A weather-vane not a signpost

Submitted by AWL on 8 January, 2020 - 12:31 Author: Jim Denham
labour remain

Any socialist who didn’t feel sick to the stomach on the morning of 13 December has something seriously wrong with them.

But the reaction of the Morning Star and its political masters, the Communist Party of Britain went beyond that and verged upon grief and hysteria.

Instead of studying the polling evidence for the reasons, they lashed out at the only (supposed) “cause” of defeat they could countenance — Labour Remainers. Their hysteria even involved an element of perverse gloating. The 14-15 December Morning Star used its front page to crow (in large block capitals) that “Remain is Over”, quoting two union leaders (Dave Ward of the CWU and Kevin Courtney of the NEU), neither of whom has any noticeable record of actually campaigning for Brexit/”Lexit” within the labour movement.

The same paper’s editorial bleated that “Labour’s leader was the first to call for Article 50 to be triggered after the referendum result in 2016, and long resisted the efforts to trap his party in a Remain box. Had Labour paid more attention to its leader, it might not have suffered such devastating losses this week.”

But perhaps the most bizarre rant came in an article (“Labour’s Brexit position was the decisive issue”, MS 23 December) by Daniel Kebede (an NEU union official), who raged that “some people central to this defeat need to go”, naming John McDonnell as the chief culprit, followed by ... “the Alliance for Workers Liberty and Blairites, with a handful in between.”

Kebede went on to name “Michael Chessum, Another Europe is Possible, the AWL etc. — basically all those who branded Leave voters as little England racists — [and who] have no interest in building unity or solidarity.”

We’ll leave aside, for the moment, the repeated claim by “left” Leavers that Remainers have branded all Leave voters “racists”, and ask Mr Kebede and his Stalinist friends, to explain how all those who were willing to vote for the Tories and Brexit Party could be won to a Labour Brexit that would, in any case have been be denounced as “Brexit in name only”?

And what about the 68% of Labour’s voters, including those in the Midlands and North of England (the so-called “red wall” areas) who voted to Remain? How could Leave have ever become party policy when the overwhelming majority of Labour members support Remain?

The answer, of course, is that it couldn’t. And because it couldn’t it wasn’t, although this did not prevent the likes of the CPB, the Star and Mr Kebede declaring the need for the impossible — open Labour support for Brexit.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that these people never fought openly within the party for Leave, relying instead upon bleatings in the Morning Star, the dishonest “LeFT” campaign (that dared not spell out its true “no-deal” position) and bureaucratic manoeuvrings at the 2019 Labour conference, landing us with an unsatisfactory compromise that convinced almost no one.

The bitter truth, that the Star and most other pro-Brexit “leftists” cannot face, is that (to the best of my knowledge) not a single CLP put a pro-Brexit motion to Labour conference, and neither of the two pro-Brexit affiliated unions (Aslef and BFAWU) ever proposed such a policy. Nor did Len McCluskey, for all his “Brexity” posturing in the Star and elsewhere. These people had no confidence whatsoever in their own ideas.

The idea that there was an otherwise-politically-neutral pro-Brexit electoral constituency waiting to be corralled by either left or right is plainly nonsense. Most people who were committed to Brexit as their overriding concern were not going to vote for a “Labour Brexit”. They wanted the fully leaded version.

Otherwise-Labour-aligned people who backed Leave should have been treated with respect and given honest arguments. They knew that Labour had been pushed, bit by bit — by steady rank-and-file pressure on the reluctant leadership — into a de facto Remain position. All the evidence is that trying to appease pro-Leave voters did no good. In fact, it only served to bring Labour into contempt when, in heavily-Leave constituencies, Labour (known to be pro-Remain) said: “Just for you, we can sing a different song”.

Arguing the issues honestly is not a magic answer. But it is the only answer compatible with serious politics: the only answer compatible with building a movement that wins trust and the right to a hearing.

One Morning Star contributor, (Alex Birch, December 17) in an otherwise unimpressive article entitled “Lexit would have won it” used the memorable phrase “any social democratic project must be a signpost, not a weather-vane”.

What a pity that Alex Birch, like the rest of the people in and around the Star and the CPB, don’t seem to understand the essential difference between signposts and weather-vanes.

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