SNAP LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS WERE HELD ON 12.12.19 DUE TO THE PARALYSIS OF THE CONSERVATIVE PARLIAMENT AROUND THE BREXIT QUESTION. With 365 seats, the Conservatives of Boris Johnson are now strongly ahead of the Labour Party (then led by Jeremy Corbyn) which got only 203 seats. This is in terms of seats. An analysis in terms of votes, shows that the slide of Labour votes towards the Conservatives is much less than reported.
The short electoral campaign soon became the arena for the trial of Jeremy Corbyn: He was not patriotic enough; he hovered too much between Brexit and Remain and his party was institutionally anti-Semitic. It was almost single-handedly that J Corbyn faced his national accusers and their brazen international their allies, like Donald Trump. The media, of which the BBC, played all the roles of prosecutor, jury and judge. In spite of all this however, the Labour Party still won 10.3 million votes, its second-best result over the last five general elections, the 2005 Blair elections included.
Those behind the 10.3 million votes represent an important Labour and Trade Union vanguard. Confident in itself and in the working class, this huge layer of comrades won a degree of success when Momentum and the Corbyn leadership were formed in 2015.
In this adversarial situation, the millions who still voted Corbyn revealed their importance and high level of class consciousness. They showed that they live politically and feel part of the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist advances made by the populations in Venezuela, Bolivia, Syria, Iran, etc. – with the increasing support of Russia and China.
In the UK, an important layer of petit bourgeoisie and workers’ aristocracy has always fluctuated between Labour and other parties. In this case, some workers may have voted ‘Tory’ (in the Midlands, the North and the North-East) but they did not vote Tory as a class. In the 2017 elections, J Corbyn recovered one million votes out of the five million that Blair and New Labour had lost. In these 2019 elections, Labour goes down again, losing 2.6 million compared with 2017. But since it was under Corbyn that the Party started recovering, it is neither his person nor his project that caused the losses this time. It is a lie to blame Corbyn for it. The Labour right-wing uses this lie to justify the onslaught on the Corbynites which it is preparing. But J Corbyn is still in the Party, and freer than before to join the Labour left on the socialist road. The 10.3 million who held ‘fast to the mast’ indicate that there has been no loss of spirit or any disarray in the working class.
Referring to the de-industrialised Midlands, North and North-East of the country, the capitalists speak of “a tidal wave of votes for Boris Johnson”. Most bourgeois analysts say that Labour votes went to the Conservatives in the de-industrialised North. Study shows that this is plausible in some areas, but even then, not by a lot. It is in the bulk of the abstentions at national level (32.7%) that a change has taken place. In 2017, when the abstentions were only slightly lower than now, Labour had attracted new votes, creating less abstentions. In these elections, the entire capitalist class went to vote to bring Corbyn down. The Financial Times of 13.12.19 reported that the level of abstentions in the areas of the North was often much greater than the national average, allowing for seats to fall to the Conservatives, sometimes by small margins.
The largely ‘Remain’ Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) stayed deaf to working class’ anger towards capitalist Europe and capitalist UK. The Labour Party’s attitude towards the working class is one of condescension: It does things ‘for’ the working class (not much), but very little ‘with’ the working class and even less with ‘the ideas’ of the working class. In leaving unrebutted the false accusations against J Corbyn, the party showed its incompetence. The working class saw its leaders cornered and trapped, but still unwilling to call upon it (the working class), its comprehension and its capacity to mobilise. This arrogance comes from the party posing as ‘still in control’, not being by-passed and – above all – unwilling to call capitalism by name and confront it. The working class sees this. It observes it in every day struggle.
Since the overall results for the Conservatives are almost the same as in 2017, there was no “landslide” for Boris Johnson. However, there was a change in the composition of the vote for the Conservatives. The latter lost to the (LibDems) in the Remain areas, and made up for it from the Brexit-UKIP vote in the areas where Nigel Farage had agreed with B Johnson not to stand candidates. The result being a Conservative Party much more to the right than before.
The Brexit poison:
A small but powerful right-wing and extreme right-wing has developed in the Conservative Party. This development was helped directly through the two official anti-Corbyn State visits of Donal Trump during the two Johnson’s electoral campaigns. It was strongly helped also by foreign and national secret services keen to create, or to amplify, the false allegations that kept J Corbyn paralysed.
In the 2017 general elections, J Corbyn had proposed his own kind of Brexit. He would make new relations between the UK and the EU with the intention, he said, to secure more workers rights and environment protections. Through various parliamentary votes, Labour had forced Theresa May to include some of these rights and protections in her own preliminary Withdrawal Agreement.
In December 2018, J Corbyn spoke of his wish “to be able to work with other European parties to help with the construction of a social, socialist Europe”. This was in a speech in Portugal, but he never pursued this idea. The rest of his team, including his closest colleagues, behaved as if this had never been said. It behaved as if there was only Brexit and Remain under the sun, and no alternative imaginable.
Once B Johnson had Theresa May out of the way, he took the commands of the Conservative Party and became prime minister without national elections (July 2019). From that elevated position, he used the State levers to start demolishing Labour. With the unconditional support of the media, he turned the elections into a Brexit plebiscite. Graciousness from the monarch and forbearance on the part of the Supreme Court helped him remove remaining obstacles in the subtleties of the law.
With the election focusing increasingly on Brexit, the transformative ideas in the Labour Manifesto faded in the background. J Corbyn became pressed on all sides to take a clear position either for Remain or for Brexit. The Labour right-wing condemned him of ‘sitting on the fence’ and inability to lead – a view that the capitalist press put in the headlines. The idea of a “social, socialist Europe” had never been discussed in the party. Now the situation had made it unthinkable.
Corbyn not acceptable to the ruling class:
The Labour electoral Manifesto was far from being perfect. It dropped the principle of unilateral nuclear disarmament, and replaced it with a declaration of support for Nato. It was also agreeing with the refurbishment of the Trident-Polaris missile system – this North-American nuclear weapon of first-strike capability based in Faslane (Scotland).
In light of J Corbyn’s pacifist history, the media demanded to know if he would be, yes or no, disposed to “press the button” to defend “our national security” against a foreign power like Russia for instance. Although J Corbyn gave a qualified ‘no’ to this question, he later admitted that Russia was to blame for the Scripal poisoning in Amesbury (although the investigations are still unfinished). He kept his ground however on the question of pressing the button. The press, with the BBC and Nick Robinson in the lead, declared J Corbyn unfit to defend the country.
A secret services’ historian, Christopher Andrew, declared on TV that “our friends the Americans will never trust J Corbyn [in the role of] head of state”. Not long before election day, five ex-military commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq warned the electorate against electing a prime minister dangerous to the security of the country. Lord Alan West, a retired navy commander and a Labour Peer, declared Corbyn “a threat to national security”.
In the run-up to the elections, the Board of Deputies of British Jews made repeated demands for J Corbyn to apologise for what the Board regards as “institutional anti-Semitism in the Labour Party”. A fortnight before the vote, the chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis denounced what he called “the new poison, sanctioned from the top, that has taken root in the Labour Party”. Although Jeremy Corbyn refused to apologise as required, he missed the opportunity to explain the purpose of this false accusation. The time had come for him to tell the world how the Board outside the party, and the Board’s allies inside the party, campaign to stop the Labour and trade union members developing a consistent anti-imperialist world view. It was the occasion to denounce the direct actions of national and international capitalism in the Labour Party.
A party too divided to win:
In the person of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party right-wing saw – correctly – the beginning of the end for their power to continue collaborating with big money, big speculation, the sale of council estates, the sale of public lands, and the returns to be made from privatisations. In August-September, this Labour right wing took massively to the streets to join the Remainers’ demos directly led by the LibDems; and this, against the decisions both of National Conference and J Corbyn. Following this, three close Corbyn’s collaborators, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott and Keir Starmer, joined the Remain camp, in the name of Labour, and against their leader.
To stop his team exploding, Corbyn proposed a national vote on any eventual Brexit negotiated by him, with the option ‘Remain’ also on the ballot. This did not reconcile the two sides, however! ‘Remainer’ Tom Watson (Labour MP for West Bromwich-East, and Labour No. 2) condemned Corbyn for turning down “a second referendum”. On the Brexit side, Dennis Skinner voted with the Conservatives to rush Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement through parliament – never mind that it dropped Theresa May’s workers’ and environmental protections, stopped migrant children joining family in Britain, and removed from parliament any say in Johnson’s future Brexit UK-EU negotiations!
At the end of it all, it is interesting to note that a substantial number of anti-Corbyn Labour leaders seems to have stepped down, deserted, or lost their seats. Tom Watson for whom “Nato is a socialist construct” abandoned his two leading positions even before the elections. Interviewed, he said: “I did not leave the party, the party left me”.
The British working class has often used abstentions as a way to shake up the party, and let the right-wing fall away. The Labour abstainers have done this again. This Labour Party allowed itself to be divided and led by the nose by the Farage-Johnson’s games. It was not enough to speak about ‘the few’, one had to call them ‘capitalists’ and show how Corbyn was facing international capital. The working class did not vote Tory. In terms of votes, and not of seats, the Labour losses went to abstentions, to the Greens, to the Nationalists. In Scotland, Labour lost all its MPs (but one) to the SNP. The working class is no longer systematically ‘Labour’. If Labour does not serve, it loses its reason to exist.
The Medical Journal reported how public spending cuts in health and social care have been linked to around 120,000 excess deaths between 2010 and 2017. The Social Metrics Commission states that poverty affects 14.3 million in the UK, one-fifth of the population, of which 4.6 million are children. Boris Johnson says that austerity is finished, but he is pushing through laws to make the RMT strike illegal. His government prepares to attack the working class, whilst 3,500 soldiers are on stand-by. The working class looks for the party to stand up to this. The 10 million persistent Labour voters convey the message that Labour is going fight. And if Labour fights, it will not be at liberty to expel its Corbynites. Who knows? It may need again those it expelled.
The party needs the ideas which it lacked in these elections. The contradiction Brexit-Remain is only unsurpassable if one discards its working class, proletarian alternative: Let’s uphold the idea of a social, socialist Europe. This is going to need a Labour press. It is going to need internal means of study and communication, to inspire all the members. It is going to need concrete actions of solidarity with the working class, the Greens, the Climate rebels and the workers’ parties – and this, not only in the UK but with the rest of Europe and the United States.
The day the Labour Manifesto abandoned the principle of “unilateral nuclear disarmament” the capitalist class gained a key advantage. If we no longer propose to disarm our capitalists, we take the side of their wars. The big Corbyn idea was, and is, that society must operate for everyone and no longer “for the few”. Since “the few” are in power, why should Corbyn be ready “to press the button” for them? – to save them??
The anti-Corbyn hysteria has shown how little capitalism can put up with human progress, and what a deep hatred it harbours against it. One must prepare the party for the coming period where the limits of parliamentary democracy are becoming obvious.