JEREMY CORBYN’S pledge that Labour will throw itself into the fight for a general election should Theresa May lose her Brexit vote next week should unite the left.
Huge pressure is being placed on the Labour leader to plump instead for a second referendum on EU membership.
But the case for a general election is straightforward. As Corbyn says in Wakefield today: “If the government cannot pass its most important legislation, then there must be a general election at the earliest opportunity. A government that cannot get its business through the House of Commons is no government at all.”
For socialists, there are a large number of other reasons we should prioritise removing the Conservatives as soon as we possibly can.
We face a lethal homelessness crisis, an NHS starved of funds with record staffing vacancies, a continuing rise in precarious and poorly paid work, a yawning gulf between rich and poor.
So why would anyone on the left oppose a general election? Some argue that it is not achievable, that the numbers work better in Parliament for a second referendum.
This isn’t actually clear. Most MPs supported Remain in 2016, but a big majority also represent Leave-voting constituencies and many are reluctant to ignore that.
But in any case the political transformation of our politics that Corbyn’s Labour Party has begun rests on the confidence that mass mobilisation and political engagement can force change.
Certainly we will not see Theresa May concede a general election for the asking: but we should be campaigning to maximise pressure on Parliament to hold one, not assuming defeat in advance.
But the heart of Corbyn’s message today is even more important: the need to reunite people who have been divided along a fault line which doesn’t reflect the real dividing line of our society.
The Labour leader’s depiction of the Remain-voter in Tottenham and Leave-voter in Mansfield who both have “high bills, rising debts, insecure work” and are “up against it” makes a crucial point — a second referendum does not bring people together but perpetuates division.
Whether Leave or Remain emerged with a small majority, the division and bitterness would continue to harm our ability as a movement to unite against the small and super-rich elite.
Much of the debate around a second referendum also divides working-class people unnecessarily.
The 2016 result can be sliced and diced in various ways; it can be argued that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Remain, while Wales and England voted Leave; that northern England voted Leave, and southern England Remain; that big cities voted Remain and small towns Leave; that poorer people voted Leave and richer ones Remain; that older people voted Leave and younger ones Remain. There are elements of truth and obvious simplifications in all those statements.
The latter, in particular, is used by second-vote advocates to call for young people to be given another say on “their future,” a stance that hints at some people’s votes being considered more valid than others’.
Today the Morning Star’s opposition to a second referendum was depicted as typical of a paper catering for “Stalinists” and “full-time [trade union] officers” in the New Statesman, an attack no more helpful than the Blairite rage against supposed “Trotskyist” Labour infiltrators in 2016 and, like it, designed to divide people who have flocked to Labour for its new socialist politics from socialists who fought — in Labour and out of it — for those politics before Corbyn became leader, organising in the trade union, anti-war and anti-racist movements.
These divisions do not advance the fight for a radical Labour government. They run deep through the labour movement, but they cannot be allowed to prevent its forward march. Corbyn’s bid to reunite the left around a direct challenge to Conservative power deserves our full support.
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