Lexiteers and Brexiteers united
Demanding exactly what Boris Johnson wants, writes Eddie Ford, sections of the left are still calling for an immediate general election.
If anything, things are becoming even more confusing and unpredictable, when it comes to Brexit. Last week we had the surprising court decision in Edinburgh that Boris Johnson’s five-week prorogation of parliament was “null and of no effect” because its purpose was “stymying parliament”.
And now the 11-member supreme court - sitting for the first time ever outside its normal legal terms - has become a battlefield over this “unlawful abuse of power” between the government’s lawyers and the legal team representing anti-Brexiteer Gina Miller, John Major and others. It is hearing legal arguments reaching back to the 1610 Case of Proclamations, which imposed limits on the royal prerogative, and more recently the political precedent set by the post-war Labour government’s decision to prorogue parliament twice in 1948.
Only a fool would claim to know with certainty what the outcome of the court case will be, though the balance of probabilities suggests a government victory - on the original basis that the prorogation decision was “nonjusticiable”, as it was a matter of high policy and political judgment. But, if Gina Miller and co get their way, this throws a wild card into the already heady Brexit mix - would parliament have to be immediately recalled? Make of it what you will, Boris Johnson - via his QC Lord Keen - has given a ‘solemn’ undertaking to the court that he will “abide” by any ruling it makes, as is only fitting for a Tory prime minister. But, when a government minister was repeatedly questioned on this matter, he refused to rule out suspending parliament again - something apparently advocated last week by Dominic Cummings at a meeting of special advisors, even if we are told he only meant it in “jest”.
Jokingly or not though, such a move would have the distinctly useful effect of tying everything up in torturous legal knots until October 31, now that a general election before the Brexit deadline seems impossible. Maybe this is the rumoured wicked wheeze, or “secret plan” known to just Boris Johnson and “three senior aides”, that would allow him to ignore the requirements of the Benn-Burt legislation and deliver a no-deal Brexit without actually breaking the law or resigning - an idea described by one Tory MP as “pure Dick Dastardly”, making a change I suppose from the Incredible Hulk. Indeed, perhaps this is Boris Johnson’s plan even if he wins the court case. If so, he is playing a very high-stakes game - ready to trash tradition, convention and precedent in the single-minded pursuit of his objective.
Unfortunately, much of the contemporary left tends to flip into anarchistic, anti-parliamentary cretinism when wanting to look r-r-revolutionary. At the best of times the left is incoherent, stumbling around like a blind puppy and lacking any strategic sense or programmatic perspective. Brexit, however, has thrown it into a state of total confusion, unable to understand the new rules of the game introduced by the Johnson premiership.
Not for the first time, a spectacular example is offered by the Socialist Workers Party, which always prioritises the next demonstration, etc. But now it has become unstuck, arguing that the demonstrators outside parliament against prorogation must not mistake opposition to Boris Johnson with opposition to Brexit itself - as if the two are not inextricably interwoven. Of course, we know the real reason for the SWP’s Janus-faced stance: during the referendum it urged support for Brexit - or Lexit - and therefore cannot help echoing Boris Johnson’s position on the European Union.
The SWP advocated a vote for Brexit in the belief that it would send the establishment into crisis and tear the Tory Party asunder, which has certainly happened - but not in the way anticipated. Instead of moving society to the left and towards a radical, Corbyn-led government, politics is clearly heading more in the direction of nationalism and the radical, reactionary-populist right in the form of the European Research Group, Brexit Party and so on - ‘the people’ versus parliament and the Westminster elite - with the very real possibility of a profoundly weak national or ‘emergency’ government being cobbled together to save the nation from chaos.
Unfortunately, however, most of the left is raising the demand for a “general election now” - a call unifying the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain, the SWP, Socialist Party of England and Wales, Labour Briefing, Socialist Appeal, Stand Up To Racism, People’s Assembly ... Not only does this call risk delaying or sabotaging the trigger ballot process and thus the deselection of rightwing Labour MPs: it plays straight into the hands of Boris Johnson - who wants exactly the same thing. Bizarrely, the likes of the CPB and SWP will use the demand as the main slogan in the September 29 demonstration outside the Tory Party conference in Manchester. The arriving delegates will doubtless agree.
Ploughing on regardless, an editorial in the Morning Star disapprovingly notes that “voting against a general election offered by the sitting PM when Labour has been calling for one for months is not a good look” (September 11) - seemingly oblivious to the peril that an early election would give Boris Johnson a golden opportunity to present himself as the champion of the ‘biggest democratic vote in British history’ facing off a recalcitrant parliament determined to thwart the ‘people’s will’.
The editorial goes on to say that Labour’s “unhelpful insistence on rerunning the referendum may be an obsolete policy by election time”, which might be true, before declaring: “Whether it is or isn’t, the labour movement mobilisation against Boris Johnson’s government should build throughout September and aim at a huge demonstration for democracy outside the Conservative Party conference, focused on forcing an election to address the catastrophic social, economic and environmental crises afflicting our country and the world (my italics). The CPB wants to pressurise the Tories to hold an election that they desperately want anyway. That, of course, would be detrimental to the very thing they want - the rebuilding of a militant Labour left that confronts “serial saboteurs” such as Tom Watson and “those that are irretrievably hostile to the socialist direction the party has taken since 2015”.
Similarly, Charlie Kimber in Socialist Worker laments the fact that Labour “lets Tories cling on by failing to back an election” - writing that the alliance of Labour, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats, Independent Group and dissident Tories “ruled out moving a motion of no confidence in Johnson, which could have triggered an election later in October”, when “we should now be campaigning” to get Boris Johnson and the Tories out” (September 10).
Moving into even greater confusion, is an editorial in SPEW’s publication, The Socialist. The “potential exists” for Jeremy Corbyn once again to “enthuse millions of workers and young people” and win the next election “perhaps even by a landslide” (September 11). Given the extreme volatility of the electorate, that cannot be ruled out. But who will call the general election? If Johnson somehow manages to secure Brexit by October 31, everything changes. But there is another possibility - one favoured by The Socialist. With the help of the Lib Dems, the SNP and former Tories form a “minority government that would then extend article 50, while an election took place”.
Frankly, the Labour leader’s efforts in this direction were always doomed. More than that, though, a minority Labour government whose prime function is to call a general election and avoid a no deal Brexit opens the door for a government of national unity headed by a Ken Clarke, Harriet Harman or a Keir Starmer. According to The Socialist such a government would be “very dangerous for the capitalist class” - which would probably be news to them - because an “unelected ‘remain’ national government trying to reverse the 2016 result would enormously fuel ... anger”. Doubtless, true. And if the Labour left stood firmly against a national government, expelled every Labour MP who supported it, selected tried and tested socialists and communists to replace the traitors, we would be in a far stronger position.