Even after Britain has left the European Union, the Communist Party of Britain is analysing a problem and coming up with a dodgy solution.
In an article in the Morning Star of February 1-2, CPB general secretary Rob Griffiths blames the Labour Party for “deny[ing] that the shift towards a pro-‘remain’ stance played a major part in Labour’s loss of ‘leave’-voting seats”. On the other hand, a few paragraphs down he says: “The majority (32) of the seats lost to the Tories were marginal before the 2019 election and 33 of them remain marginal.”
So maybe a pro-‘remain’ stance wasn’t the main reason for the results? Maybe it was the single-minded Tory lies about how wonderful life will be under their rule? ‘We’ll look after the NHS!’ ‘We won’t allow chlorinated chicken!’ ‘We’ll browbeat the EU into the deal that’s best for us!’
And in the speech on Monday last, Boris Johnson was promising great new deals with the Commonwealth and a Canada-like agreement with the EU. Maybe the marginals fell for the glorious promised future, rather than the austerity of the past? (And, as a television commentators pointed out, Canada has never had a very close relationship with the EU and it is a long way away ...)
Comrade Griffiths goes on to say: “We need to renew and rebuild our trade unions, trade councils, People’s Assembly and CND groups, Stop the War, the National Assembly of Women, the labour movement and its Communist Party.” Ah yes - now that we are in our own little bunker, we will be able to rebuild our entire left (from right-left to left-left, so to speak), and each of these organisations, including the CPB, will be only too happy to join together in one “jolly industrial band” (to quote Joe Hill). And then what? Just where does the “labour movement and its Communist Party” go from there?
Interestingly, Griffiths points to the ‘progressive’ nature of Johnson’s ‘red lines’: “Before and during his meeting with EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on January 8, Johnson insisted that a post-Brexit trade deal must allow Britain’s rights to rescue failing industries with state aid; favour British business with public-sector procurement contracts; control UK fishing grounds; conduct an independent immigration policy, and exclude Britain from EU Court of Justice jurisdiction.”
He then points out that “the Tory government’s opening positions closely resemble longstanding policies promoted by the Eurosceptic left in Britain”! So that’s what EU withdrawal could do in the eyes of the pro-Brexit left: “allow Britain’s rights to rescue failing industries with state aid” and “favour British business with public-sector procurement contracts”. And here was I thinking that Brexit would open up the road to socialism.
You see, if only Labour had adopted a clear Brexit position and as a result won the general election, “Labour representatives in the Westminster, Scottish and Welsh legislatures could then have led the charge for the kind of Brexit that would empower those bodies to attack the basic economic and social problems besetting millions of their electors.”
Comrade Griffiths believes that the left can simultaneously rebuild itself and, amongst other items, fight to “devolve ... powers repatriated from the EU institutions to Scotland, Wales and other elected bodies in England” and challenge the Tory government to “introduce a non-racist [immigration] policy based on the principles of human rights and international solidarity”. What? Having made life in the UK more difficult for people from other lands, deporting people who have lived here for years and refusing to take in British children who are now homeless in other countries, the Tories are now going to stick strictly to human rights and “international solidarity”? And, having just withdrawn from any possibility of real solidarity with 26 other countries, just where is this “international solidarity” going to come from? Enjoying - if that is the word - the freedom now promised, does he really think Tories are going to start devolving? I have my doubts.
Those who have argued all along to remain in the EU precisely so that there could be a broad working class movement and an EU-sized Communist Party, are aware of the flaws in Rob Griffiths’ arguments. Of course, the CPB believes that socialism in one country is a possibility, as long as the left organises itself properly. It is a shame they do not see that withdrawing from the EU makes this more of an impossibility - not so great, even with the “Great” in Great Britain.
UC must go
The announcement by the government that the full roll-out of universal credit, initially planned for 2017, will be delayed for a further year until 2024 is further evidence that the flagship Tory welfare reform is doomed to failure. The problems being caused by universal credit are too many and too inbuilt to be reformed: the benefit has to be replaced by a fair system of social security.
We have been campaigning against UC since Rugby was first chosen as a pilot area seven years ago. We regularly talk to claimants outside Rugby Job Centre, and many of them have been pushed into poverty as a direct result of the way it is administered.
Just last week we were given further evidence of the hardship universal credit is causing. A woman in her late 40s described how her daughter’s UC had been completely stopped for over two months because the department for work and pensions claimed they had overpaid her, even though the daughter had shown them written evidence that was not the case. The DWP claims to still be ‘reviewing the case’. As a result, her rent was not being paid and her landlord had threatened eviction. The daughter, who is bipolar, had been working 16 hours a week to enable her to look after her own child, with UC supposedly enabling her to pay her rent and buy sufficient food. She had only managed to survive because her parents have helped her out - not everyone has parents able or willing to do that.
Separately, a man in his 40s told how he had been having problems with universal credit ever since he had left prison two years ago. The DWP did not seem to understand that he had no IT skills and could barely read or write, regularly withholding his benefits when he was unable to understand what was being expected of him by his work coaches. The latest problem, he told us last Friday, was that the DWP were withholding his payments until he could provide proof of address with a utility bill - he lives on a caravan site where the rent covers everything and there are no individual utility bills.
The problems experienced by these two claimants vividly illustrate why universal credit is a failure that must be replaced. It was set up supposedly to encourage people into work: how is it doing that, when wages are not high enough on their own, yet UC fails to make up the shortfall, as it is supposed to do? There are too many hoops to jump through. And, by insisting that all form-filling, including job applications, be done online, UC is a nightmare for those who do not have the technological skills, let alone those who cannot read or write. The more vulnerable a person is, the more likely they will be let down by universal credit.
These issues are in addition to the well documented minimum five-week delay all UC claimants face when first moved onto it - a delay which pushes them into debt and rent arrears, starting a process that can lead to using food banks and even homelessness. Both have been increasing more rapidly in Rugby than in neighbouring areas, where fewer claimants have been moved onto UC. Now there is to be a further delay in the national roll-out, at a cost of a further £500 million. Enough is enough: universal credit must go.
Rugby Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Later in 2020, it will be 10 years since the Bowthorpe Mental Health Day Centre in Wisbech was closed by the Tory-controlled Cambs County Council, following instructions from Gordon Brown’s New Labour government. Brown really did believe that he had abolished ‘boom and bust’ and that there would be jobs for everyone, including the disabled and the mentally distressed.
I have Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism), psychotic depression, mood swings, astynomiaphobia (fear of the police), gynophobia (fear of women), and suicidal ideation. As such, between 1992 and 2010, I attended the Bowthorpe Centre, which was then based at Bowthorpe Hall, and then at the Carlisle Ward at North Cambs Hospital. In the last six years I’ve had 18 friends from the Bowthorpe die, including two suicides (one by hanging, the other by driving into a van) and one murder.
The late Dr Dennis Morgan (the Labour-supporting consultant psychiatrist for Wisbech between 1974 and 1999) set up the day centre in 1983 at the matron’s flat at North Cambs Hospital. Dr Morgan would be shocked that a ‘Labour’ government closed his beloved Bowthorpe Centre in 2010.
No wonder support for the Labour Party is in terminal decline.