Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Brexit and Analysing Labour’s “Disastrous Result”.

with 9 comments


Starmer Unites the Party After Election Disaster.

The Brexit supporting Morning Star declares,

The unity we need is a unity of the socialist left — including a willingness to stand up and fight for comrades who are targeted by a political right, inside and outside Labour, that is running rings around us.

Editorial: Britain’s left is facing a sustained ideological offensive.

There have been many articles looking in depth at the December General Election.

Can the left ignore the divisions opened up over Brexit?

This Blog has argued that the pro-Brexit wing of Labour, encouraged by groups like Counterfire, the Communist Party of Britain, and the Socialist Party, played a part in the defeat. They confused the issue of the Hard Right Brexit project, and gave false hopes in a ‘People’s Brexit’ that never existed.

Rohini Hensman looks at these ambiguities of the Party’s stand and how this contributed to election failure.

What are the Lessons of the UK Election? On two underemphasised factors

Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières

By 2019, the Labour Party’s Brexit position seemed designed to alienate Leavers and Remainers alike. Corbyn’s proposal for a soft Brexit encountered the criticism that although creating less economic disruption than a hard Brexit, it would leave the UK subject to EU rules in which it would no longer have any say, thus resulting in a loss, not gain, of control. In addition, Labour Leavers impatient to get Brexit over and done with were offered the prospect of yet another period of negotiations with an uncertain outcome. On the other side, the position offered nothing to Labour Remainers. The debacle was amplified by Labour MPs who voted in parliament for the Tory Brexit deals, leaving Labour Remainers in their constituencies – probably the majority of Labour voters even in predominantly Leave constituencies – with no one to vote for.


Corbyn’s advisors as well as some Lexiteers, rather than making these points, opposed even a confirmatory referendum until the ‘Brexit-embodies-the-people’s-will’ propaganda was too entrenched to challenge. In fact, their position throughout was a weaker version of Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done’. Their contention that Labour lost because it supported a People’s Vote is contradicted by the fact that Labour lost over 2.5 million votes while the Tories and Brexit Party picked up just 335,000, and Labour lost almost twice as many voters to the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Scottish National Party as the 700,000-800,000 they lost to the Tories and Brexit Party.

In January 2019, officials from Hope not Hate and the TSSA union had presented Corbyn with polling evidence that in the event of an election, Labour would get a lower share of the vote in every seat in the country with a pro-Brexit position than it would with an anti-Brexit position, but the warning was dismissed. Corbyn’s U-turn from his original position destroyed his credibility, and his personal rating slumped to -50.[14] Can you trust a leader who in 2016 argues cogently that Britain should stay in the EU and a few years later changes his tune? The advisors who recommended such a shift played a significant role in trashing Corbyn’s reputation, because it convinced many progressives – precisely the people who were less likely to be swayed by the right-wing media – that he was untrustworthy.

The false claim that the “working class backed Brexit”is taken apart,

It is important to challenge the argument of the Labour right and Lexiteers that the working class supported Brexit and abandoned Labour. This presupposes an obsolete definition of ‘the working class’ as mainly engaged in industrial labour, mainly white, and mainly in permanent employment, whereas the new working class is mainly employed in the service sector, often on insecure contracts, and much more diverse in terms of ethnicity, age and gender. Many do not earn enough to support a decent standard of living. As Phil Hearse observes, these sections of the working class voted massively for Remain in the 2016 referendum, and did not abandon Labour in 2019. It was mainly a cross-class section of white pensioners in towns in the North and Midlands who were won over by the UKIP/Brexit Party/Tory right, voted heavily for Leave in 2016, and abandoned Labour in 2019. Hearse concludes, ‘The December 2019 election showed a working class divided on key issues of nationalism, immigration, and the xenophobia currently undergoing rehabilitation as “patriotism” … Labour’s Brexit position got mangled because it tried to… unite the working class behind incompatible positions… The right-wing offensive can only be countered by fighting, not by capitulation and accommodation.

The Editorial Board of Socialist Resistance offers an analysis of the election disaster.

It offers a critical overview in a similar vein on the issue of Brexit.

Analysing a disastrous result

In a wide-ranging, in-depth, account, they highlight this,

Brexit will now be completed, and in the most hard-line and reactionary form available to the Johnson government. Free movement has ended. New racist immigration laws will be introduced. A no-deal crash-out of the EU at the end of the implementation period is also highly probable because it is the model that key figures in the ERG always wanted.

The Tory Party, in the course of all this, has been transformed, into Brexit Party mark II. It is now an English nationalist/populist party with a racist as its leader and Tommy Robinson as a new recruit – with many more of his ilk to come. Maybe Farage as well? One-nation Toryism, to the extent that it still existed, has been roundly defeated.

While we may doubt that the populist surge behind Get Brexit Done will maintain the party in power the reactionary character of the Johnson regime is clear.

SR cites the same Phil Hearse article as Hensman underlining the complexity of the class vote. They say, “As Paul Mason argues in his pamphlet After Corbynism, the strongest agent of change today is now the working class in the big cities.”

In this context it is worth looking at Paul Mason’s  After Corbynism.

Remember that when you hear them blame the internationalist left for this defeat.

In the end, the reason we lost is the reason Labour voters gave for deserting us: Corbyn destroyed his own reputation for honest and principled politics; he surrounded himself with bureaucrats who could suppress dissent but never work to professional standards. The Brexit position was muddled. And people didn’t believe real change was possible. Unfortunately this resulted in an estimated 300,000 Labour Remain voters also switching to the Tories simply to keep Corbyn out. This was something never factored into the polling of the pro-Remain camp. In hindsight, it means the only way we could really have won is if Corbyn had been replaced in the May-June crisis – and there was no support for that anywhere.

We wasted half a year trying to fudge the issue of Brexit; we tried to assuage our traditional voters’ worries over crime, migration and national security with an economic offer that was too big to be believed.

Now the Tories have an 80 seat majority. The strategy of “one more heave”, which has underpinned every election campaign since we lost in 2010 – will no longer work.

To go forward we have to deal honestly with the new class dynamics of Britain, break with nostalgia and form a new social alliance.

Mason concludes,

Corbynism was an alliance of three political ideologies that cannot cohere around the new political reality described above:
• The economic nationalism and anti-imperialism of an older generation of activists, who were let back into the party after years of exclusion and alienation under Blair
• The networked anti-capitalism of the generation inspired by the student revolts of 2010, and subsequent generations attracted by Labour’s openness to antiracism, feminism and eco-socialism
• The highly effective but hierarchical left trade unionism of Unite, the CWU and the GMB.

What worked in 2017, against a disunited and incompetent May government, and a demobilised far right, failed in the face of a competent and ruthless populism of Johnson and Farage.

Over the next five years we need a realignment, both within the party and without, around a new political strategy.

“Overwhelmed  by Brexit”.

SR chimes with part of this approach:

The real problem, however, was that the manifesto did not resonate because it was overwhelmed by Brexit. Under different circumstances the presentational problems would not have had the same impact.

They emphasise this point,

The most powerful force behind Brexit – as in the 2016 referendum – despite the effort of the Labour right (and most of the radical left) to deny it – was racism and xenophobia taking the form of a visceral hatred of the most progressive aspect of the EU structures the free movement of people. Labour, unfortunately was unable to counter it with, for example, a strident defence of free movement. Racism was packaged as populism, of which Johnson, Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban and Salvini are prime examples. Simple slogans in complex situations presented as anti-politics, anti-political correctness, anti-regulation, with dog-whistle appeals to racism and bigotry.

Turning to the corrosive impact of the Brexit wing of Labour and the Lexit Left the article notes,

The role of the Lexiteers also needs comment. Brexit has not only brought down Jeremy Corbyn, and transformed the Tory party into a hard-right populist cult, it also split the radical left – with the bulk of far-left organisations, including the CPB, the Socialist party, the SWP, and Counterfire on the wrong side. Those supporting a Remain position were the smaller groups including ourselves as SR (critically), the AWL, and those involved in the campaign for a second referendum and the AEIP campaign. RS 21 were split on it.

The position taken by the Lexiteers represents a major, indeed historic, mistake with political consequences both immediate and long-term. It led them to be in denial of the fundamental politics and class nature of the Brexit project from the outset. The general election itself represented a conundrum for the Lexiteers. They could not vote for Johnson, for reputational reasons, though some individually did, because that meant explicitly supporting the most right-wing government Britain has ever seen. But they supported exit from the EU at every stage – in full knowledge that it was Johnson’s central project. During the Parliamentary battle against a no-deal Brexit they implicitly supported this reactionary option throughout.

There was an element of wilful blindness behind the Brexit left’s stand:

They refused throughout to accept that Brexit was a right-wing project driven primarily by racism, even when rising levels of racist violence was plain to see at every level of society. This included the SWP, the organisation that built the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s and early 1980s, that now finds itself unable to identify blatant racism in the Brexit project from Boris Johnson himself to large numbers of Brexit voters, and have ended up tail-ending the CPB. They also refused to accept that racism is most strongly located in the traditional sections of the white industrial (or de-industrialised) sections of the white blue-collar working class.

During the battles over Brexit they avoided addressing either the class content or the implications of the 2016 referendum or the of the Johnson’s election victory. Nor does John Rees’s assessment of the Tory victory on the Counterfire site address Brexit as such, which he supported, and what its impact might be in terms of the future direction of the country and of the workers’ movement but focuses on the election and why Labour lost – which was a result, he argues, because of disloyalty from McDonnell and others by expressing differences with Jeremy Corbyn over Remain and a second referendum – and who are paving the way for the Blairites.

SR concludes on the impact of Brexit.

In hindsight, a Tory majority was probably inevitable, and the reason, as John McDonnell has insisted was Brexit. The centre-ground was already gone and no-one was listening – if they ever had been.

In in such a polarised situation, Jeremy Corbyn’s stance of uniting the party (and/or the country) across the Brexit divide was doomed. If Labour had taken a firm Remain position much earlier, which it should have done because it was right, it would haemorrhage votes to the Tories and to the Brexit party. If it had taken a Brexit position – which would have been politically disastrous since it would have meant supporting a reactionary Tory project – it would have haemorrhaged support to the LibDems and the Greens which it did anyway. As Richard Seymour puts it: ‘There seems to be no obvious solution on Brexit, nothing that would not be taken as ‘treason’ by someone.’

From the outset, Labour’s divisions over Brexit were more damaging and intractable than for any other party. While 60 per cent of its supporters (and 90 of its members) supported Remain, 70 per cent of Labour’s constituencies supported Brexit and many of these were prepared to desert Labour for the Tories or the Brexit Party to achieve that aim. This mean that unless something shifted, Labour could not stop a Tory majority – and when the results came in it became clear that nothing had shifted.

How does this all affect the current Labour leadership contest?

SR switches to warnings about a come-back for Labour’s right, whose achievement under Blair and Brown was  to be in government and run the country.

The Labour right is as dedicated as ever to smashing Corbynism and all it stands for. They are convinced that this leadership election gives them the best opportunity they have had to shift political discourse and practice to the right and to accommodating to the system. They are not necessarily wrong – which means that defeating them and electing those that best represent the gains of Corbynism is an absolutely essential task.

Weighing up the merits of the candidates they conclude,

The best choice we have as things stand – would be Rebecca Long-Bailey with Richard Burgon as deputy. The key word is ‘continuity’, and Long-Bailey represents this best in the leadership contest.

The big danger is Keir Starmer. He is presenting himself fraudulently as a continuity candidate when he is in effect the candidate of the right.

To back this negative assessment of Starmer they cite – genuine – concerns about his record as DPP (but he was after all DPP,  not a post that it’s easy to hold without making serious errors), and his obedience to the whip in abstaining on the Welfare Bill.

Apparently Long-Bailey is  a woman.

She has also waded, unwisely, into the debate over transexuality and called for a purge of feminists who do not accept the arguments of one side in this bitter dispute ( Long-Bailey backs call to expel ‘transphobic’ members.)

SR says,

In reality, the leadership is mainly a contest between Starmer and Long-Bailey and a win for Starmer will be seen, and would be, a total rejection of Corbynism and a huge victory for the right.

We have yet to see this.

To accept this claim would be to contribute to it, not to mention they unsteady assertion that ‘progressive patriot, aspirational Long-Bailey is the standard-bearer of the left.

Here are Starmer’s ten pledges – they look pretty left-wing to most people, while having a wider appeal.

He said: “Labour must stand by its commitment to end the national scandal of spiralling student debt and abolish tuition fees. We lost the election, but we did not lose our values or determination to tackle the injustice facing young people going to university.”

The shadow Brexit Secretary also promised to increase taxes on the richest 5 per cent of Britons, reverse the cuts in corporation tax and abolish Universal Credit, as well as establishing a “green new deal”.

Backing Jeremy Corbyn’s nationalisation plans, he added: “Public services should be in public hands, not making profits for shareholders. Support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water; end outsourcing in our NHS, local government and justice system.”

Unlike SR this Blog agrees with Paul Mason, and the above reinforces this judgement,  that Keir Starmer represents the best choice for Labour leader.

Long Bailey comes from the political stable that gave us the Labour confusion and the political space for the Lexiteers to see within the Party’s position an opportunity for them to argue for”a weaker version of Johnson’s ‘Get Brexit Done’.”

Their campaigns against the internationalist left have caused enduring damage.

That “corridor cabal” has wreaked havoc on Labour’s capacity to organise as a united force.

Many strongly doubt that Starmer will give an opening to right-wing factionalists.

But most are sure that he represents a Party without the pro-Brexit left in a commanding position of influence over the party leader.

So much the better.


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9 Responses

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  1. Unity on the left? Not with men like you around, eh Andrew?

    Steven Johnston

    February 12, 2020 at 3:42 pm

  2. What is the left and what was it ever?

    Dave Roberts

    February 12, 2020 at 4:37 pm

  3. How can there be unity when they can’t even agree over Brexit?

    Steven Johnston

    February 12, 2020 at 4:55 pm

  4. Coatesism stands for the United Front, everybody can unite around our ideas.

    Meanwhile our CC is surprised to see that you have not commented on this, referred to above:

    Andrew Coates

    February 12, 2020 at 5:33 pm

  5. United fronts? Do people still believe in them? Didn’t they die out in the 1930s?

    Steven Johnston

    February 13, 2020 at 10:15 am

  6. Actually Farage said the same thing, the leave movement was united front.

    Steven Johnston

    February 13, 2020 at 10:59 am

  7. Points on Starmer,

    Keir Starmer Is Not Who You Think He Is

    “At one of Starmer’s recent campaign events in Stratford, one Labour member raised concerns about his record in the CPS; she was concerned he had not prosecuted the police over the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes. He denied being involved: “A decision was taken not to prosecute in that case two years before I was appointed as director of public prosecutions, so there’s a false story going round.” Speaking to BuzzFeed News afterwards, the young woman said she still had doubts about Starmer’s ability to “proactively combat institutional racism within the police” and would probably vote for Long-Bailey.”

    “Starmer was awarded a knighthood for services to law and criminal justice in 2014 (although he will insist that you don’t call him “Sir”: “I’ve never liked titles”). Peter Tatchell, a human rights campaigner and longtime acquaintance of Starmer, remembered him as always being “very open to representation from outside his own circle” as DPP.

    “I was involved in helping to defend two Balochistan activists who the government of Pakistan was trying to frame on terrorism charges,” he said. “When I approached Keir about the case he immediately said ‘Come in and see me. Let’s talk about it.’ He was a very high-profile, busy man at the time but he took the time, you know, which I think is a measure of his character and integrity.”

    Tatchell said Starmer would make a “fine Labour leader” but said he hoped he would take on some of the “very thoughtful, intelligent proposals” made by Clive Lewis, the left-wing Labour MP who dropped out of the leadership contest in the early stages.

    “I think the Keir you see today is pretty much the Keir of 30 years ago,” Tatchell added. “He’s got a very sharp mind and is very articulate. I think it would be a great asset if he can work on a sense of humour as well. … Yeah, it’s a bit hidden.”


    Andrew Coates

    February 13, 2020 at 12:03 pm

  8. OBN for Peter Tatchell!

    Steven Johnston

    February 13, 2020 at 12:36 pm

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