The Tories have brought the UK to the brink of calamity. Rather than heal divisions of culture, wealth, regions and nations they have brought only deeper conflicts and disunity. Not least in their own party.
As the year ended, Theresa May had pulled the vote on her 580-page withdrawal deal and survived a no confidence vote – triggered by 48 of her hardline Brexiters – by 200 to 117. Then she faced the double humiliation of being the first PM to bring the government into contempt of parliament and to have EU leaders tell her there could be no renegotiation of the deal or the ‘backstop’ agreement on Ireland.
It is clear there is no parliamentary majority for May’s deal. But the three government defeats in Westminster also mean that ‘no deal’ cannot be an option. That leaves two real choices: Labour’s preferred option, a general election (without Theresa May leading the Tories); or a People’s Vote to accept the deal or to stay in the EU. This could mean a suspension or rescinding of Article 50 (now possible without the other 27 EU nations’ consent).
Chartist is unequivocally for reform and remain. This was Labour’s 2015 manifesto commitment and following conference 2018 it should be in the next manifesto. We have tried ‘respecting the referendum result’. For two and a half years Labour has sought to influence the government for a customs union, access to the single market and full rights for EU nationals in the UK. Corbyn reached out at conference. But Labour’s calls have been ignored.
The position is untenable. The Cabinet deal is worse than remaining in the EU. It’s worse for jobs, living standards (the pound has slumped against the dollar and euro), it’s worse for public services, for environmental protection, human rights and workplace safeguards. It’s worse for prospects of trade, it threatens peace in Northern Ireland and the break-up of the UK. It undermines prospects for collaboration with our fellow European citizens.
As Peter Kenyon argues we have now reached a turning point. It is time to move on. A People’s Vote is moving up the agenda. In this political impasse it is necessary for Labour to begin preparing for a PV as Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell have been saying. Trevor Fisher says ‘crossover point’ has been reached to invalidate the 2016 referendum result.
Echoing calls for a PV, Rupa Huq MP also highlights Brexit’s economic perils for Black and Asian people and a continuing rise in racist attacks since the referendum. Kimberly McIntosh provides further data on the negative impact of Brexit on BAME communities.
On trade Nick Dearden exposes the fantasies Brexiters seek to impose on us. With a mixture of imperial nostalgia and fawning Atlanticism they would cede control to the likes of Trump and his corporate mates behind an ‘America First’ trade war protectionism. The NHS would be opened up to US Big Pharma and private companies eager to extend their profits empire. Dave Toke further emphasises that chlorinated chicken would be but one outcome of the bonfire of food and environmental safety regulations.
Fundamentally whether Labour is fighting a General Election or a referendum the case must be a positive one for being in Europe.
As Don Flynn reports, the main message from December’s Another Europe is Possible conference is that we cannot have a remain case led by ‘project fear’ which characterised the last campaign. Labour’s campaign for reform and remain must be independent, forthright and confident in promoting a positive vision of Europe for the many not the few. A project of hope.
As 2019 dawns an old spectre haunts the world. It is that of crude nationalism, xenophobia and authoritarianism manifest in Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Bolsonaro, Modi and others. While the EU currently provides a framework for cooperation, peace, human rights and a rules-based system, lurking below the surface the same monstrous forces of nationalist populism and fascism are straining to break through. Niccolo Milanese illustrates these two sides of Europe while emphasising the importance of Labour being part of the progressive alternative wing in the EU.
The war in Syria continues to produce its human carnage. Can Paz argues Labour should come off the fence with a more robust condemnation of Assad.
Closer to home Prem Sikka outlines a new Labour plan to curb fat cat pay excesses while Duncan Bowie calls for Labour to sharpen its thinking on local government and grasp the nettle of council tax reform. Dave Lister welcomes Melissa Benn’s book which lays out a convincing blueprint for an education service for all.
To counter austerity and recession it is vital policies for nationalisation with worker/consumer voice, for green led investment, secure, properly paid work and Europe-wide action against corporate tax dodgers be the contours of a forward-looking campaign. Thomas Piketty has also proposed a bold new blueprint to address division, disenchantment, inequality and rightist populism sweeping the continent. The multi-authored plan includes huge levies of multinationals, millionaires and carbon emissions to generate funds to tackle the burning issues of the day.
Corbyn’s Labour espouses a democratic socialism as the best future for working people everywhere. In this era of globalisation, if we are to stop the clock being turned back to a nationalist siege economy with trade wars, hectoring authoritarian zealots and the prospect of a new barbarism threatening the human race, we have to fight on every front. That especially means fighting for our values and policies in the European arena. And there is only one European Union. Labour must commit to making it a peoples’ EU in a People’s Vote or General Election. That is Project Hope.