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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Keep Corbyn by keeping it radical

I think Jeremy Corbyn will win the Labour leadership election, but it isn't inevitable. In some ways it's a tougher challenge than last summer, when Corbyn was first elected. If Owen Smith is going to win it will be due to the wider political climate, a series of tactics by his campaign, and perhaps a few weaknesses on the part of Corbyn’s campaign.

Owen Smith's path to victory
Here's how I think that ‘worst case scenario’ of a defeat for Corbyn could plausibly happen. Constant media vilification of Corbyn, especially the allegations of abuse and intimidation by his supporters, could go some way to persuading some Labour Party members that it's just not worth holding on to him. They may largely agree with the current leader, but if this is what the media will continuously do to Labour if Corbyn continues in post then it's just not worth it.

This is reinforced by the constant mantra of insisting that Corbyn is unelectable. All the evidence is that Labour would do the same or worse in polls with Smith as leader, but poor polling for Labour (which we're seeing now) is still likely to help the challenger not the incumbent. All Labour members care about being electable.
Notice, too, that Smith (while largely stealing Corbyn's policies) has differentiated himself on immigration. This plays to the idea that on some issues Labour needs to get more in tune with existing public opinion to be electable.

Smith's adoption of many of Corbyn's policies may be unconvincing (and has been greeted with mockery) but this, too, could boost his challenge. He knows what he's doing. There's a layer of voters in this leadership election who could be persuaded that a Smith leadership would retain most of the Corbyn policies they like while being more media-friendly and plausibly prime ministerial.
If these policy pledges are the carrot, then the threat from most MPs of refusing to work with Corbyn is the stick. It is a powerful weapon: the 'no confidence' vote by MPs was overwhelming and the resignations by front benchers were sweeping, so everyone voting in this election knows that a vote for Corbyn will sustain the war between the leadership (backed by much of the membership) and the bulk of the PLP.

A desire to avoid that - and instead have a fully staffed and relatively cohesive front bench, with a leader who commands most MPs' support - could prevail. Labour is a parliamentary party: there is always a strong pull towards what works best in the logic of parliamentary realpolitik.
Finally, Smith's vow to fight for a second referendum on EU membership is a shrewd move. Most Labour members who support, or are inclined to support, Corbyn voted to remain in the EU. Smith is cynically seeking to exploit this in his favour. Corbyn - having been obliged to campaign for a remain position despite many of his own instincts – risks getting trapped in a rather weak position on this issue.

Also remember that Smith is the single challenger to Corbyn, whereas last time there were three candidates on the right. The Labour Right has become better organised and seems to have recruited many people to the £25 supporters’ scheme. It is also very well-funded, which will mean sustained and serious campaigning between now and September.
I don't think all of this will be enough to get Smith over the finishing line. But it could be. Even if it isn't enough for victory, we could see the challenger getting a large minority - over 40% - of votes, therefore emboldening the majority of the PLP. It would be a serious mistake for Corbyn supporters to complacently assume that he will be re-elected comfortably.

How can Corbyn guarantee victory?
Firstly, Corbyn's campaign needs to be relentless in promoting clear priority policies that can galvanise support and offer a bold alternative to a failed political status quo. This is what made the difference last summer - and it needs to be done again.

There is little political traction in complaining - however justifiably - about the behaviour of MPs or the party bureaucracy's dubious manoeuvres. The campaign will be won on politics. It needs to be outward-looking, political and concrete in offering alternative policies.
Secondly, the policy platform needs to be more bold and radical. If Smith can merrily steal most of Corbyn's 'softer' policies then simply repeating those policies will be insufficient.

This also reflects how the political landscape has shifted recently. Osborne's last major act as chancellor was to drop the fiscal targets that had served as a mantra for the government since 2010. Theresa May and her ministers are discussing economic stimulus, not simply obsessing over cuts.
The ground has shifted. Corbyn and McDonnell now need to decisively articulate bold policies for large-scale public investment in jobs, infrastructure, housing and public services. It means foregrounding such things as a national investment bank, public control of public assets (energy, transport etc), a massive house-building programme and investment in creating climate-friendly jobs.

The combination of the austerity project's obvious exhaustion and the vote to leave the EU has opened up a new set of possibilities. If Corbyn is going to unite working class people who voted Leave with those who voted Remain it will be on the basis of a version of Brexit that benefits the vast majority of people.
Putting forward ambitious, and joined-up, policies on jobs, housing and services is essential for undercutting the attempts to use the issue of immigration as a battering ram against the left. These economic policies need to be accompanied by a clear and unequivocal defence of migrants and their rights.

This need for radicalism also implies that there should be no compromise on those issues - like Trident renewal and freedom of movement - where some on the Labour left are advocating making concessions. Opposing Trident is the correct position for several reasons, one of which is that scrapping the hugely expensive programme would liberate funds for socially useful investment. The defence of migration is not so controversial when coupled with pledges of large-scale public investment - a working class politics that can undercut the racism and scapegoating.
Thirdly, there has to be a focus on public mobilisation - marches, protests, rallies - nationwide to galvanise support for Corbyn. The campaign can't be treated as merely an internal party battle. There's much more at stake than that. And once Corbyn has won re-election, there will be the broader challenges of resisting sustained attacks from not only Labour’s right wing but from the British state and ruling class, and of winning mass popular support for the politics represented by Corbyn.

Also, conducting the campaign purely on that ground is beneficial to Smith when we consider the balance of political forces inside the PLP and the powerful pull of parliamentary realpolitik inside the Labour Party. Corbyn's campaign needs to be treated, and pitched, as a political movement not simply a leadership campaign. There needs to be an appeal to the whole labour movement and an emphasis on active mobilisation, not simply casting a vote in the leadership election.
This is important for winning Corbyn's re-election. But it's even more important in laying the groundwork for life after the leadership election. It is through mass protest movements, re-building trade union strength and workers' resistance that we will win victories, re-shape politics and raise the prospect of a serious left-wing challenge to the neoliberal status quo. The pro-Corbyn mobilisations can be a springboard for further collective action, and a boost to anti-austerity, anti-war and anti-racist movements, not simply a tool for Corbyn's re-election.

Building a stronger left
The establishment pressure on Corbyn's leadership is so enormous that a sustained movement is needed in response. But it's more than that: popular mobilisations can build a left that is powerful in the field of extra-parliamentary struggle - strikes, direct action, protests - as well as Labour Party politics. This, in turn, acts as a constant pull to the left on the Labour Party, in which the conservative PLP (and the wider pressures of electoral politics) acts as a constant pull to the right.  

There's a constant danger that activism becomes trapped in the structures and routines of the Labour Party, and is limited to electioneering. Labour leftwingers need to work with a range of people to build independent, broad-based movements of resistance, and to strengthen the trade unions (which organise millions of people beyond Labour's ranks).
The Labour Party has mushroomed into a party of over half a million members. There are mass rallies taking place to support Corbyn. Nonetheless, there are many, many people outside Labour's ranks who will be involved in political activity through anti-cuts demonstrations, refugee solidarity work, housing campaigns, anti-racist protests, strikes by teachers, junior doctors and others, and many other campaigns and mobilisations.

The left as a whole will be stronger if it connects with these people, and treats such movements as the basis for developing a more influential left. This cannot be a left that is restricted to electoral politics, but one that links bold political demands with taking action on the streets and in the workplaces. This is the best way forward for anyone wanting an effective left-wing Labour Party, but also for the even larger and more important project of building a combative working class movement that can re-shape society.

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Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Corbyn vs the establishment: what's at stake



Jeremy Corbyn at the Durham Miners' Gala 2016
At the time of writing, there is a genuine possibility that a court ruling (due tomorrow) will declare that Jeremy Corbyn must seek MPs' and MEPs' nominations to be a leadership candidate. And it's perfectly possible that the Labour Party's bureaucracy - desperate to defeat Corbyn - will defer to the legal judgement and act accordingly.
If that happens it will generate, immediately, a massive crisis in the Labour Party, and very quickly some sort of split. After all, it is almost certain that Corbyn will not be able to get the required nominations: MPs who nominated him to 'broaden the debate' last summer are unlikely to repeat their mistake, and the determination of many MPs to remove Corbyn has grown.

The idea that a single wealthy party donor – one who despises the democratic will of members – could use the courts to overturn the elected leader’s right to an automatic place on the ballot would generate tremendous shock and anger.
It is more likely, though, that this bid will fail and the leadership election contested by Corbyn and Owen Smith will proceed. But the fact that this can even be a possibility reveals the extreme desperation of Labour's establishment to eliminate Corbyn, their willingness to trample over democracy and fair play, and their common interest with the British state in wishing to defeat the left.

A concerted assault on the left
A vital part of the background to the current turmoil is that most MPs assumed that the double whammy they engineered - of most MPs voting no confidence combined with dozens of front bench resignations - would force Corbyn out. In normal circumstances, a much lower 'no confidence' vote - and a much lower number of resignations - would be sufficient.

But these are not normal circumstances. Corbyn has the backing of a huge number of party members and supporters. The entire future of the Labour Party is at stake – a stark fact that is grasped by those on both sides. So Corbyn stayed - and surprised MPs, who see everything through the prism of pragmatic parliamentary politics, in the process.

The subsequent attacks on Corbyn, and on party democracy, have been less aimed at delivering a knockout punch (although the NEC meeting, where some hoped to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper, was such an attempt), and more about a war of attrition: constantly wearing down and demoralising Corbyn, those around him, and his supporters.

The absurd anti-democratic procedures -  from retrospectively removing large numbers of members from the leadership electoral roll, to hiking up the supporters' fee from £3 to £25, to generating a climate of suspicion about supposedly thuggish Corbyn supporters - are partly about rigging the election, but are more profoundly geared towards this war of attrition. 
Their hope is that a large layer of Labour members will conclude that - for all their sympathies with Corbyn and his politics - it just isn't worth it. Perhaps they will decide that it’s more important to have a functioning official Opposition and to hold the Labour Party together. The idea is that many of those with a vote in the leadership election will look at the scale and depth of opposition to Corbyn among his own parliamentary colleagues and conclude, very reluctantly, that a Smith victory is necessary if there's going to a fully-staffed front bench Opposition, with the backing of most MPs.

Corbyn vs Smith
It is widely assumed, especially on the left, that Jeremy Corbyn will win. I think that's likely, but I don't regard it as certain. And if he does win there's still a danger that it won't be with a commanding majority.

Labour Party members, affiliated members and registered supporters will be voting at home, in isolation, prey to all the pressures of relentless media vilification of Corbyn. Smith's campaign appears to be well-funded and able to use professional operations to largely compensate for a relative lack of activist enthusiasm (and the inability to replicate Corbyn's mass rallies). All of this can make a difference and we should not underestimate it.  
The pitching of Smith as 'soft left' and the constant barrage of smears against the left (for alleged abuse, intimidation etc) both need to be viewed in this context. Nobody seriously believes that Smith is at all left wing, just like nobody really believes the fantastical and baseless claims of abuse and intimidation. The point here is not to actually convince people that something is true.

The point is to disorientate and demoralise. It is to generate confusion and to make the whole leadership contest seem unpleasant and hostile, therefore encouraging people to simply keep out (or keep their distance from supporting Corbyn). It all creates a general sense of chaos and crisis in the Labour Party, which benefits Corbyn's right-wing opponents who style themselves as beacons of stability and a professional approach to politics.

One line of attack is the advocacy of ‘Corbynism without Corbyn’. It is not being suggested that someone from within the Corbynite ranks - like John McDonnell or Diane Abbott - takes over. Perish the thought! The whole point here is that someone who doesn't support Corbyn should replace him. That betrays what it's really about: ditching Corbyn's politics along with the man.
Owen Smith, Angela Eagle and Hilary Benn are not creatures of the 'soft left'. They're firmly on Labour's right wing. They are closer to the Tories than they are to Corbyn and the left, accepting the dominant assumptions of neoliberal politics (held up as an unarguable 'centre ground' of politics, regardless of whether public opinion accords with it).

British politics isn't split, first and foremost, between Tories and Labour. The split goes down Labour's middle, with the majority of its MPs oriented on establishment politics and the ideological and policy assumptions that go with it.
There is something of a precedent here. In the mid-1980s there was talk of 'Bennism without Benn'. It reflected the left's retreat, and the right's ascendancy, after Tony Benn was very narrowly defeated in the 1981 deputy leadership contest. What it really meant was re-orienting Benn's supporters to a shift rightwards under Neil Kinnock. Labour's long march to the right - under Kinnock then later Blair and Brown - gathered pace.

A wider political crisis
One argument doing the rounds is that the big Corbyn rallies are a kind of irrelevant bubble, reflecting nothing about wider society. He is merely preaching to the converted - a small minority - while ignoring everyone else.

I don't find that plausible. This isn't like the early 1980s, when Bennism was largely at odds with a rightwards shift in the working class and in society at large. The tremendous enthusiasm for Corbyn is the main political expression of developments in society that affect many millions of people.
There are different aspects to that wider political crisis, but fundamentally it's about widespread disaffection with several years of austerity policies and decades of neoliberalism, and (crucially) the long-term shift in the Labour Party towards the neoliberal centre.

There is a huge backlash against the dominant elements in the Parliamentary Labour Party because of their complicity in privatisation, cuts, war and scapegoating, first in office and later in extremely meek opposition. The Chilcot report reminded us of the single greatest reason why Tony Blair’s reputation turned to dust, but Iraq was always a lightning rod for a wider set of discontents and disappointments. This is no bubble.

Media commentators and Labour right-wingers are keen to point to polling which suggests that Labour is consistently several points behind the Tories. This is meant to prove Corbyn's unelectability. Yet the miracle is that the gap isn't bigger.
According to conventional political logic, a socialist leading Labour should have led to a collapse in its poll ratings. Combine this with the fact that Corbyn can't get together a full opposition front bench, as he's so isolated inside the PLP, and there's an impression among the public of massive disunity and conflict inside the Labour Party, it's astonishing that Labour's vote is holding up.

It partly reflects the historic resilience of Labour’s vote (in contrast, for example, to the Lib Dems, whose vote share fluctuates far more). But it surely also suggests that – despite massive media hostility and the deep splits in the PLP – Corbyn speaks to (and for) a real constituency of mass support.
We should also treat such polling with caution. Actual election results - whether May's local elections or various Westminster or council by-elections - have provided grounds for tentative hope. There are also a number of unknowns that could potentially strengthen Labour in a real general election. Turnout is one. The existence of a mass membership party, capable of delivering the political message in communities everywhere, is another.

This is not to mention the Tories currently gaining from the novelty of a new prime minister and shadow cabinet. It is likely the Tories will face considerable difficulties ahead, especially if current indications of economic problems turn into a long-term trend. Austerity has considerably less popular legitimacy than a year ago. 
Nothing to offer

The right wing of the Labour Party now has  nothing to offer. It has no coherent alternative policy offer and no new ideas. A strand of politics that had a certain amount of popular resonance – if never as authentically popular as newspaper columnists liked to proclaim - in the mid-1990s is much less persuasive now.

Owen Smith's campaign is caught between promising (unconvincingly) Continuity Corbynism and differentiating itself from Corbyn's leadership by meekly echoing Tory policies and rhetoric, for example on immigration and Trident. As much as possible, the campaign avoids politics altogether - focusing instead on vague insinuations about Corbyn supporters being guilty of intimidation and on blandly asserting that Corbyn is unelectable. No mention is made, naturally, of the MPs' own role in damaging Labour's electoral standing through its ceaseless plotting and undermining.
There is polling evidence to suggest that a Smith-led Labour Party would do nothing – at least nothing positive – for the party’s vote share. International comparisons are not favourable to the advocates of a rightwards turn either: in many European countries, the traditional parties of the centre left are in crisis precisely due to their role in administering or supporting cuts, privatisation and other neoliberal orthodoxies.

A split now seems very likely, though the time frame and balance of forces (who emerges stronger?) are very unpredictable. If Corbyn prevails in the leadership election, many MPs will be speculating about forming a breakaway parliamentary bloc - one that could, given the scale of opposition to the party's left leadership, be much larger than the SDP split which unfolded between 1981 and 1983.
It would no doubt attract some wealthy donors and much sympathetic media commentary, but such a bloc would lack a mass grassroots party behind it, have almost no trade union support, and (unlike the SDP in the 1983 election), struggle to gain votes.

One possibility is to continue sullenly grumbling on the backbenches, sniping at the leadership and undermining it in whatever ways are available. But this would probably just defer the inevitable split. The issue of deselection after the 2018 boundary changes would certainly come to the fore. It is unlikely that party members would tolerate recalcitrant MPs who they feel are not reflecting and representing their views.

Everything in flux
The long term is therefore unpredictable. The important thing at present is to rise to a number of urgent challenges and use the coming weeks and months to shape the left’s prospects. The first thing to grasp is that the unpredictability, flux and rapid pace of political upheaval means that a 2020 perspective – where all practical questions are shaped by the assumption of a general election in 2020 – is no good.

It may well be that there is no election for nearly four years, but making such an assumption would be foolish. However, even if there is no early election the focus on 2020 is damaging, as it encourages a focus on desperately seeking to patch up differences and maintain the unity of the Labour Party, with a view to fighting a general election on that basis. It allows concessions to Labour’s right wing, which threatens to disrupt and damage the momentum behind Corbyn’s left wing political vision.
It is also, in principle, right for socialists to call for an early general election and for the downfall of the current Tory government after such upheavals as the Leave victory in the EU referendum and the changes in personnel at the centre of government.

The other key point to grasp is that the defence of Corbyn’s leadership is integral to the prospects for left-wing politics in Britain today. This recognition is important for all socialists, whether in the Labour Party or not.
His position as Labour leader has enabled socialist arguments, so long marginalised, a place in mainstream debate. The growth in Labour membership, the campaigning for Corbyn’s re-election and the many public rallies and protests defending him all point to a very welcome renaissance of the left. This is about much more than one man – it’s a question of strengthening the impact of the movements against austerity, racism and war, and of developing a more influential left-wing pole in British politics.

The challenges for socialists
With these points in mind,  I suggest there are three key things to keep to the fore when building support for Jeremy Corbyn.

Firstly, the movement around Corbyn is at its most effective when it is radical and uncompromising. Politically this means holding firm to principled positions on issues like immigration and Trident. Some prominent supporters of Corbyn have wrongly given ground on such issues, but this only strengthens the Right as well as being wrong politically. It is far more persuasive to put forward coherent and consistent left-wing policies than to tack and turn according to whether or not you imagine something will be popular.
Secondly, it makes a big difference if the movement supporting Corbyn clearly and publicly articulates left-wing arguments and policies – reaching out to millions of people in doing so - rather than getting stuck in arguments about internal party democracy, allegations of abusive behaviour or the dubious issue of ‘electability’. All of these need to be addressed, but in developing a mass campaign the focus needs to be on political alternatives. The leadership campaign is an opportunity to champion the left-wing ideas that inspired so much hope and enthusiasm last summer. This is where we on the left are at our strongest.

Finally,  it’s also important to have a sharp focus on popular mobilisation – like protests and rallies - not merely treating this as an internal Labour Party battle. It’s bigger than that. Such mobilisations facilitate mass participation in the Corbyn campaign. They also provide a link between the campaign and broader grassroots social movements, feeding a two-way relationship between Labour’s left-wing leadership and the role of popular movements.
Ultimately, the social change we on the left want to see will come, above all, through mass activity in protest movements and trade unions, not simply (or even primarily) through the field of parliamentary politics. A victory for Corbyn will embolden the movements. It will, for example, give encouragement and hope to everyone building the national anti-austerity demonstration outside Tory Conference on 2 October, to teachers and junior doctors contemplating strike action in the autumn, and to anti-racists campaigning against Islamophobia or in defence of migrant rights or refugees.  

 
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Friday, 27 May 2016

8 reasons why the Left should campaign to retain the Lords

Some people have expressed surprise at my decision to support retaining the House of Lords in the forthcoming referendum on its future. Scrapping this unelected chamber has, after all, long been the dominant position on the left, especially the radical left.

But such people, who remain dogmatically committed to what is now an obsolete position, are making a serious mistake by thinking politically when what we need is some sound tactical thinking. So here are my tactical reasons for urging a vote to keep the House of Lords:

1) The House of Lords provides some protection against the worst ravages of a Tory government. It opposed cuts to tax credits, for example. It opposed a number of elements of the Trade Union Bill. Do you really want the Tories to have free rein with nothing to moderate their worst excesses?

2) Better the devil you know. If David Cameron loses the referendum, he will surely be forced to resign. Boris Johnson is likely to take over and he is worse than Cameron. So let's hold our noses and vote the same way as Cameron and Osborne - to keep the House of Lords - and avoid tilting the balance of forces in British politics further to the right. And imagine how awful Johnson would be if there wasn't even the House of Lords to restrain him!

3) Some on the left say the House of Lords is undemocratic so we must scrap it. Well, of course it's undemocratic, but so are lots of other things. We have a weak democratic system generally - what's the point of getting rid of just one element of that while leaving everything else the same?

4) We should aim to reform the Lords, not abandon our whole parliamentary system to a Tory majority government. This reform project may be tough, but I believe Another Westminster is Possible. Obviously I'm going to remain extremely vague about how the House of Lords might be reformed - given its lack of democratic accountability - but where there's a will there's a way.

5) Whatever its faults, the House of Lords is one of the things that - through its stability, continuity and air of social harmony - has guaranteed that there has been no civil war on these islands since the 17th century (try not to think about Ireland here).

6) It is true that in the 1970s almost the entire Left opposed the House of Lords. But it's different now. We've had the triumph of Thatcherism and the unions are much, much weaker than 40 years ago. We can't rely on the unions to fight the Tories. The thin shelter of an elite, undemocratic institution is better than nothing.

7) Let's be honest: it's fairly harmless, isn't it? It's not like the House of Lords was responsible for skewing a transnational currency system to the benefit of the richer nations, imposing savage cuts on poorer nations, smashing an elected left-wing government or allowing thousands of refugees to drown in the Mediterranean. Now if people on the left argued for retaining an institution that had done all those things, it really would be daft!

8) Some left-wing critics say that the House of Lords demanding that workers in Scotland do a 6-day week until they drop dead is a reason to scrap it. Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

In summary: let's not be tied to outdated shibboleths and instead think tactically. Vote to keep the House of Lords - Another Westminster is Possible, especially if we keep things exactly as they are.

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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Spirit of Soweto: racism and rebellion 40 years on

A number of campaigners and educators - in partnership with the Martin Luther King Peace Committee - are organising a conference, to be held at Newcastle University on Saturday 18 June, titled 'Spirit of Soweto: racism and rebellion 40 years on'.

I am one of the organisers and it is supported by Newcastle Stop the War, North East People's Assembly, Newcastle Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Newcastle's Multilingual Library, Stand up to Racism (North East), Newcastle Unites and Unite Against Fascism (North East).

The conference is designed to mark the 40th anniversary of the Soweto Uprising, which involved tens of thousands of black South African school students (in Soweto and beyond) protesting against racist apartheid policies in schools. This rebellion was greeted with large-scale massacres by state authorities.

It is universally seen as having been a turning point in the struggle to end apartheid, both through opposition inside the country and through the efforts of the global boycott and solidarity movement. The precise anniversary of the uprising starting is 16 June, so the conference takes place on the nearest Saturday.

One aim of the conference is to rediscover the history of what happened in Soweto in 1976 and examine its significance for the direction and success of the anti-apartheid movement. Furthermore, this will be used as a springboard for discussing a range of issues relating to racism (and non-violent resistance to it) more widely.

The event will specifically make links between history and the present day, learning and taking inspiration from South Africa four decades ago to nourish anti-racist and international solidarity movements in 2016.

Further details including speakers will be announced over the next few weeks, but the timetable is already available. The o
pening plenary session ('Soweto Uprising: a turning point in the struggle to end apartheid') focuses on the history, while the closing plenary ('Racism and rebellion today') brings things up to date: Islamophobia, immigration, the refugee crisis, and so on.

In between these sessions there will be several workshop options:
- The Soweto Uprising and the international solidarity movement
- Promoting peace, equality and anti-racism in schools
- Spirit of Soweto: poetry and music for social change
- Freedom City: when Martin Luther King came to Newcastle
- Apartheid in South Africa and Israel: boycott movements and justice
- Prevent agenda: Islamophobia in schools?

The event starts at 11am and concludes at 5pm. Tickets must be bought in advance and are available through the Spirit of Soweto Eventbrite page.

There will also be a special poetry night in Tyneside on Thursday 16 June, celebrating the anniversary, with details to follow.

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Friday, 6 May 2016

Election results: Corbyn defies his critics

A few months ago, when political commentators looked ahead to 2016, there was a widespread prediction that Labour would suffer substantial losses in the council elections. Would it be 200 seats lost? Perhaps a little less, perhaps even more?
 
After all, these elections would be for seats previously contested in 2012, a mid-term peak for Ed Miliband, and it was assumed that Corbyn must be electorally unpopular. Yet Corbyn and Labour have defied the critics. The journalists and pundits have been left floundering, desperately trying to make the facts fit their narrative.
 
Local elections
 
There have been no significant losses for Labour in the council elections. This is all the more remarkable when you consider the manufactured media storm about allegations of antisemitism.

It is now clear that the media circus made no difference to Labour's vote. This must be exasperating for the small minority of hardline right-wing 'Bitterite' Labour MPs who hoped that poor results would trigger a challenge for the leadership, or at least gravely destabilise Corbyn's leadership.

Labour's vote has been sustained despite the widespread perception of the party as deeply divided, which is normally an electoral liability. It helps that the Tories are also divided, especially over the EU referendum. A section of the Parliamentary Labour Party has been determined to undermine - and in the longer term oust - Jeremy Corbyn as leader. But having made electability the central issue of contention, they have an unenviable task now it's become clear that a Corbyn-led Labour can do well at the ballot box.

In fact Labour's position was an improvement on the general election, while the Tories suffered. Critics of Corbyn say that it isn't enough: Labour should, they argue, be steaming ahead, and the current performance is insufficient to win at the next general election. But after just eight months in post (amidst very public internal divisions), and with four years to go until the next general election, it is clear that Corbyn is very much on the right track.

London

Zak Goldsmith's campaign for London mayor was perhaps the most racist election campaign by a mainstream political party in the UK for decades. It failed. Sadiq Khan was elected, returning the mayoralty to Labour after eight years with Tory Boris Johnson in the role.
 
Khan is reportedly the first Muslim mayor of a major city in western Europe. London is a multicultural city and a mainly working class city (though one with extraordinary inequality). Whatever the weaknesses of Khan himself, his victory is a welcome riposte to racists and an important breakthrough for Labour.
 
It marks the rejection of a grubby campaign, orchestrated from the top with the involvement of Tory central office and David Cameron's approval. It attempted to link Labour's candidate, by virtue of being a Muslim, to terrorism, painting him (and Corbyn) as a threat to security, even exploiting the memory of the London bombings in July 2005 for political advantage.
 
The Tories, in the final couple of weeks of the campaign, attempted to turn the London elections into a referendum on Jeremy Corbyn. The fact that Labour made a couple of gains on the London Assembly as well as winning the biggest prize suggests that's not the winning tactic that many inside the Westminster bubble assume it will be.
 
Scotland

Labour's bad news came in Scotland. Corbyn's leadership has made no impact there. The decline of Scottish Labour has deep roots and appears to be irreversible.

Every election in Scotland - whether for Westminster, Holyrood or local government - now takes place through the prism of the independence debate. The campaign for independence, the referendum itself and its aftermath have transformed Scottish politics. For many voters, Labour is defined first and foremost as a pro-Union party.

Labour is now being squeezed by both the SNP (pro-independence and broadly social democratic) and the Tories (anti-independence and right-wing). There is a diminishing social base underpinning Labour in Scotland. Note, for example, how the SNP now commands much higher levels of support than Labour across much of Glasgow, historically a Labour heartland.

Scottish Labour's disastrous fate is a legacy of the New Labour years - during which support for the SNP grew - accentuated by the impact of campaigning with the Tories to preserve the Union. Scottish politics has for some years established its own distinct trajectory; it would be naive for anyone to think that a leftwards shift in the UK-wide Labour Party will make much difference (especially when Scottish Labour has failed to shift with it).

The SNP's (very narrow) failure to secure a majority in the Scottish Parliament was a surprise, though it remains the dominant party of Scottish politics, just as it was last May when 56 out of Scotland's 59 Westminster seats were won by the SNP. In a number of constituencies where the party was in second place, it looks like many pro-Union voters have voted tactically for whichever party was likely to block the SNP from winning the seat. 
 
It was also held back somewhat by political timidity, failing to generate the kind of enthusiasm witnessed last spring when - for the general election - the party focused heavily on being an anti-austerity, anti-Trident antidote to a moribund Westminster mainstream. Having failed to win an outright majority, the SNP will now rely on support from the pro-independence Scottish Greens, who had a good election night (winning 6 regional list seats).

There has been some media hype about the Tories overtaking Labour in Scotland. This is indeed a historic shift, but it is largely due to Labour's collapse and not an endorsement of the Tories. The Tory vote share is only a source of excitement for the Tories because it has, for some time, done so catastrophically badly in Scotland. There seems to be a hardening polarisation linked to the question of independence, with many pro-Union voters rallying to the Tories.
 
What next?
 
Jeremy Corbyn and the left are undoubtedly strengthened by the results. This is particularly reassuring after a difficult couple of weeks due to the media hysteria about antisemitism allegations, which have been handled by the Labour Party in a manner that has emboldened both Labour's right wing and the Tories.
 
The 'electability' question has not been entirely settled and there is a long way to go to forming a government in 2020. But the omens are reasonably good and the results are widely acknowledged to be a move in the right direction, even if much of the media (and the Bitterite MPs) are reluctant to accept this. Speculation about a 'coup' against Corbyn has quickly receded. His position is, probably for some time, fairly secure.
 
Nonetheless, the left-wing leadership of the Labour Party is fragile in many ways. There will still be great pressure to compromise from the right, with some associated with the left joining in the calls for compromise too. Such compromise would generate disillusionment among those enthused by Corbyn's rise and the alternative he espouses. It would increasingly demobilise Corbyn's own supporters.
 
The recent, highly successful, Jeremy Corbyn 4 Prime Minister events gave a sense of the continuing appetite for what Corbyn represents. There is a wide layer of people who will campaign around left-wing demands and policies, not just electorally but through campaigns and movements, if Corbyn, McDonnell and the left provide a lead.
 
This year has already seen big demonstrations against austerity, Trident and racism, and nationwide protests and rallies in solidarity with the striking junior doctors. Those movements need to be sustained and strengthened. Their impact is magnified when leading Labour figures participate in them. At the same time, the efforts of Corbyn and his allies to permanently shift Labour to the left are emboldened when large numbers of people take to the streets and demonstrate.
 
This week has also seen Tory U-turns or partial U-turns on accepting child refugees, negotiating with junior doctors and forced academies. They are weak - and cracking under pressure from both a left-led Labour Party and the wider protest movements and trade union movement. The EU referendum and the emerging scandal over spending on their general election campaigns in some seats threaten to deepen their crisis.
 
The Tories' greatest asset is the 'Bitterites', who repeatedly take the focus away from what the Tories are doing and undermine Corbyn's opposition to Tory attacks. Corbyn and allies need to get tougher with them and effectively marginalise them. The Tories' greatest threat comes from an alliance of Labour's left leadership and the movements on the streets. This alliance needs to become more powerful than ever.

 

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Sunday, 24 April 2016

The labour movement and the EU: past, present, future



Unite leader Len McCluskey; Jeremy Corbyn. Pic: The Guardian
In 1975 the vast bulk of the Left - Labour and otherwise - backed leaving the EEC.

Now we have the horrors of the assault on Greek democracy, enforced austerity and Fortress Europe. Yet the majority of the Left, broadly defined, wants to stick with the EU in the forthcoming referendum.

What happened between 1975 and today to explain this extraordinary situation? 

The past

From roughly 1983 onwards, both the Labour Party and the trade unions shifted rightwards. Neil Kinnock succeeded Michael Foot as Labour leader and embarked on the long journey to the right. The Bennite surge of the early 1980s - not the machinations of the party's hard Right and its subsequent split to form the Social Democratic Party - was blamed for the 1983 general election defeat.

The defeat of the great Miners' Strike in 1985 weakened the left and strengthened the right-wing arguments about the impossibility of achieving change through class struggle. Trends already in place - in both the Labour Party and the unions - were accelerated. The 'new realism' of a right-wing union bureaucracy preached moderation and conciliation with the bosses.

This dovetailed with Labour's growing acceptance of Tory policies. Increasingly, Margaret Thatcher was seen as invincible. She would later remark that New Labour was her greatest achievement.

In 1988, then European Commission President Jacques Delors spoke to the TUC Congress. He presented a 'social compromise' model that claimed the Commission was a protector of workers' rights and conditions at the same time as advocating free markets. It was disingenuous, but it had at least a grain of truth and it preyed on the pessimism and passivity of the 'new realists'.

Unions previously hostile to a European capitalist project were largely persuaded. Much of the Labour 'soft left' also made its peace.

Never mind that the mass anti-poll tax movement shattered the myth of Thatcher's invincibility and showed that popular struggle could win. The embrace of 'Europe' continued. Three key things explain this.

Firstly, the 1992 election defeat strengthened Labour's general shift to the right and led to Blairism. Secondly, indsutrial struggle remained at low levels: since 1991 there hasn't been a single year in which official strike figures topped two million days lost. 'Europe' could seem like a modest substitute for winning through trade union struggle.

Thirdly, the civil strife inside the Tory Party - during the Major Years (1990-97) - encouraged the idea that criticism of the EU, as it formally became during those years, was the preserve of the xenophobic Right.

Many left wing Labour figures continued to oppose the EU, from the Maastricht Treaty during John Major's premiership to the thoroughly neoliberal Lisbon Treaty ratified when Gordon Brown was in Number Ten. Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn were foremost among them - combining opposition to neoliberal elite co-operation with advocacy of genuine internationalism and unwavering anti-racism.

The present

One thing about the EU referendum debate - in labour movement circles - is that the position people adopt has implications for specific issues and what we do about them.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the highly controversial US-EU deal that will enable corporate power enormous sway over public services, is currently the supreme example. We have pro-EU trade unions like Unite limiting themselves to merely trying to get exemption for the NHS. If you're campaigning to stay in the EU, it would be rather contradictory and incovenient to also campaign against TTIP.
 
This would prompt the obvious question: if TTIP is so bad, why don't you want to leave the EU and thus ensure we're not part of it, while also weakening the chances of the deal going through for everyone else? Why not strike a powerful blow against the corporate takeover of public assets?

On social media and in online discussions, I see some socialists and trade unionists people arguing the following sequence of points:

a) the EU is more worker-friendly and amenable than this Tory government
b) the Tories will get even worse after Brexit because power will shift to Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith
c) we should therefore regard anything on offer from the EU - including TTIP - as less worse than what we will get after Brexit.

This is weak politics and completely demobilising. The only logical conclusion is to keep quiet about TTIP and don't make a fuss: settle for merely trying to make the NHS exempt.

Instead of independent left-wing politics, we end up with trade unions and elements of the left choosing between two right-wing blocs. What they're choosing is basically the status quo option, but actually worse than that because things are moving in a reactionary direction (with TTIP specifically, but the wider EU project too).

These pro-Remain arguments in the labour movement are making it harder to actually campaign and mobilise on a number of issues. There's a serious danger this will continue to be the case after the referendum. The Trade Union Bill is another example: if you believe the EU is a protector of workers' rights, then resources that should be deployed for stopping the Bill instead get diverted into providing a vaguely 'left' gloss for the Remain camp.

The various movements - against austerity, racism, war, climate change etc - will continue to unite people regardless of their views on the EU. But those movements can be politically sharper if we have a clear-eyed view of the ugly reality of the EU, ditch the disabling illusions in it, and mobilise around demands that constitute a real alternative.

The future

How does the EU referendum intersect with the prospects for a Corbyn-led left-wing Labour government in 2020?

There's an odd paradox here. One of the biggest left-wing arguments for leaving the EU is precisely the fact that continued UK membership will prove a major barrier - in 2020 and beyond - to any positive reforms Corbyn wants to introduce. Yet most Corbyn supporters inside the Labour Party and the trade union movement are supporting remaining inside the EU, with the perspective of 'reforming' it.
 
Anyone who doubts that the EU will be a barrier to social change enacted by a future left-wing government should consider the fate of Greece. It's not merely a question of this or that directive, e.g. whether or not the EU makes it impossible to renationalise the rail. Greece shows how the EU simply won't tolerate any challenge to the austerity consensus and the rule of finance capital.

No, the UK won't be different - because we're bigger, or because we're not part of the Eurozone. These things might make some difference to the nature of the confrontation, but there will undoubtedly be a big confrontation between any left-wing government (together with trade unions and protest movements backing it) and the EU.

It's also clear - following Barack Obama's visit to London and Hillary Clinton's latest pro-EU remarks - that continued UK membership of the EU is an integral component of American strategy for this continent. It's one part of the UK continuing to be a subservient American vassal.

Obama and Clinton both see the EU (and particularly UK membership of it) as closely linked to Nato. These are the two insitutions that the US administration sees as crucial to there being a Europe that is helpful - and to an extent subservient - to US interests. Both institutions have been expanding; both types of expansion are beneficial to the US.

The US political establishment sees Britain's voice inside the EU as a loyally pro-American one. It therefore fervently supports a Remain vote on 23 June. It makes sense for anyone who wants to weaken US influence - and the US/UK 'special relationship' - to vote Leave in the referendum.

Getting out of the EU certainly doesn't guarantee an independent foreign policy - especially when a hardline neocon like Michael Gove is a prominent pro-Leave Tory - but it opens up greater political space for a future Corbyn-led government.

Leaving the EU will stengthen the prospects for any future Labour government. To see things purely in terms of two current variants of Toryism - one embodied by Cameron and Osborne, the other by Johnson and Gove - is appallingly myopic. There is much more to play for than that.

Now more than ever, it is clear that the EU is an enemy of working class people across the continent and also of millions of people fleeing the capitalist system's many miseries - extreme poverty, war and persecution - outside Europe. Now more than ever, the labour movement has good reason to rally opposition to the EU and advocate Exit.

If we are serious about re-shaping the future in a left-wing direction, this becomes abundantly clear.
 

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The EU referendum and the Left


The EU referendum has generated a lot of debate on the British Left, with a range of perspectives on the EU itself and on whether socialists should advocate a vote to leave it in the 23 June referendum.

I've been a little surprised by the extent to which many left-wingers have rallied behind a Remain position. It seemed to me that two big developments last year - the smashing of Greece's government-level resistance to austerity and the EU's appalling response to the refugee crisis - had created a new understanding, especially among left-wingers, of the reality of the EU today. However, this hasn't generally translated into advocating a Leave stance in the referendum this year.
It's especially notable, too, when you recall that David Cameron's renegotiation deal was entirely reactionary. This might have been expected to push a layer of undecided left-wingers into backing a Leave position. But it evidently didn't do so on any serious scale. 

One reason is that the full force of the official labour movement - TUC, a number of big unions, 90% of the Parliamentary Labour Party and even the left-wing Jeremy Corbyn/John McDonnell leadership - has rallied behind staying in the EU. This has naturally impacted on many grassroots activists and socialists.
Another element is the appeal of the idea that the alternative would somehow be even worse. The spectre of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson seemingly intimidates people into (critically) accepting the status quo as a Lesser Evil.

Different stances on the Left
I've perhaps never known an issue - in over 20 years as a socialist activist - where there's been such division between the overwhelming majority of the revolutionary/radical left and the overwhelming majority of the organised reformist left (though I sense that many people with left-wing ideas, but not part of any organisation or party, are unsure about the left Remain position or even reject it outright).

Most independent socialist organisations strongly back a left Leave position, while the considerable ranks of parliamentary left reformism - Labour left, Green left and SNP left - are mostly supporting a Remain position (including some - Corbyn among them - who are privately very sceptical).

In a way it shouldn't be too surprising. It's in the nature of parliamentary reformism to look for... well, parliamentary reformist solutions. And that means looking to the EU - or at least a reformed EU - as a progressive force.
It doesn't seem to matter that the EU is so hopelessly beyond reform, and there are no serious democratic means for reforming it. The illusion still holds. I'd have expected more of the old attitude of Tony Benn, though, among some contemporary left Labour activists.

Benn had a degree of faith in Westminster, but was utterly scornful of Brussels: he grasped the profoundly undemocratic nature of the EU, and understood that it was driven by elite big business and finance interests. Yet there seems to be little of this attitude about, partly no doubt because we currently have a Tory government and the EU is seen (rightly or wrongly) as at least a partial moderating influence on it.
The radical, or anti-capitalist, left has been implacably opposed to the EU and now advocates a Leave vote for obvious reasons. The EU is thoroughly neoliberal and synonymous with austerity; it is undemocratic and, as seen especially in Greece, anti-democratic; and its 'Fortress Europe' policy is vicious, racist and anathema to many of the left's core values.

Our recognition of the limits of parliamentary reformism and our emphasis on mass working class struggle means that reforming the EU holds no appeal for us - especially when regarding the ways in which it is even less accountable and amenable than national governments - and we articulate an entirely different vision of international co-operation and solidarity. It is through action - movements, strikes and left-wing political parties - not elite institutions that change can be effected.

Different strands of the pro-Remain Left
But it would be a mistake to see left-wing pro-Remain opinion as a monolithic bloc. There are in fact 3 distinct, if overlapping, 'left-wing' pro-Remain positions.

The first is that of advocating the EU as currently constituted. This is the dominant position at the level of the broad Left. It involves presenting the EU as a beacon of progressive workers' rights and social protections, together with freedom of movement, while downplaying all the ugly, brutal stuff (inflicting massive cuts on Greece, fences and razor wire, bodies sinking to the bottom of the Aegean and Mediterranean).

The second position is that of the EU reformers - 'yes, the EU may be awful, but let's work on changing it'. Corbyn's public position is a mixture of these two positions - playing up the alleged existing achievements while also clearly pushing for something better.
Nobody who advocates this reform position ever explains the mechanisms they envisage for reform. That's because there aren't any.
The third - and ostensibly most radical - position is one of rejection of the current EU, sober realism about the hopelessness of reforming it... but we should still vote to stay in because the alternative is even worse: really right-wing Tories taking over, success for Ukip, a carnival of racist reaction, and migrants deported.

This last position strikes me as unnecessarily fatalistic. It rests on a quite erroneous assessment of the current balance of political forces that underestimates the significance of Corbyn's rise and the leftwards shift involved, while rather exaggerating the significance of Ukip (a party that has already declined somewhat) and neglecting the depth of the splits and crisis in Tory ranks.
It also ignores the reality that the referendum campaign simply hasn't been dominated by immigration or racist motifs. While the official debate may be shaped by the Right, in its different incarnations, we are not seeing the carnival of reaction some feared. This is particularly so because other political developments - Osborne's budget, steel crisis, Panama Papers - have been awful for the Tories.

Yet the logic of the campaign has pulled growing numbers on the Left into advocating the supposed benefits of the existing EU. This is predictable. It's hardly convincing or persuasive to say "The EU is rubbish and always will be rubbish, but you should vote for it because Farage is horrible".
So we see more and more people talking up the EU as a socially progressive entity. This means evading reality - and it threatens to blunt necessary opposition on particular issues like refugees.


Myths and misconceptions
One thing that hasn't really changed during the campaign is the widespread lack of information about the EU. All sorts of myths persist. Most people on the Left - just like the wider population - know relatively little about the EU's constituent institutions, its history, the wider picture of what the EU does (even on the left, the debate here is remarkably parochial), etc.

One persistent misconception is that the European Parliament has significant power. It doesn't. The unelected Commission and the European Central Bank are more influential.
The parliament is (inevitably for something covering 28 states) extremely remote: my native north-east England elects just 3 of its MEPs, whereas we have 29 MPs in Westminster, and very few people can name their MEPs. Turnout in elections tends to be low because it is so remote and makes so little difference to people's lives.

It is dominated by large political blocs and - unlike in Westminster elections - there is a total separation between electing individual representatives and the formation of a government. In a general election, people know they have a chance to kick out a government. While technically just electing an individual constituency MP, we are also effectively electing a government.

But this doesn't happen at European level - where the Commission, the nearest equivalent to a government, is impervious to what happens in European elections. That is a massive democratic weakness.

The lack of awareness of the reality of the parliament, and more widely how the EU actually functions, is one aspect of the difficulties in actually conducting an informed debate. The more you learn, the more you realise how indefensible the EU is for anyone who is committed to democracy and cares about economic and social justice.

Obama and TTIP
I've already alluded to how the bigger picture - in all sorts of way - is so often ignored in much left-ish discussion of the EU. There is frequently a narrow vision focused on the Johnson/Gove/Duncan Smith axis and the phantom menace of Farage. The referendum comes to be seen as a threat from the Right to make things even worse in British society by exiting the EU.

There are so many problems with that perspective. But let's - by way of illustration - consider Barack Obama's visit to London this week. The US president strongly advocated a Remain vote and specifically indicated that the UK won't be part of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) in the event of Brexit (this is meant to be A Bad Thing that scares us into sticking with the status quo).
Nick Clegg - who you may dimly recall was once Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister - commented that Brexit will be a bad thing for our 'empire', the Union and the 'special relationship' (with the US). For any socialist, that is surely a succinct list of three very good reasons to vote to leave the EU. Yet there's a substantial layer of socialists who appear to regard such big geopolitical realities as less important than giving Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage a bloody nose.

Despite Obama's warning on TTIP, some on the left are determined to insist that leaving the EU will actually make no difference to whether TTIP - and its corporate raiding of public assets - happens to us. This is simply wrong. Whatever uncertainties there may be about the consequences of Brexit, we know that the UK can't be part of TTIP if outside the EU.
Then we invariably get the suggestion that a post-Cameron Tory leadership would actually negotiate something even worse for us. This is highly speculative and ignores the chronic problems faced by the Tories. In any case, shouldn't such decisions be in the remit of elected national parliaments not the EU? Wouldn't it be better for the activist left - and for the potential of mass campaigning and mobilisation - if such things were brought into the national democratic realm?


Another world is possible
The issue of TTIP illustrates so much of what's going on in the broad left-wing debate about this referendum. It's a reminder of the reality of the EU as a deeply neoliberal institution  - and an elite club for the transnational capitalist class and its politicians - that rides roughshod over any semblance of democracy. It has been made abundantly clear that Brexit will constitute a big setback for TTIP, yet there are layers of this country's left that don't wish to take that opportunity, instead insisting that we must stay in so we can change it.

We need a bigger, bolder vision on the left: one that recognises the EU for what it is, and advocates a Leave stance on that basis, but that also affirms a powerful vision of genuine international, anti-racist and anti-neoliberal solidarity in opposition to the EU and our own government. Should there ever be a Corbyn-led Labour government, the EU will emphatically be a barrier not a friend. No amount of rhetoric about 'reform' will alter that.
The EU is a constraint on the people of Europe ending austerity. It is a constraint (to put it very mildly) on free movement into Europe by the people of the Global South. And it is a constraint on anything democratic and popular that may fall foul of the capitalist class.

For these reasons, we should be getting out of the EU and raising the banner of something better. In a debate dominated by the Right on both 'sides', we sorely need a clear and coherent Left Leave alternative.


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Friday, 15 April 2016

DEBUNKED: 12 left-wing reasons for remaining in the EU

In recent weeks I have encountered a variety of reasons, from fellow socialists, for staying in the European Union and voting Remain in the 23 June referendum. Here I outline the most common reasons and offer my own responses.

1. The EU has given us workers' rights and social protections. Leaving the EU will mean we lose those.

It is overwhelmingly a combination of trade unions and domestic governments (mainly Labour) that have delivered those modest protections. It is through collective working class struggle that we can defend (and extend) them.

Such protections are in any case meagre, and they cannot be revoked by the Tories without a struggle because EU laws are subsequently incorporated into domestic UK law. The EU is overwhelmingly dedicated to the interests of finance and business, not to support for the trade unions.

The Tories can happily push through their draconian attacks in the Trade Union Bill within the framework of the EU. If anything will stop them, it will be trade union resistance. The TUC's preoccupation with campaigning to stay in the EU has actually somewhat demobilised opposition to the Bill.

2. We need the EU to protect human rights - the Tories will shred our rights otherwise.

The European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights have nothing at all to do with the EU. They are completely unaffected by this referendum.

3. This is a referendum on migration and to vote Leave is effectively to oppose immigration into the UK.

No it isn't. The referendum's outcome will make no direct difference to migration laws and rights. The battles over migrants' rights are already happening and will continue after 23 June, whatever the result, with quite different dividing lines to those we are seeing on the EU referendum.    

While many right-wing Leave supporters are motivated partly by hostility to immigration, left-wing opponents of the EU are implacable anti-racists who stand up for freedom of movement and migrants' rights. And the mainstream pro-EU camp is hardly friendly to migrants’ rights, with David Cameron negotiating away as many such rights as possible to secure a deal with the European Commission before launching the referendum.

Polling has shown that immigration is a major issue influencing how people will vote, but that it's way behind the economy in importance. This is certainly not a referendum on immigration and the debate is not dominated by that issue, as some on the left feared.

4. Brexit will lead to migrants being deported in huge numbers from the UK.

No it won't. No section of the British ruling class, or of the Tory government, wants that. Cheap migrant labour is good news for many employers. For the Tories - for every strand of the Tory Party, whether pro-EU or anti-EU - this economic imperative is combined with the need for racist scapegoating.

Also, such large-scale deportations would be highly contentious and enormously difficult in practice. And they would raise the difficult question of why British emigrants should be allowed to remain in the EU countries they have moved to. In any case, the direction of political travel inside the EU is clearly to start resurrecting border controls, so the EU provides no long-term guarantees of freedom of movement.

5. Brexit will lead to a carnival of racist reaction.

The same was said of the referendum campaign. But it hasn't happened and it clearly isn't going to happen. This referendum is taking place in the context of important political upheavals that are largely beneficial to the left, following the rise of Jeremy Corbyn to Labour's leadership.

News headlines in recent weeks have concerned George Osborne's disastrous budget, Iain Duncan Smith's resignation, the crisis in the steel industry and the toxic fallout from the Panama Papers. The Tories' divisions have - pleasingly - deepened.

There is no need for such miserablism and fatalism on the left, especially given that the most immediate result of a Leave victory in June will likely be the prime minister's resignation (not to mention a defeat for everyone from Barack Obama to the European Central Bank, from the IMF to the bulk of the City of London).

6. The EU is at least some sort of shelter against a Tory government.

No it isn't. And no it won't be. This is the same EU that smashed the Greek left-wing government's attempts to defy austerity.

The Tories are not some uniquely awful right-wing government. There are many right-wing governments in the EU, the 'centre-left' governments are little better, and the EU itself is deeply conservative and has neoliberal commitments embedded deeply in it.

Also, why should we cling to an utterly undemocratic edifice? If a Corbyn-led Labour Party should be elected in 2020 - or earlier, given the Tories' crisis - the EU will be a severe barrier to attempts to deliver positive reforms. We can’t be trapped by the fatalistic short-termism of assuming we face a vicious right-wing government.

7. We may avoid TTIP, but a Tory government led by Eurosceptics would simply negotiate an even worse deal with the US.

Let them try it! Such efforts would be subject to the British parliamentary process - not merely the remote and obscure world of Brussels politics - and therefore also to mass popular opposition. Such big decisions about trade deals - about powerful corporations grabbing, and profiting from, our public assets and services - should be subject to democracy. This is a fundamental principle for the left.

We should also be clear that TTIP is not going to be defeated inside the EU's structures. The European parliament has very weak powers on this, as on everything else. It is a highly secretive matter for the unelected European Commission (whose trade commissioner notoriously declared that she doesn't take her mandate from the people).

8. If Cameron and Osborne are forced out, they will simply be replaced by even worse Tories.

The Tories are split and in crisis. It's getting, if anything, worse for them. This mounting crisis is for a number of reasons, Europe merely one among them. Broadly speaking, this crisis is a boost for the left, the labour movement and the working class.

A defeat for Cameron in the referendum will make things even worse for the Tories - and will scupper any remaining chance (already slim) of Osborne replacing him. Whoever does take over will do so in deeply unfavourable conditions, presiding over a divided party. That will shape their prospects. Bring it on!

9. The EU may be awful, but it can be reformed.

No it can't. It is not democratic and there are no mechanisms for reforming it. It is deeply bureaucratic and has many commitments to neoliberal mantras enshrined in it, via a series of treaties and rulings.

It would, in any case, require genuinely left-wing governments coming to office across the EU - pretty much simultaneously - to make such reform an even slightly viable proposition. There is no indication of this being remotely likely to happen.

10. The EU may be flawed, but it still functions as a forum for much-needed international co-operation on issues from climate change to tackling tax evasion.

No it doesn't. This claim featured in Jeremy Corbyn's speech this week, but there's scant evidence to support it. The EU has had extraordinarily little impact on these particular fields. It has not even slightly restrained capitalism from destroying our climate - any more than it's restrained the super-rich from robbing their national treasuries (and thus the people) by putting their money where it can't be taxed.

It has, however, been a useful forum for strengthening transnational corporations and powerful corporate interests. Brussels is a hive of well-funded corporate lobbying. It's really no surprise that the Confederation of British Industry is so overwhelmingly behind the Remain campaign - or that the IMF this week declared strongly for the UK staying in the EU.

11. The EU may not be working well, but we need it for any prospective international co-operation.

Should we also argue for the maintenance of the IMF, WTO, World Bank and Nato? No serious socialist wants to sustain those institutions. The left wants to dismantle them because they are institutions of the capitalist and ruling class elites.

The same applies to the EU, which was founded and developed to advance business interests, has pushed for neoliberal policies of cuts, deregulation and privatisation for over 20 years and has overseen the barbarism of 'Fortress Europe'.

Real internationalism comes from below. It advances through joint struggles of working class and oppressed people. It doesn't rely - even slightly - on remote and elite institutions. The European Central Bank is one of the EU's institutional bodies. Anyone who thinks it can be a friend of the working class has not been paying attention.

12. It is better to be a 'European' - whatever the EU's limits - than a 'Little Englander'.

It's better to be an internationalist - with a truly global perspective and truly global solidarity - than either of them. Our vision should not be limited by the (ever more repressive) borders of Europe, with black and brown bodies from outside Europe drowning – in their thousands – in the sea. 

We can make common cause with American fast food workers and Egyptian revolutionaries, with Palestinian activists and Brazilian pro-democracy demonstrators, regardless of whether their countries are in the EU.

There is nothing inherently progressive about Europeanism. Proud 'Europeanism' is entirely compatible with the most vile forms of racism - and indeed it often is, as much of the European far right articulates the alleged superiority of 'European civilisation' over the predominantly Muslim, supposedly backward and dangerous, Other. International solidarity is in no way aided by the pieties of being proud Europeans.

This is not a vote on whether we want to be ‘part of Europe’. It is a vote on an institution: the European Union. It’s an institution that has done far more harm than good. We should get out of it, both for the sake of the great majority of people here and to weaken the EU as a whole. 


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