Renew call for Labour special conference

Submitted by AWL on 22 May, 2019 - 12:26 Author: Editorial

According to all polls as we go to press on 21 May, the Brexit Party, the personal vehicle of the ex-Tory, ex-Ukip-leader, friend-of-Trump, right-winger Nigel Farage is set to come top in the European Parliament elections on 23 May. The Tories will do very badly. Labour will get a mediocre result, and according to one poll may even get fewer votes than the Lib-Dems.

Labour for a Socialist Europe has distributed around 47,000 pro-Labour, anti-Brexit leaflets for the campaign to constituency Labour Parties and to individuals, and reports a good response on street stalls and on doorsteps. The official Labour campaign has been weak.

The Unite union has announced a special campaign to get out the Labour vote and stop far-right leader Tommy Robinson (formerly of the EDL) winning a Euro-seat in north-west England — but announced it only on 20 May, just three days before polling day.

On 17 May, Jeremy Corbyn called an end to the six-week-long talks between Labour and Conservative leaderships for a compromise formula on Brexit. Since then Corbyn has nudged his on-the-fence position slightly in an anti-Brexit direction. On 19 May he signalled that he might support a new public vote on a deal passed through Parliament with Labour support, and not just on a “bad Tory deal”. Labour, he said, want to “get a deal which guarantees trade and relations with Europe in the future, and if we can get that through Parliament... then I think it would be reasonable to have a public vote to decide on that in the future”.

He also made a statement which has been interpreted as reopening the door to Labour support for free movement, though in fact he hardly said that. “It would be open for negotiation, the level of movement of people between Europe and this country if we were a non-member of the EU”.

Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will put a revised presentation of (the same) Withdrawal Agreement to a new vote in the Commons in the week starting 3 June. She is unlikely to win that vote, and has said that if she is defeated she will set out when she will stand down as Tory leader. Boris Johnson and others have already started their campaigns for the new Tory leadership election. It looks like the Tories will get a “harder-Brexit” leader, and one operating under the pressure of Farage’s probable victory on 23 May.

Labour’s current “on-the-fence” policy is unprincipled; is demoralising Labour activists, and pushing a steady trickle of Labour members to quit; and is not even serving its designed purpose of retaining votes. According to a survey by the polling company YouGov, 62% of Tory voters from 2017 are likely to vote on 23 May for Farage’s Brexit Party. Labour will also lose the big majority of its 2017 voters, with more going to anti-Brexit parties (21% to the Lib Dems, 16% to the Greens) than staying with Labour (35%). 14% are estimated to be going to the Brexit Party.

The “on-the-fence” policy undermines Labour’s basic function as a proper political party (to work out a policy and rally people, by argument, around it), and is correspondingly destructive for Labour’s internal life. Members should be debating the issues in structures which allow for reasoned exchange of views and clear decisions. Instead they are left sifting through media statements by different Labour front-benchers and trying to gauge the shifts and nuances and balance.

The exercise is reminiscent of the “Kremlinology” used by journalists in the heyday of the old USSR to estimate from opaque public statements the trend of thinking behind the walls of the old Tsarist fortress which housed the autocratic government. Ever since TSSA (transport union) general secretary Manuel Cortes raised the call on 6 December 2018, anti-Brexit leftists have been campaigning for a special Labour conference. The demand is still relevant. It will be even more relevant if the Labour results on 23 May are as bad as expected.

Labour for a Socialist Europe will continue to organise in the branches and constituencies. Its next big public activity is a left anti-Brexit contingent, alongside Another Europe is Possible, at the anti-Trump protest in London on 4 June.

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