THE People’s Brexit summit’s emphasis on the need to fight for a general election now is spot on.
Speaker after speaker at this week’s important launch challenged the narrative being pushed by Theresa May, by Brussels and by advocates of staying in the EU, that the deal on offer — which maintains all the restrictions on an independent economic policy that we face within the EU — is the best exit deal that could ever be achieved.
For supporters of the so-called People’s Vote, presenting a rotten deal as the best we are ever likely to get strengthens the case for claiming the decision taken by the electorate in 2016 must be revisited.
But what evidence is there that this deal is the best that can be negotiated? All they can point to is the fact that the EU says so. Most trade unionists receiving an ultimatum like that from management would take it with a pinch of salt.
As Unison activist Paula Barker points out, an agreement cobbled together between a privatising, neoliberal government in London and a privatising, neoliberal institution in Brussels unsurprisingly offers nothing of value to the left.
The answer is to send a new negotiating team to Brussels — one which will fight for the interests of the working class. This is Labour Party policy already — the party’s conference this autumn voted to fight for a general election if May did not return with an acceptable deal. It is also the policy backed by the Trades Union Congress in September.
Remain supporters have this week written to Jeremy Corbyn accusing him of breaching party policy by refusing to call for a second referendum, on the grounds that Labour, like the TUC, agreed to keep all options on the table if a general election was out of reach.
The accusation can easily be thrown back at them, since very few of those supportive of a second referendum have put the demand for a general election front and centre in line with policy. If raised they say the Conservatives are unlikely to grant one so the question is moot.
This attitude shows a complete lack of faith in our movement’s ability to fight and win change: if socialists restricted themselves to demands that the ruling class is comfortable with, we would have no NHS, no pensions, no holiday pay and no weekends. And this defeatism beggars belief when the Tory Party is in obvious crisis and does not even have a parliamentary majority.
If we want a better deal, we must fight for an election campaign to return a government with a mandate to negotiate it.
In Parliament John McDonnell has toyed with alternatives, the idea of a Labour minority government taking over, for example. But given the uncritically pro-EU stances of the Lib Dems, Greens and nationalist parties, as well as a sizeable phalanx of Labour MPs, such a government would struggle to pass the kind of deal required: one which, as economist Grace Blakeley declares, allows a socialist government to intervene across the economy and control the predations of capital.
It could even be the trigger for a “national government” to save the ruling class from the consequences of the Leave vote and the threat of a Corbyn administration at the same time, since it is easy to imagine the Labour leader’s enemies in his own party agreeing to ditch the leadership as a condition of going into coalition.
The obstacles to securing a general election and then winning it are real, but the opportunity to reshape our whole economy outside the corporate framework of the EU, one which comes at an extraordinary juncture when Labour is led by a team willing to implement such a radical restructuring, is real too. And it’s an opportunity the labour movement cannot afford to miss.
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