Editorial of the Socialist issue 1004

Corbyn and unions must act to bring down government in crisis

Tories out!, photo Mary Finch

Tories out!, photo Mary Finch   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

We need to sweep this rotten lot out! The Labour leadership and trade union movement must act now, for a mass mobilisation to boot out the Tories and for a general election. Tories out – a Corbyn-led government in with socialist policies!

As the Brexit white paper staggered its way through the House of Commons, the crisis in the Tory party just deepened and deepened.

Parliament has now broken for summer – no wonder Theresa May wanted to end it all five days early.But the shipwreck they leave behind them in Westminster will not disappear over the summer.

We should prepare for a general election as soon as possible after parliament returns.

With little over two months until an agreement with the EU is meant to be reached in October, ‘project fear’ of a no-deal Brexit is ramped up, with the likes of Amazon warning of riots if Britain crashes out of the EU.

The attempt at compromise at Chequers lasted less than a week. Tory grandees, like Chris Patten on Newsnight, say they have never seen the party in such crisis.

Still Theresa May has managed to scrape along, despite resignations and open warfare around her between the right-wing Brexiteers and the Remain-in-all-but-namers.

A third Tory front has been opened up by former education minister Justine Greening, backed by former Tory prime minister John Major. Greening openly declared that parliament is unable to come to a decision on Brexit, and so there should be a second referendum, in which she will campaign for Remain. What an admission that her own party is unable to govern.

It appears the new Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, has already been sidelined by May. He cuts a hapless figure as he attempts to negotiate with EU representatives despite multiple guns being held to his head.

Chief whip Julian Smith now faces a clamour of calls to resign after it emerged that he had instructed MPs to disregard the parliamentary ‘pairing’ system in order to save the government’s neck in knife-edge Brexit votes. Pairing is only a convention, which has, in fact, been broken many times by all parties, but in the heat of this crisis this blatant manoeuvre just serves to underline the murky, untrustworthy, desperate state of the Tory party.

And the open warfare is not confined to issues around Brexit. On Radio 4, Tory MP Dominic Grieve tore into home secretary Sajid Javid’s abhorrent decision not to oppose the death penalty when two UK citizens are tried as IS suspects in the US. Again Theresa May is paralysed.

This follows crisis after crisis: universal credit, NHS and social care, Windrush to name but a few.

Underlying volatility

Of course, a general election is exactly the threat they use against each other. Leading Brexiteers threatened that if the government was defeated on the vote on a customs union, there would be a vote of no confidence and a general election – and then the risk of a Corbyn government. Labour is ahead in the polls and only 11% support May’s Brexit plans.

What recent polls show is the huge underlying volatility in the situation, due to the depth of the crisis faced by British capitalism.

A poll for the Times on 22 July showed more support for Boris Johnson than May, and 38% saying they would support a new Brexit party to the right. Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage is said to be raising money for a new ‘hard Brexit’ party, while US alt-right demagogue Steve Bannon says he is raising £1 million for a right-wing mass movement, and has lent support to the recent protests by the ‘Democratic’ Football Lads Alliance. Meanwhile, polls suggest a third of voters might support a new anti-Brexit centre party.

The crisis is such that some Tories are now voicing an alternative solution to the risks attached to a general election: a national ‘unity’ government. Anna Soubry stated on Radio 4’s Today programme that the problem is that “extremists” are in control in both main parties. Right-wing Brexiteer toff Rees-Mogg is “running the country” and the whole Labour front bench are “old Trotskyists”, she said. The only solution therefore would be to appoint a government of national unity.

This would mostly comprise the pro-Remain Osbornite wing of the Tories and the pro-Remain Blairite wing of the Labour party – many of whom, such as Chuka Umunna and Tony Blair himself, are champions of a second referendum or ‘people’s vote’. She floated the idea of the SNP and Plaid Cymru joining as well. A national government would not in fact be in the interests of the whole ‘nation’, it would be in the interests of big business, the vast majority of which wants to see Britain remain in the EU.

Political and economic crisis

In a fragile world economy still burdened with debt and facing trade wars, big business wants as much stability as possible in which it can maximise profits with the least barriers, and continue to force the working class to pay for economic crisis through low pay and austerity. For them, the lack of a party that can achieve this outcome is a political crisis of historic proportions.

The idea of a national government is raised when capitalists fear that their traditional political representatives are not strong or stable enough, and they don’t have a reliable alternative to represent their interests either. A national government was talked about by the ruling class in 1968 under Harold Wilson’s Labour government, and again in the 1970s, when there was economic crisis and a fear of trade union power which could push the Labour Party to the left. In 1931, the Labour Party split and the right formed a national government with the Tories.

This measure is not the most likely, not least because it is such a desperate card that can only be played once. Most importantly, it could leave Corbyn in a powerful position to lead the opposition that would develop.

Behind the scenes, the pro-Remainer Blairites prepare the ground for the possibility of a new ‘centre’ party. Anything to save capitalism from a Corbyn government. In 1981 the right wing split from Labour to form the Social Democratic Party in order to undermine the chance of a Labour government that could move in a leftward direction.

This time a new party could include Remainer elements from the Tories and from the Lib Dems. Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve has warned of a break-up of the current party system if there is no deal. Lib Dem leader Vince Cable was said to be in talks about the creation of a new centre party. But far from being some kind of middle ground, a ‘centre’ party would be a pro-capitalist, pro-Remain party – the kind of establishment, neoliberal, austerity party that has been rejected in elections in country after country as masses of people have sought an alternative.

Fightback needed

In reality, the only path to solving this crisis in the interests of the vast majority is through a mass determined fight by the labour and trade union movement.

Now is the time for Jeremy Corbyn to seize the moment. Instead of allowing right-wing capitalist representatives on all sides to frame the debate, a bold argument for a workers’ Brexit – a socialist Brexit – and a general election to achieve it could cut through the chaos like a scythe.

At the same time, the Blairites in the Labour Party, who act every day to prevent that from happening, need to be ousted.

Pro-capitalist Labour Brexiteers such as Frank Field and Kate Hoey voted to save the Tories last week. And like clockwork, as soon as the Tory crisis flares the Blairites pick up the antisemitism weapon again.

Instead of sensible discussion, a furore is raised about the new code of conduct on antisemitism (once again proving that it is an illusion for those around Corbyn to think they can mollify their opponents).

In extraordinary scenes, Labour Dame Margaret Hodge MP shouted publicly at Corbyn in the Commons, calling him a racist and antisemite, just a day after suspended MP John Woodcock (awaiting a sexual harassment investigation) resigned, claiming the Corbynites were out to get him and the party had been taken over by the ‘hard left’.

Labour’s shadow cabinet has had an away day to prepare for a possible general election. It is imperative that Labour and trade union leaders act to drive the Tories out and to fight tooth and nail for the programme that inspired millions of people last year and still could again if it is energetically promoted. That is the only way to offer an alternative to the anger and fears of working class and young people on all sides.

We need a mass struggle against the Tories and the Blairites, for a government that can implement the 2017 manifesto and more – jobs on proper contracts, pay rises, council homes, rent control, a £10-an-hour minimum wage and free education. Stop universal credit. Save the NHS from cuts and privatisation. Renationalise rail, water and energy. Take the banks and big companies into democratic public ownership so that the enormous wealth in society can be used for the benefit of all. A socialist, internationalist, anti-racist Brexit in the interest of all workers. General election now!