Britain: General election called – Anti-austerity, socialist policies can be a winning formula

Boris Johnson and his bosses’ Brexit deal remain suspended in mid-air. Unable to govern, Johnson’s only way out has been a high-risk gamble on a general election, hoping against hope that it will win him a working majority.

The result of the election – planned for 12 December – is uncertain. Right now the polls show a lead for the Tories of around 10%. But that could melt away during the election campaign.

Johnson – like May and Cameron before him – heads a viciously anti-working class, pro-super-rich government. His bosses’ Brexit deal is not designed to ‘give back control’ to working-class people, but to give even greater control to big business to super-exploit workers and sell off public services.

The Socialist Party has been campaigning for a general election because it gives an opportunity to throw this rotten government of the super-rich out of office. This has not been the approach of the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, however.

The pro-big business ‘Tories in disguise’ who make up the right wing of the Labour Party are openly campaigning against Corbyn winning a general election. Even figures on the left of Labour – like Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell – have prioritised campaigning for a second EU referendum before a general election.


At the same time, under pressure from the pro-capitalist majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Corbyn has focused on manoeuvres in Westminster rather than mobilising the working class to get the Tories out and to bring a socialist government to power. The result is that workers have heard no clear voice fighting for their interests in parliament.

The mistakes of the Labour left have made more difficult the terrain on which the pre-Christmas election will be fought. Nonetheless, if Corbyn comes out with a fighting, socialist manifesto he could transform the situation and win the general election.

The 2017 anti-austerity manifesto could be a starting point. But the 2019 manifesto should go further.

It should also include, as part of a socialist programme, reversing all cuts to council services, scrapping Universal Credit, and a pledge to nationalise under democratic working-class control, the banks and major companies, along with those which carry out closures and job cuts in the name of Brexit or otherwise.

As the parliamentary Brexit crisis drags on, the already deep distrust of capitalist politicians is being further undermined. Prime Minister Boris Johnson strained every nerve in order to get a general election. In the process, Johnson is revealing how the capitalist class are prepared to bend, break or change their own rules whenever it suits them.

The Fixed Term Parliament Act was an undemocratic device cooked up by a previous Tory prime minister, David Cameron, in order to try and strengthen his weak coalition government. Now, heading a government so weak it cannot govern, Johnson has no hesitation in changing the law introduced by his predecessor in order to suit his interests.

Contrast that with the treatment meted out by the courts to groups of workers who, despite having an overwhelming majority for strike action, are banned from striking if the numbers who voted in the ballot are even one below the legal threshold.

Johnson succeeded in getting an election before Christmas. The task of the workers’ movement is to fight to ensure he doesn’t succeed in winning it.

Johnson’s risk

Johnson’s strategy is very high-risk. Despite his spurious claims to have ended austerity, millions of working-class people can only see a continuation of the misery imposed by successive Tory governments for almost a decade. And despite his attempt to mobilise Brexit supporters by promising “to get Brexit done” or “die in a ditch”, he has done neither!

In a general election, the Tories are likely to lose both Remain votes to the Lib Dems (19 of their 20 target seats are Tory) and pro-Brexit votes to the Brexit Party. The election result is therefore very unpredictable. But the most important factor will be the kind of campaign that left Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, runs.

Corbyn is being attacked from all sides. Not least from the pro-capitalist wing of his own party. Even the arch-Blairite Peter Mandelson was forced to recognise, however, that Corbyn’s policies are popular.

Right now those policies are being largely drowned out by the noise of the Westminster bubble. Corbyn and the Labour lefts bear a big share of the responsibility for this. Their endless attempts to compromise with the pro-capitalist Labour MPs have – as we warned – done nothing to stop the Blairities trying to undermine Corbyn. Instead, it has resulted in his anti-austerity message becoming almost inaudible.

As the 2017 snap election showed, a general election is an opportunity to change all this. If Corbyn comes out fighting with a socialist programme he can mobilise massive popular support. Calling for the immediate nationalisation of Royal Mail, for example, will be extremely popular with the postal workers who have just voted in big numbers to strike.

A pledge to kick all the profiteers out of the NHS – in contrast to Johnson’s willingness to open it up to US capitalism – would be popular with the vast majority of the population.

In the last election, Labour’s manifesto pledged to abolish tuition fees; if this was repeated and expanded on – with a promise to write off all student debt – it would enthuse millions of students and graduates. Mass council house building, nationalisation of the energy companies, an immediate minimum wage of £10 an hour for all, along with abolition of zero-hour contracts – a programme of these demands and more could electrify Britain.

On Brexit, Corbyn needs to pledge to renegotiate it in the interests of the working class – refusing to accept the EU’s pro-privatisation, pro-austerity laws. He would then be able to argue clearly in favour of his deal in any confirmatory referendum.

This programme should be combined with nationalisation of the major corporations and banks, to really take the levers of power out of the hands of the capitalist saboteurs that would otherwise do all in their power to prevent the implementation of pro-working class policies.

In the run up to the 2017 election, the Socialist Party argued that Corbyn could win if he fought on a socialist programme. At the start of the election campaign few believed us. While Corbyn did not win, he did gain 3.5 million extra votes, the biggest increase for any party in a general election since 1945. This clearly demonstrated that it was possible to kick the Tories out, provided Labour did not stand on an ‘austerity-lite’ Blairite manifesto but put forward policies in the interests of the working class.

In the coming weeks, or at most months, the workers’ movement will have another chance to get the Tories – who have driven millions into dire poverty – out of office.


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October 2019