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Editorial Labour will have to remake the rules

TO THE category of parliamentary parties now in permanent states of disunity we can add the Scottish National Party. 

Its divisions are not simply the superficial squabble over the person and position of Alex Salmond. 

They arise from the contradiction which exists in every political formation which attempts to either deny or distance itself from real-life class conflict. 

Finding herself among the minority of Scots who favoured separation from Britain, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gained some solace from the Brexit referendum which resulted in 1,018,322 votes against the Union and 1,661,191 votes for.

The SNP political culture and rules allow for as much open dissent as does the court of the Saudi Crown Prince, so there is little public expression of the fact that more than a third of the SNP’s electorate voted for Brexit. 

Even so Sturgeon has added her tattered tartan army to the disparate collection of MPs backing Yvette Cooper’s bid to kick Brexit into the deep heather.

What course of action might ensue if this ploy succeeds remains unconsidered – as do the possible consequences of Graham Brady’s bid to dropkick Ireland’s British border backstop into the peat bog. 

Brady is chair of the Tory back-bench 1922 Committee and is presumed to be tuned in to what might yet become a political majority in the parliamentary Tory Party.

One of the problems with the labour movement’s discussion about Britain’s trade and foreign policy options is that, of late, it been conducted exclusively in terms of our relationship with the European Union, the assumption being that this entity would survive unchanged the present contradictions which assail it.

This is quite different from the way in which Britain’s entry to the European federal project was framed.  

Even before the Tories took Britain into the Common Market, Labour’s post-war prime minister Clement Attlee considered that European integration was too narrowly focused on one continent while a whole new world of new nations were forming as direct colonial rule gave way.

Present-day campaigners against the EU’s role in the raft of deeply unfair global trade deals like TTIP and Ceta would recognise the language used by Labour figures to denounce 1970s Common Market neocolonialism.

The world today is transformed. The mass of African countries have trade options that bring them up against the power of the EU framework in which the capital of their former colonial masters is deployed. 

Hitherto even the Brics — Brazil and Russia, India, China and South Africa — find their individual and collective interests are best served by a more equal trading relationship with developed capitalist countries than one constrained by EU rules.

With 60 days to Brexit there is time for all manner of measures to subvert the referendum vote, but let us allow ourselves the luxury of assuming all this is behind us and that the deeper yearning of the British people for an end to austerity has ushered in a new kind of government that has fulfilled its mandate.

The broad outlines of foreign policy have already been established. Labour says: “As we leave the European Union, keeping Britain global is one of our country’s most urgent tasks.”

Reframing trade and foreign policy along ethical lines runs straight away up against the various ways in which the power of unchallenged private ownership constrains government. 

Critics of Labour’s trade policy argue that it is the servant of its interventionist industrial policy and its entire approach to managing the economy. 

This recognises that a Labour government that is serious about socialism will have to remake the rules. The sooner we start talking about this the better.


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