Britain: Tory chaos reaches fever pitch

Corbyn and unions must mobilise workers to kick them out


This week’s issue of the Socialist goes to press amidst an unprecedented governmental crisis. Just one day before the planned vote in parliament over Theresa May’s Brexit deal proposal, she was forced to cancel it.

It wasn’t just that she was going to suffer a defeat – that had been clear for weeks. It was that it became clear that the scale of the defeat would have rendered May’s premiership unsustainable.

Jeremy Corbyn was right to point out that this move exposed that the UK does not have a functioning government. But the question is what do we – workers, trade unionists, socialists and all opposed to austerity – do about it, and what role does Corbyn himself play in that process?

An effective strategy could mean a breakthrough in favour of the interests of the majority has been made by the time the next issue is the Socialist is published in the New Year. But this seems far from guaranteed.

May’s hope seems to be to force the Tory rebels’ hand by leaving the vote until too late for any alternative to be agreed. The choice before parliament will be May’s deal or no deal, and she hopes MPs are more opposed to ‘crashing out’ than to her version of Brexit.

There is no binding legal stipulation for a meaningful vote in parliament until 28 March – the day before the planned departure date.

May plans to go back to negotiators for further assurances that the ‘backstop arrangement’ for Northern Ireland – which is the ostensible sticking point for many Tory Brexiteers as it could result in the UK remaining in the Customs Union indefinitely – would be temporary and unlikely.

But the Tory backbenchers are seeking what they term legally binding assurances which would unravel the whole withdrawal agreement.

So what will be their response when the deal is brought back for the so-called meaningful vote? Clearly many are furious at May’s approach so far, and the threat of a no confidence vote being launched against her within the party remains present.

On the other hand, there are limiting factors on the Brexiteers’ opposition. They were overwhelmingly clear, for example, that they wouldn’t back Labour if Corbyn moved a no confidence vote against the government in parliament.

Clearly these right-wing Tories are not a force we can rely on to bring about a desirable outcome for the working class – defence of the overall interests of capitalism are more important to most of them than any ‘principles’ on Brexit.


The same is true of the majority of the other side of the parliamentary chamber – the pro-Remain Blairite Labour MPs. These defenders of capitalism could also get behind May if faced with an acrimonious breakdown in talks and a no-deal Brexit, which would be devastating to the interests of the capitalist class and the neoliberal EU.

On the other hand, pragmatism may dictate that they choose to hold off bringing the civil war in the Labour Party to a head at this stage – especially in the context of realising that May cannot see this process through. Why threaten their careers – and their future sabotaging role in a Corbyn government – to save a sinking ship?

Fundamentally neither the EU, the Tories nor the Blairites are capable of taking things forward for ordinary people. We must rely instead on our own strength. So what do we do? How can we get a Brexit in the interests of the majority in society? The question is posed of throwing open the whole process to a new approach – one that rejects the capitalist chaos we are currently watching unfold – led by new negotiators.

An open letter from leading figures in the ‘Socialist’ International – the ‘international’ of the German SPD and ex-president Hollande’s French Socialist Party and so on – appealed to Corbyn to commit to revoking Brexit if he comes to power.

Again this shows the bankruptcy of these old organisations and the need to to create a new, socialist, internationalist challenge to capitalism, including the institutions of the EU. This is the case not only here but elsewhere in Europe too – most notable in France with the inspiring Gilets Jaunes movement.

Corbyn is presented with a big opportunity by this situation – one which he must urgently seize. Key to this is to fight for a general election. The main way to do this is to call for a movement on the streets, in the workplaces and among young people.

Events in France show that when given the opportunity to get organised against the establishment in this way, people will respond.

Corbyn and the trade unions should organise now a mass campaign for a general election, starting the new year with a mass, Saturday national demonstration.

As well as fighting for a general election, Corbyn must be preparing now for one to be called at any time. He should, for example, now open the trigger ballot process – which allows for challenges to MPs for who will be the candidate in a coming election. This could allow local parties and trade union affiliates to select candidates capable of representing the hundreds of thousands who have joined Labour to back Corbyn’s anti-austerity programme.

It is also essential that Corbyn is clear that, whenever the vote on May’s deal does take place, any Labour MP voting to save May will have the whip withdrawn immediately.

Failing to quickly take this type of approach presents a big danger. Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite the Union, was right to highlight the risk of feelings of betrayal against Labour if it is seen to support a backtrack on Brexit.

And shadow chancellor John McDonnell was wrong to suggest that a general election is ‘not the most likely’ outcome of the Tory crisis. Nothing is inevitable if the huge potential power of the working class, organised though the trade union and Labour movement, is fully mobilised to fight. Such a fight is more needed and possible than for generations.

We say:

• General election now! Jeremy Corbyn and the trade unions must meet urgently to call mass action, including organising an emergency national demonstration, to kick out the Tories.

• Tories out, Corbyn in. The 2017 general election showed that an anti-austerity programme is deeply popular. Jeremy Corbyn should build on this success, adopting clear, socialist policies that can point a way forward in the interests of the 99%, including on the question of Brexit.

• No support for the Tory deal – it’s been struck in the interests of big business and the super-rich. Re-open negotiations on the basis of opposition to all EU single market and customs union rules – like those on state aid, ‘market liberalisation’, or the posted workers’ directives – that go against the interests of the working class.

• A socialist alternative to the EU. Corbyn should take as a starting point in EU negotiations the need to protect the interests of working class people. This means seeking to build a European-wide campaign of socialists and workers’ organisations to use the talks to tear up the current pro-big business rules of the EU bosses’ club.

• Nationalise the banks and major monopolies under democratic working class control and management. This could prevent attempts by the capitalist class to use economic sabotage to attempt to force Corbyn to retreat from implementing his programme. It can pave the way for a socialist plan of production in order to meet the needs of all.

• For a new collaboration of the peoples of Europe on a socialist basis – based on working class solidarity across borders.


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December 2018