The British Road to Brexit

Photo: Gary Knight

Jeremy Corbyn’s papacy of Labour’s broad church has been successful in keeping together all the party’s doctrinal strands and potentially schismatic sects writes Andy Stowe. MPs like Kate Hoey who give the impression of looking like they would be more at home in Ukip rub along with a selection of Marxist currents and all points of view in between. This is all the more surprising as Corbyn’s most trusted cardinals are Andrew Murray and Seumas Milne, graduates from the seminary of British Stalinism, an order not renowned for its tolerance of dissent. 

They were both in the Straight Left faction of the Communist Party (CP), an organisation which proudly says in its own official history that its famous British Road to Socialism programme  “had been extensively discussed and agreed with Stalin”. It says of the European Union’s (EU) predecessor: 

“In the 1975 referendum campaign, the CP fought hard as part of the broad alliance for a ‘No’ vote against Britain’s continuing membership of the European Economic Community. The Communist position had been consistent since the 1957 Treaty of Rome: based on the free movement of capital, goods and labour, the Common Market was a ‘bosses’ club’.” 

Milne and Murray haven’t changed their minds on that in forty-five years. That’s fine. The EU is a bosses’ club. What’s different now is that the push for Brexit is coming from the right of British politics and has galvanised every racist in the country. The 2016 referendum result wasn’t a rejection of a bosses’ club, it was a rejection of freedom of movement within the EU. Milne and Murray are in the Labour Party now and they are very definitely in a minority on this issue. The most recent evidence for that is the report commissioned by Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association which says: 

“Labour would especially lose the support of people below the age of 35, which could make this issue comparable to the impact the tuition fees and involvement in the coalition had on Lib Dem support…. 

… “If there is an election in 2019, Labour will get a lower share of the vote in every seat in the country if it has a pro-Brexit policy than if it has an anti-Brexit position.” 

Corbyn knows this already and yet he is risking electoral defeat. His letter to Theresa May setting out the terms under which Labour would support a Brexit deal makes no reference to the party’s conference vote calling for a new referendum. It doesn’t even mention delaying the exit date until a deal which meets his conditions for a soft Brexit are negotiated.  

This is a big victory for those of his advisors who want Brexit to happen because they think it might set Labour on a road to socialism in one country. And it’s not just Milne and Murrary. Len McCluskey of Unite is dead set against a new referendum and so is Karie Murphy, Corbyn’s chief of staff who accompanied Corbyn and Milne to the recent meeting with Theresa May.  

The only people this will give comfort to are those Tories who back May’s plan to run down the clock to a hard Brexit and the DUP. It will not win over a single Brexit supporting voter and it will demoralise the hundreds of thousands of Labour members the party will need to win the next general election. 

As we learned a couple of weeks ago during the immigration debate, the Corbyn leadership is responsive to pressure from its left. Anti-Brexit members need to be kicking up a fuss about this capitulation to the idea of socialism in a single country across social media and in their wards, GCs and CLPs. And if you haven’t already done so get this resolution supporting a new referendum through your local party and affiliated unions. 

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3 Comments on The British Road to Brexit

  1. The polls are already indicating the scale of the challenge for Labour. Despite the biggest governmental crisis in centuries, Labour is not surging ahead of the Tories. Polls from YouGov and Ipsos-Mori taken in the first week in February indicate that over 70% are dissatisfied with the May Government. Yet support for Labour is barely neck and neck with the Tories in the Ipsos-Mori poll this week, and 7 percentage points BEHIND the Tories in the often reliable YouGov polling.

    Labour clearly had the vast majority of young people in the 2017 election, perhaps as much as two thirds, and also has captured a significant majority among those people of working age from across the class spectrum. By contrast, the bulk of the backing for Brexit and also for the Tories comes from retired people, who have less interest in the impact on employment or wages, but primarily want to be ‘rid of foreigners’.

    But there are now clear signs that Labour is losing that impetus from young people and most polls show Labour support at barely half of the under 25 age group, way down on 2017. It’s clear why – overwhelmingly the young are against Brexit and support freedom of movement.

    By looking for policies that primarily appeal to the retired population, the likes of Milne and Murray are leading the Labour Party and the trade union movement in a dangerous direction.

    In Scotland, Labour is hopelessly behind, in clear third place for the long term, and no-one sees them seriously challenging the hegemony of the Scottish National Party, with its clear anti-Brexit, pro-Scottish Independence position, and, significantly, mass membership. The mass marches for Scottish Independence in 2018 attracted up to 100,000 mainly working class people and it is clear that a second independence referendum could both be called and won.

    The so-called People’s Vote campaign for a second EU referendum, however, is a dangerous tactic, largely fronted by failed LibDem and right wing Labour politicians. They have not thought through the consequences of extending Article 50 and the likelihood of both the Council elections and the consequential European Parliamentary elections, both in May, being used as a springboard for a reactionary mass movement ‘against the politicians’ betrayal’ of the 2016 referendum result. They only see the positives in EU membership and fail to challenge its neo-liberal core policies.
    This all makes for a volatile mess in which marxists have to be clear. While we oppose Tory Brexit hitting working class living standards, we are against the EU and its policies, and support the complete break-up of the reactionary British state through Scottish independence and the reunification of Ireland, both of which are clearly back on the table as realistic demands in the current situation. Focussing purely on a re-run of the 2016 referendum may give democratic legitimacy to a future parliament voting against Brexit, but we also have to be clear that the 2016 vote was also deeply flawed in excluding the majority of EU citizens and all 16/17 year olds. Any campaign for a further EU referendum must therefore be framed in terms of a wider demand for ending austerity, challenging the neo liberal EU on a pan-European basis not nationalism, and supporting the right of self-determination and the break-up of the United Kingdom completely.

  2. I remember back in 1974-75 protesting at a meeting organised by the Communist Party in Manchester. The meeting was opposing Britain joining the then EEC. Why was I, along with most of the left, protesting? Because the main speaker, invited by the Communist Party,was right wing Tory racist, and soon to become right wing Ulster Unionist racist bigot, Enoch Powell. The Communist Party had no problems including Powell on a platform they dominated, so ‘broad’ was their campaign. Though I doubt that Murray, Milne and co want to be reminded of this.

  3. Stephen Griffiths // 12th February 2019 at 12:35 pm // Reply

    Birmingham had small but significant majority for Brexit Including
    at least one of Land Rover Jaguar car assembly plants.
    Opposition has grown especially led by younger LP Members.
    Steet campaigning is underway AEIP MEDIA is excellent.
    Movingly many suporters in Moseley Hall Green of socialist organizations past come and shake hand again.
    say with due care We need Kck out the Tories and aReferendum

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