Rob Griffiths spells out an alternative agenda for Britain’s exit from the EU – one which promotes working class and the people’s interests
Which political direction should the Labour Party take? What would be the best constitutional relationship between Scotland, England and Wales? How should Britain’s exit from the Eurpean Union proceed?
On these three fronts, the labour movement in Britain faces challenges that will shape the future of working people and their families for a generation.
Jeremy Corbyn’s spectacular victory in last year’s Labour leadership election has brought that party’s crisis to a head.
The labour movement must now fully reclaim the Labour Party as a vehicle for the rights, aspirations and interests of the working class and people generally.
That will require mobilisation, politicisation and the maximum possible unity in support of the party’s socialist leadership and a left-wing programme of policies.
The single most decisive factor in Corbyn’s original victory was popular mass activity. Industrial action in the public services, at power stations and on building sites together with militant campaigning by the People’s Assembly and local anti-cuts, disability, housing, student, anti-racist and other bodies inspired many thousands of people to vote for a change of direction in the Labour Party.
It is now vital that such mass activity is sustained, not only to ensure another Corbyn victory but to maintain and strengthen support for the policies he represents.
These include not only an end to austerity, the revival of progressive taxation, investment in public services and productive industry, a massive public-sector housebuilding programme and the return of energy and public transport to public ownership.
Labour and the trade unions should also reject the renewal of Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system.
It is indefensible to threaten or commit the murder of up to 12 million civilians. It is also a colossal waste of £180 billion of public money over the lifetime of a renewed system, more than enough to guarantee the jobs and utilise the skills of all our armaments workers.
There are good reasons why a left-led Labour Party on a left-wing programme could win the general election.
First, it would inspire millions more people to register and vote, especially among the young, unemployed, students, housing tenants and the ethnic minorities where electoral turnout is low.
In 2015, Labour received two million fewer votes than the Tories. Yet 15 million electors didn’t vote on that occasion and neither did 13 million in the EU referendum.
Millions of those people could be won for a bold alternative to Tory big business austerity, privatisation, poor housing and poverty.
Then there are the seven million people who voted Green, SNP, Plaid Cymru or Ukip, some of whom would respond positively to a decidedly left of centre Labour manifesto.
In Scotland, Labour has little chance of winning over many of the 1.5 million SNP supporters unless it takes the advice of Welsh Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones and advocates a fully federal Britain. Combined with a policy of redistributing wealth to the working class across all our nations and regions, this could help turn the separatist tide in Scotland.
Nor should federalism be seen as a grudging concession. The Communist Party has long argued that Scottish and Welsh parliaments should have the powers and resources to pursue their own progressive economic, environmental and social policies.
Where the demand exists, English regions should have similar directly elected assemblies.
In all the nations and regions of Britain, the labour movement and the left face the consequences of the EU referendum campaign and result.
The starting point must be to recognise the character and legitimacy of the vote to leave the EU.
It was not a mass expression of working-class racism.
According to Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 12,369 referendum voters, the most important issue for half of all Leave supporters was sovereignty — that decisions about Britain should be taken in Britain. Only one-third put control over immigration first, although both sovereignty and immigration as well as the economy were important to the majority of anti-EU voters.
However ill-founded, concern about the impact of immigration on local jobs, wages and public services is not a sure-fire indicator of racism.
Just under half of Leave voters had a negative view of multiculturalism, with one quarter having mixed feelings and the other quarter seeing it as positive. One-third of black and ethnic minority voters opposed EU membership including a majority of Sikhs and Jews.
The political outlook of Leave voters was equally mixed.
More than one-third of Labour and SNP and a majority of Plaid Cymru supporters opted to leave the EU, along with a quarter of Greens and almost one-third of Lib Dems.
Almost half of voters (45 per cent) described either capitalism, globalisation or both as overall a force for ill in society, the majority of them opposing EU membership. In fact, they comprised around one-third of anti-EU voters.
As for the validity of the referendum, before June 23 almost all campaigners on both sides of the issue accepted that the result should be implemented whichever way it went. Who would have dared suggest otherwise?
Of course, no result can settle the issue for ever. But the people have decided for now and that is what must happen.
Nothing would do more to strengthen Ukip’s position in Labour’s heartlands than refusing to enact the referendum result.
Arguments that the referendum was not binding but advisory, or that parliament is sovereign rather than the people, are mere sophistry — especially when put forward by people not previously concerned about constitutional niceties.
Then there is the new-found enthusiasm for respecting the verdict of the Scottish people in a referendum — except when they vote to maintain Scotland’s position as part of Britain and its collective decisions.
Not surprisingly, the SNP is exploiting the voting differences between England, Wales and Scotland in order to advance its mirage of independence under the Bank of England, the British monarchy, the EU and Nato.
The best response is to put forward the positive case for working-class unity, progressive federalism and wealth redistribution.
It is also claimed that the result is invalid because it was achieved with lies. The same could be said after most if not all elections.
Lies and scares were used prolifically on both sides, unless David Cameron and his cabinet colleagues, City bankers, the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the IMF and Nato were all imbibing a truth serum.
The Communist Party and its Lexit allies had no need — let alone any inclination — to tell lies about the anti-democratic, pro-big business and racist EU.
Telling the truth was quite sufficient to counter the lies and scares from reactionary quarters on both sides.
Many labour movement activists shared our analysis of the EU, but feared any association with Ukip and the anti-EU Tory right, or wanted to support Corbyn. Some fell for the defeatist line that Britain’s trade unions are so weak that outside the EU we will lose our employment rights.
The overriding need now is to rebuild left and labour movement unity against the Tory government and its austerity and privatisation policies, which continue regardless of Theresa May’s pious words. That must include proposing an alternative agenda for Britain’s exit from the EU, one which promotes working class and the people’s interests.
To that end, Britain’s Communists propose the following positions:
– No to membership of the EU single market and TTIP — regulate the movement of capital, commodities and labour in the interests of working people.
– Renounce EU Court of Justice rulings protecting the super-exploitation of migrant workers — no more undercutting; equal terms and conditions for all.
– Enact any progressive EU social and environmental policies into British law.
– Continue funding vital programmes previously supported via the EU.
– No more EU budget contributions — invest in public services and housing.
– Regain full freedom to cut or abolish VAT.
– Guarantee residence for EU citizens currently living in Britain.
– Uphold the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
– Reverse the unfair anti-immigration rules imposed on non-Europeans as part of the EU “Fortress Europe” policy.
– Withdraw from the EU Common Foreign and Defence Policy and its aggressive alliance with Nato.
Rob Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party and a contributor to 21centurymanifesto