Volatile times ahead
We are heading for a constitutional crisis, writes Peter Manson and certainly an early general election.
Readers may have noticed that opinion polls are finally starting to return to something reflecting the normal division between support for Britain’s two main parties.In the May 23 European Union elections, we saw the mass of voters desert the Conservatives and Labour. According to their views on the EU, they switched in huge numbers to either Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which won 32% of the votes, or the Liberal Democrat remainers (20%). Meanwhile, Labour support shrunk to just 14%, while the Tories slumped to an amazing 9% - less support than for the Green Party.
But last week three separate opinion polls recorded a slight revival in the fortunes of the Tories and Labour. First there was YouGov, in a survey taken on July 9 and 10, which saw the Tories come out on top with 24%. That, in comparative terms, is a tiny proportion for the leading party, but, as against the pathetic 9% in real votes won on May 23, it marked a huge improvement. Labour was not far away on 20%, but it was still behind the Brexit Party (21%), while the Lib Dems were on 19%.
However, the YouGov survey was followed almost immediately by two other polls, conducted over July 10-11, and both of these saw a further move towards ‘back to normal’. This time it was Labour which came out on top, with 29% (according to Survation) and 28% (ComRes). In second place were the Tories (on 23% and 24% respectively), while Brexit fell to 20% in both surveys, and the Lib Dems to 19% (Survation) and 15% (ComRes).
Of course, the EU is still the dominant issue, with both major parties seeming to move towards a clearer pro- or anti-Brexit position. As the Daily Express puts it, the Conservatives have been “buoyed by the prospect of Boris Johnson as the next Tory leader”1 - Johnson’s insistence that a withdrawal will definitely take place on October 31, with or without a deal, will certainly eat into Brexit Party support.
Meanwhile, on July 9 Jeremy Corbyn confirmed that a Labour government would hold a second referendum on a renegotiated deal with the EU and that ‘remain’ would be an option in that referendum. This followed the position proposed by the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation on July 7 - either a ‘better Brexit deal’ than that agreed by Theresa May or (more likely) remain.
There is still a large element of ‘studied ambiguity’ in this, in that it continues to face both ways in an attempt to appeal to both leavers and remainers, but no doubt it will help win back a proportion of Labour defectors to the Liberal Democrats. However, the right in particular wants the party to ditch its commitment to abide by the result of the 2016 referendum and come out right now for a clear-cut ‘remain’ stance.
Our assessment of the 2016 referendum was perfectly clear:
1. We oppose referendums as a matter of principle.
2. David Cameron thought he would win. He thought he would remain prime minister.
3. He called his referendum to fend off the UK Independence Party and tame his own parliamentary right wing. There was no need to save his bacon.
4. There was no majority in the House of Commons for ‘leave’.
5. The interests of big capital were for ‘remain’.
Hence, despite our commitment to oppose demands for a withdrawal from the EU, we urged an active boycott. And it has to be said that, while the ‘leave’ result came as a surprise, our fears have been realised. It is not only the political class that is divided by the EU. So is the working class. Half has lined up behind Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage, while the other half is with Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry and Vince Cable.
So, yes, we are utterly opposed to the nationalist agenda of ‘leave’ - including when it is proposed by the likes of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, which believes that a post-Brexit UK would enable Jeremy Corbyn to start introducing ‘socialism’ in a single country. Even worse is the Socialist Workers Party, which opposed continued EU membership on the grounds that the capitalist establishment is overwhelmingly pro-‘remain’ and what is bad for them must be good for us.
It is true that David Cameron’s decision to go for a referendum backfired spectacularly and has led to the current impasse, with the possibility of a huge constitutional crisis. But will this result in the re-emergence of principled working class politics? Hardly automatic.
No, our position must be for a workers’ Europe, in which principled working class organisations cooperate in the drive towards a new, post-capitalist world. That means, of course, that the splintering of the EU into individual, nationalist states is something to be strongly opposed: while we must not offer support to the current EU of the bankers, we should make use of its cross-continental institutions and links with international workers’ organisations as best as we can to fight for a totally different kind of Europe. Neither the current pro-capitalist EU nor the current semi-democratic constitutional monarchy state known as the United Kingdom.
Returning to the question of current opinion polls, what is clear is the extreme volatility of the electorate and the sheer unpredictability of the situation. It goes without saying that, following Boris Johnson’s election by Tory members as party leader (and therefore prime minister), which will almost certainly be confirmed next week, a general election will become a real possibility. We can expect him to build on his pro-Brexit support to try and gain a parliamentary majority that does not depend on an alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party. He might also be forced to ‘go to the country’ earlier than expected if the current parliament somehow manages to stymie an immediate Brexit.
Our position will be for the biggest possible vote for Labour in order to strengthen Corbyn’s position, as against that of the Labour right, while at the same time opening up the possibility of a big boost in the campaign to transform Labour into a genuine party of the working class - in Leon Trotsky’s words, a “united front of a special kind”. And yes, despite the recent huge increase in support both for the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems as a result of the Brexit crisis, it is completely possible that Labour - to the dismay of Johnson and the Tories - will win the most seats in a new election.
That, however, will not, of course, be the end of the matter. It is by no means certain that Corbyn will be permitted to form the next government. While, on paper, he might have a majority consisting of Labour MPs alone or in alliance with, say, the Scottish National Party, we have no doubt that a substantial bloc of the rightwing-dominated Parliamentary Labour Party - assuming that the majority have not been removed by the trigger-ballot process - would be more than willing to vote for a different sort of majority under a different prime minister.
As we have pointed out on numerous occasions, this could easily be facilitated by the monarch - following the recommendation of her close advisors - declining to call the leader of the largest parliamentary party to Buckingham Palace, and instead going for a ‘more reliable’ MP (not necessarily from the Labour benches), who would be certain to gain a cross-party majority, thanks to the betrayal of the pro-capitalist PLP right.
All this means that, as well as working for the largest possible Labour vote, we must step up the fight to remove those traitors of the Labour right by demanding the full implementation of the trigger-ballot process with immediate effect l