• Editorial of the Socialist issue 1052

General election looms… Capitalists in chaos: fight for socialism

Socialist Party members sold over 80 copies of the Socialist across the two protests against Boris Johnson on 10 and 11 July 2019, photo Ian Pattison

Socialist Party members sold over 80 copies of the Socialist across the two protests against Boris Johnson on 10 and 11 July 2019, photo Ian Pattison   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Despite the historic crisis for British capitalism represented by a looming Brexit with no reliable party to represent its interests, so far the chaotic farce of a Tory government has rumbled on. But whatever happens next in this unpredictable political charade, this autumn things are not going to ‘just carry on’.

Just eleven weeks from the date of this issue of the Socialist is ‘Brexit Day’. It can be postponed if there is agreement reached for a second extension with all the 27 EU powers. But if no extension is requested by the government and no withdrawal agreement is passed by parliament then Britain will leave the EU with ‘no deal’.

Boris Johnson says he is preparing for no deal, but at the same time saying that there is only a one in a million chance of it actually happening, because he will be able to renegotiate. So far, the EU says that the immediate withdrawal agreement can’t be renegotiated, but the shorter political declaration could be.

But the European Council is not the only hurdle: it’s the Tory party and parliament. The majority of Johnson’s cabinet voted remain, and Johnson himself voted for Theresa May’s agreement. But the problem is that it is unlikely that any tinkering will satisfy the hard Brexiteer European Research Group of Tory MPs led by Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Tory remainer MPs are prepared to vote no confidence in Boris Johnson to try to prevent a no deal Brexit. Time is short. Parliament only reconvenes from 3 till 12 September before it stops again for the party conference season. They then reconvene on 8 October, just 18 working days before Brexit Day.

A vote of no confidence can only be tabled by the leader of the opposition. Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, if a vote of no confidence is passed there are 14 days allowed to try to come up with an alternative government, and then if that fails there has to be a general election.

Johnson has threatened that if he loses a no-confidence vote he won’t step down; he’ll hang on to call an election at the start of November, just after Brexit Day.

In response, John McDonnell said he and Jeremy Corbyn would aim to form a caretaker government and that he’d send Corbyn in a black cab to the Queen to insist on forming a new government.

What’s needed to break through the parliamentary impasse is a fight for a general election and a massive campaign for a victory for a Corbyn-led government with socialist policies. That means acting both to fight for a general election and to demonstrate that a Corbyn-led government plans to act decisively in the interests of the working-class majority.

Socialist challenge

For example, the best way to undercut Johnson’s adult care funding statements is for Labour councils to immediately stop carrying out cuts and invest in adult social care. Challenge Johnson’s divisive and brutalising approach on knife crime, beefing up draconian stop-and-search powers and more prison places, by Labour councils rebuilding youth services.

To fund these policies and more, councils should use their reserves and borrowing powers, and Corbyn should pledge that a Labour government would underwrite any debt.

Socialist policies would include a fight for jobs and skills – pledge to nationalise any company threatening to close down and lay off workers, like the Harland and Wolff shipyard, British Steel, Honda, and Ford at Bridgend.

A minimum wage of at least £10 an hour for a start – we say £15 should be the living wage in London. Stop and scrap universal credit. Reverse austerity cuts to much-needed services.

Scrap tuition fees and student debt. Scrap zero-hour contracts and end the exploitation of the precarious gig economy.

Renationalise rail, mail and the energy companies. Build council houses and bring in rent controls in the private sector. Rebuild our NHS.

Take the banks and the big companies into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control and management, to release the resources necessary and plan the economy for the benefit of the vast majority of the population and to protect the environment from climate change.

Corbyn and McDonnell should call in the trade union leaders to plan a massive demonstration, and campaign of coordinated strike action if necessary, to drive this rotten lot out as soon as possible and to fight for a socialist programme.

That’s how to inspire millions of people to take to the streets and to vote Labour. With a landslide victory and a massive movement behind him, Corbyn could renegotiate Brexit in the interests of the millions of working and middle-class people.

A Corbyn government coming to power on the basis of a popular surge is the big fear of the Tories, and is what has, up till now, been the glue that has held them together.

Corbyn’s policies are, in reality, quite moderate compared to even Labour’s own manifestos in the past. What big business and its politicians fear is not Corbyn himself but the huge expectations that could be unleashed. The possibility of big struggles is posed as workers campaign for what has been promised, and push for more.

And pro-capitalist, pro-austerity Blairite Labour MPs agree with that fear, and are fighting to prevent a Corbyn government.

The revolt against Corbyn includes most of the Labour members of the Scottish Parliament rounding on McDonnell for saying Labour would not block a second independence referendum taking place if it was requested.

In the 2015 general election, Labour was almost completely wiped out in Scotland in punishment for lining up with the Tories in the 2014 independence referendum.

While fighting on trade union rights and austerity is crucial in Scotland as elsewhere, the workers’ movement will be seriously weakened if it does not support the democratic rights of self-determination in practice.

Tom Watson, deputy Labour leader, is training anti-Corbyn MPs in how to resist being deselected by their members in the ‘trigger ballot’ process. That’s so they can encircle, strangle and then remove Corbyn should he win an election.

But they are also preparing to split away in big enough numbers to form a new party to prevent a Corbyn victory, if they think that is necessary.

There are 247 Labour MPs and 160 have signed up for Watson’s ‘Future Britain’ group. So a split away of all those MPs to form a new pro-capitalist party could then become the official opposition.

A split in the Tory party, the oldest capitalist party in the world, now reduced to a small number of mostly retired members, is also possible.

National government?

The talk now is of a ‘national unity’ government. The line-up calling for this includes Yvette Cooper (also posed as a replacement Labour leader), Hillary Benn, Polly Toynbee – all of whom have spent all their time since Corbyn became Labour leader doing their utmost to undermine him. 60 Labour MPs are reported to support a national unity government even if it is led by a Tory.

The chorus has been joined by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas – for whom many people voted because they believed the Green Party was a left alternative to pre-Corbyn pro-austerity Labour. Lucas’s twist is the divisive identity politics approach of “a cabinet of women to stop a disastrous no-deal Brexit”.

These ten women include pro-austerity politicians of all parties: Tories, right-wing Labour, Lib Dems, the SNP, Plaid Cymru – but apparently more left-leaning women like Diane Abbott are not the right sort of women!

But a new pro-capitalist ‘democratic socialist’ party, or a national unity government, are problematic options for the Blairites and Tories alike.

The cry for a national government is sometimes raised by the capitalists when they fear an untrustworthy (from their point of view) Labour government and believe the Tories are too weak to rule with stability.

The last time it was seriously raised in Britain was in the 1960s and 1970s against the Wilson Labour governments, but at that time the fear that resorting to a national government would push Labour and the trade unions further to the left stayed their hand.

Now, even if only planned to be short-term and to move to a general election after Brexit is ‘sorted’, a national government could stoke up huge anger. This is a time of savage austerity and another economic crisis on the horizon.

The British economy shrank 0.2% in the first quarter this year and so is on the way to a new recession, with the backdrop of a slumping global economy and trade wars.

The class issues – the suffering from cuts, job losses, the housing crisis, poverty – that led to the Brexit vote in 2016 will not go away. Any perceived betrayal of the Brexit vote could lead to huge anger.

It would potentially leave the space to the left for a Corbyn-led party to harness that anger. Even with a reduced number of MPs, with a large membership and a bold programme, it could rapidly grow.

Left trade unions, such as the RMT and PCS, would need to fight to restore the collective working-class voice in the party, and for all the steps that the Socialist Party has raised since Corbyn won the leadership in 2015 – for mandatory reselection, to readmit expelled socialists, to open up the party to all anti-austerity forces.

The Socialist Party would again apply to affiliate, to assist a transformation into a mass working class party.

This is the time to step up the fight for a socialist programme, and for mass struggle. This is the time when our class needs leadership to sweep this rotten lot aside and build a socialist alternative to failing capitalism.