Saturday 8 December 2018

A General Election is a Necessity

In the then infamous but now largely forgotten behind-the-scenes documentary Vice filmed in the Leader of the Opposition's office, I remember Jeremy Corbyn getting annoyed at something Jonathan Freedland had written in The Graun. Why is something of a mystery, because as media commentators go he is more beige than bilge, and were it not for his parking space at the paper's offices few would pay him any mind. Unfortunately, his recent missive does deserve an answer because his remarks coincide with the opinions of a large number of Labour supporters.

First things first, Labour's position on Brexit isn't ambiguous. Just as it was in the 2017 General Election manifesto, the party accepts the referendum vote and is looking to shape Brexit according to its priorities. These involve the protection of jobs and rights at work, a mitigation of economic damage, and preservation of environmental regulation. Labour's plan involves a customs union with the EU and a trade deal that brings the UK as close to the single market as possible. In other words, as sensible a Brexit as can be. And because it is sensible, it entails rejecting Theresa May's deal - not least because it curbs any future government's plans for state-led industrial activism, and does not allow for either party's withdrawal without the consent of the other. Now, I realise that Labour's position isn't as detailed as the 585 pages of withdrawal documentation drawn up by civil servants, but then Labour haven't done the negotiating. Freedland is mistaking the absence of detail appealing to the technocratic mindset as an absence of a political position.

In case we need to remind ourselves, the Tories wouldn't be on the brink of a terminal crisis if Labour had cleaved to those calling for a second vote or, worse, abandoned Brexit altogether. Labour's position - a customs deal plus a trade deal on top - has far from united the Tories against it, which was always the danger had the advice of your Alistair Campbells and your Tony Blairs been heeded. The Moggites had their offshore tax haven vision, if this dismal prospectus could ever be described as such. Others fancy a straight forward no deal that would crash the country but no doubt provide rich pickings for some disaster capitalist or another. After spectacularly losing her majority, May wasn't really that fussed about what flavour of Brexit there was provided there was some level of continuity and, of course, she got the opportunity to shut down immigration. And who knows what exactly the Cameroons wanted. Amber Rudd is in today's Times talking up the virtues of a Norway-style model just as Norway are saying they will to block it suggest they're all over the place.

For Freedland, Labour's position is fence-sitting. Were one of his Blairite heroes in charge, it would be canny politics. When May loses the vote on Tuesday, which is about the only certainty politics has right now, Labour are going to table a no-confidence vote en route to a general election. With the DUP pledging to defend the government against such a move, Labour are planning a personal no confidence vote in May. It doesn't have any constitutional force, but the DUP could back it and the Tories who've already sent their letters to Graham Brady are put on the spot by this move. If May loses it's difficult to see her ploughing on. Not that this matters to Freedland, for whom the general election is an unnecessary distraction and thinks only a second referendum on the deal is possible. Be careful what you wish for, especially when the Tories are the ones who determine the question. Instead, a new election allows for a refresh, of articulating new arguments and positions on the table. Labour would, rightly, put down an Article 50 extension, ask for the opportunity to negotiate a better deal and, at the end of it, (I hope) look to have it sanctified by an additional vote. The EU might not be in the mood to renegotiate, but I prefer to listen to what those a bit more experienced have to say than either pay cheque pundits or the author of the Harry Potter series.

An election is a risk. Labour might not win a majority, though an arrangement with the SNP on matters pertaining to Brexit would certainly be possible. But this is much less of a risk than letting the Tories carry on, or running a referendum with the same remain people in charge who lost the campaign last time and have learned nothing in the interim. Freedland's page filler is ultimately typical of this trend. He, and they, don't know the way forward, they don't like what the world has become (a feature shared with others they affect to detest), and gear their politics entirely around turning the clock back - regardless of the damage they could cause to democratic politics. A second referendum is a bad idea, and one that cannot be ruled out, but it's more sensible and useful to try and shift the balance of Westminster politics first.


Boffy said...

I'm glad you have come round to the idea that a General Election is necessary. But, the question remains what Labour's programme for that General Election will be.

Going into a General Election saying that "We will respect the 2016 referendum result" will not wash. Firstly, what does that even mean? The last two years has shown that no one even agrees what the referendum resolved - obviously the answer, therefore, being nothing at all. It is dangerous nonsense for Corbyn to say - Trumplike - that he understands the art of the deal, and could negotiate the have cake and eat it Brexit that May cannot.

Its clear that a Corbyn government could no more negotiate a deal with the EU that gives Britain all of the advantages of EU membership without being a member is a non-started, and for Corbyn to go into an election promising the impossible is very bad and dangerous politics. It is setting that government up to fail, and hereby to cause a rapid loss of confidence in it, and support for it, reminiscent of current events now in France.

What would Labour propose having failed to negotiate such a deal? A No Deal collapse, a la Mogg? Or a collapse a la May? It only makes sense for Labour here and now, to be saying that its job, like that of a shop steward is to provide leadership, to tell workers the truth, even when it is unpalatable, to tell them when they have made a bad mistake. But, that is actually easy here, because the large majority of Labour voters, including the majority of Labour voters in Labour held seats that voted Leave, back Remain. Its Tory voters, UKIP voters, and non-voters that comprised the bulk of Leave voters, not Labour voters.

And, what of the rest of Labour's programme. Talk of getting past Brexit to talk about "real politics" of NHS spending etc. is nonsensical stuff outside of the question of Brexit. It is simply a repeat of the old Stalinist social-democracy in one country, reactionary nationalist crap. The only way that a progressive social-democracy is possible, let alone a socialist programme, is on an EU wide basis, and for Corbyn or anyone else to suggest otherwise, is to lie to the working-class, and to set themselves up for failure, and yet further disillusion in the working-class.

Labour should focus on demanding a General Election, but its programme should be based on a) saying it will scrap Brexit, b) that it will work with other progressive social democrats, and socialists across the EU, for a radical programme across the continent, as the only way of addressing the problems that face workers in Britain, just as the events in France show they affect workers across Europe.

Dipper said...

If Labour wins, what would it do? Labour has no idea what kind of party it is. It is both a centrist technocratic party ("people don;t vote to be poorer" ... "economists all agree this is best for GDP") and a revolutionary socialist party that wants to nationalise everything and tax everything it doesn't own.

Secondly, the big issue of our times which is our relationship with the EU cuts equally across both parties. to wade in with a General Election now will accomplish nothing, There is no way a General Election will deliver any kind of coherent mandate for Brexit, and if it doesn't do that then we have just been spinning our wheels in unnecessary activity.

DFTM said...

Capitalism has clearly reached some kind of critical phase, a phase where it seems for all the world that it is a fetter on development and progress. It’s only solution to the climate crisis is to adjust prices to control demand etc. Thus squeezing incomes. As a system built on the ability to pay price solutions can only benefit the rich and the elite, and create apartheid conditions.

Britain resembles Germany in the 1920’s, street battles between left and right (well twitter battles mainly), currency devaluation (not quite hyperinflation I admit), facing reparations and retribution from a greater power and the ensuing political turmoil.

I predict things are going to get very very nasty indeed. I think in the age of mobile phones and facebook holocausts will be unlikely but I believe we are about to witness the civilising mission of capitalism in all its horrific glory (well within the next 20 to 30 years). And not even Boffy will be able to put the gloss on this!

Ken said...

You do realise that the price for any support from the SNP would be a commitment to a second referendum? And you’re view would be what?