Politics in Britain is in turmoil. An early election will most likely happen as soon as December, or at the latest within a few months — the second early election since 2017.
This election will pit the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party against various parties representing the interests of the 1%, including the governing Conservative party (Tories), the Liberal Democrats and the recently-formed, far right, Brexit Party.
In 2017, the radical For the Many Labour manifesto and fierce on-the-ground campaigning — from Corbyn’s open-air meetings to the membership’s extensive doorknocking across the country — boosted the party’s vote by a third to 40% and threw the Tories into minority government.
Following the party’s 2019 conference in September, it can now take a more clearly socialist platform into the forthcoming election.
Corbyn summarised Labour’s proposed campaign platform in five points, in speeches to a Northhampton public meeting on October 10 and in parliament on October 14. He said Labour will: “Let the people decide on Brexit”; “Build an economy that works for all”; “Change government so that it works for you”; “Tackle the climate emergency”; and “Reset our global role to one based on peace and human rights.”
Corbyn declared in Northhampton that this will be “the most radical, hopeful, people-focused programme in modern times: a once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild and transform our country”.
Many commentators point out that the measures the Labour Party has proposed, since Corbyn became party leader in 2015, are similar to those carried out elsewhere in the past by social-democratic parties.
But it is important not to discount that the Corbynistas say this is about achieving socialism, and not just because they openly declare their socialist convictions.
The measures proposed have become increasingly comprehensive and opposed to the capitalist now-orthodoxy of neo-liberalism.
Furthermore, Britain doesn’t as yet have mass campaigns against austerity or a mass socialist movement, but the Corbyn leadership still presents these measures as a path to a new world — through saving the planet, providing far-reaching universal public services and industries and rebalancing power in favour of workers in their workplaces and people in their communities.
At the party conference, tribute was given to Extinction Rebellion. Workers in action against the bosses were cheered and student strikers were invited onto the stage to speak.
Corbynism expresses a solidarity with social movements that was never seen from social-democratic parties, even when they were implementing some reforms.
John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor (treasurer), explained in his speech to the conference what is involved. McDonnell cited a one-sentence definition of socialism — “the achievement of equality through democracy” and said this had to be applied consistently, otherwise, “Nothing would do more to undermine [people’s] faith in democracy in all its forms.”
“We would run the risk of losing the confidence we have built in people. In using democracy to change the world.” McDonell said.
“The blossoming of hope and radical thought. The potential to turn that radicalism and that hope into transforming lives, increasing fulfilment and happiness for the many. That’s what we’re about.”
The party conference offered important examples of this.
In Australia, what gets heard or read about, regarding British politics, goes by the name of Brexit, the view that Britain should leave the European Union (EU).
This was promoted by a section of the 1% — the “Brexiteers” — who wanted to re-regulate Britain’s economy in favour of business, even more than the EU’s neo-liberalism would allow.
Brexit was favoured by 52% to 48% in the 2016 referendum vote, after appeals to English and British Unionist xenophobia and a populist notion that a leave vote would “take back control”.
The majority of Labour members favour Remain. Most of them perhaps see the EU as breaking down divisions in Europe and providing better environmental action, workers’ and human rights than British capital would.
Corbyn has said that the referendum vote must be respected and this could be done credibly only through a deal between the British political system and the EU — as long as it did not create new customs borders across the Channel and in Ireland, nor allow greater attacks on workers and the environment.
As the Tories barrel towards “no deal”, however, Corbyn has concluded that a second referendum is needed after all.
Its purpose would be to confirm the initial referendum result is met by a negotiated deal or that the experience of Leave has instead changed minds against it.
This requires stopping a no-deal exit intervening, an election and a Labour government to negotiate a deal and put the referendum.
McDonnell explained the situation at the party conference: “We have entered a period of profound insecurity and risk to our democratic system … The best antidote to those who attack our democratic rules and institutions is more democracy itself.
“That’s why we aim to trust the people in having the final say on Brexit. A Deal or Remain,” McDonnell said.
He, like many party members, will campaign for Remain. But he also said: “I warn those who would revoke Article 50 [the Brexit process] without a democratic mandate: just ask yourselves, what message that sends to our people.
“We can’t say to people ‘Labour wants you to share in the running of your workplace, your community and your environment, but we don’t trust you to have the final say over Brexit’.”
The Corbyn leadership’s position won out in the conference vote, against those who argued the party should only support Remain.
Green New Deal
Brexit positions were not the most popular motions going to conference. Instead, the proposal that the Labour Party adopt a Green New Deal had more attention from members, and the support of a number of unions as well.
This debate was led by Rebecca Long-Bailey, the Shadow Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. She backed the more radical action proposal, to target a carbon emission-neutral economy by 2030, on the basis this had developed a credible plan and was centred on social justice to protect workers within a just transition.
She said: “We need to go further, faster, and we need to ask: who will really own the future that the green industrial revolution brings?”
The Green New Deal motion was adopted. Its key proposals include: a five-fold increase in off-shore wind farms, under majority public ownership; doubling large-scale solar electricity production; home solar, insulation and zero-emission design programs; major expansions of rail and bus services; promotion of electric vehicles; community car clubs; battery production and reprocessing plants; mobilisation of public funds and controls of the private finance sector to support the transition; and political and technological support for the Global South.
Corbyn told the Northhampton meeting that “a Labour government is fully signed up to a Green New Deal”.
The Labour conference also voted overwhelmingly to overturn a position taken by the parliamentary party after the 2016 referendum and included in the 2017 manifesto: that the freedom of movement of EU citizens to and from Britain would end with Brexit.
The motion called on the party to campaign for free movement, and equality and rights for migrants, saying this reflected the socialist values of solidarity, equality and freedom.
The same motion also called for the closure of all detention centres and equal voting rights for all residents of Britain.
Conference policy does not directly determine what goes into the party’s election manifesto. However, Corbyn’s parliamentary speech suggests he is following up on this motion.
He argued freedom of movement was highly beneficial to millions of people and society, and that even under Brexit, when the EU regulations would no longer apply, it could not end “unless there is a proper plan in place” — a clear stance, although not yet a plan.
Working people in Britain are in only the early stages of developing the involvement, organisations and ideas they need to transform their society into one made by and for the many and in harmony with the planet.
But the work of the Corbyn leadership group, of Momentum, the party activist organisations, and the hundreds of thousands of new party members (alongside those who remained active in seeking social change) have begun to show what is possible.