Theresa May’s government ended 2017 with three Cabinet resignations (Priti Patel, Michael Fallon and Damian Green) and a parliamentary defeat. It is a government mired in Brexit negotiations where the DUP tail wags the government dog as May and her minister for exiting the EU, David Davis, desperately fought to save an agreement with the EU that was first done then undone by Arlene Foster’s band of loyalist brothers. Finally wording on ‘full alignment’ of the Six Counties with Ireland was agreed at the eleventh hour.
This is a shambolic government that continues to pursue a broken austerity economics, as evidenced by Hammond’s November budget, while workers endure ten years of pay caps, higher inflation, massive personal debt and disappearing public and local services. Presiding over growing social inequality and hardship is a leader propped up only by a fear of further Labour advances if an election were called.
The EU Referendum was one of the most dishonest campaigns staged in Britain. It is clear from their behaviour that the last thing Brexiteers want is power to the people either expressed through parliamentary representatives or in wider society. ‘Taking back control’ is being revealed as a cynical hoodwinking of voters. Against eleven Tory rebels who voted with a united Labour and other opposition parties to defeat the government on its failure to sanction in law a parliamentary vote on any final EU deal, the government has sought to override parliament. Moreover, David Davis spectacularly failed to produce any evidence of impact assessments being undertaken on the consequences of Brexit on 48 sectors of the British economy.
John Palmer analyses the deal to move to the second stage of EU withdrawal negotiations, seeing the Tories on very thin ice. A hard Brexit has been temporarily averted. Opportunities arise for Labour to champion a European renewal programme.
May agreed a liabilities payment of up to £39 billion, an unsatisfactory arrangement for EU nationals in the UK and no hard Irish border. These contradictory arrangements will come to haunt the Tories over the next year.
Labour did not have a vote on Brexit at its Brighton conference. But its 2016 conference voted heavily to support either a general election or a referendum on staying in the EU if the deal failed to meet fundamental criteria for economic and social security. Peter Kenyon says it is now time for Labour to end constructive ambiguity and call unequivocally for continued participation in the EU, as a minimum the single market and Customs Union.
The Tories are forfeiting any say in future arrangements, accepting EU regulations, rule-making and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice during a transition period from March 2019. Ceding control and influence in decision making rather than securing more control: this is the Tory reality. At least the Tories won’t be able to (unsuccessfully) block extending EU moves to crack down on tax havens—including sham UK overseas territories. Labour needs to call out the Tories duplicity on all this.
A hollow wish list is how Prem Sikka sees the Tories industrial strategy. Continuing the ‘not’ taking back control theme he sees the dropping of proposals to have workers on company boards as symbolic of the Tories failure to re-boot the economy. He outlines alternative ideas for worker stakeholders, drawing on German and Scandinavian models. Bryn Jones expands this idea further, arguing that drawing on the ideas and expertise of producers and providers must be a central element in any strategy for socialist economic development.
In the wake of the #metoo movement of women against sexual abuse, highlighted particularly by the Harvey Weinstein exposures, Mica Nava examines the politics of gender and power and asks why now? The generation of seventies feminists did tackle issues of sexual exploitation but did not attract the media coverage of the later wave of feminists who are calling out misogynists in cultural and political life. Perhaps Trump, social media and a more confident celebrity sisterhood is contributing to challenging the ugly hands of male power.
Patrick Mulcahy surveys the transformation of the Hollywood dream factory into a factory of shame. Mary Southcott celebrates 100 years of votes for women and the pioneering work for a new democracy of our suffragette and suffragist antecedents. She further poses the democratic questions yet unresolved in our antiquated democracy. Alena Ivanova highlights the poverty of our electoral system while Cat Smith MP champions a thoroughgoing constitutional review of democratic participation covering voting age, registration, electoral system change and much more.
2018 will be a year of local elections when Labour candidates face the horrendous choices of what municipal services to maintain in the face of further stringent government cutbacks. Tom Miller re-emphasises the crisis (as Duncan Bowie outlined in our last issue) and suggests a concerted national campaign is needed for the life and soul of local government. 2018 could also be the year of a general election. There is no room for complacency. Labour’s Democracy Review, as Katy Clarke writes, is about getting the party onto an effective permanent campaign footing by strengthening the sinews of internal democracy and participation while opening up the party to local communities, unions and civil society organisations.
Tory Brexiteers are likely to beat the nationalist drum as they seek to portray the EU as anti-British. They will find few friends in Trump’s ‘America First’ regime. But that won’t stop efforts to play the populist blame game. Labour needs to keep the pro-Europe internationalist flag flying in protecting workers rights and the environment whilst developing an economic development and tariff free trade programme framed in a European rather than national context. We have more in common with our European partners than that which divides us.