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Editorial: Civil servants’ anti-Corbyn brief shows the British state isn’t neutral

CIVIL servants apparently briefing the press against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is a further sign of the strain a truly radical opposition is putting on our political system.

Labour is rightly furious at this political intervention by the supposedly impartial Civil Service, and Jon Trickett’s demand for an investigation must be pressed.

The government has turned a blind eye to attacks on the leader of the opposition from “public servants” whose role ought to preclude it, from a serving general threatening military mutiny to retired spooks lining up to say he or his advisers present a security risk.

Political pressure must be put on the Tories and the unelected parts of the British state to demonstrate that this will not be tolerated.

The radical left must do more, however. Labour is a parliamentary party and many even on its left are wedded to the fiction that the British state is politically neutral, that government policy is decided by our elected Parliament and that the other state institutions — the monarchy, the judiciary, the Civil Service, the armed forces, the secret services, the BBC and so on — are indifferent to the character of those policies.

In fact this is not the case even in ordinary times. John Gollan in his book The British Political System described the extent to which the “permanent” state institutions favour Conservative governments and act to limit the reforming potential of Labour ones. 

When Labour was led by politicians committed to maintaining the capitalist system this interference could be confined to blunting individual laws.

The mere prospect of Labour being in office was not seen as an existential threat by the British Establishment. 

But Labour led by a radical socialist, an anti-imperialist with a long record of campaigning against poverty, racism and war, a politician of the community, the labour movement and the street who understands that real political change comes from collective grassroots struggle and not from MPs passing laws?

Jeremy Corbyn scares the living daylights out of the crooks who run our rigged economy.

That is why Britain’s constitutional conventions are coming apart. It explains why a Tory administration with no majority can be found in contempt of Parliament without coming under pressure to hold elections.

It explains why a candidate for leadership of the Conservative Party can talk about suspending Parliament altogether.

And it explains why the facade of neutrality behind which lurks the British state is wearing thin.

To deliver the socialist change our overworked, underpaid, poverty-ridden society is crying out for we have to recognise that the British state is far from neutral.

It is an imperialist state, an instrument designed by and for the ruling class and committed to the maintenance of the capitalist economic system.

That doesn’t mean there is no point in electing a Labour government. But it does mean that doing so will not be enough.

Britain’s rulers will throw everything they have at a Labour government. They have been waging a hysterical campaign against Corbyn ever since he became leader and this will intensify if he enters office.

Labour’s radical programme will face parliamentary sabotage, which is why open selection of Labour MPs to improve the character of the parliamentary party is essential.

It will face legal challenges from corporations with bottomless wallets, institutional interference from the judiciary and the EU if we haven’t left the latter, economic warfare, meddling by foreign powers such as the United States, perhaps even the military putsch mooted in 2015.

Only tremendous pressure from below will break the ruling class’s grip on power. John McDonnell is fond of saying that when Labour goes into office we all go into office.

We need to build a mass class-conscious movement of trade unions, campaign groups such as the People’s Assembly and community organisations that is fighting for change in every workplace, every town hall and every high street to make those words a reality.

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