In the lead-up to the December 12th general election Allan Armstrong updates his analysis of the drift to the Right populist and reactionary unionist politics in the UK and what this possibly means for the future of the Union.
This is followed by an article by statement from the Radical Independence Campaign in Scotland on the general election.
Finally we are posting an article by Tony Greenstein, expelled Labour Party member from Brighton. He predicted the unexpected rise in support for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017, but thinks that Labour’s chances have declined in the run up to the December general election.
- THE CONTINUED RISE OF RIGHT POPULISM AND REACTIONARY UNIONISM
IN THE LEAD-UP TO THE DECEMBER 12th GENERAL ELECTION
(A fuller explanation of what is meant by Right national populism can be found in the article:-
Neither the UK nor Great Britain have ever been unitary states. All forms of unionism are based upon the unionist nature of the UK state, which has recognised England, Scotland, Ireland (later Northern Ireland) and Wales as constituent units. This has led to the adoption of various forms of hybrid Britishness.
Three key terms used in this article are:-
Conservative unionism – This acknowledges the unionist nature of the UK state through administrative devolution (or later acceptance of liberal unionist devolutionary measures which it once opposed, but have become part of the status quo)
Liberal unionism – This also accepts the unionist nature of the UK state but promotes political devolution as a better method of holding the state together
Reactionary unionism – This upholds the UK state and openly celebrates its most repressive aspects. e.g. the crown powers, the armed forces and judiciary. It is also prepared to mobilise extra-constitutional force to prevent national self-determination, greater measures of political devolution, and reverse political devolution and even some administrative devolutionary measures that have already been accepted.)
A full explanation of these terms can be found in the book From Pre-Brit to Ex-Brit at:-
The overwhelming majority of the electorate in the UK is found in England – 38,371,400. This compares with 3,925,800 in Scotland, 2,230,100 in Wales, and 1,248,400 in Northern Ireland. In a unitary state, the significance of those votes coming from the geographical areas covered by Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would be relatively small. But in a unionist state, with its constitutionally recognised ‘three and a bit’ nations; and where national democratic movements with Westminster representation have been a continuous feature of politics since the mid-1970s, then the different situations in each constituent unit of the UK are significant. Thus, it helps to outline the current political position of England on the one hand, and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the other, in the run-up to the December 12thgeneral election.
In England, in the 2017 general election, the Tories took 296 seats, Labour 227 and the Lib-Dems 8. With the exception of the Green Party of England and Wales with its 1 MP (and 4 MEPs and 372 councillors), all English MPs are British unionists, and uphold the unity of the UK state. This aspect of their politics can often be disguised when only English or local matters are being dealt with. But liberal, conservative and reactionary unionism often surfaces in these parties whenever wider UK politics have to be addressed. UKIP and the Brexit Party have been trying to consolidate reactionary unionism as the main force within the British unionist camp. They have had considerable success in England amongst the Tories, although this extends further as shown in the case of George Galloway. In England, during the May 2019 EU elections, the Brexit Party took 26 seats, the Lib-Dems 15, Labour 9, the Greens 7, and the Tories 3. The reactionary unionist Brexit Party formed the largest block amongst all the unionist parties, and their pressure has pushed Johnson’s Tories further towards this camp too.
In Scotland, however, in the 2017 Westminster general election, the constitutionalist nationalist SNP took 35 out of the 59 MPs, the increasingly reactionary unionist Tories 13, the conservative unionist Labour and Lib-Dems 7 and 4 respectively. British ruling class fear, caused by the IndyRef1 result, is demonstrated by the shift of previously conservative unionist Tories to reactionary unionism, and the previously liberal unionist, Labour and Lib-Dems to conservative unionism. In the May 2019 EU elections, the SNP took 3 MEPs (out of 6) seats, but the other 3 MEPs were divided between the Tories, the Brexit Party and the Lib-Dems. (Labour, which had once had 3 MEPs, was knocked out altogether). But Scotland (like Wales and Northern Ireland) has another level of government – the politically devolved Scottish Parliament at Holyrood. In the 2016 Holyrood general election, the SNP took 63 out of 129 MSPs (and the independence supporting Scottish Greens a further 2), the Tories took 31 (replacing Labour as the main unionist party), Labour 24 and the Lib-Dems 5.
In Wales, a different pattern again can be found. In the 2017 Westminster general election, the Labour Party took 28 out of the 40 MPs, the Tories 8, and the Plaid Cymru 4. Although the Labour Party in Wales is unionist, it is divided between liberal, conservative and reactionary wings. To a greater extent than Scotland, liberal unionists have been able to maintain the upper hand amongst Welsh Labour (which goes some way to explain the difference approaches to Wales and Scotland in Labour’s 2019 general election manifesto). In the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections, the Labour Party took 29 out of 60 MWAs, the then conservative unionist Tories 14, to which were added the liberal unionist Lib-Dems with 4 and the reactionary unionist UKIP with 7. In contrast to Scotland, the constitutional nationalist Plaid Cymru only have a relatively small representation amongst the MWAs – 11 out of 60.
Wales is divided between the largely English-speaking former coal and steel dominated South Wales with its north east Wales outlier (these areas have long been Labour dominated); the largely English language speaking Border Counties (mainly contested between the Lib-Dems and Tories, with the latter gaining ascendancy) and their north coast extension and a Pembrokeshire outlier (mainly contested between the Tories and Labour); and the still significant Welsh language speaking North and West Wales (dominated by Plaid Cymru).
The prospect of Brexit has introduced a new political bombshell, which has fractured the fragile unity gained around liberal constitutional reform, highlighted as recently as 2011 by Welsh Labour/Plaid Cymru/Conservative/Lib-Dem backing for greater political devolutionary powers to the Welsh Assembly. The reactionary unionist UKIP had already challenged this unity by winning 7 seats in the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections. However, in the May 2019 EU elections in Wales, the reactionary unionist Brexit Party came first with 2 MEPs, followed in the number of votes by the anti-Brexit Plaid Cymru with 1 MEP, and then the more ambiguous-on-Brexit Welsh Labour Party with 1 MEP.
The Brexit Party has torn into both Labour’s heartlands and the main Tory/Lib-Dem contested areas in Wales. South Wales has in many ways suffered from the same industrial devastation and break-up of working-class self-organisation and communities as England’s old industrial North and Midlands. So, in contrast to those areas in the Republican areas of Northern Ireland, which had long experience of the unionist Right, and those areas in the Scottish Central Belt, which had experienced the ‘Project Hope’ of IndyRef1, many in the de-industrialised areas of Wales, as in the English North and Midlands, have fallen under the influence of the conservative unionism and anti-EU sentiment of ‘Project Fear’ promoted by the Tories and sections of the Labour Party, and to the reactionary unionism and EU-phobia of ‘Project Hate’ promoted by UKIP and the Brexit Party. But in other parts of the UK, particularly London, the large majority of black and Asian British also opposed Brexit, knowing that many on the hard Right would come out against even long-standing and now English-speaking EU residents, by questioning these British subjects’ Britishness too.
Scotland’s ‘Project Hope’ has been linked to people making more of the Scottish prefix of their former hyphenated Scottish-British identities. For many the British suffix is being increasingly jettisoned. Scottish-Britishness is associated with a backward-looking British provincialism. For many, a European suffix has replaced the British suffix in a new hyphenated identity. This has contributed to a more outward looking civic national politics. This recognises anybody who chooses to live in Scotland as being Scottish. This goes some way to explain the much stronger support for Remain in Scotland. But, in the de-industrialised South Wales, as in the North and Midlands of England, the Brexiteers’ politics have been linked to a more inward looking ethnic hyphenated-British identity. Here the regional or national prefix is subordinate to the British state suffix. With both Labour (under Gordon Brown) and the Tories (under Michael Gove) pushing for a cultural (ethnic) basis for official Britishness, this often acts as a mental barrier towards people outside the state’s boundaries. Such thinking has also been linked to the idea of ‘British jobs for British workers’ to gain wider support amongst a marginalised working class. Such thinking can also quickly turn against ‘others’, e.g. migrants, other minorities such as Travellers, Welsh language speakers and those in Scotland and Northern Ireland who increasingly reject Britishness.
The political situation is different in North and West Wales. Here the language issue best explains why the majority oppose Brexit and give their vote to Plaid Cymru. Although Westminster parliamentary acts have recognised the Welsh and Gaelic languages (after years of language struggles in Wales), support could easily be diluted or even turned off altogether with a change of government, especially hard Right Tories. Thus, Welsh and Irish speakers (in Northern Ireland) see the EU’s Charter for Regional or Minority Languages as the most secure underpinning for their own languages. And this goes a stage further in Northern Ireland, where the sole underpinning for the Irish language comes from this source. The DUP has been prepared to suspend the power-sharing Executive and Assembly rather than concede any Irish language rights.
Northern Ireland, the fourth constituent unit of the UK reveals yet another political pattern. In the 2017 Westminster general election, the reactionary unionist DUP took 10 out of the 18 MPs and a liberal unionist Independent took 1. Against this, the former revolutionary nationalist but now constitutional nationalist Sinn Fein took 7 MPs (who don’t take their Westminster seats). In the 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly elections, the reactionary unionist DUP took 28 MLAs and the TUV 1 MLA; the conservative unionist UUP took 10; and the liberal unionist Alliance took 14. Whilst the constitutional nationalist Sinn Fein and SDLP took 27 MLAs and 12 MLAs; and the Left social democratic/Left Irish nationalist People Before Profit took 1 MLA.
Although, as in Wales, the unionist parties have remained dominant, there is a much closer balance between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland. When it came to the May 2019 EU elections, Sinn Fein narrowly won the first preference vote (with a drop of votes from 2014) and kept its 1 MEP, but the reactionary unionist DUP, although again coming second in the first preference vote, fell back even more, but still kept its 1 MEP. But when all the votes were redistributed by the fifth count, the liberal unionist Alliance Party of Northern Ireland (APNI) gained the most overall votes winning the other MEP (and displacing the conservative unionist UUP MEP).
And, unlike Wales, because the majority of people in Northern Ireland had voted in 2016 by 56% to 44% to Remain in the EU, by 2019 the pressure on the unionists came from its liberal Remain-supporting wing, led by APNI. And in the 2019 local elections in Northern Ireland again it was APNI that made the biggest gains. As a consequence, the reactionary and conservative unionist and the constitutional nationalist blocs have tended to fragment, with the pattern varying according to local political conditions.[
To sum up, before the December 12th general election, England only had unionist MPs and MEPs (with the partial exception of the 1 Green MP and 7 MEPs). And following Johnson’s Tory purge, the largest group is pro-hard Brexit and reactionary unionist. Wales also has a majority of unionist MPs, MWAs and MEPs, but with the liberal unionist dominated Labour Party having the majority of MPs and MWAs, and the reactionary unionist Brexit Party having the largest number of the MEPs. The constitutional nationalist Plaid Cymru remains a minority party, although it did emerge with second largest vote in the 2019 EU election, second to the Brexit Party. This suggests a greater polarisation in Wales than before. In Northern Ireland, the reactionary unionist DUP has the majority of MPs and biggest number of MLA members, but the constitutional nationalist Sinn Fein is quite close behind. But recent developments in the 2019 Euro-elections and NI local elections have shown the DUP and Sinn Fein both to be in retreat, and the liberal unionist APNI making considerable gains. But in Scotland, the constitutional nationalist SNP dominates Westminster, the Scottish Parliament and EU representation, as well as holding the largest number of local councillors. Within the unionist camp, the Tories have taken the lead, although a long way behind the SNP. Their reactionary unionism has become dominant in the Scottish unionist camp. Whatever, the overall UK result, the National Question will figure large after December 12th.
b) Political developments in Scotland in the run-up to the general election
Although the SNP has continued to dominate Scottish politics, following the 2012-14 IndyRef1 campaign, its leadership faces growing problems with its strategy to win an IndyRef2. With reactionary unionism currently ruling the Westminster roost, this strategy depends upon a revival of liberal unionism, and a UK government prepared to concede a referendum. This explains why Nicola Sturgeon hopes that there will be a minority Corbyn-led government after December 12th. But, not only is Corbyn in 2019 little more sympathetic towards Scottish self-determination than Ed Miliband in 2015; some of the strongest opposition comes from the Labour Party in Scotland, led by British Left unionist and ambiguous Remainer/Leaver Richard Leonard.
The SNP leadership is aware that Johnson’s Tories intend to remove any constitutional options for getting IndyRef2. And, Johnson could still well be prime minister after December 12th. The Tories are more likely to look favourably to the Spanish government’s handling of the non-Spanish state backed Catalan referendum, than to concede any IndyRef2, although they have a number of other options too. Therefore, amidst all the ‘independence is inevitable’ bluster, the SNP leadership is retreating to its pre-2014, openly pro-business accommodationist stance, focussed on the Sustainable Growth Commission. The SNP leadership’s long-term goal is to build up a Scottish ruling class, centred on Scottish businesses, ready to take its place in the current world order. And in the process, the SNP leadership does not want to rock too many boats, or to encourage wider campaigning that could move beyond its control.
However, the Sustainable Growth Commission’s accepted world order had already begun to fall apart in 2008, and there is little prospect of any significant ‘trickle down’ social democratic reforms within a bureaucratic EU or UK state dominated Scottish economy. The closer the SNP becomes involved with business, either at local council or national level, the more it will become tangled up with the financial corruption this inevitably brings. It will also be unable to put up any but a token opposition to the corporate driven destruction of the life sustaining circuits of our global environment. This tension is highlighted in the difference between those neo-liberals in the SNP who look to the opening of new oilfields (and some to fracking) to provide the key financial basis for their ‘independent’ Scotland, and to those Left social democrats in or close to the party (e.g. Commonweal) who look to an independent Scotland to take the lead in the transition to a new carbon-neutral green economy.
Despite these political tensions, the SNP enters the December 12th general election campaign with some confidence that it can make significant electoral gains. Its public performances compare well with the Tories, Labour and Lib-Dems, particularly at Westminster and Brussels. The SNP leadership has been able to maintain MSP voting unity at Holyrood and, with the single exception of 1 MP who voted against the December 12th date for the general election, at Westminster. This contrasts strongly with both the Tories and Labour at Westminster. Furthermore, Holyrood has looked more competent and business-like than the chaos and dysfunction surrounding Westminster this year. This difference has been highlighted by the issues of ‘meaningful votes’, the proroguing of parliament and the countervailing (but ineffective) Supreme Court ruling, and the use of blatant lying as a means to advance Right wing politics at Westminster.
The contrast between how politics are conducted at Holyrood and Westminster has enabled Sturgeon to extend the official SNP reasons for demanding IndyRef2. Previously these lay in ‘Better Together’s broken promises to keep Scotland in the EU and to move towards Devo-Max if there was a ‘No’ vote in 2014. But now the UK regime no longer looks like a stable parliamentary democracy, but more like a tinpot monarchy. Indeed, in the light of scandal and family division, the British monarchy appears to be a central part of a dysfunctional UK state. On November 24th, the normally very cautious Sturgeon even said, “We need a ‘debate’ on the monarchy’s future.” In line with the SNP leadership’s lack of faith in Westminster, it no longer seeks a Section 30 order to facilitate IndyRef2, but wants the transfer of referendum initiating powers to Holyrood. Although the grounds for this are fully in line with a democratic right of self-determination, this is no more likely to be conceded than a new Section 30 order, when all the unionist parties support the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster.
As in England, the major parties in Scotland have all advocated tactical voting. For the Scottish Tories, this has meant prioritising ‘No to IndyRef2’. ‘Get Brexit Done’ is secondary and designed to consolidate existing Tory support. It is also designed to appeal in some local areas within the Central Belt, where Orangeism can still be found and which did vote Leave. So, beneath their wider ‘No to IndyRef2’ appeal, the Scottish Tories are using this election to try and forge a UK wide (including ‘Ulster’) Right populism. But any overt connection with a very English Johnson also limits the Tories’ ability to build a wider electoral alliance.
‘Ulster’ Orangeism sees its prime connection to the UK and Britishness as lying through Scotland, rather than through England. But, in Scotland, as in ’Ulster’, support for Orangeism is on the decline. Even ‘Better Together’ maintained a long arms-length between their liberal fronted conservative unionism and the reactionary unionism of the Orange Order. The Scottish Tories are making the Orange link with Scottish-Britishness more central to their defence of the Union. This will lead others to reconsider their Scottish-Britishness. The Scottish Tories will also find it difficult to persuade many outside their ranks that having Scottish Tory MPs makes any difference, given that their existing MPs just act as a conveyor belt for whatever their Westminster leader decide. The 7 DUP MPs have used the Tory minority position at Westminster to extract concessions; the 13 Scottish MPs have achieved nothing.
The Lib-Dems claim to represent the majority in Scotland who voted to Remain in the UK in 2014 and in the EU in 2016. Therefore, they are trying to build a tactical voting alliance around ‘No to Brexit’ and ‘No to IndyRef2’. On the face of it, such an alliance would seem to have better prospects than that of the Tories. But outside shrinking areas of the Highlands and Islands, north-east Fife and the leafier city suburbs, the Lib-Dems don’t have much traction. And their participation in the 2010-15 Con-Dem coalition and ‘Better Together’, coupled to the unlikelihood of their emerging as the largest Westminster party, makes it appear that voting Lib-Dem is just another way of getting a possible Tory-led government.
The Scottish Labour Party is trying to build another tactical voting alliance. This is around ‘No to Boris’, ‘No to IndyRef2’. This has brought them into conflict with the Corbyn-led British leadership (which could contemplate a deal with the SNP if this became necessary to form a Labour government). Despite ‘Left’ Richard Leonard being leader, the Scottish Labour Party at Westminster, Holyrood and many constituencies is Right dominated. Attempts to verbally outflank the SNP on the Left are not very convincing when Scottish Labour was the central component of ‘Better Together’; runs several Scottish local councils in coalition or tacit agreement with the Tories; and in some areas is not averse to competing with the Tories for the Orange vote.
And those few Scottish Corbynistas face the additional problem that if they were able to oust the local SNP MP, the replacement Labour MP could well be less likely to support a Corbyn-led minority Labour government! For many amongst the Scottish Labour Right, the best prospect is a hung parliament, where they hold on to their seats along with their incomes and expenses, and access to well-paid sinecures. In such a situation, they would hope to come to some deal, involving others on the Labour Right in England, Wales and Scotland, the Lib-Dems, some Conservatives and even the DUP in ditching Corbyn and forming a National Government. Therefore, it is very unlikely that those few genuine Corbynista candidates in Scotland can overcome this Right-wing legacy and help the Scottish Labour Party to widen its appeal. In addition, in Scotland, the Corbynistas are also much hampered by their deep-dyed economism with its hostility to addressing constitutional issues.
The SNP leadership is also trying to build a tactical voting alliance. This is built around ‘Yes to IndyRef2’ and ‘No to Brexit’. Through the first they are trying to reach out to those, particularly in the Scottish Labour Party, who support Scotland’s right to self-determination, without necessarily supporting Scottish independence. In the second, they are claiming to be the most pro-European party, with the best option of retaining EU membership, whether in alliance with a possible post-election, pro-Remain majority at Westminster, or failing that, by pursuing a ‘Scottish independence in the EU’ strategy in opposition to a Johnson-led hard Brexit. As with Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done’ strategy, some of the contradictions in the SNP would only become apparent in the longer term. However, the SNP’s current stance allows for both a Plan A and a Plan B. This tends to suggest that the SNP leadership’s tactical voting alliance has better electoral prospects on December 12th that those of the Scottish Tories, Lib-Dems or Labour.
The only other pro-independence party contesting the general election is the Scottish Greens with 22 candidates (the decision whether to stand or not has been left to local constituency parties). The main hope of the Scottish Greens lies in becoming an electoral conduit for the rising concern about the environment, highlighted by the Extinction Rebellion protests. (In this respect its is similar to the Labour Party, which hopes that the future of the NHS will take priority over constitutional issues). However, in Scotland, because of SNP political hegemony, the Greens have not made the same headway as in England. Indeed, they have felt the pressure enough to stand down in the marginal SNP-held Perth and North Perthshire constituency.
However, politics in Scotland is not confined to parliamentary arenas. The broadly-based All Under One Banner (AUOB) campaign, was founded in 2016, and has campaigned for an early IndyRef2. In 2019, AUOB held demonstrations in Glasgow (May 4th), Galashiels (June 1st), Oban (June 15th), Ayr (July 6th), Campbeltown (July 27th,), Aberdeen (August 17th), Perth (September 7th), culminating in one in Edinburgh (October 5th) attended by 150,000-200,000.
As part of the SNP’s general election campaign, Sturgeon addressed an independence rally in Glasgow on November 3rdattended by 20,000. Clearly this is part of the SNP leadership’s longstanding policy of trying to rein-in and take control of any independent challenges. However, AUOB has announced its plans to organise independently in 2020. Many AUOB supporters will not be fobbed off with SNP leadership excuses for further IndyRef2 delays, whether under a Corbyn-minority Labour, a National or a Johnson Tory government.
If there is to be a Johnson Right populist majority government, then there is likely to be some pressure from the so-far, marginalised ethnic Scottish nationalists (Soil nan Gaidheal and Scottish Resistance), in response to the hyped-up Right-wing English ethnic nationalism, which increasingly informs reactionary British unionism. Furthermore. the frustrations could open up divisions amongst a very disciplined SNP, despite a minority Plan B for independence strategy being batted down at the party conference on 13th November.
c) Political developments in Wales in the run-up to the general election
In Wales, the political initiative has been in the hands of the Right. The linked issues of Brexit and reactionary unionism appeared as far back as the 2014 Euro-election, when UKIP came second and gained 1 of the 4 MEPs and in the 2016 Welsh Assembly election where it gained 7 MWAs. This year the Brexit Party has done even better, coming first in the Euro-elections and winning 2 MEPs. It has also inherited 4 of UKIP’s MWAs, who have changed party. One effect of UKIP and the Brexit Party has been to hold back any Right Tory advance in Wales, despite a 6% gain in votes in the 2017 Westminster general election. However, the December 12th general election could see the Right Tories ‘cashing in’ on the groundwork done by UKIP and the Brexit Party. Significantly, the Brexit Party is not standing in Brecon & Radnorshire, where it cost the Tories the seat in the August by-election. The likely decline in Brexit Party support (following the 2017 UKIP precedent) vote could well see the Welsh Tories being the main beneficiaries of the Brexit-led Rightwards move in Wales. In Wales, unlike Scotland, the Tories don’t need to flag up any equivalent of ‘No IndyRef2’ but can rely on wider anti-Welsh language speaker sentiment to dismiss any idea of greater Welsh self-determination. Such sentiment is held in some Labour circles too.
The Lib-Dems have been in decline in Wales for some time. In the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections, they only held on to 1 of their MWAs (losing 4 others). In the 2017 Westminster general election they lost their last MP. In the 2017 Welsh local elections they lost 10 of their 73 councillors. Despite the 10% surge in the Lib-Dem vote in the May 2019 Euro-election, (part of a shared Great Britain phenomenon) this failed to win them a single MEP in Wales. Thus, there is a sense of Lib-Dem desperation about their limited tactical voting alliance which also involves Plaid Cymru and Welsh Greens.Holding on to their by-election Brecon & Radnorshire MP is the Lib-Dems’ priority. The voting alliance has also given the Lib-Dems an anti-Brexit free run in Montgomeryshire (a seat they last held in 2005) and Cardiff Central (a seat they last held in 2010). It is very unlikely, though, that the Lib-Dems will be able to hold on even to their Brecon & Radnorshire MP, who is also party leader in Wales.
The Welsh Labour Party also faces a dilemma. Although in the 2017 Westminster general election, it maintained its first position with 28 MPs out of 40 (a gain of 3); and in the 2016 Welsh Assembly election, with 29 MWAs out of 60 (a loss of 1), in the May 2019 Euro-election, the Brexit Party took first place in all the South Wales and north east Wales seats held by Labour at Westminster and Cardiff Bay. A Right Labour group of MPs led by Stephen Kinnock, bitterly hostile to Corbyn, has fallen in behind Brexit. They supported May’s deal. Some in this Welsh Labour group are part of a conservative unionist tradition, which once opposed the setting up of the Welsh Assembly and has often been hostile to Welsh-speaking Wales.
However, the Labour leadership in the Welsh Assembly has taken a different political direction to these Westminster MPs. Unlike Scottish Labour they have maintained a liberal unionist course, supporting the further advance of political devolution in Wales (following the winning of the 2011 referendum granting greater powers to the Welsh Assembly). And again, in contrast to Scottish Labour at the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Labour has also been able to maintain its leadership of the Welsh Assembly, with the assistance of Plaid Cymru between 2007 and 2011, and the Lib-Dems since then. Furthermore, successive Welsh Assembly Labour leaders have been sympathetic to the Welsh language, beginning with Rhodri Morgan (2000-09), and both Carwyn Jones (2009-18) and Mark Drakeford (since 2018) are Welsh speakers.
A key feature of the majority of Labour’s MWAs has been their attempt to provide some “clear red water” between the Welsh Assembly and Westminster. Although Jones’ willingness to act as ‘Better Together’s Welsh outrider during the Scottish IndyRef1 campaign threatened to turn the ‘clear red water’ a blue-tinged pink, Labour at Cardiff Bay has gone on to maintain its liberal unionism. This is in contrast to Scottish Labour at Holyrood, which has retreated to conservative unionism, and has long abandoned any attempt to put any ‘red water’ between Holyrood and Westminster. Indeed, since the election of Corbyn as British Labour leader, the majority of Scottish Labour has been desperate to dig its own blue moat, separating it from Labour’s London head office.
In 2018, the more Miliband-supporting Carwyn Jones, was replaced as Welsh Labour leader by the more Corbyn-supporting Mark Drakeford. Again, in contrast to Scottish Labour’s ‘Left’ Labour leader, Richard Leonard, Wales Labour leader, Drakeford, was able to win over the majority of constituency party members and many MWAs. But perhaps more significantly, since the looming prospect of Brexit, the Welsh Labour-led Assembly has been prepared to cooperate with the SNP-led Holyrood Parliament in an attempt to minimise the damage and to defend the level of political devolution already achieved. This is threatened by a hard Right Johnson-led Tory government. Thus, it’s not to Scottish Labour that Welsh Labour looks for support to defend and further advance Welsh political devolution, but to the SNP-led Holyrood government.
Welsh Labour has managed to win some liberal devolutionary concessions in British Labour’s Its Time for Real Changemanifesto. Clearly these depend on a Labour-led government after December 12th. Should that not happen then Welsh Labour is probably in a better position than Scottish Labour to make a sharper break with Labour’s acceptance of Westminster supremacy. If, following the general election, the Lib-Dems further decline in Wales, the current Welsh Labour/Lib-Dem coalition in the Welsh Assembly could well come under greater strain. It is significant that, despite their current Welsh Assembly cooperation, no attempt has been made by these two parties to form a tactical electoral alliance for the general election.
Welsh Labour has had to confront the hard Right in its own heartlands to a much greater extent than Scottish Labour (where neither UKIP nor the Brexit Party have had any local councillors or MSPs). However, in making some effort to confront this challenge and not to capitulate to Brexit (unlike Kinnock and his Westminster-backers), Welsh Labour was able to hold on to 1 of the 4 Welsh MEPs despite falling to fourth place in the May Euro-election. In Scotland, however, so paranoid has Scottish Labour become over the SNP and the Scottish independence challenge, it was neither able to provide an anti-IndyRef2 alternative to the Tories, nor an anti-IndyRef2, anti-Brexit alternative to the Lib-Dems, both of which took a seat in the May Euro-election. Indeed, Scottish Labour’s own flirting with the wilder Orange fringes of unionism, just helped to open up the space for the Brexit Party to take the last Scottish MEP, leaving Scottish Labour without a single MEP. Unlike Right-led Scottish Labour, Left-led Welsh Labour has some expectations from a post-December 12th Corbyn-led Labour minority government. But Welsh Labour seems better prepared for a Johnson-led Tory government, and the further decline of the Welsh Lib-Dems, with a possibility of returning to a deal with Plaid Cymru in the Welsh Assembly and continuing to cooperate with the SNP-led Holyrood government.
The Welsh Greens (who are an autonomous part of the Green Party of England and Wales) are facing as difficult an election as the Scottish Greens, but for different reasons. Although the Scottish Greens are putting forward candidates, they have made no electoral deals. The Welsh Greens are putting forward 18 candidates also with little prospect of success. But 1 Welsh Green is standing in the Vale of Glamorgan as part of the Lib-Dem/Plaid Cymru/Welsh Greens Anti-Brexit electoral pact. This seat has been awarded to the Greens, not with much hope of success in this Brexit and Brexit MEP voting constituency, but only because the prospects for the Lib-Dems and Plaid Cymru there are very poor. They both lost their deposits here in the 2017 general election.
Whereas the Scottish Greens have an MSP base in Holyrood and form part of a constitutional nationalist alliance, the Welsh Greens have no base in Cardiff Bay, and are the smallest component of a wider Welsh liberal unionism. How this will pan out after the general election will depend upon whether there is a Corbyn-led Labour government, whose manifesto could initially hold the Welsh Greens to a liberal unionist path, or whether there is a more hostile National or a Johnson-led Tory government, which could lead the Welsh Greens along the Scottish Greens’ constitutional nationalist path.
As a consequence of the Brexit vote, Plaid Cymru has been forced back into its Welsh-speaking heartlands. This change was marked by the ousting in 2018 of party leader, Leanne Wood, the openly republican and Welsh language learner MWA for Rhondda in South Wales (strongly Brexit voting), and her replacement by Adam Price, MWA from East Carmarthen and Dinefwr, with its significant Welsh-speaking and more anti-Brexit electorate. Although Plaid, the Lib-Dems and Welsh Greens are contesting each other in many seats, Plaid is part of the localised anti-Brexit tactical voting pact. In contrast to the 1 seat awarded to the Greens, and the 3 seats awarded to the Lib-Dems, Plaid has been awarded 7 seats – 3 in seats its currently holds – Arfyn, Dwyfor Merionnedd and Carmarthen East and Dinefwr; 1 an obvious target seat– Yns Mon (since it voted Plaid in the 2019 Euro-election, whilst Plaid holds the Welsh Assembly seat and also held the Westminster constituency between 1987-2005); the other 3 seats, Caerphilly, Llanelli and Pontypridd are in South Wales. These are all majority Brexit voting constituencies, in none of which Plaid is the main contender to its current Labour MP.
If Plaid takes Yns Mon that will be seen as a big success for the party. Despite the limited tactical electoral alliance, the Lib-Dems’ electoral demise at Westminster would probably benefit Plaid. In the 2019 Euro-election Plaid emerged as the leading anti-Brexit party in Wales, with 1 MEP, whereas the Lib-Dems came fourth with no MEP. Some of the tensions within the current electoral pact are shown by the emergence of the Welsh nationalist Gwlad Gwlad which is standing in the Lib-Dem allotted seats of Montgomeryshire and Cardiff Central and the Welsh Greens allocated seat of the Vale of Glamorgan. A Lib-Dem is also standing as an Independent in the Plaid allocated seat of Pontypridd.
However, another significant development has been the emergence of All Under One Banner (Cymru), which has consciously followed the AUOB (Scotland) in organising demonstrations. The key thing about these demos is that they openly promote Welsh independence, something Plaid has up to now been reluctant to do. Plaid has preferred to try and piggybank support for greater Welsh political devolution on to what has already been achieved in Scotland. 2000 joined the first AUOB (Cymru) march in Cardiff on 11th May, 8000 joined the march in the Plaid heartland of Caernafon on 27thJuly and 5300 joined the march in strongly Brexit-supporting Merthyr Tudful in South Wales on 7thSeptember. Another march is planned in Brexit-supporting Wrexham on April 18th, 2020.
The Plaid leadership has been more supportive of AUOB (Cymru) than the SNP leadership has been of AUOB (Scotland). And it is already looking to join up with a growing IndyRef2 movement in Scotland. In its attempt to break beyond the traditional Welsh-speaking Plaid heartland and to foreground the issue of Welsh independence, AUOB (Cymru) is anticipating a much more fluid political situation in Wales. If Johnson’s Tories win the general election then the closing off of further Welsh political devolution (indeed its likely reversal) could undermine not only the Brexiteers’ reactionary unionist Welsh-Britishness, but Welsh Labour’s liberal unionist Welsh-Britishness too.
d) Political developments in Northern Ireland in the run-up to the general election
In Northern Ireland the balance between the unionists of all the local parties (DUP, UUP, TUV and Alliance Party of Northern Ireland – APNI) and the constitutional nationalists (Sinn Fein and SDLP) is much closer than in Wales. However, the prospect of a UK-wide Brexit has tended to fragment both camps. Unlike Wales, the majority in Northern Ireland voted in 2016 to Remain in the EU 2 by 56% to 44%. However, like Wales, there is a divide between two camps, though not primarily on the basis of language, but reflecting the Nationalist/Republican and Unionist/Loyalist divide. Although all the Republican/Nationalist constituencies (on the basis of the 2015 Westminster general election results) voted by large majorities to Remain, the Unionist/Loyalist constituencies were split 6/4 in favour of Leave, but with more substantial Remain minorities in the Leave constituencies, than Leave minorities in the Nationalist/Republican Remain constituencies.
This has opened up a divide within the Unionist camp between the DUP-led reactionary unionists, who consider themselves to be Protestant ‘Ulster’-British and the APNI-led liberal unionists, who consider themselves to be non-sectarian Northern Ireland-British. DUP see Brexit as reinforcing the UK state and ‘Ulster’-Britishness by ending some of the constraints EU membership has placed upon their desire to unpick the GFA and ‘parity of esteem’. APNI see continued EU membership as a means of softening divisions between Northern Ireland and the Republic and opening the political space for a more non-sectarian Northern Ireland. The non-sectarian nature of APNI has caused some confusion, especially outside of Northern Ireland. Thus, the growth of APNI support at the expense of the official Unionist/Loyalist bloc, has been misinterpreted as a growth in support for Irish reunification, rather than a shift within the wider unionist camp. This confusion has been promoted by the Sinn Fein leadership, anxious to maintain the illusion that the post-GFA political order inexorably paves the way for Irish reunification.
The UK government, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly and their associated Northern Irish administration underpin the bi-sectarian nature of the local statelet. There is a constitutionally-recognised division between ‘Ulster’ Unionism/Loyalism of the DUP, UUP, TUV and PUP (open only to those from a Protestant background) and the Irish Nationalism/Republicanism of the SDLP and Sinn Fein (which, although open to people of any religious background, is overwhelmingly supported by those from a Catholic background). Since Partition in 1922, ‘Ulster’ Unionists/Loyalists have rejected any notion of being Irish – Northern or otherwise – and they equate their Six Counties ‘Ulster’-Britishness with Protestant supremacy, constitutionally underwritten by a Protestant British monarch.
However, the UK state, for its own changing political purposes, has given the name Northern Ireland to Unionist/Loyalist ‘Ulster’. The notion of Northern Ireland has been reinforced in the Good Friday/St. Andrews agreements. It is on this basis that APNI pursues a different form of British unionism that does not fit into the bi-sectarian categories enshrined in the GFA. This is why APNI is not officially recognised as part of the official Unionist/Loyalist bloc. Unlike the parties in this bloc, the APNI welcomes Catholic members. Nevertheless, it remains a unionist party, and supports the continued link with the UK. Sections of the Catholic middle class have benefitted from the post GFA order, as new posts, including even in the police (no longer called the Royal Ulster Constabulary, but now the Police Service of Northern Ireland) have been opened up. This has encouraged some liberal middle-class Catholics to join the APNI, whose main support comes from liberal middle-class Protestants. It is significant that the APNI’s main target seat is North Down, the most prosperous constituency in Northern Ireland.
Thus, although 56% of the electorate in Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU in 2016, this includes liberal unionists and even some conservative unionists, and is not necessarily a vote which rejects the Union. In the 2017 Westminster general election, the wider unionist camp (including APNI) got 55.1% and the wider nationalist camp (including People Before Profit) got 41.8% of the vote. In the 2019 Northern Ireland local elections the wider unionists got 51.9% and the wider nationalists about 39% (now also including the socially conservative Aontu and dissident Republicans) of the vote. In the May 2019 European election, the unionists got 60.4% and the nationalists got 35.9% of the vote. On this basis, it is the wider unionist camp that has strengthened its electoral position since 2017. But this is at the cost of a growing division between the reactionary unionism of DUP and TUV and the liberal unionism of APNI (with the vacillating but largely conservative unionism of the UUP in between).
In the longer term, APNI hopes to displace reactionary ‘Ulster’-British unionism and get more support from former Irish nationalists for a liberal unionist Northern Ireland within the UK. Although APNI is likely to increase its percentage of the vote in the December general election, and take the North Down seat, Westminster’s first past-the-post system works strongly against it. APNI is unlikely to recapture the Belfast East seat they held for one term (2010-2015) due to unique circumstances, or to overtake the SDLP as the main contender for Belfast South. APNI, still wanting to be seen as a unionist party, has rejected SDLP and Sinn Fein overtures for an electoral pact in Belfast. However, to underscore their liberal unionist Northern Irish-British ambitions, APNI is the only party standing in every Northern Irish seat.
APNI will also be thwarted by the UK state-backed constitutional set-up in Northern Ireland. This undermines any opposition to its entrenched sectarianism. APNI’s non-sectarian Northern Ireland project is also held back by the party’s middle-class nature, meaning that it is very unlikely ever to gain majority support through a combined Catholic and Protestant vote. Unlike the middle class, the majority of the working class in either community has seen no economic ‘Peace Dividend’.
Furthermore, APNI’s road to a non-sectarian Northern Ireland depends on continued EU membership and a liberal unionist regime at Westminster. APNI’s sister party, the Lib-Dems, has abandoned liberal unionism and is not likely to call the shots after the general election. Therefore, APNI’s best hope would seem to lie in a Labour government, following Labour’s manifesto commitment – “As a priority, Labour will work quickly and tirelessly to secure a return to a genuine power-sharing.” But Labour’s renewed ‘power-sharing’ is also based on an acceptance of the bi-sectarian nature of the GFA, not on any unlikely majority non-sectarian Northern Irish vote. And Corbyn wants the UK to leave the EU.
From the 2007 general election, with May’s hung parliament at Westminster, until Johnson became prime minister, the DUP was at the centre of a key piece of the Tory government’s Brexit negotiations. The Tories tried to come to an agreement with the EU, which does not undermine the GFA, underwritten by the UK, EU and US governments. Since the GFA, shared membership of the EU has reduced the significance of the Irish/UK border for everyday travelling and trading to virtually zero. This is in sharp contrast to the heavily fortified border that existed before the GFA. May’s Tory government was prepared to be pragmatic about the location any border (with a preference for the Irish Sea) to ensure minimum customs and security checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Any such arrangement, which would be of uncertain duration, has been called the ‘Backstop’
Johnson and most of the ERG initially sided with the DUP and opposed the ‘Backstop’. But, as it turned out, this was but a manoeuvre to bring down May. A soon as Johnson took office, he negotiated a deal with the EU, which, with regard to the ‘Backstop’ is very similar to May’s. Loyalists and leading DUP members have called this a ‘betrayal’. The DUP’s opposition is one of the main reasons Johnson wanted an early general election to break their Westminster stranglehold. In the event of a Tory government, Johnson would probably want to re-establish the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Executive. This is part of a longstanding UK state tradition upheld by reactionary and conservative unionists (with minimum opposition from Westminster-based liberal unionists) to keep Northern Ireland at arms’ length.
However, a Johnson-led majority Tory government would continue with May’s blatant disregard of acting as a ‘neutral’ arbiter. And, despite the falling out with Johnson, a chastened DUP is unlikely to have anybody else to turn to, in order to maintain what they can of the existing reactionary order in Northern Ireland. There may still be DUP links with former members of UKIP, the Brexit Party, or whatever replaces it on the hard Right, since as fellow reactionary unionists they support the DUP in their rear-guard battle to re-establish a 1950s style UK. But the DUP leadership would probably reluctantly accept that this is unattainable and give up any grander pretensions about influencing the course of all-UK politics. They would accept the ‘Ulster’ unionists’ traditional allotted place and take political responsibility for the maintenance of Northern Ireland within the Union. In return the UK state would turn a blind eye to any excesses and corruption under a reconstituted Northern Ireland Assembly.
Northern Ireland, with Ulster unionist consent, has long held a semi-detached relationship to the rest of the UK. This led to a whole host of different measures being put in place, whether under the two Stormont regimes (1922-72 and 1998 to the present) or under Direct Rule (from 1972-1998). However, the DUP, somewhat hypocritically, have said they do not want Northern Ireland to be treated any differently than the rest of the UK. From the 2017 Westminster general election until October 22nd, 2019, they were able to take advantage of the May’s hung parliament to extract financial bungs for Northern Ireland, and to obstruct May’s proposed Brexit deal with its ‘Backstop’. And various Loyalist organisations acted behind-the-scenes to keep Arlene Foster and the DUP in line. Despite the DUP’s public pretensions about not wanting a hard border, their Orange and Loyalist base would prefer to go back the pre-GFA situation. They want to end the hated ‘parity of esteem’, which to them appears to be responsible for the socio-economic advance of Catholics/Nationalists (and even worse ex-IRA members) in the local machinery of the Northern Irish statelet and the wider economy.
Back in 1922, Sir Edward Carson the Irish/‘Ulster’ Unionist and his allies were ditched by the wider British ruling class. Carson’s continued all-Ireland ultra-unionism threatened to destabilise the UK and British Empire in the face of a strong Irish Republican challenge and the UK’s growing dependence on the USA to help it prop up the Empire. And even Carson’s fall-back position of wanting Northern Ireland fully integrated within the UK, with no sectarian Northern Irish ‘Home Rule’ parliament, did not fit with UK state designs to win back ‘Southern Ireland’, not by direct force, but by undermining the First Irish Republic, through provoking civil war. So, Craig was side-lined and replaced by Sir James Craig. He was prepared to let the Twenty-Six Counties state come to its own arrangement with the UK state, and to accept the Ulster Unionists’ privileged position in the Six Counties, but subordinate to the British unionist and imperialist scheme-of-things. Unlike Carson, this meant supporting a devolved Orange Stormont regime to maintain security. Today, as in the case of Carson’s attempt to dictate Westminster policy in 1922, many DUP supporters have come to think its leaders have overplayed their hand. The extra UK state subventions (some just rejigged from existing funding) are likely to be forgotten, as a UK/EU/Irish government deal attempts to maintain a soft border, which many of the Orange and Loyalist base want hardened, to undermine the GFA and ‘parity of esteem’.
Arlene Foster accepted the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive, in January 2017, rather than be held responsible for the ‘Cash-for-Ash’ scandal or having to implement an Irish Language Act. Therefore, after becoming an important prop for May’s government in May 2017, the DUP began to increasingly see their deal at Westminster as preferable to reconstituting Stormont. But the Tories wanted to drop Tory dependence on the DUP. The government stood back when two Labour MPs moved an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to legalise abortion and same-sex marriage. It was passed by the House of Commons by 435 to 65 votes on the 18th July. The Tory government did this to increase the pressure on the DUP to return to Stormont (where it could have vetoed these social measures) and to remove Northern Ireland from Westminster’s public politics.
Significantly, since October, the DUP’s Loyalists base, including ‘past’ UVF, UDA and Red Hand Commando leaders, have been mobilising. On December 6th, 1000 Loyalists, including Orange Order leader, Mervyn Gibson, DUP MP, Nigel Dodds and TUV MLA, Jim Allister, attended a ‘Stop the Betrayal Act, Defend the Union’ meeting in Belfast’s Ulster Hall. This was the venue used by Sir Edward Carson preparatory to signing the Ulster Covenant in 1912, and by the DUP’s Ian Paisley and Peter Robinson before attempting to set up the armed Ulster Resistance in 1986. Following the December 6th meeting, some Loyalist leaders have made the customary official statements about the meeting’s proposed ‘civil disobedience’ being only confined to legal action. However, their proposed action is still designed to stir up sectarianism by sabotaging the existing cross-community and cross-border initiatives (key to DUP designs to end ‘parity of esteem’ and re-establish a harder border).
But the long established Loyalist tradition of allowing each participating group to maintain its autonomy, over what action to actually take, has prompted the PSNI chief, Steve Byrne, to warn of the “potential among loyalist communities to bring violence back on the streets”. Furthermore, in the May EU elections, held before Boris’s ‘betrayal’, the hard-line TUV still retained 11% of the vote, coming fourth. So, the TUV is still there in the wings, ready to offer Loyalists an alternative ‘No Surrender’ politics to that of the DUP should it falter. And should the APNI vote in either Belfast North or Belfast South constituencies cost the DUP their MP, then it is likely that the local Loyalist/DUP response will be vicious.
However, given the centrality of Trump’s USA in providing international backing for Right populist forces, the DUP’s links with evangelical Protestant fundamentalism could become more significant, than a constant resort to the Loyalist and Orange base, with diminishing political returns. The Caleb Foundation (CF) was founded by George Dawson of the DUP and Independent Orange Lodge. It is supported by many influential DUP and TUV politicians. Indeed, with its claimed support of 200,000 evangelicals, it has been suggested that it has “overtaken the Orange Order as the most influential pressure group within Unionism”. The CF could provide more openings to the Protestant Right from the USA. They have been increasingly active in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, over abortion, gay rights and the peddling of creation theory. But in the infant USA, Loyalism and Orangeism were connected with forces hostile to the American Revolution and to US Republicanism. So, these two terms can act as a barrier to making connections between the hard Right in today’s US imperial republic and in the monarchist ‘Ulster’-British province. Evangelical Protestant fundamentalism (from which Trump gains much of his support) is better suited to cement their alliance. The CB draws attention to the 1857 Christian Revival, which was also inspired by prior events in the USA.
The Nationalist/Republican camp has also become divided in the aftermath, not only of Brexit, but the continued failure of the Northern Ireland Assembly or Executive to deliver any ‘Peace Dividend’; their failure to bring about reforms which Nationalists/Republicans had expected, e.g. an Irish Language Act; and DUP NI Executive members’ corruption exposed in the ‘Cash-for-Ash’ scandal. Although both the devolved Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly can point to some modest reforms, which can gain their governments wider support, the Northern Ireland Assembly has not been able to achieve this. It is specifically structured to smooth over the deep differences between Unionism/Loyalism and Nationalism /Republicanism, including when it comes to the allocation of funds from the UK government. A UK Cabinet (even when a coalition) is far more united than a Northern Ireland Executive. Major differences have led to the earlier and current dissolutions (October 2002-May 2007, May, 2016, January 2017 – ?), and the resignations of key ministers (September 2015 – UUP, and October 2015 – UUP, SDLP, APNI). This is why the various Northern Irish ministries are more obviously controlled by the senior civil servants to maintain continuity of service provision, than is the case with the relationship of the UK Cabinet and Whitehall.
When an exasperated Sinn Fein pulled the plug on the Northern Ireland Executive in January 2017, this appeared to be well supported by their Republican base. In the May 2017 Westminster general election, Sinn Fein took every Nationalist-held seat (apart from Belfast South which went to the DUP), wiping out the SDLP’s MPs. However, Sinn Fein still saw the institutions of the GFA as central to its long-term plans to bring about Irish reunification. But there was no obvious Plan B, other than perhaps a hope that the UK and Irish governments would step in and relaunch the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive on more favourable terms. Otherwise, Sinn Fein has fallen back on the ‘inevitability’ of longer-term demographic change by which Catholics will eventually outnumber Protestants. Such thinking, reinforced by the constitutionally bi-sectarian post-GFA order, is just the reverse side of the ‘Ulster’ Unionists’ previous majoritarian sectarianism. It also ignores the class dimensions of the GFA, which have enabled more of the Catholic middle class to come to terms with Northern Ireland and hence the Union. It also ignores those increasing numbers, including migrants, who don’t choose to be, or are neither Catholic nor Protestant.
However, the suspension of the Assembly and the Executive was also backed by most DUP supporters, pleased at the diminished local publicity going to Sinn Fein. In the 2017 general election, the DUP took every Unionist held seat (apart from the Independent unionist seat of North Down) wiping out the UUP’s MPs. It also had the bonus of a candidate, Emma Little-Pengelly, with Loyalist paramilitary links taking South Belfast. And straight away, the DUP was given a Plan B to the suspension of Stormont – propping up May’s Tories in return for special consideration.
But, with neither the UK nor British government showing any great hurry to put the Executive or Assembly back in place, it was Sinn Fein which first began to experience the consequences of not having its own Plan B. In the May 2019 Euro-election, Sinn Fein’s first preference votes (fpv) fell by nearly 3 percentage points, whilst the DUP’s fpv increased slightly by 1 percentage point. Both parties experienced a drop in their overall votes, since turnout declined by 6 percentage points. The SDLP made a small 0.7 percentage point gain, whilst APNI made a substantial 11 percentage points gain.
With absolutely no progress in getting the NI Executive or Assembly restarted, Sinn Fein’s lack of a Plan B began to tell. Other Assembly parties called out Sinn Fein (and the DUP) for ‘intransigence’ over Stormont’s continued suspension. And the local leadership of Northern Irish Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (NIC-UCTU) has no vision beyond an acceptance of this bi-sectarian set-up and had signed-up in 2015 to ‘Fresh Start’. This was done not to challenge UK-imposed Austerity, but to try and minimise its effects. It has been made to appear that the lack of the Assembly and Executive are responsible for the effects of Austerity and the problems in the local NHS; rather than UK government’s continued cutbacks, and the deliberate design of the Stormont set-up. The Assembly and Executive removed the focus of discontent away from the UK state and consecutive British governments and channelled it into permanent squabbles over the carve-up of UK state allotted funding.
However, there were also other problems for Sinn Fein. Being an all-Ireland party is important for its members. So, Sinn Fein’s Northern Ireland supporters pay close attention to developments in the Republic. In the 2016 elections to the Irish Dail, Sinn Fein had increased its vote by nearly 4%, taking 23 out of 158 TDs, an increase of 9. Since then, Sinn Fein has been pulled in the Dail between attempting to present itself as an Anti-Austerity party and grooming itself for a future coalition government (most likely with Fianna Fail). But, when issues such as gay marriage and abortion rights became central to Irish politics, this placed Sinn Fein in an awkward position. Sinn Fein had not led over these issues but left them to the wider liberalisation that had come about through the Republic’s membership of the EU. Young people had pushed from below for increasingly radical social change and a break from the Catholic Church policed social order. This had prompted a cautious top-down liberalisation, which Sinn Fein eventually joined, under its new more socially progressive women leaders – Mary Lou McDonald in the Republic and Michelle O’Neill in Northern Ireland. But this also cost it support amongst many of its Catholic traditionalist, socially conservative supporters, particularly in rural areas. When Sinn Fein finally decided to give its backing to the Irish 8thAmendment over abortion in 2018, this prompted the breakaway socially conservative Aontu, led by Peadar Toibin, Sinn Fein TD for Meath West.
The severe Austerity regime imposed by the EU-led Troika, and by the UK government backing for British banks’ demands that the Irish government enforced evictions in the face of unpaid mortgage debts, had contributed to the surge in the number of anti-Austerity TDs in the 2016 Dail general election. However, there was also an underlying current of anti-migrant and welfare dependents feeling, directed particularly against Travellers. This was revealed starkly in the October 2018 Irish presidential election. In 2011 Martin McGuiness had received nearly 14% of the vote but in 2018, the Sinn Fein candidate, Liadh Ni Riada received just over 6% of the vote. Worryingly for Sinn Fein, a significant section of its rural vote went to the right-wing, anti-Traveller, anti-welfare candidate, Peter Casey. He came second. Then in the June 2019 Euro-election, Sinn Fein’s vote dropped by nearly 8%, costing it 2 out of its 3 MEPs. And just before this, in May, Sinn Fein was the main loser in the Irish local elections, losing 78 or nearly half of its local councillors.
The slightly earlier May Northern Ireland local elections were nothing like as bad for Sinn Fein. Overall it held on to the same number of councillors, but faced challenges to its Right and Left, particularly in Derry and Belfast. Aontu stood 16 candidates in 7 councils. winning a councillor in Derry. It soon extended its essentially Catholic social conservative appeal to SDLP members too, gaining a defecting councillor in Mid-Ulster. But Sinn Fein also lost support to its Left, with People Before Profit – PBP (one-time Irish SWP front) gaining 4 new councillors, 2 in Belfast and 2 in Derry, and the Cross Community Labour Alliance (the Socialist Party of Ireland’s Northern Ireland front) gaining 1 councillor in Enniskillen. Dissident Republican Gerry Donnelly also increased his vote as a Derry councillor, despite the election closely following the killing of journalist Lyra McKee, in the city’s Creggan district, by the New IRA on April 19th.
Furthermore, Sinn Fein made little attempt to mobilise wider independent support against Brexit, but looked to “Leo Varadkar, head of the Irish government, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Junker, heads of the EU, or Trump-led Capitol Hill… to defend the interests of the Irish people!” The consequences of this soon became clear, when Varadkar and the EU accepted Brexit and the deal negotiated with the UK government. Above all else, the Irish government wants to protect trade links with Northern Ireland and the UK It is not at all interested in furthering Irish reunification, not wishing to become responsible either for the high cost of replacing UK funding, or the possible violent opposition of hardcore Loyalists. Indeed, as part of any continued post-January 31st trade negotiations, the Irish government would probably be quite prepared to support the raising of the threshold for any reunification referendum from 50%+1 to 66.6%. And, as for looking to Capitol Hill, those one-time Irish Nationalist/Republican supporting Democrats (who helped to bring about the GFA) no longer have the influence they once did; whilst Trump’s evangelical Protestant supporters have far more in common with many members of the DUP.
Indeed, Sinn Fein has tacitly recognised that it has been pushed into a secondary role over Brexit. Like pro- and anti-Brexit parties elsewhere in the UK, it has joined a tactical electoral alliance. Along with the SDLP it is not standing candidates in North Down or Belfast East, in order to assist the liberal unionist APNI. Furthermore, this move is unrequited in Belfast North (or South). This means that, unlike APNI, Sinn Fein is no longer standing in every Northern Irish constituency, undermining its declared all-Ireland commitment.
Nevertheless, whatever government – minority Corbyn-led Labour, National or Johnson majority-led Tory – is elected on December 12th, there is a greater likelihood of concerted moves being made to reconstitute the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. This is mainly so Northern Irish politics can be relegated to the margins at Westminster and in the British media. Such a reconstitution will not open up any road to Irish reunification, particularly in the face of the Unionist/Loyalist constitutional veto and Irish government hostility. If the DUP and Sinn Fein take up their leading roles again in the Executive and Assembly, this will just once more highlight the obstacle this bi-sectarian set-up is to any progress, and that would be just as true in the unlikely event of an Alliance/SDLP-led Executive and Assembly.
e) The fragmentation of Socialist organisation, its failure to offer an independent cross-UK electoral alternative to the Right populists, the Left social democrats or the constitutional nationalists
In December 12th, 2019, as in the 2017 Westminster general election, there will be no electoral challenge from independent Socialist organisations except for Northern Ireland. In the 2015 general election, the two largest Socialist parties, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SPEW), cobbled together the widest Socialist electoral challenge since the days of the Socialist Alliance and the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). It was called the Trade Union & Socialist Coalition (TUSC), TUSC was originally set up by SPEW, which had also formed the Left anti-EU No2EU campaign along with Germanophonic, 1941-45 UK/USSR alliance nostalgic, CPB members and a few fellow-travelling trade union officials. In England, TUSC also came to a carve-up deal for seats in the 2015 general election with the Left Unity Party and in Scotland with the SSP and RISE. Significantly, despite both the SWP and SPEW having fraternal organisations in Northern Ireland, TUSC’s electoral alliance did not extend there.
But, in the aftermath of the 2104 IndyRef1, constitutional issues dominated the 2015 general election. But none of the contending Socialist organisations had an independent political stance on these. They either ignored constitutional issues or tail-ended one or other of the mainstream parties. The SWP and SPEW, in particular, tend to fall 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 start to be resolved within the current, crisis-ridden constitutional order.
During the 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 independence and Sinn Fein’s support for a new border poll, dominated the election campaign and the results. With TUSC having nothing to say over constitutional issues, its constituent political organisations were left to make their own statements. These reflected their own tactical adjustments to the constitutional options advocated by the unionist or nationalist parties.
TUSC, LUP and the SSP performed very badly in the general election, despite an electoral non-aggression pact in England Wales and Scotland. The hopes of the retreating SWP and SPEW, now lay in opposition to the EU and support for Leave. SPEW had joined with the Germanophobic Communist Party of Britain to form No2EU, which stood in the 2009 and 2014 Euro-elections (getting 1% and 0.2% of the vote respectively). However, the SWP was wary about the underlying chauvinist and anti-migrant workers sentiments of some of No2EU’s participants and did not participate. But, after the defeat of IndyRef1, which both the SWP and SPEW had supported on paper (but largely leaving it to their local organisations to deal with, and organising very little wider solidarity), these two organisations fell back on their own ‘British roads to socialism’ . They backed leaving the EU and became either Left Brexiters or Lexiters. They saw the Brexit campaign not as battle between two sections of the British ruling class, but as a working class and petty bourgeois revolt against Neo-liberalism and Austerity, the latter of which the Left could take the lead of.
During the Leave campaign, Lexiters mainly held meetings in areas which went on vote to Remain, and largely ignored those areas which voted for Brexit. This mismatch between the small number who supported Lexit and the much greater number who supported one of the two Right-led Brexit campaigns, was to be even more marked than that between those Left unionists, whether in the Red Paper Collective or George Galloway’s ‘Just Say Naw’ campaign, and the much greater numbers of conservative unionists in ‘Better Together’ or reactionary unionists in the Orange Order, during the IndyRef1 campaign.
The Lexiters failed to notice the Brexit leaders’ close links to the new rising Right populism led from the USA, backed by major corporations and hedge fund owners. They hardly noticed that the Brexiteer’s alternative to the EU was a closer alignment with the US to end the existing protections on labour, consumer and environmental rights, and to buttress NATO. They made no connection between the official Brexiteers and the 2016 Immigration Act and the Tories’ plans to bring in a gastarbeiter system of migrant labour controls. They made little of the exclusion of the overwhelming majority of non-UK EU citizens and 16-18 year olds from the referendum franchise. However, the SWP, in particular, could not help but notice the rising racist attacks and the greater size of far Right. But their front campaign, Stand Up to Racism, made no attempt to link this to the impact of the Right-led Brexit campaign, or to the continuing impact of the UK state’s own immigration laws, which gave the far Right succour.
When, following the 2016 Brexit vote, not the slightest glimmer of Lexit prospects appeared, Lexiters stuck to their criticism of Left Remainers. This had formed their main activity during the EU referendum campaign. But their failure to organise any independent demonstrations, or to participate in their own name in the 2017 general election to fight for the Lexit they claimed to want, was a very strong indication that they were on the political retreat. However, they found a new outlet for their Lexit politics in the Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn, who had been elected as Labour leader in September 2015.
As long as the Blairites and their successors had been in control of the Labour Party, many Socialist organisations had tried to build wider electoral fronts around Left social democratic politics (Socialist Alliance, Respect, TUSC and LUP), sometimes claiming to be ‘Real Labour’ or old Clause 4 Labour. However, when the Left social democrat, Corbyn, became Labour leader, these Socialist organisations were all thrown into crisis. They had made no real attempt to spell out the difference between Socialism and Left social democracy. This was often seen as little more than the degree of nationalisation being sought, or a greater willingness to call for trade union-led strike action to back election promises.
‘Real Labour’ or Left social democrat, Corbyn made big inroads into those supporting TUSC, but also into the LUP, as well as opening up a breech in Scotland between those who now looked to Corbyn-led Labour and to those who looked to Sturgeon-led SNP (with leading RISE members tending to the former and SSP members to the latter, whatever reservations they still held). Furthermore, the SSP moved from its earlier opposition to Brexit to a Left version of Cummings/Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done’. The SSP hopes that as soon as the UK leaves the EU, good old economistic ‘bread and butter’ issues can come to the fore, e.g. a £10 an hour minimum wage.
For most ex-TUSC supporters who supported Lexit, Corbyn and his immediate coterie supported an ‘alternative’ Brexit. However, this still involves new migration controls. This was covered up by many Left Brexiteers and key trade union leaders, like McCluskey, as being support for ‘non-racist’ migration controls. Once again, this demonstrated a British Left’s blind spot when it comes to the nature of the UK state, in this case the state agencies responsible for migration controls. British racial equality laws have not prevented the actions of the authorities that led to the Windrush Scandal, nor the eviction of Travellers from the site they owned at Dale Farm in Essex.
Most ex-TUSC members in England and Wales and some in Scotland now called for a vote for Corbyn-led Labour. This, despite the fact that the Right still constituted the majority of Labour candidates, and the party had no coherent position on Brexit. SPEW and SWP constituted, in effect, an unofficial external faction of the Labour Party, cheering on Corbyn and his inner coterie in their struggles with the Right Remainers (and ignoring their attempt to marginalise Left Remainers and their behind-the-scenes overtures to the Right Leavers in the party). And, in the December 12th general election, they are calling for a Labour vote. The fact that they are no longer offering an independent Socialist electoral alternative, highlights how far to the Right Brexit politics have gone, and how misplaced Lexit was. Despite the Right having a vociferous and united Johnson-led, hard Leave party to vote for, there are other alternative hard and far Right Brexit electoral candidates standing in the election – the Brexit Party (275), UKIP (44), Christian Peoples Alliance (27) Social Democrat Party (20), English Democrats (4) and BNP (2).
However, in Northern Ireland, there will be two Socialist organisations standing in the December general election and they have their origins in the British SWP-controlled International Socialist Tendency (IST) and the British SPEW controlled Committee for a Workers Alliance (CWI). These two organisations are People Before Profit (PBP) and the Cross Community Labour Alternative (CCLA). PBP was set up as front for the IST-affiliated Irish SWP and is an all-Ireland organisation; whilst the CCLA is the Northern Irish partitionist front for the Socialist Party (Ireland) – SP(I). As recently as 2016, the SP(I), standing in the Dail general election for its new electoral front, the Anti-Austerity Alliance (AAA) gained 4 TDs, as did PBP. And in the Northern Ireland Assembly general elections in 2016, PBP gained 2 MLAs, 1 in West Belfast and 1 in Derry. None of these parties or fronts had made Irish or UK EU membership an issue in their electoral campaigns. Only the Communist Party (Ireland) had publicly advocated leaving the EU, and it only gained 185 votes (a 0.05 % decrease on their previous lowly performance).
However, following the EU referendum vote in the UK, the British dominated CWI and IST transmitted their pro-Lexit politics to their Irish affiliates. The first test for this occurred in the 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly elections. In Northern Ireland, Brexit is heavily identified with the Right, particularly the DUP, TUV, PUP and Loyalist paramilitaries, but also has support from the much smaller dissident Republicans, eager to start a military campaign against any new border posts and officials. So, it was not surprising that the PBP vote dropped and they lost 1 of their 2 MEPs. They retreated from open Brexit/Irexit politics and concentrated instead on opposition to a hard border, which every party but the DUP, TUV and PUP supports.
In the Republic, during May 2019 local elections, Solidarity, (the renamed AAA) lost 10 of its councillors, whilst PBP lost 7. For the 2019 EU elections in the Republic, Solidarity and PBP cobbled together a slate, but it won no MEPs, whereas just one of its co-sponsors, the SP(I) had gained an MEP in the 2014 EU elections. In Northern Ireland, neither PBP, nor CCLA wanted attention drawn to their unpopular Irexit/Brexit stances, so they declined to stand in the May 2019 Euro-elections, in the run-up to the slightly earlier May local elections. They concentrated on more local politics or acted as if they were the missing Corbyn-led Labour Party in Northern Ireland (with its more half-hearted Brexit stance). This enabled the PBP and CCLA to win 5 (an increase in 4) and 1 local councillor respectively.
This retreat to localism or being the surrogate for the Corbyn-led British Labour Party, and a concentration on ‘bread and butter’ and social issues (still important under the reactionary unionist dominated Stormont regime) has meant a further downplaying of the importance of constitutional issues. PBP and CCLA are even more likely to tail-end the political initiatives of others – such as PBP’s backing the for SDLP/Alliance call to reconstitute the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, and the CCLA’s open commitment to Corbyn’s Labour Party, which also wants to kick start the Executive and the Assembly. Growing localism has been accentuated by the SWP in Ireland becoming the Socialist Workers Network (SWN), a Socialist think tank for the PBP. Despite abandoning a party-building orientation, the SWN remains an IST affiliate, probably because its British SWP dominated leadership fears the consequences of expelling yet another breakaway group. The SP(I) has also come into conflict with the British SP over the future of the CWI. The SWN’s and SP(I)’s distancing from the sectarian ‘internationalism’ of the SWP controlled IST and the SP-controlled CWI is not likely to be replaced by a genuine internationalism but is more likely to accentuate these organisations’ localism.
PBP is standing in two seats, West Belfast and Foyle (which includes Derry); whilst the CCLA is backing an independent Labour candidate in Fermanagh & South Tyrone. The issues dominating the election are likely to be the impact of Brexit, the prospects for a new border poll versus the reconstitution of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. And underlying these will be the outcome of the general election in Great Britain, with the Left looking for a Corbyn-led Labour government. And, like Corbyn, a large part of the Left in Northern Ireland hopes to insert economic issues, particularly defence of the NHS into these debates. Whilst the need for trade union action is often invoked, senior union officials’ acceptance of the existing state as an adequate framework for improving pay and conditions has an added more restrictive dimension in Northern Ireland. The NIC-ICTU is tied to the bi-sectarian institutions of the post-GFA agreements through Fresh Start. Socialists calling for trade union action, should use elections to go beyond attacking Sinn Fein and the DUP, and highlight the complicity of senior trade union officials in these deals.
However, although now very much downplayed, PBP’s (and the CCLA’s) support for Brexit/Irexit highlights a specific problem in Ireland. This is on top of the failure to understand that such a stance, in the existing political circumstances, can only buttress the rise of global Right populism, and in particular reinforce the US/UK imperial alliance. If Ireland, north and south, were to leave the EU, where would the alternative trade links be found? Quite clearly this would create the best conditions for a new UK/US imposed trade deal. Nigel Lawson, former chair of the official ‘Vote Leave’ campaign, has even gone as far as to suggest that following Brexit, ‘“it would be great’ if the Irish free state realised it had ‘made a mistake’ in getting independence from Britain in 1922.’”  If the GFA has been termed “Sunningdale for slow learners”, then maybe Lawson’s suggested post-Brexit deal could be termed the ‘(unamended pre-Partition 1912 all-Ireland) Third Irish Home Rule Bill for even slower learners’!
But, even Lawson acknowledges that, “I don’t think it’s going to happen.” But if Ireland can be forced out of the EU, then the grounds for re-establishing the neo-colonial, post 1922 Irish Free State relationship with the UK, in alliance with the USA, are much stronger. Therefore, it is worth noting that Connor Rafferty is standing in the general election for the Irish Freedom Party (IFM) (also backed by Aontu) in Mid-Ulster. The IFM was formed in Dublin as 2018 as an all-Ireland pro-Irexit and anti-abortion party. The presence of Nigel Farage and Anthony Coughlan (an ally of the CPI in relation to Irexit) at their founding conference is a further indication of the Left/Right populist (and even worse, Red-Brown) convergence, which the old communist parties, and their would-be successors have been prone to. If Left groups are serious about Brexit/Irexit (in contrast to just making vote-catching populist appeals) then making links with the larger Right forces follows almost inevitably. Meanwhile in the December general election, it will not only be the now Brexit/Irexit-Lite 2 PBP candidates which are standing, but the Right pro-Brexit/Irexit Aontu, who are fielding 6 candidates and backing the 1 IFM candidate too.
The PBP, unlike the CCLA or the IFM, will receive a significant vote. It is a local Left social democratic organisation. But in some ways, it also a Left nationalist organisation, more Left SDLP than socialist Republican (just as CCLA is more a Left version of the old Northern Ireland Labour Party than Loyalist) The PBP’s sometimes James Connolly-invoking ‘Workers’ Republicanism’ is designed to put a barrier between it and a wider Republican challenge to the existing UK state (something with a long tradition beginning with the Irish Labour Party in 1918). And despite the wider constitutional crisis in the UK, particularly in Scotland (and to a lesser extent Wales), this is not seen to be of enough importance to use the general election to organise a wider immediate social Republican, ‘internationalism from below’ challenge to the UK state, in an alliance with migrant workers who face an imminent attack should Johnson win the general election and Brexit be implemented.
There are only three likely immediate outcomes following the election on December 12th. Few think there is any chance of a Labour or Lib-Dem majority government. Many on the Left, though, are still convinced that, following the 2017 general election precedent, there will be a late surge for a Corbyn-led Labour, leading to the possibility of a minority Labour government. Clearly this would be a very unstable situation, with perhaps the greatest threat coming, not from any other deal-making political parties, but from the Right within the Labour Party. Right and Centre Labour MPs will remain a significant force. And any Left hopes that the trade unions would then organise action to defend the Its Time For Real Change manifesto proposals are very misplaced. Whether Right or Left, trade union leaders will oppose such action, other than possibly weekend demos ‘to let off steam’. Members will be told not to rock the boat now that senior trade union officials at last have direct access to the ‘captain on the bridge’ – with 2020 style prosecco and canapes replacing 1974-9 style beer and sandwiches.
If the balance of political forces does not lead to Labour Right MPs ditching Corbyn, on what would soon be called ‘Black Friday 13th’, then wider pressure from both outwith and within Westminster could soon lead to a National government. There is little likelihood of a Johnson-led minority Tory government, because he has alienated the few significant Conservative Remainers and the DUP Leavers. Instead Johnson has concentrated on building maximum unity within the Tory Party by winning over the majority of the British ruling class to his hard Brexit politics, taking over much the Right populist UKIP and Brexit Party political agenda in the process and having the backing of Donald Trump and the powerful US-based Right. This means the election of a Johnson-led Tory government is a strong possibility. But it would be a government presiding over a Union in which, outside England, the Tories only have either minority or insignificant support.
References and Notes
 The exceptions are the cultist sect, the WRP and the small propagandist sects, the SPGB and SEP.
 Another 4 TDs were elected in 2016 from the breakaway Independencts4Change. The traditional sectarianism between the IST/SWP and CWI/SP had already led to the break-up of their United Left Alliance in 2014, and to the departure of the Workers & Unemployed Action Group’s’ (W&UAG) TD in 2012. Independentd4Change (O4C) , formed in 2014, was partially a response to both the SWP and SPs control-freakery within their front organisations.
 There were undoubtedly other factors, apart from Irexit, involved here. The earlier breakaway W&UAG retained its councillor, whilst I4C won 3 councillors and the new breakaway Independent Left won 1. These breakaways were clearly a response to the sectarianism of the IST/SWP and the CWI/SP.
This article takes up the analysis in:-
- It’s the constitution stupid – After the Boris ‘coup’ let’s fUK it!
2. From Blatchersim to Maybynism
2. RADICAL INDEPENDENCE CAMPAIGN STATEMENT
ON THE WESTMINSTER GENERAL ELECTION
The Radical Independence Campaign has members in the SNP, Greens, socialist organisations, and a majority in no party at all. Therefore, as in the 2015 and 2017 Westminster and the 2016 Holyrood elections we will not be making specific party voting recommendations for the June 4th general election.
Nevertheless, we call on RIC supporters to recognise the Tories’ attempt to turn this election into a plebiscite to centralise UK state power. This will be wielded on behalf of corporate business and open up Scotland and the UK to a US Trump deal which threatens the NHS, workers’ rights, environmental and consumer safeguards, promotes more wars, and introduces even more draconian racist immigration laws. The Tories intend to remove large sections of the working class from the electoral register to further their plans.
Two prime Tory targets are the democratic right of the Scottish people to exercise our right to self-determination, and the limited post 1997 devolution-all-round settlement. A Tory Brexit will be used to reinforce all the most reactionary features of Britishness. Instead of a Tory Brexit fiasco we need an Ex-Brit (or break-up the UK) strategy to help us break free. In RIC’s spirit of internationalism from below, this also involves the people of Ireland, Wales and England too. Therefore, we call for the rejection of all Unionist candidates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and recommend our Labour and Green supporters in England to ask their candidates if they support the right of the Scottish parliaments to hold an early independence referendum.
We will continue to work in and with trade unions, community organisations and international solidarity campaigns to prepare a defence against their planned attacks and to create our new society based on RIC’s 5 Principles:-
1) For a social alternative to austerity and privatisation
2) Green and environmentally sustainable
3) A modern republic for real democracy
4) Committed to equality and opposition to discrimination on grounds of gender, race, disability, sexuality or age
5) Internationalist and opposed to war, NATO and Trident
Agreed at the RIC National Forum, Perth, 7.12.19
This was posted posted at:-
3. EXPECT THE WORST, HOPE FOR THE BEST
a) Corbyn has only himself to blame for Labour’s predicament
In previous elections I had little difficulty in predicting the outcome. It was clear in 2015 that Ed Miliband’s ‘austerity lite’ campaign would fail. In Scotland it was a complete disaster. And in 2017, contrary to all those who believed that Labour’s election campaign would be a rerun of 1983 under Michael Foot – the “longest suicide note in history”, according to the late Sir Gerald Kaufman MP – I foresaw that the Tory campaign under “strong and stable” Theresa May would crumble. In two blogs, I predicted that a hung parliament, or even a Labour victory, was possible.1
Why? Because this was the peak of Corbyn’s popularity. The ‘anti-Semitism’ moral panic had still not got off the ground, the Labour left was still united. The Corbyn movement and what was a popular upsurge demonstrated that it was not a handful of entryists in the party, as the Labour right tried to fool itself into believing, but a popular movement outside that had impacted inside the party.
Above all, young voters turned out in unprecedented numbers and voted decisively for Labour. According to an NME exit poll, 56% of 18-34s voted in the 2015 election, including 53% of those aged between 18 and 24 – a 12% increase over 2015. And 60% of 18-34s and two-thirds of those aged 18-24 voted Labour.2 The results of this were shown in the unprecedented victory of Rosie Duffield in the university town of Canterbury.3
However, if a week is a long time in politics, then two and a half years is an eternity. Labour today is not the same party that campaigned so confidently in 2017. Its manifesto is a mixed bag. Radical on taxation and the economy, but echoing Labour’s traditional bipartisan support for the Tories on foreign policy, including Israel, and Nato.
Today you cannot speak of a unified left inside the Labour Party, now that Jon Lansman’s Momentum has got into bed with the right. In the wake of the high court decision that Chris Williamson’s suspension was unlawful, the national executive committee decided by 21 votes to five that he would remain suspended and ineligible to stand as a Labour candidate. He had been resuspended just before the high court hearing as a precaution against an adverse verdict. Just one of the trade union representatives – from the Fire Brigades Union – joined four out of the nine Constituency Labour Party representatives in voting to rescind Chris’s suspension.
The case of Chris Williamson is pivotal and marks the end of the Corbyn project as we know it. I have seen proof that Corbyn had indicated to Chris before the NEC meeting that his suspension would be lifted. In the event Corbyn decided not to attend the NEC and he made no statement in Williamson’s support – as has been the case throughout the whole ‘anti-Semitism’ affair, when his supporters, such as Ken Livingstone, have been targeted.
Chris Williamson’s original suspension for ‘anti-Semitism’ had not only been unlawful: it had been based on a completely falsified and distorted version of what he had actually said, taken out of context.4 His statement – “We have backed off too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic” – was clearly referring to the false accusations of anti-Semitism: he had prefigured this by saying: “The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party.”5
Whereas the establishment and their media lackeys, from the Tory tabloids to The Guardian and the BBC, were taken unawares in 2015, that is not the case today. The Labour right were stunned into silence. Who can forget the shock and horror on Stephen Kinnock’s face in the fly-on-the-wall documentary Labour: the summer that changed everything when the exit polls predicted a hung parliament?6
Kinnock and others were stunned at the fact that Corbyn had gained the biggest swing to Labour since 1945 and increased the number of seats it held.7 Who can forget the predictions of The Observer’s Nick Cohen barely a month before the election was called that Labour would get around 25% of the vote?8 Apparently the Tories had “gone easy on Corbyn”, because “they want to keep [the left] in charge of Labour”, since “in an election they would tear them to pieces”. This latter-day Nostradamus asked: “Will there be 150, 125, 100 Labour MPs by the end of the flaying? My advice is to think of a number then halve it.” To those on the left who supported Corbyn he had only one piece of advice: “Your only honourable response will be to stop being a fucking fool by changing your fucking mind.”
Today, however, there are two issues that are dragging Corbyn down. The first is the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. According to the Jewish Chronicle and others, Corbyn himself is an “existential threat” to Jews in Britain. In the words of Margaret Hodge, he is a “fucking anti-Semite”.9 For four years not just Corbyn but the Labour Party has been the subject of a concerted and determined campaign to paint it as anti-Semitic. The outlines of this campaign were the subject of a four-part undercover documentary by Al Jazeera.10
We even have Tory ministers, fresh from the Windrush scandal and their anti-immigrant “hostile environment”, attacking Labour as an anti-Semitic party, whilst at the same time their MEPs in Europe sit in the European Conservative Reform group alongside fully-fledged fascists, racists and anti-Semites. One of whom – Roberts Zile, the Latvian member – openly marches every year with the veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS.11
All serious studies of the Labour Party’s ‘anti-Semitism problem’ show that it is miniscule and indeed far less than in the wider society, yet, because the party failed to rebut these allegations from the start and even took them in good faith, Corbyn has been wounded.12 Instead of a campaign against state racism, we have seen a concentration on what is at worst a marginal prejudice against white people.
It is no accident that those behind the false anti-Semitism allegations were responsible for a barrage of abuse that led to the cancellation of the launch of Bad news for Labour – a book by five distinguished academics.13 Facts and the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign do not make comfortable bedfellows.
The Labour Party jumped through all the hoops it was required to and on every occasion this rebounded on it. It adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, which, as the Jewish former court of appeal judge, Sir Stephen Sedley, said, is not actually a definition at all.14 Labour agreed to a “fast-track” system for expelling those accused of ‘anti-Semitism’, which has led to people being summarily expelled for nothing other than hostility to the Israeli state.
The more people Labour investigated, suspended and expelled, the more this has been taken as ‘proof’ of the problem. The more victims of false allegations that were offered up, the more the party was providing ‘evidence’ of the very problem it tried to deny. As Len McCluskey wrote in frustration at the campaign mounted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, “They won’t take yes for an answer!”15
Although people rarely mention anti-Semitism on the doorstep or in conversations, what all this has done is enable the political narrative to focus on Labour rather than the racism of the government. It has established a dominant ruling class ideological hegemony When Corbyn was challenged to apologise by Andrew Neil, he should have responded that he had nothing to apologise for, but instead he looked and sounded like a wounded animal. Instead of calling out the weaponisation of ‘anti-Semitism’ as a means of defending the world’s only apartheid state, Israel, Labour decided to examine the minds of its own members – at a time when racism is deadly, not when it is expressed in tweets, but when it comes in the form of immigration raids and fascist gangs.
The second major disaster – and one which is likely to prove more damaging at the polls – is Brexit. We have a prime minister who is by any definition amoral – he does not even know how many children he has sired. His ability to tell the truth matches that of Donald Trump. Even with the vicious bias of the Tory press it should not have been that difficult for Corbyn to put Johnson on the back foot.
Labour’s victory over its critics in 2017 was, to a large extent, due to the perception that it was opposed to Brexit. Certainly that was true in the south. Now, however, Labour has got into the position where it is seen by opponents of Brexit as supporting ‘remain’ and vice versa. Socialists can argue about whether Brexit has any positive virtues or whether, as I believe, it is a far-right project, but it is difficult to see how deciding not to take a position can be anything other than a self-inflicted wound.
Apparently Corbyn is going to negotiate a withdrawal agreement and then, come a referendum, not support either his own deal or ‘remain’. That is simply not credible. Instead of going to Labour voters in the north and arguing that Brexit would be an economic disaster for them (which it would), Labour is seen as having no position on the key political issue of the day.
How then will Labour fare in the election? This is probably the most difficult election to call. I fear a Tory majority, but there may well be a hung parliament – though, if the Liberal Democrats continue to slide, that may not happen. What is clear is that there is no surge to Labour. I cannot see a Labour victory or an increase in the present number of seats. By failing to see that the British establishment would do all it could, in conjunction with the United States and Israel, to ensure that an anti-imperialist would not become prime minister, the left has to face the future with a Labour Party minus Jeremy Corbyn.
For that we can thank a number of people, including Jon Lansman; Corbyn’s abysmal advisor, Seamus Milne; the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, who said nothing throughout; John McDonnell, who was always eager to please those who accused Labour of ‘anti-Semitism’; and, above all, Corbyn himself. I fear the result on December 12 and can only hope that, as Micawber remarked, ‘something turns up’.
- ‘Labour can win if Corbyn is bold’: https://tinyurl.com/vf588e5; ‘General election – is Labour on the threshold of victory?’: azvsas.blogspot.com/2017/06/general-election-is-labour-on-threshold.html↩︎
- For the NME exit poll of how young people voted in 2017 general election, see https://tinyurl.com/yxyvp4k4.↩︎
- See, for example, ‘The youth for today: how the 2017 election changed the political landscape’: https://tinyurl.com/ydbnrnwu.↩︎
- The Canary ‘Don’t let the media fool you: Chris Williamson got a big win in the high court today’: https://tinyurl.com/qsppgm8.↩︎
- ‘What did Chris Williamson actually say: why the Labour MP has been accused of anti-Semitism’: https://tinyurl.com/wu9d8su.↩︎
- ‘Jeremy Corbyn increased Labour’s vote share more than any of the party’s leaders since 1945’: https://tinyurl.com/y9p6ftvw.↩︎
- ‘Don’t tell me you weren’t warned about Corbyn’: https://tinyurl.com/mlbxh53.↩︎
- ‘Three Jwish papers rake the unprecedented step of publishing the same page on Labout antiSemitisn’: https://tinyurl.com/yb4vkbdp.↩︎
- The Lobby: www.aljazeera.com/investigations/thelobby.↩︎
- ‘Calls to ban Baltic neo-Nazi marches’: https://tinyurl.com/ro9q9g7.↩︎
- ‘Anti-Semitism and the Labour Party’: https://tinyurl.com/r3v3ako.↩︎
- ‘Waterstones cancels launch for book on Labour and anti-Semitism’: https://tinyurl.com/uaca996. See also ‘Book they want to ban’: https://tinyurl.com/yxj9vvk7.↩︎
- ‘Defining anti-Semitism’ London Review of Books: https://tinyurl.com/yc36fug5.↩︎
- ‘Corbyn has answered concerns on anti-Semitism, but Jewish community leaders are refusing to take yes for an answer’: https://tinyurl.com/u3mvhjs.↩︎
This article was first posted atL-