"The Labour Party's announcement that it wants the UK to remain within all the EU's structures in the years right after Brexit is the best news to come out of British politics in a long time." So read the 28 August editorial of the Financial Times, one of the main mouthpieces of big business and the super-rich. The glee of the establishment press of all persuasions, along with the pro-EU wing of the Tories and Blairite Labour politicians, shows who will benefit from and be satisfied with this completely wrong u-turn.
This position - coming just four weeks before the Labour Party conference where members and affiliates can supposedly have their say on policy - will anger the millions of working class people who voted Leave. It risks undermining the hard-won support garnered for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour during the general election campaign by his pro-worker manifesto.
But it would also be false to suggest that it will appease those Labour voters who voted Remain, mainly as a result of revulsion at the reactionary, racist leadership of the establishment Leave campaign and to express a desire to defend the rights of EU migrants. In fact the new turn seems to be a big step back in terms of these issues. The party won't rule out remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union permanently - as long as a deal could be struck to opt out of the EU's free movement rules. The message is that all that needs to be achieved through Brexit is lower immigration.
Where is the 'workers' Brexit' that Jeremy Corbyn spoke about during the general election campaign in this plan? Where is the promise to reject the EU rules which place barriers in the way of nationalisation - like that of the railways and energy companies promised in Corbyn's manifesto - or which say that companies' right to make money trumps workers' right to strike? As explained in an article in the last issue of the Socialist: "From its inception [the EU] has aimed to drive through neoliberal, anti-working class measures in order to maximise the profits of the capitalist elite." This is a fact that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have long argued too.
After all, it was only weeks before this announcement that Corbyn said that under a Labour government Brexit would definitely mean leaving the Single Market. And only two months ago Corbyn, filled with confidence after the mass support his programme won in the general election, rightly sacked three front benchers for voting, against the Labour whip, for a parliamentary amendment saying that membership of the Single Market should be retained. There urgently needs to be a statement from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell clearly opposing the position put by Starmer, and calling for a socialist Brexit in the interests of the working class. Unless that happens, it will seem that, as with their agreement to campaign for Remain in the referendum, Corbyn and McDonnell have conceded to the right wing on this issue.
This is a mistake which only weakens the positon of Corbyn and the left within the Labour Party and their standing among the working class in general. As the Socialist Party has argued since Jeremy first won the leadership, in the civil war within the Labour Party concession will only invite aggression, and instil among workers a scepticism that the left has the determination necessary to transform the party and implement their programme.
The Blairite wing of the Labour Party, having been weakened by the general election result, has been using the issue of a 'soft Brexit' as their main lever to organise against Corbyn. At the behest of the capitalist class they are openly collaborating with pro-EU big business MPs in all parties, including the Tory Party. If it is not countered Starmer's announcement will be a significant victory for these pro-capitalist, neoliberal forces.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell should urgently come out fighting, mobilising all those workers and young people who have joined Labour, attended rallies and given support to Corbyn to carry out a top-to-bottom transformation of the party. The Socialist Party calls for:
This version of this article was first posted on the Socialist Party website on 29 August 2017 and may vary slightly from the version subsequently printed in The Socialist.