to suppress the voice of new left Remain Labour Party members. One way they have done this is to pretend that only the Labour Right supports Remain. In this they have enjoyed the support of the Labour Left’s ‘external faction’ – the Lexiters.

The reality is somewhat different. This reflects the confusion often found in the ‘bread and butter’ brains of the economistic Left, when a constitutional issue is raised. Hence  their tendency to line up with whoever seems to open up a  prospect to best advance their political project – whether it be ‘socialism  in one country’ (or perhaps more often ‘in one state’); or a gradualist internationalism based on the working class integration already achieved through the latest capitalist developments,  e.g. in the EU. Adding to the confusion, their lack of clear thinking on constitutional issues leads to many hybrid approaches which reflect different external political pressures at different times.

On the Labour Brexit side, there is a longstanding anti-EU right group, which has included MPs like Frank Field, Rodger Godsiff, Kate Hoey,  John Mann and Graham Stringer. They formed ‘Labour Leave’ which accepted funding from the Tories and others on the Right.[120] Then there is the longstanding anti-EU centre left group, which includes Corbyn’s immediate advisors – the ‘4 Ms’. Many British trade union leaders’ proclaimed support for ‘internationalism’ acts a decorative cover for prioritising ‘British jobs for British workers.’ This is disguised under the cover of support for ‘non-racist’ immigration controls, a  chimera stemming from the widely held belief that the UK state’s institutions cannot be responsible for racist practices. Any cases are put down to a few ‘bad apples’. Very few trade unions today uphold the First International[121] principle that the answer to employers’ attempts to use migrant labour to undercut existing workers’ pay and conditions should be met by union recruitment, involvement and campaigning. Such a commitment today would mean defying the anti-immigration and anti-trade union laws.

Trade union bureaucrats hold a disproportionate influence amongst the anti-EU Left, although the centre left EU-phobic thinking of onetime CPB members is also significant, given their key role as Corbyn advisors. But MPs like Dennis Skinner and Ronnie Campbell are also part of the anti-EU centre left. However, there has also been a certain slippage between Labour’s right and centre left Leavers. Corbyn supporting Kelvin Hopkins MP was also member of the anti-EU Right-led ‘Labour Leave’.

But, there is another Labour group of MPs now supporting Brexit. This could be styled the Brexit-accommodating group, and it too is divided into centre left and right. Corbyn, who campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum is on the centre left over this issue, whereas Stephen Kinnock is on the eight. In both cases, their new Brexit-accommodating stance follows their bowing to pressure from the right, hiding behind the ‘democratic mandate’ of the 2016 referendum vote. They refuse to challenge the racist basis of that referendum franchise, or give unequivocal support to free movement in the EU, because of their fear of alienating many Labour Leavers.

Furthermore, as in the case of the more committed centre left and right Labour Leavers, the centre left/right divide amongst Labour’s Brexit-accommodationists is not fast. On 14th August, McCluskey backed Kinnock’s plan to vote in Westminster for a May-type deal to avoid a ‘No Deal’ Brexit.[122]  This undermined Corbyn’s position, highlighting just how unreliable an ally McCluskey is. But he is not motivated so much by getting a Left Labour led government, but by bringing union general secretaries ‘in from the cold’, and being invited to 10, Downing Street, as they were in the distant days of the 1970s.

Labour’s centre left Leavers have constantly tried to create the impression that Left = Leave, and Right = Remain, despite the significant Labour Right component to Leave already outlined. Yet it is true that on the Labour Remain side the Right has been more dominant. It has forged links with the Lib-Dems, pro-Remain Tories and others. They took to the streets on the major ‘Peoples Vote’ demonstrations on 23rd June and in particular on the 20th October 2018. Now within the Labour Party, street activity is more usually associated with the Left. Despite, the majority of Labour’s new intake, and its new voters in the 2017 Westminster general election being left-leaning Remainers, it has been difficult to organise this group. Centre left Leavers exert their control over significant sections of the Labour Party machinery. The only significant centre left Remainer MP has been Clive Lewis, and centre left Remainer union general secretary, the Gibraltar born, Manual Cortes of the TSSA.

However, with the right Remainers taking to the streets in June 2018, an attempt was made to revive Another Europe Is Possible (AEiP), originally formed in January 2016 as a left campaign to support Remain in the European referendum. This group has been openly backed by several individual Labour Left members, Open Labour. the much-depleted Left Unity Party, the Fourth Internationalist Socialist Resistance, and the Young Greens, as well as the NGOs – Global Justice Movement and European Alternatives.[123] It has received funding from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, Open Democracy and UNISON.[124] AEiP organised its own contingent and platform of speakers for the very large October 20th demonstration. And in turn this led to a refounding conference held in London on 8th December, 2018.

Although formally open to left and centre left Remain members from other parties, including the Green Party of England and Wales, the AEiP organisers arranged the conference as if it was a Labour event.[125] Even more confusing was the widespread wearing of ‘Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit’ T-shirts.  These two statements are in contradiction given Corbyn’s pro-Brexit stance. The centre left Brexiters and Lexiters have a firmer political basis for their ‘Oh Jeremy!’ adulation. This AEiP contradiction highlighted a celebrity fan-club mentality that has been only to common on the Left, whether around Derek Hatton, Arthur Scargill, George Galloway or Tommy Sheridan.

But the Labour orientation highlighted a major strategic failing. In Scotland and Welsh-speaking Wales, which voted to Remain, and which have left and left centre Remain forces, the Labour Party is marginal when it comes to such Remainers.  The Labour Left equivalent of Momentum in Scotland, the Campaign for Socialism (and the Red Paper Collective), with its links to the CPB, campaigned for Leave. Their attempt to put a left gloss on a right-led campaign during the Euro-referendum, followed their support for ‘No’ in the Scottish independence referendum. The latter had virtually no impact upon the political direction of official Labour promoted ‘Better Together,’ which propped up Tory unionism,[126]  However, the centre left Brexiters and Lexiters had even less effect on the political direction of the Brexit campaign, which led to the strengthening of the Tory Right and Farage’s right populism.

And in Northern Ireland, the official Labour Party does not organise at all. In its absence, the partitionist SPI (Northern Ireland) has substituted itself with the Corbyn inspired Cross-Community Labour Alternative. They support Brexit.

The small Campaign for a European Republican Socialist Party[127]  had suggested a specific session and submitted a number of amendments[128]  to the proposed AEiP Strategy Paper, addressing the different situations in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as the current situation in Catalunya. It was clear that these were seen as an obstacle by the organisers to the prime aim of the conference, which was to organise within the Labour Party, and persuade the loveable Corbyn to ditch the hateable Brexit. The defeat of these amendments was not so much due to the opposition of the social unionist (and imperialist) Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) who were present, but more to  most participants’ lack of knowledge of the situation in any of these nations, accentuated by the chair’s rushing through the amendments preventing time for discussion and replies.

The narrow Labour focus adopted at the conference had an impact on the levels of mobilisation for the AEiP contingent on the Lib-Dem dominated ‘No to Boris, Yes to the EU’ demo in London on July 20th. There was no growth in the AEiP contingent’s numbers since the October 20th demo. And there were only two  Labour Party branch banners, both from London.

On the July 20th demo, many AEiP supporters people carried the ‘Remain, Reform, Rebel’ placards, in a clear attempt to distinguish them from the Lib-Dems’ ‘Remain and Reform’ politics. However, although, the ‘Rebel’ sentiment is quite genuine, the content of the AEiP EU ‘Reform’ is even hazier than that of the Lib-Dems’ statement. But one of the central features of ‘Reform’ must be a recognition of the anti-democratic existing states nature of the EU due to the political impact of the various state forms which make it up. In particular, how the denial of democratic self-determination is made possible by the reactionary UK state in Ireland and Scotland, and by the reactionary, still semi-Francoist Spanish state in Catalunya and Euskadi. Therefore, a break with the existing state nature of the EU as a treaty organisation is essential.

The other problem with AEiP’s almost total Labour orientation is that it has aided attacks from centre left Brexiters and Lexiters who want to support Corbyn and his immediate circle in pursuing Brexit and obstructing Remain. They have poured scorn on celebrity centre left Remainer, Labour supporters,  such as Paul Mason and Owen Jones, who have argued for Labour to drop the traditional working class, such policies  as opposition to Trident, and who have given some succour to the bogus anti-semitism campaign.

However, the  Lexiters tend to be much quieter about the role of the much more significant centre left Brexiter Len McCluskey. He made sure that UNITE Labour conference delegates (along with his traditional Labour Right GMBU competitor) refused to oppose Trident renewal, recommended that Labour adopt the controversial IHRA statement on anti-semitism,[129] and has capitulated to racist sentiment,[130] as well as abandoning ‘non-traditional’ migrant workers. McCluskey has also been manoeuvring behind-the-scenes with Labour Right, Stephen Kinnock.

Yet, the source of such centre left Leaver and centre left Remainer vacillation is the same. They are both committed to a strategy of winning the next general election, by appeasing the Labour Right. They hope that the Labour Left and Centre will unite marginalise the Labour Right. But the Labour Centre is just as likely to unite with the Labour Right to marginalise Corbyn and the Labour Left.

One positive aspect of the AEiP conference in December was the speaker Emiliano Mellino, a migrant worker involved in the independent union, the IWGB. He emphasised the importance of the still remaining EU laws underpinning workers’ rights. The IWGB had been able to fall back on these successfully when defending migrant worker’s cases dismissed in the UK courts.

Defending the freedom of movement of EU migrants is essential, to any successful campaign. This is one thing that is opposed by right Remainers, and right and centre left Leavers in the Labour party and trade union bureaucracy. Internationalism starts at home, organising the defence of all those EU migrant workers, who are already coming under attack.

The EU member states have long oppressed  minorities such as Gypsies or Travellers, with the UK being prominent in this, as the Dale Farm evictions highlighted in 2011.[131].   EU member states have also been responsible for creating  the horrendous barriers to asylum seekers and other migrants. This has  led to the drowning of thousand trying to cross the Mediterranean. [132]  This massive human tragedy has been highlighted by the Lexiters as a failing of the EU. However, this failing is that of the member states, including the UK. The UK government was responsible for the  ‘Calais Jungle’. [133] For the British right neo-liberal  Remainers and the right populist Leavers, their quarrel with the EU is that the Schengen Wall isn’t high enough! And the coming  of right populists to government, as in Italy with the Five Star Movement, the Nord Lega, has greatly increased the threats to migrants.

The best term to describe the wider left Remain campaign we should be looking for is the democratic internationalist Remain campaign. The emphasis upon democracy focusses upon all the anti-democratic aspects of the EU member states and the EU as a treaty organisation and bureaucracy, as well as upon the internal way such a campaign should be organised. The emphasis on internationalism places a focus in those EU migrant workers and asylum seekers who are in the front line of attack from the UK state, the far right, the  national populist Brexiters, the centre left Brexiters, and the right Remainers, as well as offering solidarity to  those fighting for national self-determination against existing states in the EU.

 

11. Conclusions

The first thing needed is to understand the political nature of the current Brexit attack. It consists of three components:-

  1. ‘Take back control’ – This means further centralising the anti-democratic UK state. This aspect of the Right’s attack preceded the EU referendum. It has its roots in the loyalist and DUP attempts to undermine the Good Friday Agreement, the Tory, Labour and Lib-Dem unionists’ attempt to roll back the impact of Scotland’s ‘democratic revolution’ and halt (and for some to reverse) the liberal unionist ‘Devolution all-round’ settlement.

This also means the UK state ending the political power of the EU over some of its activities, with its threats of greater financial regulation of the City, and its more protective labour, consumer, environmental and other democratic rights.

  1. The ending of free movement of labour from the EU and the mounting of even more stringent attacks on asylum seekers. At present there are over 2.5 million EU residents, with almost the same employment, welfare, residential, and other rights as UK subjects. Therefore, most have the same wages and conditions as UK subjects in the same jobs. They can join trade unions, and sometimes come from EU states with more militant traditions.

The key aim of Brexiteers is to create a new gastarbeiter/Australian system of labour control, with a differentiated hierarchy of migrant labour entitlements, dependent on income and employer needs. EU migrants would be subject to the UK’s draconian Immigration Acts. This would create a large new pool of more exploitable labour, as well as new pressure to reduce wages and undermine conditions more generally,

The intention is also to draw more and more UK subjects into policing migrants, whether in their state role as education, health, welfare, and social care providers, or their public or private role as landlords. This is to supplement the work of the police and immigration officials. This would further reinforce the national chauvinist ‘Britishness’.

  1.  Moving politics and economics further to the right on a national populist basis, and ending those interstate protectionist institutions and arrangements, which limit  unbridled US corporate control. In the UK, the the hard right Tories and the Brexit Party champion ‘America First’ hoping to become ‘Britain Second’, with permission to make its own Empire2 deals.

The Lexiters’ support for a Brexit campaign always overwhelmingly dominated by the hard right, and the centre left Brexiters more open support for key elements of the Brexiters’ campaign, had its main effect on the wider Left. It became split  when a clear lead needed to be taken against ‘Take back control’, the attack on EU migrants and asylum seekers, and the emergence and new domination of politics by the Right national populists.

 

Therefore a campaign to oppose Brexit, defend the existing free movement of labour in the EU, and to counter the Trump/Tory Right/Brexit Party hard right offensive  needs to have a strategy to deal with all these three aspects, and relate to the most advanced  forces which have developed to counter them. In essence this means an adopting immediate republican and ‘internationalism from below’ strategy.

Elements of this strategy will be developed in another article after discussion and debate with others.

Allan Armstrong. 30.8.19 (updated 1.9.19 and 2.9.19)

 

References

[1]          Republican democracy and social justice represent  two underlying principles which underpin communism/socialism, but which can be pursued in today’s  immediate conditions. These two underlying principles are based on liberation and emancipation, which counter the exploitation and oppression we experience under capitalism. There is third underlying principle – self-determination in its widest sense, which counters the alienation we experience under capitalism. The US constitution still contains  the “pursuit of happiness” , which could be seen as an earlier  and quite striking  version of the principle of of self-determination. However, the US soon developed as an imperial presidential republic, and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ was denied to Native Americans , black chattel slaves, poor farmers with federally imposed debt payments, and a working class subjected to the bosses’ gunmen. (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/05/07/exploitation-oppression-and-alienation-emancipation-liberation-and-self-determination/)

[2]          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priti_Patel#Meetings_with_Israeli_officials_and_ resignation

[3]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_the_economy,_stupid

[4]         The term ‘neo-liberal unionism’ is used to describe the longstanding liberal unionist policy of promoting political devolution, coupled to the more recent neo-liberal promotion of financialisation, privatisation and marketisation. The Good Friday Agreement and the associated ‘Devolution-all-round’ constitutional arrangements, made under Tony Blair’s New Labour government, were the centrepiece of the neo-liberals’ constitutional project.

[5]          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Welsh_devolution_referendum

[6]         https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-18607911

[7]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Traditional_Unionist_Voice

[8]         Reactionary unionism not only opposes any extension of democratic devolution/home rule, but is also prepared to take action to roll-back any democratic gains. Reactionary unionism’s preference is for administrative devolution, and the celebration of its most repressive aspects, e.g. locally recruited  regiments, such as the RUC.

[9]         DUP leader, Ian Paisley, had already been pressured to stand down as party leader and First Minister , due to his close relationship with Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein, who was Depute First Minister, a phenomenon known as ‘The Chuckle Brothers’. (https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/how-martin-mcguinness-and-ian-paisley-forged-an-unlikely-friendship-35550640.html)

[10]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfast_City_Hall_flag_protests

[11]       The reality of the Good Friday Agreement was not equality between the two major communities in Northern Ireland. The new Stormont copper-fastened partition in a new different  form with the UK state in the position of political arbiter, hence reinforcing its ultimate control. This system also reduced much of Stormont politics to communal competition for the funds allocated to Northern Ireland by the UK government.

[12]         Sinn Fein had been extremely reluctant to go along with this, since Stormont was central to its new constitutional nationalist strategy  of winning a 6 county nationalist majority (after abandoning their earlier revolutionary nationalist strategy of the ‘ballot and the bullet’). This would the lead to a request to the UK government’s Northern Irish Secretary for new Border Poll to bring about Irish reunification.

However, the DUP’s Stormont ministers were so mired in corruption (e.g. Cash-for-Ash scandal) and were obstructing a new Irish language act, that Sinn Fein, to retain its base of support, had to withdraw. It hoped that the UK government would pressurise the DUP to accept reforms. However, despite the UK state’s claimed role of acting as a neutral arbiter, successive governments have always given their support to the main unionist party upholding the Union, no matter what reservations they held about the attitudes and actions of the parties concerned – the UUP then the DUP.  Even the UK state pretence of being neutral has now been abandoned since the Tory/DUP pact in May 2017.

[13]          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_McNarry#UKIP

[14]          Allan Armstrong, From Pre-Brit to Ex-Brit – The Forging and the Break-up of the UK State and Britishness, Introduction and Part 5, iv-vii:-  https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/from-pre-brit-to-ex-brit.pdf

[15]           http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/10/11/after-the-september-18th-referendum-vote-a-socialist-republican-response/

[16]           https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/15270068.orange- order-elected-to-councils-as-labour-and-tory-members/

[17]           https://www.heraldscotland.com/news/14320263.tories-apply-to-become- conservative-and-unionist-party-across-britain/

This was a revival of the label that the Conservative Party had adopted to oppose Irish Home Rule in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, absorbing the Liberal Unionists and Irish Unionists, then later the Ulster Unionists, in the process. The Ulster Unionist Party disaffiliated from the Conservatives in 1985 in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement. From that time, the Conservatives ceased to be an-UK party. Cameron’s choice of the Conservative and Unionist Party label in 2016, in response to the challenge of Scottish independence, was an appeal to a reactionary unionist tradition.

[18]            https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/17/united-kingdom-english-votes-english-laws-ukip

[19]         https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/

uploads/ attachment_data/file/388827/Business_for_Britain_Evidence.pdf– part 3.3.1, Change in Spirit and Thrust of RegulationBusiness for Britain,17.6.14

[20]         EU-phobic may be more accurate term than Europhobic, since many leading Brexiteers will continue to live, invest and holiday in the EU and other European states. They expect to enjoy the privileged access the rich have in general, and which, for example, Russian oligarchs and Arabian sheikhs already have in the UK. The Brexit restrictions on the movement of people are intended for the rest of us.

[21]         https://fullfact.org/europe/what-was-promised-about-customs-union-referendum/

[22]           https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/nigel-farage-on-the-norway-model-1-6024817

[23]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Jo_Cox#Perpetrator

[24]          Right populist politics had emerged first in some peripheral states in the then neo-liberal world order, before being seriously taken up by sections of the ruling class in the core states. The first attempt to project these politics to the fore in the USA – the Tea Party –   failed. Although not making the breakthrough to the national level, Marine Le Pen’s Right populist, Front National was able to push its racist politics forces in the French local authorities it controlled. In the UK, before the appearance of Farage, mainstream right populist politics was confined to the reactionary unionist DUP.

[25]          https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/national-populism.pdf

[26]          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unlawful_campaigning_in_the_2016_EU_referendum

[27]          The old Cold War NATO had never been confined to the EEC member states or to ‘liberal’ democracies, as the membership of Salazar’s Portugal, the military dictatorships in Greece and Turkey, and the close alignment of Franco’s Spain, highlighted. Now NATO is trying to leapfrog the EU member states, to bring in Montenegro and Macedonia, states the EU leaders consider not yet to have sufficiently embedded liberal democratic values and western business practices.

[28]          There may be some attempt to improve trade with that rising state capitalist behemoth, China. China’s own politico-economic offensive, the Belt and Road Initiative (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belt_and_Road_Initiative) is constantly on the look-out for new avenues of imperialist penetration in central and southern Asia, Africa, South America and Europe (e.g. the port of Piraeus in Greece). However, in order to get a UK/US trade deal, Trump is likely to put severe constraints on any UK overtures in this direction.

[29]          It is often argued that Germany pursues its own distinctive form of neo-liberalism, termed ordoliberalism, with a greater economic role for the state.  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordoliberalism)

[30]        Emma Little-Pengelly took the South Belfast seat from the SDLP, openly touting for the loyalist paramilitary vote. (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/10/23/northern-ireland-update/#more-12062)

[31]         https://www.newsletter.co.uk/news/scottish-tory-leader-ruth-davidson-backs-gay-marriage-at-belfast-pride-event-1-7504614

[32]        https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jun/01/arlene-foster-accepts-invitation-to-lead-orange-order-parade

[33]         As well as a haemorrhaging of members, there had been a regular loss of elected UKIP members at all levels, due to the continued exposure of their shortcomings. Although the financial irregularity of elected members has figured large in these losses, this crime was not something that particularly worried Farage, unlike the embarrassing exposure of rampant racism and sexism amongst some UKIP members. Any party that has a chance of getting members elected attracts decidedly dodgy characters on the make. But UKIP managed to outdo the other parties in this regard.. Farage himself (with his dubious Arron Banks financial backing) sees public financial scrutiny and accountability as something to be publicly avoided, and any successes in this regard, as something to be privately celebrated.

[34]         https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-day-protest-westminster-nigel-farage- tommy-robinson-parliament-square-a8846601.html

Channel 4 reporter, Jon Snow said he had “never seen so many white people in one place.”

[35]         The Brexit Party has adopted an openly transwoman candidate, Jessica Swift, as their prospective Westminster candidate in Grantham:-

https://www.granthamjournal.co.uk/news/candidate-for-mp-a-proud-transwoman-9078685/

[36]        The companies involved usually retain their contracts though!

[37]         There was an intermediate period when Farage made his own contacts with people like Steve Bannon, Marine Le Pen and Victor Orban, and spoke favourably of Vladimir Putin. But Farage realised that pushing too far in this direction could undermine his strategy to win over the Conservative and Unionist Party for his right populist and reactionary unionist politics. No doubt Trump’s own move to distance himself from Bannon helped Farage in this.

[38]         Farage appeared in May 2018 at a DUP fundraising dinner, along with his main financial backer, Arron Banks, who went as far as offering Farage as a future DUP candidate. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigel_Farage#2016–2019).

[39]         Islamophobia has replaced anti-Semitism amongst whole swathes of the far Right, now that  Israel provides an official example of an ethnic supremacist state, underlined by the 2018 Nationality Law. The far right want the UK to become a white British, ethnic supremacist state.

[40]         And that may have included many elected Tory members, up to a very high level. It was clear that the bigger the Brexit Party vote, the more purchase the Tory hard right had over the party in challenging May and her own pretty hard Brexit deal. Anne Widdecombe, another darling of the Tory Right, had already publicly jumped ship, providing an example to others  who could make use of the privacy of the ballot box.

[41]         The Labour Party had its own tricky by-election in Peterborough on 6th June. However, unlike  the Tories at Brecon & Radnorshire, they had ditched their own scandal-linked sitting MP. Arguably Corbyn’s main opposition came from within Labour’s own Westminster ranks. The Labour Right was praying for a by-election defeat, so they could oust Corbyn. However, although Labour held on to the seat, the election victory was hardly very convincing, their support falling from 48% to 31% of the vote. The combined Tory and Brexit Party vote was over 50%. This does not augur well for a future Labour general election victory, especially if under Johnson, the Tories and the Brexit Party come to some electoral arrangement. There is no Remain party, or section of such a party in England, that could come to similar electoral deal with a Corbyn-led Labour Party.

[42]         Although it is worth noting that electoral participation in the US is historically considerably lower than in most EU member states.

[43]         And, like Johnson’s typically cack-handed ‘intervention’ in the case of the British-Iranian woman, Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who remains in an Iranian jail, Hunt’s intervention led to the seizure of the crew of the tanker taken by the Iranian authorities in the Persian Gulf.

[44]         This was a substantial drop from the 18% Labour received in the 2017 general election, and Labour had held this seat from 1945-79.

[45]         Cameron’s Tory/Lib-Dem government had accepted both these groups for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum franchise.

[46]         https://uk.news.yahoo.com/eu-citizens-denied-their-vote-124040805.html

[47]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windrush_scandal

[48]         https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/sheku-bayohs-family-call-justice-14986559

[49]          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Under_One_Banner  and http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2018/09/11/edinburgh-october-6th-a-rallying-call-for-the-left/

[50]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/All_Under_One_Banner– AUOB Cymru

[51]         http://radicalindyedinburgh.blogspot.com/2014/10/message-from-edinburgh-ric-to-go-for-it.html

[52]         https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/sinn-fein-on-brexit-and-absentionist-policy-1-6240398

[53]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_Communities_Against_Brexit

[54]         https://www.theneweuropean.co.uk/top-stories/sinn-fein-on-brexit-and-absentionist-policy-1-6240398

[55]        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnson_ministry#Cabinet]

[56]        https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/theresa-launches-humiliating-brexit-climbdown-11676282

[[57]           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuka_Umunna#Return_to_the_backbenches

][58]           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuka_Umunna#Return_to_the_backbenches

[59]           https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/negotiating-brexit/#second

[60]          The radicalness of this manifesto has been considerably exaggerated. “When the former SDP leader, David Owen, read the manifesto he was reminded of SDP election programmes, and made a donation to Labour.” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/29/election-centre-ground-left-labour-tory-manifestos)

[61]           Centre left Brexiters are made up of a section of the Labour Left, now including Jeremy  Corbyn, and former CPGB/CPB members, like Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray, and trade union bureaucrats like UNITE’s Len McCluskey. Their politics are left British nationalist, with the old CPGB’s The British Road to Socialism and the old ILP’s social British unionism providing much of the political underpinning.

[62]         Until 2004 Labour held 3 of the 6 Scottish Euro-seats, and even then, still topped the poll that year, although it was reduced to 2 seats.

And in May 2019, if a breakdown is made of the single multi-member Scottish Euro- constituency into the 59 Westminster constituencies,  Labour was unable to come first in a single one (a situation worse than Labour’s the very poor 2017 or the cataclysmic 2015 Westminster general election results).(https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1G_zdsUdYjvZKOCm1F_cE4vuTI6KKXNMwMQE_z8-ZiWg/edit#gid=1595021733)

In May, the SNP came first in 56 seats and the Lib-Dems in another 3.

Unlike Scotland, Labour was able to hold on to its last MEP in Wales, but as in Scotland, it failed to come first in any of the Westminster constituent areas, losing their first place in the 2017 general election position in 23 seats to the Brexit Party, 2 to Plaid Cymru and 2 to the Lib-Dems. Studied ambiguity had failed spectacularly.

[63]           https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jun/27/boris-johnson-vows-push-on-immigration-points-system

[64]           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_immigration_detention_facilities

[65]          https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/30/ed-miliband-snp-opposition-question-time-election

[66]         https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/extending-democracy/#third

[67]       https://labour.org.uk/manifesto/negotiating-brexit/#second

[68]            https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-36083664

[69]         The City has long been close to Wall Street. They were both pioneers of Eurodollar activity in the EEC, beyond effective US Federal or Bank of England control. Hedge funds, which are also largely beyond state control, are very much dominated by US and UK financial capital and have formed significant backers for Brexit and for even less state regulation.

[70]          As well as trying to push Labour into supporting Remain, or a softer Brexit at least, the Labour Right has joined the much wider Right offensive, accusing Corbyn of anti-Semitism. This attack has been backed by the Tories – Right and Centre – the Lib-Dems, Labour Friends of Israel, the apartheid Israeli state, and motley crew from the Left. The Right are concerned that a future Labour government adopts an independent foreign policy instead of, as Labour has traditionally done, just meekly following that of the British ruling class and its US ally. This is why Corbyn’s long-standing support for Palestinian self-determination has made him their target. However, Corbyn’s conciliatory strategy towards the Labour Right, many with a dismal racist record, has meant that he has bowed to its pressure. The long-standing anti-racists, Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson, Jackie Walker and Mark Wadsworth, have been the main victims of this strategy.

 [71]        Tom Watson was a supporter the Iraq War and he opposed any investigations into it. He was responsible for a by-election leaflet claiming, “Labour is on your side – the Lib-Dems are on the side of failed asylum seekers”! He is vice-chair of the Labour Friends of {apartheid} Israel and abstained in a Westminster motion condemning Saudi Arabian intervention in Yemen. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Watson_(Labour_politician).

[72]         Scottish Labour is the furthest right section of the party. Unlike England, there has been no major left surge in the membership, since most of the equivalent people in Scotland had joined the SNP in 2014 and early 2015. The Scottish Labour membership voted for Owen Smith as British party leader in September 2016, not Jeremy Corbyn. They also voted for the Right candidate, Anas Sawar, as Scottish leader, in November 2017, against the Left’s candidate, Richard Leonard (who only won through the trade union vote).

[73]       https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Change_UK#Formation_as_The_Independent_Group

[74]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chuka_Umunna#Member_of_Parliament

[75]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Change_UK#Registration_as_a_political_party_as_Change_UK_–_The_Independent_Group

[76]         http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/02/04/the-enigmatic-gilets-jaunes/

[77]         There were also factors, which undermined Change UK from the day of its launch. Despite having very deliberately adopted the right wing, ‘anti-Semitism’ attacks on Corbyn, the hypocrisy of Change UK’s anti-racist credentials were soon exposed.  Angela Smith MP talked of the “party I’ve just left being.., not just about being black or a funny tinge.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Change_UK#Formation_as_The_Independent_Group). Later, other Change UK EU candidates were exposed as being Islamophobic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Change_UK#European_Parliament_election). By the time of the election some leading members were already recommending a vote for the Lib-Dems.

[78]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Garrard_(property_developer)#

Labour_Party

[79]         The Orange Book: Reclaiming Liberalism, and published in 2004, and backed by such figures as Vince Cable and Nick Clegg, contributed to the Lib-Dem’s wholehearted adoption of neo-liberalism. In the process they completely ditched an already much diminished Radical Liberal tradition, which saw a brief revival amongst the Young Liberals in the late nineteen sixties and seventies.

[80]         The exception was in Scotland, where Falkirk West, Labour MP, Dennis Canavan was prevented from standing as the official Labour candidate for the new Holyrood parliament in 1999, despite having the support of 97% of local party members.  Canavan’s strong commitment to developing a left social democratic path for the new Scottish Parliament was very much opposed by Tony Blair. Canavan stood as an Independent and won the biggest majority of any MSP in Scotland.

[81]         The Alternative Vote (AV)  leads to even less proportional representation than First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting. The AV is designed to maximise the representation of centre parties.

[82]            Although if Labour had been elected, Alistair Darling, as Chancellor of the Exchequer was equally committed to austerity. He “promised planned cuts in public spending ‘deeper and tougher’ than Margaret Thatcher’s.”

(https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/mar/25/alistair-darling-cut-deeper-margaret-thatcher)

[83]           Westminster’s two-party system is acknowledged in its FPTP elections.

[84]           Although the Lib-Dems may attract the shrinking band of Tory Remain MPs and councillors, the new hard right Tory leadership is likely to hold on to most of the Tory voters. And, in the very unlikely event of Swinson becoming a contender for PM, she could well find herself challenged by the Tories, under ‘English Votes for English Laws’, as being unsuitable because she represents a Scottish constituency, East Dunbartonshire, despite her own strident British unionism!

[85]         Quite a lot of electors showed their willingness to loan the Lib-Dems their vote in the English local elections on May 2nd. They increased their vote by 3% points to 19%, winning 704 seats, (whilst the Tories fell from 35% to 28%, losing 1330 sears, and Labour fell from 35% to 28%, losing 84 seats). Significantly, the Brexit Party did not stand. On May 23rd, the Lib-Dems benefitted from borrowed votes in the Euro-election with an increase to 19.6% of the vote, and again in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election with an increase from 29% to 43.5%. In all these cases there was also an element of a return to Lib-Dem voting by previous supporters, following the party’s decline in support as a result of the 2010-15 Tory/Lib-Dem coalition.

[86]        The massive anti-G8, anti-Iraq War and anti-Trump demonstrations provide recent examples. Furthermore, such activities have been supplemented by many other demonstrations and lobbies nearly every week of the year.

[87]         The largest mobilisation by the reactionary right was the Countryside Alliance march of 2002. Loyalists, including the Orange Order, have a long record of organising intimidatory ‘walks’ in Northern Ireland and Scotland, some with tens of thousands taking part. Still on a much smaller scale, the far right, EDL, SDL and WDL hold regular street demonstrations. Farage organised his ‘Leave Means Leave’ march.

[88]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opposition_to_Brexit_in_the_United_Kingdom#People’s_Vote

[89]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Vote#Campaign_activities

[90]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People%27s_Vote#2019_People’s_Vote_March

[91]        Centre left Brexiters and Lexiters could also support anti-Trump demos, since there is so much more than Trump’s pro-Brexit stance that people oppose. Thus, Jeremy Corbyn addressed the London rally, whilst right Remainer, Jo Swinson, also took part.

[92]        ‘Bollocks to Brexit’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bollocks_to_Brexit) just has to have been dreamt up by a renegade former SWP member!

[93]         https://www.libdemvoice.org/56366-56366.html

[94]       https://www.libdemvoice.org/56366-56366.html

[95]           Federalism is impossible under the UK political system, which places political sovereignty with the Crown in Westminster. The most that can be achieved is ‘Devo-Max’, which still retains Westminster sovereignty.

[96]         The Lexiters mostly come from the British Trotskyist tradition represented by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SPEW). They operate outside the Labour Party. They carry less weight than the centre left Brexiters (see note 61), who also have the support of key trade union leaders.  However, the Lexiters  share the centre left Brexiters’ British nationalism. They defended Westminster ‘democracy’ against the EU bureaucracy. They saw the neo-liberals as a greater enemy than the right national populists. They failed to appreciate that the right populists were not marginal, but had significant ruing class backing. Lexiters also downplayed the fact that those leading the Brexit campaign wanted to leave the EU to  move closer to the  even more neo-liberal US in a post-Brexit trade deal.

[97]            For an analysis of the changing nature of social democracy see:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/17/the-difference-between-social-democracy-official-and-dissident-communism-and-a-politics-based-on-emancipation-liberation-and-self-determination/

A key feature of left social democratic politics is its emphasis on nationalisation – a state capitalist measure. Another central feature is an essentially national orientation.

This was very much the approach the SWP and SPEW (+SPS) used in their Lexit campaigns. Both claim to be sections of internationals, the International Socialist Tendency (IST) and the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) respectively. As the growing political crises have engulfed these organisations, they have increasingly been revealed as ‘colonial’ extensions of the dominant SWP and SPEW.

[98]             The SSP had taken a critical Remain stance in the EU referendum, which was a political advance on the SWP, SPS, and the closet-Lexit supporters in RISE. However, since then the SSP leadership has retreated into a Brexit accommodating mindset. This represents a throwback to the economism inherited from the old Militant.

[99]             RISE – Respect, Independence, Socialism and Environmentalism – Scotland’s Left Alliance turned out to be an unprincipled stitch-up between former members of the International Socialist Group – an SWP breakaway and the SSP leadership. This was done in an attempt to win an MSP in Glasgow and in Edinburgh. RISE consciously chose to adopt the populist  ‘Respect’, rather than the democratic ‘Republicanism’. This meant that it provided no constitutional alternative to the SNP. It refused to discuss its attitude to the EU. After the electoral failure in the 2015 Holyrood election, RISE has been on the decline and has no public political presence. The SSP now operates separately.

 [100]       Of course, the constitutional issue very much dominated the election within Northern Ireland too. However, the Peace (more accurately the pacification) Process had removed Northern Ireland once more from much UK general election concern.

[101]          For the SWP this is a return to such rhetorical slogans as their 1979 ‘No to Devolution Yes to Revolution’. They got their “No to Devolution’, but instead of ‘Revolution’ they got Thatcher!

SPEW hide their essentially left social democratic, or ‘Real Labour’ politics, by insisting the word ‘Socialist’ is used in any alliance thy back, despite it having no actual socialist content.

[102]       https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Greek_bailout_referendum

[103]      Antarsya includes the IST affiliated Socialist Workers Party (Greece). The CWI does not appear to take part in Greek electoral politics, which suggests it only has a few individuals there.

[104]       https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/September_2015_Greek_legislative_election#Results

[105]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MeRA25

In some ways MeRA25, through DiEM25, represents a more internationalist extension of Jeremy Corbyn’s and Bernie Sanders’neo-Keynesian left nationalist, ‘Green New Deal’ politics. Whilst Corbyn and Sanders accept their existing state frameworks – the UK and USA – as adequate vehicles for their proposed ‘Green New Deals’; Varoufakis sees the EU institutional framework as something that the Left can gradually take over. Then they can oust the neo-liberals who built up their support in the 1980s, culminating in the 1992 Maastricht Deal, after they had side-lined the post-war, social/christian democratic deal.

[106]            The reason for the attraction of some of the Left towards the more centre social democratic SNP, compared to the ostensibly left social democratic Labour Party, can be understood by these two parties’  respective voting patterns at Westminster, where the SNP has a better record, e.g. over the Syria war vote. This is because, up till now, centre social democrat Nicola Sturgeon can impose discipline over her MPs, whether right or left; whereas Corbyn cannot discipline the right wing of his party. Even at Holyrood, where the SNP’s record has been open to challenge by the Labour Party, Labour has been running several Scottish local councils in either open (e.g. Aberdeen) or tacit (e.g. North Lanarkshire and West Lothian) alliance with the Tories.

[107]           https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_Unionist_and_Socialist_Coalition

#2018_local_elections

[108]              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Bollan

[109]            http://c0mmonw3al.activehosted.com/index.php?action=social&chash=70efdf2ec 9b086079795c442636b55fb.42&s=d8f6c5bb203993c6ed5354458afb5b3

 [110]          https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/jun/24/mail-sun-uk-brexit-newspapers

[111]            http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/10/18/the-reality-of-the-european-democratic-revolution/

[112]             https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_Before_Profit

[113]            And as recently as the 2017 Stormont election, PBP had come eighth, winning one MLA, whilst UKIP was only 12th, winning no MLAs.

[114]             Such heresy would once have led to the Irish SWP/SWM being expelled from the British SWP controlled IST. However, the SWP has suffered from so many breakaways since 2011, that its leadership fear that an expulsion now could represent the last fatal blow to the IST.

[115]            In both Great Britain and Ireland/Northern Ireland, the SWP has long been in competition with the Socialist Party. In Northern Ireland, the SPI has created an even more economist and localist front, the partitionist Cross-Community Labour Alternative (bringing Corbynist politics to Northern Ireland). They got one local councillor elected in Enniskillen in May 2019. However as with the SWP/SWN, the SPI has fallen out with its British organisation, SPEW. Political fragmentation is both a cause and consequence of political localism.

[116]            Tories lay secret plans for an October 17th General Election, The National, 26.8.19

[117]              http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/08/09/a-critique-of-jeremy-corbyn-and-british-left-social-democracy/

[118]           This power awarded to the Crown, but wielded by the British ruling class, has a long reach as the toppling of the Australian Labour Gough Whitlam government in 1974 revealed. (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/23/gough-whitlam-1975-coup-ended-australian-independence)

[119]            https://www.thenational.scot/news/17874104.venezuelas-people-must-decide-future—not-trump/

[120]                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labour_Leave#Funding_for_the_group

[121]            The First International, or International Working Men’s Association, is often equated with revolutionary democratic support for the Paris Commune, or the political infighting between Max and Bukharin (amongst others). However, the key issue in its formation was international labour solidarity and organisation,

[122]            https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/aug/14/labour-bloc-plans-radical-move-to-push-through-brexit-deal

[123]          https://www.anothereurope.org/national-committee/

[124]          https://www.anothereurope.org/financial-transparency/

[125]          http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/01/25/another_europe

_is_possible/

[126]          The Red Paper Collective’s (RPC) pro-union efforts had even less impact than the former Scottish Labour MP George Galloway’s ‘Just Say Naw’ roadshow. Galloway, originally from Dundee, is a Hibernian sectarian and Islamic communalist. (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/02/11/just-say-naw-to-galloways-sectarian-british-unionism/#more-6577) Like the RPC, he also supported Leave, but abandoned any left pretensions, moving straight into the arms of Nigel Farage, along with Labour MP, Kate Hoey, who has also supported the UUP (and more recently the DUP over the Irish backstop). She is originally from County Antrim.

[127]              http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/10/20/report-of-meeting-to-set-up-the-campaign-for-a-european-republican-socialist-party/

[128]          http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/01/25/another_europe_

is_possible/ Appendix

[129]            http://republicancommunist.org/blog/?s=ian+allinson

[130]            http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2017/01/03/grassroots-unite-leadership-candidate-attacks-mccluskeys-and-coynes-capitulation-to-anti-migrant-politics/

[131]             https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dale_Farm

[132]             https://www.iom.int/news/mediterranean-migrant-arrivals-reach-12174-2019-deaths-reach-356

[132]            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calais_Jungle

_________________

 

For other articles see:-

http://republicancommunistblog.org/2019/04/09/brexit-and-the-rise-of-right-national-populism

http://republicancommunistblog.org/blog/2019/01/31/12823/

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/01/25/another_europe_is_possible/

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/12/03/which-way-now-brexit-or-ex-brit/

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/11/20/from-farages-brexit-to-trumps-brexit-plus-plus-plus-and-on-to-madame-frexit/

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/07/04/june-24th-black-friday-or-red-friday/

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/07/03/an-open-letter-to-lexiters/

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/04/12/a-political-comparison-between-the-2012-14-scottish-independence-referendum-and-the-2016-eu-referendum-campaign/

and

https://intfrobel.com/e-books/#national

 

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6 Responses to “It’s the constitution stupid – After the Boris ‘coup’ let’s fUK it!”

  1. cliff slaughter says:

    from Cliff Slaughter

    Invaluable! completely principled

    I would dearly love to see your opinion of the ‘defend democracy'(sic) demos today.

  2. RCN says:

    from grant keir

    Excellent article with which I agree…

    Grant

  3. RCN says:

    Reply to Cliff

    The nature of the demonstrations varied very much from place to place. However, they were still not at the level of the All Under One Banner demonstrations in Scotland. Neverthless, as events in Hong Kong have shown, it takes a combination of the experience gained over time, and the nature of the government response to increase those supporting resistance.

    I was at the Edinburgh demonstration organised by Another Europe Is Possible. You can get a flavour of this from the Radical Independence Campaign – Edinburgh blog.

    http://radicalindyedinburgh.blogspot.com/2019/09/stop-boris-coup-demonstrations-om-31st.html

  4. RCN says:

    I would like to thank Elaine Murray and John Dennis who pointed out some mistakes which I have now corrected. I would also like to thank the person, whose name I do not know, who I met at the Edinburgh demo. He talked about some other important points, which I had not considered and which I have been added since the first version.

  5. bob myers says:

    very much in agreement with what you write. would certainly be keen to join in any future collective discussion / action prompted by your article.

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