Any day now Jeremy Corbyn should come out with an explicit commitment from Labour to remain in the EU and campaign for that view in a general election or referendum. That’s what the majority of Labour Party members want, and listening to members was the hallmark of Corbyn’s early success as leader. This is also what the majority of the shadow cabinet want: John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry, not to mention Brexit shadow Keir Starmer and the serial false-starter Tom Watson.
The Peterborough by-election was a great result. Labour put on a brilliant campaign with hundreds of party workers and targeted voter ID. We came through the middle of two openly pro-Brexit parties with 31%, the lowest winning percentage in a by-election since 1918.
Labour equivocated in the by-election, staying on the fence on Brexit. But it won’t work in a general election, let alone in another referendum. There are no summer swallows in the result. We won’t have the numbers to spread around, but more significantly voters have run out patience with conspicuous ambiguity.
The political reality revealed by the European Parliament elections and the ascendancy of a hard Brexiter to leadership of the Tories and Prime Minister is that Labour has run out of road. Labour came a pathetic third place on 14% in the Euros, losing half its MEPs, when it should have won. The Lib Dems and Greens were re-energised by the Remain vote and the Brexit party mopped up the Leavers. Labour avoided the key question: where do you stand on Europe? There is no more room for equivocation.
Johnson will seek to out-Brexit Farage. He has taken the high road of talking up a hard Brexit (whether he can deliver the numbers in parliament is a moot point). Labour pushed hard for a soft Brexit with a Customs Union and close alignment to the single market and defence of the Good Friday Agreement in NI. That failed. Corbyn put jobs, rights and environment first. To protect working people, the economy and social cohesion we now need to ditch talk of respecting the referendum result and get on with the job of campaigning for our programme in a European context.
The collapse of British Steel, with a loss of 3,500 jobs, the closures of Toyota, Honda and Ford plants with thousands of job losses in the support and supply sectors, shows the writing on the wall. Labour failed to put its programme for a green-based investment programme to end austerity in a European framework during the Euros, as Peter Kenyon argues. We failed to nail our Remain colours to the mast and thus consolidate Remain voters and win over disenchanted Leave voters, as Julie Ward MEP explains.
Labour needs to cast its economic and social programme in European stone. If we are to harvest money from tax dodgers we need concerted European action, as argued by Alexander Antonyuk in exposing the UK-Ukraine tax rip off. If we are to tackle the climate emergency we need coordinated European action in the face of Trump’s climate change denial. If we are to champion well-paid secure jobs we need to fight for a European recovery programme with our allies in the Iberian peninsula and other EU member states moving against neoliberalism. If we are to challenge Fortress Europe we need to do so with allies in Europe.
In this issue Nigel Doggett reports on the latest international report on climate change and the imperative for nations to work together for zero carbon emission targets to be achieved within the next decade. This is the message from young people personified by Swedish school student Greta Thunberg.
Several writers underline the danger of rising national populism across Europe and around the world. Elly Schlein, an Italian independent MEP, in reporting on the Euro elections highlights the irony of the far right organising internationally for European nationalism, when it should be the left that is championing cross-border cooperation and anti-capitalist action. Sheila Osmanovic dissects the nature of Recep Erdogan’s bid to Islamicise Turkey with a mix of populist politics, projects and ruthless repression. The re-running of elections is his latest ploy. Kabul Sandhu reports on the landslide re-election of Hindu national populist Modi in India.
Now Britain has its own home-grown populist in the shape of Boris Johnson about to become Prime Minister. Don Flynn examines the UK’s unfolding democratic crisis, turbo-charged by Brexit. The unreformed Westminster two-party parliamentary system is tearing apart. Scotland will press hard for independence in the EU if the Tories seek a no-deal exit. The two-year collapse of power-sharing in (Remain-voting) Northern Ireland raises the spectre of a united Ireland or renewed border conflicts and crisis, reports Paul Dixon. In the English regions local independent parties are scoring victories, pressing for greater political and financial devolution, says Paul Salveson.
What is clear is that to quote WB Yeats, the centre cannot hold. Something has to give. For Labour it has to be fence-sitting on Brexit. Labour under Corbyn has built close links with our socialist allies in Europe, particularly in Spain, Portugal and Greece. We now need to extend those links in a practical remain and transform the EU campaign. This will enable the party to re-connect with our pro-European base and reach out to wavering Leave voters who are not so much anti-European as anti-establishment.
Jeremy Corbyn’s strength is as a campaigner. Without Labour’s success in destroying the Tories’ majority in 2017, we would likely have seen Brexit happen. We now need to find the courage and conviction to start the campaign for the democratic socialist transformation of the UK in Europe, the first step being for a public vote or, if the Tories want to take it to the wire, Revoke Article 50. It was a referendum that should never have happened in the first place.