EU election: a second Brexit referendum. Do we really need a third?

Britain’s Labour-Tory two-party political monopoly is cracking under the pressure of Brexit.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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The polling stations for the 23 May 2019 European Union election had barely closed, and the first results were not yet announced, when
Theresa May succumbed to the overwhelming pressure and announced that she would resign as prime minister, finally stepping down on 7 June.

For some time now Mrs May has been labelled a ‘zombie prime minister’, holding office but not power. Yet in every meaningful sense she is a typical and representative Tory, and it is unlikely that her successor will fare much better, as s/he too struggles to formulate a strategy to deal with the poisoned chalice that is Brexit.

In an uncharacteristically teary speech delivered outside 10 Downing Street – tears of personal defeat and frustrated ambition that moved few, even among her supporters – she admitted to the watching world that her time was up.

A lamentable ‘legacy’

Sketching her perceived ‘legacy’, May claimed, in the opening lines of her resignation speech, to have “striven to make the UK a country that works not just for a privileged few but for everyone”. But surely even she must realise that this is stretching the credulity of everyone living and working in Britain to breaking-point?

Less than a year ago, in September 2018, the parliamentary ‘social metrics’ commission reported that 14.2 million Britons, a fifth of the population, are living in poverty. This includes 4.5 million, or one third of all our nation’s children. Another 2.5 million workers are subsisting barely above the definition of poverty, and 1.5 million are destitute, being unable to afford basic essentials. (A third of British children live in poverty, cpgb-ml.org, 13 December 2018)

The fact is that May has changed nothing in this regard – a legacy of which Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud! But in fact it is not in the power of a British prime minister to act against the interests and wishes of the capitalist class, and so of course the employers have continued to try and weather the world-economic crisis by heaping misery onto the backs of workers.

Consequently, May’s premiership has seen huge increases in poverty among the working class, many of whom are suffering privation, unemployment, underemployment and record levels of in-work poverty.

Perhaps she can claim to be the greatest friend of the food-bank charities, which have flourished in proportion to our plummeting living standards.

When stating that she has “completed the work that David Cameron and George Osborne started” with respect to the deficit and austerity, she can truthfully claim to have honoured Cameron’s vision of a ‘Big Society’ in which housing, healthcare, services, employment rights and wages are cut, to be replaced by reliance on handouts from the benevolent rich to the deserving poor (as defined by their good benefactors). Victorian values at their finest.

Fighting for equality?

May claimed to have fought against racism, and for equality and justice. Many found this particularly hard to stomach in view of her longstanding vitriolic campaign against immigrants and asylum seekers, both as home secretary and as prime minister.

It was, after all, specifically herhostile environment’ policy that declared thousands of British citizens of Caribbean origin, who have lived and worked in Britain since the 1950s and 60s, to be here ‘illegally’ simply because they had never needed passports.

As well as those who were illegally deported, a number of black Britons were illegally detained, lost their jobs or homes, or were denied benefits or medical care to which they were entitled. To what end?

These policies are not accidental, but go hand in hand with the wider austerity attacks on British workers. They are the means to scapegoat and point the finger of blame back at the workers themselves: “It’s migrant workers, not capitalists, who are responsible for your misery,” is the clear message that rings out from the hostile immigration regime.

And it was public outrage, not some deeper sense of ‘justice’ or wish for ‘equality’, that forced May’s humiliating climbdown over the Windrush scandal last year.

Grenfell compounded

The Grenfell fire was not just a tragedy – it was a crime.

It was the deliberate actions of the Tory councillors of Kensington and the management organisation they created – the Kensington and Chelsea Tenants Management Organisation (KCTMO) – as well as decades of mayoral and government policy toward social housing and the poor – including cuts to overall housing provision and the fire service, unpardonable health and safety shortcuts, reduced inspections of building work, failure to install a sprinkler system so as to save a few pounds, contracting and subcontracting to unaccountable third and fourth parties, applying the cheapest unsafe cladding for cosmetic reasons for the benefit of the rich neighbours and ignoring the interests and protests of working-class residents – that led to the deaths of hundreds of workers in that terrible conflagration, which deeply moved and outraged the entire nation.

The insult of failing to account for the whereabouts of many of the known and suspected victims in order to minimise the death toll, and the weary dragging out of the interminable public enquiry, remain open sores.

So it is hardly surprising that May’s own assessment of her creditable performance in setting up an “independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, to search for the truth so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten” drew outrage from the families of the Grenfell victims.

This enquiry is not searching for truth – it is a delaying tactic to abate the overwhelming anger of the workers of Britain; to weather the storm of outrage of the oppressed, and preserve the exploitative status quo.

We could continue in this vein with May’s contribution to the long list of bourgeois crimes and failures – which she and other colleagues likely view as successes. But these are just ‘business as usual’ in any capitalist administration. So let us get to the heart of the matter.

Brexit iceberg sinks May

Earlier in the week, May had declared her intent in the Commons to hold a fourth ‘meaningful vote’ on her infamous Brexit deal (slightly amended, but in substance unchanged). Her resignation was the result of the slow dawn of realisation that the deal was a dead duck – a conclusion that much of the world had reached after her historic defeat over meaningful vote number one back in January.

For months, May had appeared to be blind to this obvious fact. Stubbornly, she had hung on, oblivious to the impasse.

Remainers allege that May was a hardline Brexiter, and that she therefore made no effort to control the Brexiteers wing of her party. But her attempt to reach rapprochement with the Labour party, which is 99 percent pro-remain, in an attempt to snub the referendum and force her Brexit-in-name-only (Brino) deal through, is more indicative of her true position.

Naturally, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and co were never going to throw a lifeline to an enemy PM just so she could save her political career. Neither is the Labour party ever likely to vote for any kind of Brexit – even a Brexit in name only such as Mrs May’s deal.

Instead, Mr Corbyn played the game of attempting to look like a serious bourgeois politician, willing to reach a consensus ‘in the national interest’. The Labour leadership claimed it only withdrew from the talks when it became evident the two parties would be unable to reach a deal owing to the failings of the dying Tory government. Such is the narrative advanced by Islington Labour.

Following the breakdown in talks with the Labour leadership, and the tepid response to her announcement of a fourth vote in Parliament, the Conservative party was finally galvanised into ousting their discredited leader. In her final days, bereft of support, May became a recluse, hiding in number 10 and refusing even to see members of her cabinet.

In the words of The Thick of It spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker: “This is the ending of a chapter of a very thin book that nobody enjoyed reading.”

The election that should not have been – Tory and Labour receive a drubbing at the hands of the Brexit party

Bourgeois politics cannot solve the problems of workers. That is abundantly clear. But Brexit, we maintain, will weaken British, US and EU imperialism.

This is not equivalent to working-class salvation, which can only grow from working-class power and policy (not to be confused with Labour party policy, which is entirely bourgeois). But weakening or breaking the EU will create more favourable conditions for the struggle, and for this reason we advocated a vote for leave in the 2016 referendum.

For the same reason, we considered this EU election, held after the 29 March 2019 deadline for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, to be in essence a second referendum – a chance for workers to demand the fulfilment of Brexit.

For all the criticisms of Brexit party leader Nigel Farage – some valid, many less so (he himself is evidently no more far-right racist or fascist, even if the odd follower is, than many members of the Conservative and Labour parties) – what cannot be denied is that he has been a most consistent voice for Brexit.

From a standing start, and campaigning entirely on the single issue of leaving the European Union on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms (ie, for a no-deal Brexit in which Britain actually leaves the EU common market and political framework) in accordance with the result of the 2016 referendum, his party scored a resounding success that has shaken the complacency of Britain’s two-party political system.

Juxtapose this with the Brexit party’s remain counterpart, Change UK. The breakaway parliamentary group had its logo rejected by the electoral commission and changed its name twice in quick succession. This is a group with no substance, no shred of ideology or values, and no platform other than overturning the referendum result.

And the one thing its members were supposed to be good at – political presentation (ie, public relations) – proved to be entirely beyond their reach, despite the natural predisposition of much of the media towards their party’s line (such as it was). No-one will be surprised if the group soon ceases to exist, or is quietly absorbed by the resurgent LibDems.

Following the LibDems’ tuition fees betrayal and its role in forming an austerity government with David Cameron’s Tories, the party had lost all credibility amongst its former voters. But now, in an act of political resuscitation, Brexit has breathed new life into its decaying carcass.

Having successfully rebranded itself as the unequivocal party of remain, it has been facilitated in its resurrection by the inability of Corbyn’s Labour to take a clear position on Brexit, trying instead to hide behind a message of ‘national unity’ that united no-one.

Mr Corbyn, to his credit, has been a lifelong leaver, albeit at a time when no-one seemed much interested in either the question of the EU in general, or in his opinion in particular. He now finds himself, to his own surprise and others’, leading a parliamentary party that is at odds with his view on this, the traditional working-class view.

While Labour MPs and members are overwhelmingly remainers, some five million traditional Labour voters are in favour of Brexit. Trying to please both sides, Corbyn’s Labour has found itself walking down the ‘middle of the road’, only to be knocked down from both directions.

Such are the contradictions within the Labour party – a party which our revisionist and Trotskyist friends continue to assure us will lead Britain to ‘socialism’!

It was crystal clear in the run-up to the European election that the Conservatives were heading for disaster, and were likely to get a kicking from Farage’s new Brexit party. This fact had been obvious to anyone paying attention to the opinion polls from the moment the party launched.

When the results were announced, the Brexit party claimed 29 of the UK’s 72 MEP seats (they did not stand in the occupied six counties of the north of Ireland). The party topped the polls in every region they contended bar London (which remains a haven for remain), and took a whopping 31.4 percent of the national vote (on a relatively low turnout of just under 37 percent – although this is higher than usual for an EU election).

In fact, the Brexit party is now the largest party in the entire European parliament – and its MEPs join a growing anti-EU bloc elected from countries across the continent. About one-third of the 751 newly-elected MEPs are eurosceptic.

Moreover, although President Emanuel Macron of France has been hailed as the parliament’s new ‘kingmaker’, in recognition of his Renaissance party’s position leading the largest bloc in Brussels, in the French election his party was beaten into second place by the eurosceptic National Rally led by Marine Le Pen. (Eurosceptic parties reshape EU politics after strongest showing in European elections by James Crisp, The Telegraph, 27 May 2019)

The turnout for the election across Europe was just over 50 percent, the highest in 20 years, signifying not engagement with Europe but a growing anger at EU-imposed austerity and kleptocracy.

The LibDems, meanwhile, having clearly flown the flag of remain, took 20 seats and 20.3 percent of the vote, pushing Labour into third place with 10 seats and 14.1 percent. The Green party, which had also campaigned on a remain platform, as well as on the issue of climate change, came fourth, taking seven seats and 12.1 percent of the vote, battering the Tories into a humiliating fifth place, as they clung to just four seats (down from 18!) and a derisory 9.1 percent of the national vote, failing to top the ballot in a single electoral constituency.

For any ruling party – and for the British ruling class’s preferred party of rule for some two centuries in particular – this was more than a defeat; it was an absolute mauling. Commentators were quick to point out that it was, in fact, the Tory party’s worst performance at the ballot box since 1832.

In a long list of humiliations, the following were particularly notable:

– Syed Kamall, leader of the Europe-wide European Conservatives and Reformists group, lost his seat in London.

– Ashley Fox, leader of the Tory group in the Brussels parliament, lost his seat in the south-west.

– Prominent right-wing Tory Brexiter and MEP Daniel Hannan, who retained his south-east seat, said that the delay to Brexit had blighted the Tory campaign.

In fact, Brexit threatens to destroy the Conservative party completely if it is not resolved soon – a fact that is now being openly acknowledged.

“The future of the Conservative party could be in doubt unless it manages to deliver Brexit, leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt has warned. The foreign secretary acknowledged the very existence of the party he hopes to lead could be threatened by the Brexit backlash after the Tories secured just nine percent of the vote in England and Wales.” (Conservative party existence ‘under threat’ after worst ever European election result, Jeremy Hunt admits by Jason Collie, Evening Standard, 27 May 2019)

In Scotland, the Scottish National party (SNP) dominated, receiving 37.7 percent of the vote, echoing the region’s majority remain vote in the 2016 referendum, although the Brexit party did manage to take a seat alongside the Liberals and Tories. Whilst historically it seems incredible, yet is all-too understandable in context, here Labour, in one of its former heartlands, failed to take a single seat.

In Wales, formerly a communist stronghold and a long-time Labour party bastion, Labour was beaten into third place behind the Brexit party and Plaid Cymru.

Don’t speak too fast, for the wheel’s still in spin!

This triumph of the new Brexit party in a national election has sent a clear message to our rulers: British workers, having voted for Brexit, are extremely disillusioned with the failure of Westminster parliamentary democracy to deliver it, and wish to send a clear rebuke to the governing parties – Tory and Labour alike – for their failure to implement the result of the 2016 referendum.

But the BBC, the Guardian and other pillars of Britain’s ‘objective’ and ‘impartial’ media, still batting heavily for remain, went into an immediate PR overdrive even as the election results were being announced.

Former Labour spin-doctor and Tony Blair ally Alistair Campbell was invited onto the BBC’s election programme, and the audience was treated to long diatribes from this notorious war criminal about how Labour must now adopt an unequivocally remain position, and how there must be a second referendum (or is that now a third referendum?), during which Labour should campaign for remain.

Campbell went on to say that he had personally voted LibDem (for which he was promptly expelled from the Labour party), and that his interpretation of the election result was that by adding up the votes for LibDem, Green, Plaid Cymru, SNP and Change UK, the result was in fact a clear victory … for remain! (Alastair Campbell says Labour expulsion was discriminatory by Ben Quinn, The Guardian, 31 May 2019)

The BBC was absolutely complicit in pushing this message, as all its coverage since the election has shown. See for example the following, which was accompanied by a pretty bar chart to illustrate the point:

“Anti-Brexit parties – those in favour of another referendum – collectively took about 40 percent of the vote, compared with 35 percent for the Brexit party and Ukip, both in favour of leaving the EU without a deal.

“Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said he was ‘pleasantly surprised’ by his party’s ‘very good result’.

“He added that there was ‘a majority of people in the country who don’t want to leave the European Union now’.” (European elections 2019: Brexit party dominates as Tories and Labour suffer, 27 May 2019)

Such a conclusion neatly disregards the overwhelmingly pro-Brexit Tory voters (the Tories’ remain voters having deserted to the LibDems and the Greens) and the significant percentage of Labour voters who are also Brexiters.

Adding only the Tory vote to the leave camp in this spurious equation would cause the leave vote to rise to a 5-6 percent advantage over remain in what was clearly regarded by voters and observers alike as a ‘soft’ referendum.

And that is leaving aside the huge numbers of working-class people who stayed away from the polls in disgust or disillusionment – having drawn the inevitable conclusion from the government’s failure to deliver Brexit that their votes don’t count and there is therefore no point in engaging with the electoral process even in protest.

Indeed, so widespread has this feeling become that many political commentators are starting to worry about its impact on British society. After all, if the very poorest don’t vote that’s perfectly acceptable to our rulers, who don’t have to bother even pretending to look out for their interests, but if the number of abstentions rises too high, the whole system of bourgeois democracy starts to look a little less convincing – and when too many workers start to distrust the ballot box as a solution to their problems, that clearly threatens the stability of the capitalists’ rule.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends?

In Scotland, the results are being used by the political elite to bring back the question of Scottish ‘independence’ to the forefront of political discourse, with the SNP’s victory being used in conjunction with Scotland’s majority remain vote in 2016 to reassert the nationalists’ case.

However, the fact remains that ‘independence’ within the EU (and Nato) is a misnomer. When your economic policy is dictated by Brussels, your foreign policy by Washington, and 70 percent of your laws are made by the unelected bureaucrats of a banking-capitalist caste, you do not have independence. The workers of Greece can testify to the fate of ‘small’ (ie, less powerful) nations within the EU imperialist alliance.

Like all true bourgeois ‘democrats’, the SNP accepts the results of every election it wins and rejects the result every time it loses – just as do its equivalents in the USA (remember Bush and Florida? or Obama and Trump in relation to Venezuela?) and Europe (Ireland, Denmark, Netherlands, France and now Britain have all voted either to leave the EU or against ratification of the EU constitution).

And, of course, this is also the approach of the remain lobby in Britain.

The SNP knew before the Brexit referendum that it would be a Britain-wide vote – that is how national elections work. As in a general election, just because one constituency votes Labour, that does not mean the constituency in question ceases to be part of the state if a Conservative government is elected overall; nor is this proof that its residents were ignored.

The unpalatable (for those pushing to overturn the Brexit referendum) fact is that the election result was another overwhelming vote for Brexit in general, and for a WTO, or no-deal Brexit in particular.

Labour comes out for remain

It is quite evident that the ruling-class elite remains determined to frustrate Brexit, and the fact that our rulers have mobilised former first-stringers (but now widely discredited war criminals) such as Alistair Campbell and Tony Blair shows the extent of their concern that they may be losing control of the narrative. It smacks, indeed, of desperation.

Despite Campbell’s expulsion and Corbyn’s ‘leadership’, it is Campbell’s line that the Labour party is adopting: the line of a so-called ‘confirmatory vote’ – a second referendum in anyone else’s language.

This position was made clear on the night of the election count by figures including Jeremy Corbyn himself, shadow chancellor John McDonnell and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry. Having latched gratefully onto the idea that it was LibDems and remain voters who decimated their vote, rather than the party’s betrayal of the Brexit referendum and its five million Brexit-supporting voters – and studiously ignoring the fact that the Brexit party topped virtually every poll – Labour is now confirming itself as an outright party of remain, ditching the ‘soft Brexit’ line it has for so long tried to hold.

The closer we approach to the new 31 October deadline for exiting the EU, the louder will be the disgruntled remainers’ voices as they struggle to overturn Brexit. The cognitive dissonance displayed by those calling themselves ‘liberals’ and ‘democrats’ but who will stop at nothing to defy the largest democratic mandate in recent British history, is jarring, to say the least.

Their assertion that the British people were too stupid to know what they were voting for must surely have lost whatever credibility it had after these latest results. So entrenched are the liberal remainers in their own view, however, so trapped in the Westminster bubble and the London echo chamber, that they still seem to have no idea of the real anger and sense of betrayal pervading the rest of the country.

But this sense of political entitlement and moral superiority could prove to be their downfall. The antagonisms between the masses and traditional two-party bourgeois politics look set to further deepen as the new Brexit deadline approaches. The further entrenched the elites become, the more they expose themselves and the sham democracy they represent, and the further they push the people away.

What next?

In this situation, it will surprise no-one if the EU election results are replicated in a general election (something political commentators are at present trying desperately to reassure themselves could never happen).

“Nigel Farage has claimed he could win the next general election if Conservative leadership candidates fail to deliver Brexit by the end of October, as his party topped the European polls in the UK.

“The Brexit party leader said he had no trust in Boris Johnson or any of the other Tory hopefuls to deliver Brexit, as he pledged to field 650 candidates to stand for Westminster office.

“Farage told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: ‘The next date is 31 October. That will become as big a day in people’s minds as 29 March. If we don’t leave on 31 October, then we can expect to see the Brexit party’s success last night continue into the next general election.’” (Farage warns Tories Brexit party could win general election by Rowena Mason, Amy Walker and Matthew Weaver, The Guardian, 27 May 2019)

Again, we emphasise: Brexit will not solve the problems of the working class; only workers themselves can do that by taking power into their own hands. But in order to set out on that road, a thorough political crisis of confidence in bourgeois leaders, their political rule, and their economic system is required.

British workers must break with their old tribal allegiances to the well-marketed but closely allied brands of their oppressors – Labour, LibDem and Tory alike – and learn to put their own interests, and those of the international proletariat, first.

Nigel Farage has his own reasons for wanting to take Britain out of the EU. His reasons are not ours, but he has unwittingly struck at a weak point of our ruling imperialist class, and we should help him to drive home the spear.

Failure to deliver a no-deal Brexit could well result in many Brexit party MPs getting elected to Parliament, possibly even to its becoming the largest party at Westminster, in what will likely be another hung parliament or minority government.

It is not out of the question that while Farage wipes out the Tories, Labour could limp on to form a Corbyn administration. In which case, the myth of ‘left Labour’ as a vehicle for socialism will be swiftly shattered. Either of these outcomes is to be welcomed.

Only those whose parliamentary cretinism and social-democratic Labour party loyalty are unshakable pillars of faith, and whose belief in the working class is pitifully low, would lament these blows to stable capitalist rule in Britain.

Whilst the bourgeoisie recoils in fear at this prospect, and tries to encourage us to do the same, we instead remember the words of Mao Zedong as he assessed the opportunities for working-class advance in pre-revolutionary China: “Everything under heaven is in utter chaos; the situation is excellent.”