This editorial was written at the start of a week which promised one of the biggest battles in parliament ever – a major showdown between parliament and the prime minister. Since the following editorial was published, Tory Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, suffered humiliating defeats in Westminster parliament votes on Brexit, and he went on to expel over 20 ‘rebel’ Tory MPs from his party.
Boris Johnson threw down the gauntlet when he imposed – backed up by the constitutional power of the unelected monarchy – the longest suspension of parliament in modern times.
This attempt to head off opposition to his Brexit plans came not from a position of strength but one of great weakness and precarity. His government has a majority of only one and his party’s MPs are attacking each other relentlessly.
The major divisions at the top under Theresa May continued from the outset in Johnson’s new cabinet – most of whom he didn’t even tell in advance of his move to prorogue parliament.
He even appears to have fallen out with his chosen chancellor, Sajid Javid, not helped when Javid’s media aide was suddenly sacked by Johnson’s advisor Dominic Cummings and escorted from her office by an armed police officer.
The precarity extends to Johnson himself. Faced with a significant rebellion from Tory MPs in parliament, attempting to thwart a no deal Brexit, he has felt compelled to threaten a general election on 14 October.
The sooner the better! This must be the urgent message of the trade union movement.
Tories out – no delay
Workers, young people, people struggling to get by on benefits or pensions, all need the opportunity to kick out the Tories without delay and vote in a Jeremy Corbyn-led government and much needed socialist policies.
The surest way to stop a no-deal Brexit was Corbyn’s plan of moving a no confidence vote and then leading a caretaker government which would ask for an extension of Article 50 and then move to a general election. This should have been backed up by a call from Corbyn for mass extra parliamentary protests by working-class people .
It’s a sign of the degree of panic in ruling-class circles that, despite their fear of Corbyn gaining authority as leader of a temporary government, voices were emerging in the capitalist media which reluctantly advocated that scenario.
Among them was the Financial Times (FT), which in an editorial on 29 August said: “Ousting Mr Johnson in time to affect the Brexit process may also require the creation of a caretaker government under Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.”
In Sunday’s Observer newspaper, the paper’s former editor, Will Hutton, admitted that Corbyn’s proposed interim government was the “only surefire way to stop a no-deal Brexit”, but Hutton cautioned that Corbyn should “introduce no new policies”!
Instead of adopting Corbyn’s proposals, however, the ‘rebel alliance’ decided to attempt a legislative route: seize control of the parliamentary order of business – aided by the expected defying of precedent by the Speaker of parliament – and create legislation to force Johnson if necessary to extend Article 50, i.e. postpone the 31 October withdrawal if there is still no deal with the EU by then.
Corbyn’s mistaken acquiescence to this approach has fed the false idea that the working class has some kind of common ‘national interest’ with pro-capitalist politicians, including on the Labour right, who are desperate to avoid a general election – because it might lead to Corbyn coming to power! He now needs to clearly put the fight for a general election central.
Johnson was considering ways of stopping the progress of a new law, or ignoring it if passed, or even trying to engineer a veto at EU level of an extension to Article 50. But he finally decided to challenge Tory rebel MPs with the threat of a snap election.
At the same time, he declared they will have the Tory whip removed and be deselected as election candidates if they vote against the government.
The Socialist has long been urging Corbyn to decisively move against Labour MPs who vote in opposition to policies which can aid the transformation of Labour in a socialist direction – by forcing them to face reselection contests. This prospect is regarded as beyond the pale by Labour’s Blairite MPs, backed by other pro-capitalist MPs and the capitalist establishment.
The fact that this action is now being imposed by the present group at the top of the Tory party – historically the main party of British capitalism – should serve to spur on trade unionists and other workers to firmly reject all hypocritical howls aimed against deselection. In the labour movement this should be done on a democratic basis – asserting the will of the rank-and-file majority over their representatives.
This is not to say, though, that the capitalist class overall supports Johnson’s actions.
Much of big business is clearly alarmed and some enraged or in despair as the disruption of a no deal Brexit looms ever larger. The lengthy prorogation of parliament was described as an “act of constitutional vandalism” by the FT.
The FT also expressed angst about what Johnson is doing to the reputation of western capitalist democracy, saying: “If Mr Johnson’s prorogation ploy succeeds, Britain will forfeit any right to lecture other countries on their democratic shortcomings.”
While democratic rights in capitalist society have been hard-won and must be defended, for the ruling class ‘democracy’ has always, in reality, been one of the tools it uses to help obscure from view its power to rule in its own class interests.
It bears no relation to what genuine democracy would be like in a socialist society. Capitalist media, like the FT, are warning about the consequences of more exposure of the limits of capitalist institutions and democracy, which have already faced growing levels of mistrust and disillusionment.
A vast number of different scenarios are still possible between now and the 31 October withdrawal date, such is the extreme volatility of this prolonged crisis faced by British capitalism.
Johnson, on his part, in a right-wing populist manner portrays himself as ‘with the people’, and in conflict with the divided parliament and the capitalist establishment. A YouGov poll taken after his prorogation move showed a slight majority of Tory voters and Leave voters viewing his action as acceptable.
However, this Eton-educated millionaire has only an eleventh hour, mark two, Tory-negotiated Brexit deal possibly on offer, or alternatively a ‘no deal’ Brexit, neither of which will in reality satisfy the millions of working-class Leave voters, when the aftermath is arrived at.
Corbyn has rightly warned again this week that, given the chance, Johnson’s government will enter into race-to-the-bottom free market trade deals that will only benefit big business.
The spending promises being announced this week are clearly aimed at trying to win the coming election not at genuinely addressing people’s needs. Then afterwards, if they win, the Tories would turn back to inflicting austerity.
Preparation is therefore urgent in the workers’ movement, not just for ensuring an immediate general election and the election of a Corbyn-led government, but for the vital period after that, when all cuts must be reversed and living standards for working-class and middle-class people set on a path of rapid improvement.
This would need to include Corbyn negotiating an exit deal with the EU from the standpoint of working-class interests.
Counter ‘Boris bounce’
The ‘Boris bounce’ has put the Tories ahead for now in the opinion polls. But if Corbyn were to dynamically campaign on his programme of ending austerity, reversing benefit cuts, abolishing universal credit, building social housing, scrapping tuition fees, extending workers’ rights and nationalising gas, electricity, rail and Royal Mail, it would be possible to once again overturn the Tories’ lead and this time win a general election.
Calls by Momentum leaders for the holding of rallies and the blocking of roads are grossly insufficient and no substitute for a big mobilisation of the organised workers’ movement – the six million workers in trade unions – for a general election and a Corbyn-led government.
Corbyn and the left trade union leaders have a vital role to play, which cannot be just responding to ongoing events and waiting for the government to collapse.
A bold offensive is needed, firstly by the TUC naming the day for a huge mass demonstration of trade unionists, drawing in the millions of others who will benefit from socialist policies.
Then building and escalating that movement and basing it on democratic discussion and decision-making at rank-and-file level in the trade unions and in a Labour Party being transformed in a socialist direction.
Leaders must be accountable to those who elect them, including MPs in Parliament who should only take the wage of a worker. All of this would mean the right kind of preparation is underway.