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THERESA May’s catastrophic handling of Brexit has plunged the country into a fresh wave of crises — which is also engulfing the Tory Party. There were leaks from Tuesday’s cabinet meeting with ministers and advisers warning that “it’s chaos” and “it’s like the last days of Rome.” Even Theresa May’s own spokesperson admitted that the UK is in “crisis.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn rightly demanded a general election in the aftermath of Theresa May’s 149-vote Brexit vote defeat last week. Now Tory MPs are suggesting a general election may be on the cards. Tory MP Crispin Blunt recommended that Theresa May should call a snap general election to break the Brexit deadlock. Zac Goldsmith MP tweeted: “We are likely heading towards a general election.”
Of course, such a general election would debate our future relationship with Europe. But given the crisis in people’s living standards that election would be much more far reaching.
While Britain has been dominated by the question of whether politicians are with the “52 per cent” or the “48 per cent,” the fundamental divide in our society remains that between the 99 per cent and the top 1 per cent. A general election would pose the issue, so well put by Labour’s slogan, of whether we had a government “for the many, not the few.”
And a subsequent Labour government would be a totally transformative one. That is clear from the fact it would usher in a government with a socialist Leader of the Labour Party, a determined and long-standing opponent of neoliberal economics in charge of Labour’s economic policy and the most courageous anti-racist politician of her generation as Home Secretary.
Three and a half years into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, it’s quite easy to have become accustomed to that which once, to many, seemed unthinkable — that Labour is led by the most radical politicians of our age. But that is exactly what we need to overcome the multiple challenges facing our society. The rotten system under which we live is broken and is failing to deliver for working people. We can’t pretend it’s business as usual.
That was confirmed again this week with figures showing wages are still much lower than in 2008. We are suffering a level of economic stagnation not seen in generations. Britain is undergoing its own lost decade.
On top of that ongoing economic crisis we have the looming environmental catastrophe so wonderfully highlighted by protesting school pupils in recent weeks. Those young people with placards calling for “system change not climate change” understand an uncomfortable truth for defenders of the status quo — the threat of climate change has been created by capitalism and is the starkest example of market failure. Only state intervention and strict regulation of markets on an international basis can pull us back from the brink.
The multiple crises we face requires bold progressive leadership. Only a socialist government led by Jeremy Corbyn can resolve them. As Jeremy made clear last year when he said “We’re a threat to a damaging and failed system that’s rigged for the few” a Labour government would challenge the failed old ways of doing things.
That’s the radical approach from Labour’s leadership that at the last general election achieved three million extra votes and the biggest swing to Labour since 1945.
Now, of course, those who most benefit from the current corrupt set-up will do all they can to prevent the coming to power of a transformative Labour government that will set about achieving a fundamental and irreversible shift in wealth, power and control in favour of the working class in all its diversity.
In one small way, the unprincipled enterprise that is Chuka’s coalition with Tories is a manifestation of the project to prevent a socialist government. It needs to be understood that just as some politicians see it as their duty to be part of a mass movement to achieve a socialist government, some politicians see it as their fundamental historic duty to prevent Jeremy Corbyn becoming prime minister of a Labour government which pursues policies for peace and socialism.
And they have plenty of allies in the right-wing — and even supposedly “liberal” — media. Ours has not been — and will not be — an easy task.
A Jeremy Corbyn government standing for peace and justice would also challenge the rightward turn –sometimes to the far-right — which we are seeing globally. That was underlined this week with the Brazilian far-right President Jair Bolsonaro meeting Trump in Washington. It was a sickening sight to see Trump lavishing praise on someone who is a proud supporter of Latin America’s past dictatorships and disturbing to see the Brazilian president talking of a global alliance to “respect traditional family lifestyles… against gender ideology or politically correct attitudes.”
A progressive Labour government with an emphasis on peace and equality would present a real alternative to such international alliances. And what a contrast it would be in the United Nations security council to see Donald Trump representing the United States, whilst our prime minister would be someone who opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, the military intervention in Libya and the bombing of Syria, who was arrested for opposing apartheid in South Africa and is an active opponent of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and an active supporter of the campaign for justice for the Palestinian people.
I am sure the current occupant of the White House would not welcome such a development. But the huge rallies for Bernie Sanders currently underway in the United States, and the widespread enthusiasm for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others in the — mainly female — new generation of radical politicians show there would be natural allies for Labour’s vision of a more progressive world.
Of course, the opposition to all of this will be strong. After all it’s not called the “the struggle” for nothing. So, the mass movement to achieve a historic socialist government led by Jeremy Corbyn needs to expect testing times. As we mark the fifth anniversary of the death of Tony Benn I am reminded of his famous quote on “how the establishment became established. They simply stole land and property from the poor, gave themselves titles and have been wielding power ever since.” Their modern equivalents will continue to fight to defend that privilege.
But we can succeed by building an anti-establishment mass movement that stands with the many against the interests of the privileged few, and continue to present a clear and real alternative to the establishment and its rotten system which creates inequality, poverty and war and which even threatens our planet and the very survival of our species.
For that, Parliament is an important arena in which our struggle takes place. But it is only one such arena. A socialist movement in Parliament alone will never succeed.
So we need to be active and organised on a mass basis in communities the length and breadth of the country and in workplaces, colleges and universities. That’s why I am pleased to back the Arise political festival taking place on June 21-22 on how we can strengthen Labour’s left ideas on building a better Britain and more peaceful world. Together we can demonstrate the organisation, understanding and resilience needed to push forward our transformative socialist goals.
Richard Burgon is shadow justice secretary. He writes this column fortnightly.
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