The European Union elections were more or less irrelevant and a distraction from the battle against a Tory Brexit. They were, of course, useful to assess the state of public opinion, but not for deciding strategy and tactics. Paul Mason saw the results and draws the wrong conclusions. He argues that Labour must shift further to the right to embrace the liberal position of “remain and reform, and the call for a second referendum on any deal” (The Guardian May 27).
He thinks that, “Given the scale of the reversal, it looks likely that the Labour right will launch a new leadership challenge against Corbyn. They may wait until after the Peterborough by-election and the announcement of a formal probe into alleged anti-Semitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.”
Yet getting smashed in an election that nobody expected, and with a low turnout, suggests people understand reality. It was an opportunity for Faragean grandstanding, not least in offering to join the next EU negotiating team, whilst saying there is nothing to negotiate. Paul Mason says that “Labour supporters have to look reality in the face” - before he himself fails to do so.
The Corbyn Labour Party has rightly pitched its tent on the ‘remain’-democrat hill as the party of ‘remain’ which accepts the 2016 result. On this little hillock it subsequently constructed a small fort, from which to resist a Tory Brexit. These fortifications are not strong enough and will eventually be overrun.
However, so far general Corbyn has been able to keep his parliamentary army relatively united to beat off the Tory Brexit and push the Tories to dump May. His greatest hits have included the 2017 general election that wrecked May’s parliamentary majority, then three defeats of the Tory Withdrawal Agreement and finally halting the decision to leave on March 29. Corbyn can take the lion’s share of the congratulations for enabling the people to vote in the May 23 European election.
His leadership of Labour’s divided party allowed the people to have this confirmatory referendum. Not surprisingly, an angry public confirmed they did not like it. They decamped en masse to the rival protest parties for ultra-Brexit or ultra-‘remain’, often encouraged by Labour members.
Still this is no time to race round like corporal Jones, shouting ‘Don’t panic, Mr Mainwaring’. But panic ran away with Emily Thornberry and Paul Mason. All the mainstream media cheered and demanded that Corbyn abandon his little fort on the hill and join them in the valley of death. Let cowards flinch and traitors sneer, but it is time to stick to the ‘remain’-democrat position for the next stage of the battle, with a tweak or two.
Labour had eight million ‘remain’ voters and four million leavers in 2017. If you want to stop Corbyn winning the next election, then you must drive a wedge between these two sets of voters. This is exactly what the ultra-remainers are trying to do, including many socialists such as Paul Mason, Another Europe and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty acting as the ‘useful idiots’ for the liberals, who all want a ‘remain’ referendum and a ‘reformed’ (sic) EU.
Corbyn’s confirmatory referendum confirmed what we already knew. Not much has changed since 2016. Unlike the last time, nobody agreed to carry out the ‘will of the people’. Westminster will continue with the same deadlocked parliament as before, with a new Tory prime minister. None of those new European MEPs will be in the Commons, where the next battle will take place in September.
The one most important lesson from this confirmatory referendum is that up to two million EU citizens were again denied a vote. History was repeating itself. If the ultra-remainers were serious, they would be calling this out. The result should be declared illegal. All democrats should recognise this was gerrymandered by incompetence, duplicity and inefficiency. By making the democratic case against this ‘referendum’, we remind everybody about the deliberate exclusion of EU residents from the last one.
The Guardian reports that Corbyn has shifted a little. He says: “Labour will support a second referendum on any Brexit deal.” We have not had a first referendum on any Brexit deal, never mind a second one! But at least this goes beyond holding a referendum only on a ‘bad’ deal. He should remember Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in 2016.
Corbyn says: “Labour’s preference would be for a general election, but any Brexit deal has to be put to a public vote” (The Guardian May 28). I agree with that. If he doesn’t go beyond ratification, then he is still on his little hillock in his small fort - and not with Paul Mason in the valley of death, with the rest of the light brigade.
Lance the boil
I think Steve Freeman is capable of making a virtually unanswerable argument in favour of a further referendum to decide the terms of the United Kingdom leaving the EU (Letters, May 23 - as in most editions of the Weekly Worker since 2016).
Given that ‘the people’ were asked to decide ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ in 2016, when faced with a choice as to which body should approve the terms of leaving (the government using the crown prerogative, parliament or the people), the democratic answer surely has to be ‘the people’. The fact that the current ‘deal’ ‘negotiated’ by the present Conservative government - or the very marginally different offer from the Labour Party - is not what anyone can have voted for in 2016 makes the argument for a further ballot even stronger.
I agree with Steve that to ‘respect the result of the 2016 referendum’ means to offer people a choice between leaving on ‘the deal’ (or any other significant variant) or leaving without a deal. I was genuinely shocked when I first started to hear People’s Vote advocates saying the choice should only be between ‘leave’ on the current deal or ‘remain’.
What about the 17.4 million people who thought they were voting to leave the European Union (and that must have included the single market, customs union and the jurisdiction of the court of justice), and would be denied that option under a People’s Vote? People may not have used that terminology (it was probably Andrew Neil who first started to notice and flag the inherent component parts of the EU and catch politicians out who were unaware of the overlaps and distinctions between the concepts), but I am sure that if you asked 99 out of 100 people who voted ‘leave’, their reasons for doing so would be incompatible with remaining in the single market and/or customs union.
However, if you do go back to the people, I think you do have to include an option to remain. A refresh of the democratic mandate cannot exclude either the 48% or the 52%. People have the right to change their minds - 2016 is a while ago now and a lot has happened and changed since then. And if as consistent democrats (which communists should be) we argue that sovereignty rests with the people, then the exercise of that sovereignty must be allowed to choose between all the principal available options - and then instruct the elected parliament and therefore the government to get on with the detail and deliver.
Ideally Theresa May should have got on and implemented the main content of her January 17 Lancaster House speech, when she said that leaving the EU also meant leaving the single market, customs union and court of justice, but seeking the best possible relationships with the EU and component nations going forward. But even here there were elements of blurring, talking of “the greatest possible access to the single market” and “a customs agreement with the EU” - which, of course, also happens to be Labour Party policy.
The 2017 House of Commons appears completely incapable of either resolving the current impasse or acting to deliver the sovereign will of the people. The breakdown of parliamentary party discipline - with unprecedented numbers of Conservative and Labour MPs abandoning the manifesto commitments on which they were elected and deciding to exercise their personal individual views of what ‘the national interest’ is and how it should be served - has meant the current Commons increasingly fails to reflect the popular will, inasmuch as it ever did. It only serves themselves as individual MPs.
I simply do not understand the Labour position of preferring a general election, but, if they don’t get one, then accept the need for a referendum. These are two fundamentally different processes and ask two fundamentally different questions. A general election would ask if the electorate want a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister - and with no real clue at the present time whether the manifesto would be for ‘remain’ or ‘leave’. A separate referendum could allow Labour not to take a binding view on the EU, but simply pledge to implement the result.
The long awaited, but incredibly inopportune, Tory leadership electoral process means the UK is heading rapidly towards the October 31 exit from the EU - not only with no agreement, but with no active decision to leave without an agreement and therefore no real planning for such an exit.
No agreement is different from no deal. An agreement is required to exit the EU and decide what arrangements will continue and what will change. Without an agreement all the preplanning in the world cannot anticipate every eventuality. There are a million and one things that can go wrong - and bureaucratic inertia, incompetence or even sabotage will make sure something goes wrong.
Just remember the fuel tanker protest in 2000 under the Blair government and how quickly Britain ground to a halt and entered a pre-crisis situation. Blair in his autobiography is clear and explicit that he was on the brink of calling in the troops to get the tankers moving and the fuel flowing, and he talks about the orders he would have given them. What do you think would have happened to any drivers or the leading organisers if they tried to resist?
Yes, the Conservative Party may well be “annihilated” as a result of a “crash-out” (Jeremy Hunt, speaking on May 28), but so will the Labour Party - they will be seen as complicit and not a cigarette-paper worth of difference in policy from the Tories.
In answering ‘What is to be done?’, politicians - even communists - do not have the luxury of saying we wouldn’t start from here. If we were (suddenly) in control, what would we do? It’s a fair question. I do not see how we can or should avoid taking the question of the EU back to the people, with clear options to leave without a deal, leave with a deal (eg, including the single market and/or customs union) or remain. Clearly, such a referendum should either be in stages or use a single transferable vote system to produce a new majority. I suspect the first option would win through, but that is just my guess. There is a local joke that Kettering is leaving, come what may ...
People are frustrated and angry and not in a good way. We urgently need to lance the EU boil once and for all.
Song and dance
I was surprised at the venom of Richard Farnos’s attack on Amanda MacLean in last week’s Weekly Worker (Letters, May 23). I think her articles have been interesting and quite sensible - but what do I know? I wouldn’t recognise a salmonid gonad if it got up and bit me! His letter reads as if MacLean was totally unaware of any political events going on in the world and with, in my view, no just cause for that assertion.
He cites the Caster Semenya case, which I believe is tragic for the lady involved and for the many of her colleagues who have come to her support. I suspect that the International Association of Athletics Federations were moved more by financial considerations (as usual) than by any sportswomanship.
But surely Farnos’s point is undermined by the fact that there are in athletics, and almost all sports, different disciplines for men and for women. Though any half-fit woman could no doubt run faster than me, even when I was young and relatively fit, there is no woman alive who could cover 100 metres faster than Usain Bolt has managed. Similarly, we could construct normal distribution curves for height, strength, facial hair, voice range and even testosterone levels in men and women and they would, to differing degrees, overlap - but not coincide.
At the same time I believe that I can spot a woman or a man in the street, in a workplace or even across a crowded room and would make a correct identification almost every time, and the person I identify would self-identify as such. There may be a spectrum somewhere, but almost all men, including gay men, would identify themselves as men and almost all women, including lesbians, would identify as women.
Any person not falling into this neat binary world is entitled to the same respect and empathy as anybody else, but I don’t see the need to make a big song and dance about it. I bet that, for instance, Chelsea Manning and Angela Davis would get along together fine.
Cuba and Trotsky
I am a long-time supporter of the Cuban Revolution, having joined the Trotskyist movement in Canada only just before the July 26 Movement worked its seeming miracle by taking power - inspiring me for the balance of my life. I’ve been active in the movement since then and helped found and grow the Canadian Fair Play for Cuba Committee!
In fact I couldn’t restrain myself from bolting off to Cuba in 1961 and landing in Havana on the eve of the Bay of Pigs invasion, spending some time incarcerated as an unknown tourist in a house in Miramar and a couple of weeks in the cosy confines of La Cabana. Released, I got no help from the Canadian embassy as a known partisan of Cuba.
I’ve been back many times since and plan to continue visiting - I heard about the conference you reported (‘Neither kings nor bureaucrats’, May 23) and was amazed by it: my comrades, Ernest Tate and partner, wrote up a very good report. (Trotsky would have been delighted too, of course, that the spirit of 1917 was lit again in the Americas - of course, where else would it have shone so brightly?)
I’m now looking forward to visiting Havana and attending a future Trotsky tribute conference - if I can be accommodated - just to show Trump and co how close to our hearts the revolution is!
Thanks for your excellent article and excellent journal!
Read and study
In addition to the Weekly Worker, I also subscribe to The Socialist, Socialism Today, Socialist Appeal and The Chartist.
I read The Socialist - weekly paper of the Socialist Party in England and Wales - because I like reading its editorials and reports of party members’ involvement in campaigns, especially trade union struggles. I read Socialism Today (SPEW’s monthly magazine) because I like finding out what Peter Taaffe (general secretary) and his closest supporters in Britain and internationally are thinking.
I read Socialist Appeal (fortnightly paper of the International Marxist Tendency) because I like its editorials and reports of supporters’ work within the Labour Party. However, as it has over 200 supporters, I am baffled as to why it’s not a weekly paper. I read The Chartist bi-monthly magazine because it provides information as to what soft-left Labour Party members and trade union officials in the Anthony Crosland social democratic tradition are thinking.
In the past, I have subscribed to Socialist Worker (weekly paper of the Socialist Workers Party), but stopped doing so after it became obsessed with the need for an ‘anti-racist’ struggle to combat the ‘fascist threat’. I would like to subscribe to the Morning Star (daily paper of the Communist Party of Britain), but, given my limited resources, I can’t afford it.
I take Lenin’s advice to all Marxists to read and study the left press, very seriously. Other readers of the Weekly Worker should do the same.