Regroup! Fight the Tories every inch of the way!

Submitted by martin on 13 December, 2019 - 3:13 Author: Editorial
defend migrants stop boris

Workers' Liberty activists worked hard, with our local Labour Parties and with Labour for a Socialist Europe, to win the 12 December election for Labour.

Like hundreds of thousands of other labour-movement people, we are dismayed by the victory for the Tories, especially for a Tory party which has been sharply ratcheted to the right twice in recent years, once when May took over and then again, more so, after Boris Johnson became leader.

We argue that the labour movement must:

• Fight the Tories every inch of the way
• Renovate our movement. Argue openly for socialism. Turn the Labour Party outwards. Rebuild the base of the labour and trade-union movement.
• Campaign for migrant rights and free movement. Build Europe-wide solidarity. Fight for European unity, for Britain to rejoin the EU, for labour movements and the left across Europe to transform the EU.

Boris Johnson's Tories have no specially good formula to "get Brexit done". Their scheme is, even from a halfway rational pro-Brexit bourgeois viewpoint, worse than Theresa May's, and leaves the new Tory government with huge problems to negotiate in the next year or so.

But they were able to use Brexit well to get the Tories won.

The advance of right-wing demagogic nationalist politics since the crash of 2008 is not new in Britain. Or internationally - Trump, Modi, Erdogan, Orban, Bolsonaro, Salvini. New in Britain is the Johnson Tories' success in capturing and channelling it to the benefit of a solid, major, well-established party.

Ukip - which won more votes than any other party in the 2014 Euro-election - has almost disappeared. The Brexit party, which triumphed in the 2019 Euro-election, is down to a tiny vote.

The Tories got only 300,000 more votes on 12 December 2019 than in 2017. But Johnson vacuumed up the pro-Brexit vote from Ukip, Brexit party, and resentful Labour leavers. The pro-Brexit vote was a minority, but concentrated on the Tories.

What little the Tories' manifesto contained other than "get Brexit done", they scarcely mentioned in the campaign.

As with the rise of right-wing demagogic nationalist politics in other countries, the catchment conquered by the Tories is weighted towards smaller towns, generally in economic decline and with a weak trade-union presence, often with ageing populations short on the formal educational credentials so much stipulated now for access to jobs.

Evidence, both statistical from surveys and anecdotal from conversations, is that not many people believe that Brexit will bring big economic or other gains. The "get Brexit done" slogan, the appeal to voters to blast a way for Brexit through the alleged treacherous obstruction of "the elites", gained traction, not because of a wide belief in consequent gains, but because it provided a "big idea", a narrative.

Labour would have tended to lose votes on the Brexit issue, one way or another, whatever we said. A walking-backwards, shuffling, ambiguous, evasive line probably maximised the losses. Labour lost pro-Brexit votes to the Tories, and anti-Brexit votes to the Lib-Dems, SNP, and Greens, all of which increased their share.

A clear, principled pro-Remain policy would not have stopped a contingent of pro-Brexit voters - a lot of them, probably, people who have gone with Ukip or the Brexit party at points in the past - from veering to the Tories. But it would have the merit of treating those voters as thinking people, rather than visibly trying to manipulate them. And so it would have the possibility of winning back a chunk of them.

Some Labour people are now blaming us "Remainiacs". It makes no sense. Do they mean Labour should have supported May's deal? Or did they have a sparkling "left Brexit" option up their sleeves? If so, why didn't they propose it? In Parliament? Or at the Labour Party conference in September? Actually the Labour pro-Brexiters hardly ever proposed anything more than evasion.

A decisive Labour Leave position could not have won over Remainers. It would have seemed shifty after Labour's Remain stance in 2016. Even apart from being unprincipled, it would have lost even more votes for Labour than the evasive line.

As it was, Labour appeared "indecisive". A manifesto packed with good left-wing policies - and Labour comes across as "indecisive", weak, dithering!

Many voters agreed with Labour's policies for reversing cuts and extending public ownership and tackling climate change. The sad fact is that considerably fewer believed that Labour could and would carry them through.

For most of the time since 2017, Labour had narrowed down its message to little more than reversing cuts to the police. A new broad agenda could not be established and win trust just through a string of "announcements" dropped onto the electorate in the few weeks and days before polling day. Especially not after a long period of trade-union retreat has left many people deeply unconfident about winning progress "from below".

Many of the policies could have won confidence and support if the central party machine had campaigned for them, and rallied our membership to campaign for them, over the years instead of the days before the election. But it didn't.

Johnson's Brexit deal - a bad deal even in bourgeois Brexit terms - does not become good just because he could rally a much bigger contingent of the pro-Brexit minority of voters than Labour could of the anti-Brexit majority.

Many in the Labour Party will want to stop talking about Brexit now. Labour can't do that even if it wants to. The coming months will see a string of legislation trying to implement the details of Johnson's Brexit. Labour should fight every inch of that way, and with a clear alternative: continued support for European integration, for free movement, and for democratic and social transformation across Europe.

The Tories have also promised yet another law against strikes, one making it legally compulsory to keep running a basic service in transport strikes. Labour must fight that every inch of the way, too.

Labour came to be seen as dithering and demagogic for other reasons than Brexit. One was the dithering on antisemitism. The other was Labour's failure to establish an alternative "big idea", an alternative overall narrative.

In the 2017 general election, faced with a wooden Tory leadership muttering "strong and stable, strong and stable", Labour could gain votes even with the bland old Blairite formula "for the many, not the few".

Voters then mostly took it as almost certain that Brexit would go through, and although Labour appeared Remain-ish (despite our small print), that wasn't a big vote-swaying issue. Labour could surf on the work that anti-cuts campaigns and demonstrations had done since 2010 to project a clear story: vote Labour, stop and reverse the cuts.

This time Labour (rightly) had a more complex message, and confronted a more nimble Tory party.

Even Tony Blair said he was for "social-ism", being careful to add the hyphen. Even the right-wing Labour Party of the 1950s routinely promised socialism, though picturing it as a matter of gradually infusing society with socialist "values".

This time, despite the left-wing manifesto, Labour made no general argument for socialism, not even blurred and diluted. John McDonnell said that the aim was not overthrowing capitalism but "transforming it into a new form". Jeremy Corbyn, asked if socialism was better than capitalism, said only that socialism could bring improvements for "the very poorest" if done "in a certain way". He cited Scandinavia as an example, when everyone knows that Scandinavia has steadily become less "socialist" (even in the weakest sense) in recent decades.

There are no short-cuts around convincing a majority of an alternative big picture in politics. That is the work of years, not of days. And it is a matter of building a movement, not just of more adroit "messaging" to be issued from wonk-offices.

Labour has boasted incessantly about our 500,000 membership. Labour's activist base has increased since the great slump of the Blair years. But the labour movement, as a movement, is still weak.

Back in September 2018, we sounded the alarm after research findings by academics at Queen Mary University of London.

"Even after the Corbyn surge, which has swelled Labour membership to a size not seen for decades, the average age of Labour members is 53, only a bit below the Tories' average of 57.

"More Labour members (29%) are over 65 than are under 44 (28%). Only 4% of Labour members are under 24 - a lower figure even than the Tories' 5%...

"Of those who are members on paper, 41% said they had had no face-to-face (rather than electronic) contact with other Labour Party members - although the survey was done straight after the [2017] general election, which must have mobilised some previously inactive people - and only 28% said they had 'frequent' face-to-face communication.

"Asked how they'd come to join, only 4% said they had joined because approached by someone from their local Labour Party".

Meanwhile, there was no "Corbyn surge" of any sort in the unions. The unions have continued sagging since 2015.

The Corbyn Labour Party, oddly, has done less street-demonstrating than the Michael Foot Labour Party of the early 1980s, or the right-wing Gaitskell Labour Party of the second half of the 1950s.

The chances created by Corbyn's 2015 breakthrough to re-knit the labour movement, and the connecting tissues between the movement and workplaces and communities, so damaged by the defeats of the 1980s and the stresses of industrial restructuring, have largely been missed. Most of the Democracy Review was shelved. Labour still lacks a functioning youth movement and student wing as much as it did in the Blair-Brown years.

Labour needs clear and convinced politics, and it needs to rebuild the whole fabric of the labour movement, including a youth and workplace base, to have the means to win people over to politics adequate to the climate emergency and the inequality crisis.

We need to break from the top-down, manipulative modes of politics which the Stalinist-staffed Leader's Office has carried over, despite all the differences, from the old Blairite days, and which have poisoned the potential of the Corbyn surge.

We will resist attempts to wind back on Labour's anti-cuts and public-ownership policies, or to swing Labour to being an outright pro-Brexit party. We will resist appeals to exonerate the Leader's Office and rally round it unquestioningly. We will fight for the limited reopening since 2015 of Labour's democratic channels closed by Blair to be maintained and extended.

It can be still be done. Many will be despondent after Boris Johnson's victory. But he does not have a workable policy. The economic outlook is poor. Many of his voters radically distrust him except maybe on Brexit. The majority of the ruling class, even though they gritted their teeth and voted for him, think he is an unreliable charlatan. They are pressing him now to "betray" the Tory hard-right as he has already "betrayed" the DUP.

Johnson is still far from gaining the grip of a British Orban. There will be conflicts in the enemy camp, and resistance which give us openings - if we hold firm and remobilise ourselves.

The guards on South Western Railway, the university lecturers preparing their second round of strikes, the postal workers preparing to reballot, already give us a lot to rally round and build on. So do the tasks of supporting and linking up with the mass strikes in France. The answer to global capitalism is, now as before, not retreat behind national borders, but to build a cross-border socialist movement based in the working class.

Fight the Tories every inch of the way!

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