by Nick Wright
In those far off New Labour days when Caroline Flint was a junior if unbiddable trade union researcher she was described to me by a GMB leader as New Labour’s spy in the union. It was a measure of just how uncertain was New Labour’s confidence in its trade union support that even a union as unquestionably loyal to Labour as the GMB was invigilated by an in-house snout.
Ms Flint’s loyalty to the Blairite cause was rewarded when she was parachuted into a South Yorkshire constituency from which she has run a successful self promotion campaign and has emerged variously as a media celebrity and a figure of fun.
But she is a serious political figure – a former new Labour minister for Europe – with a game plan that fits her comfortably into the Progress plan for Labour. If Blairism no longer dare speak its name it continues as a subterranean current with a hugely disproportionate influence in the parliamentary Labour Party, powerful backers in the broadcast media and the liberal press and intimate ties to the EU/NATO/ securicat nexus.
Why then do I celebrate her name and give praise?
Because, before an audience at the annual meeting of the right-wing Progress faction – still licking their wounds at Corbyn’s triumph and mourning the loss of Lord Sainsbury’s millions – did she dare speak the truth.
“Those who aim to keep us in the single market, know full well that this is EU membership in all but name” says @UKLabour’s @CarolineFlintMP
This lays bare the bones of a cross-party campaign to subvert the Brexit vote with the added bonus for big business of ensuring that Labour’s election-winning manifesto – with its assault on corporate profits, privatisation and a market driven NHS coupled with an end to austerity economics – would be inoperable.
Membership of the single market carries with it many of the rules on public spending that constrain all EU members states. The drive to marketise public services is built into the legal framework which conditions competition in the capitalist market. As Larry Elliot, an occasional voice of reason in the Guardian wrote: ‘…many of the measures that a Labour government might want to introduce to remedy Britain’s structural weaknesses – increased state aid, infant industry protection, public ownership – would be harder to implement, or actually prohibited, inside the EU.’
So thanks to Caroline Flint for drawing the battle lines with such clarity.
Lack of clarity over the EU is the most disabling feature in British political life and one which has the potential to frustrate the hopes of ending austerity and regaining democratic control of our economy and public services.
But this is not the only negative feature of the situation we find ourselves in. One blowback from the toxic tactics of both the establishment Remain and right wing Brexit campaigns are the ways in which progressive values are undermined across the spectrum. The patriotic and progressive notion of popular sovereignty – which was the first reason Brexiters gave for their stand – was and is undermined by the barrage of racist and reactionary ideas promoted by the bourgeois Brexiters.
Equally damaging is the way in which positive impulses – of internationalism, cultural pluralism, an openness to foreign culture – expressed mainly, but not exclusively by young people, are conflated in the language of the big business-backed Remain campaign, with the institutions of the EU.
One consequence is that the unwary and innocent find themselves holding mutually incompatible ideas. But the vast bulk of Remainers and Leavers share many of the same progressive ideas. A study by Campaign group We Own It shows that, in a poll, 73 per cent of Brexit voters and 77 per cent of Remainers want to see the same or increased levels of public ownership when Britain
leaves the EU. But the terms of the public debate, particularly in the broadcast media, substantially on new media and overwhelmingly in both the reactionary and the liberal press, obscure the deeply reactionary character of the EU.
Corbyn’s success in the general election campaign hinged on a hard-headed focus on appealing to the progressive instincts of millions who found themselves on opposing sides of the Brexit vote but want an end to austerity and share the same progressive values.
If it is deeply damaging to arbitrarily assign millions of people who voted Brexit to the camp of reaction it is equally misleading to assume that those who voted to remain are blind to the the many reactionary features of the EU.
In fact, the binary nature of the referendum vote rendered transparent its democratic essence. By prior consent it bound us to an irrevocable course of action. A new majority of people in favour of getting on with Brexit is made up of both those who voted leave and a substantial proportion of of those who voted to remain.
Corbyn’s deeply democratic instincts were allied to a hard headed and class-conscious realism when he committed Labour to respect the vote and it is this which enabled Labour to renew its connection with an important section of the working class which the decades of new Labour under Blair and brown has frittered away.
The PLP’s unrepentant Remainers were blind to this reality during the election and remain unreconciled to its import since.
There is still some way to go but the prospects of renewing the historic progressive alliance which brought together the working class and labour movement with important sections of the middle strata and established the welfare state, public housing, comprehensive education, a NHS and a measure of public ownership are improved.
The emergence of an open faction of Labour MPs who are serious about subverting Labour’s election winning strategy complicates this.
Shadow housing ministers Andy Slaughter and Ruth Cadbury and shadow Foreign Office minister Catherine West were joined by a legion of Labour backbenchers, the SNP, Liberal Dems, Plaid Cymru and the sole Green MP in backing an amendment to the Queen’s Speech which called for Britain not to leave the EU without a deal, to ensure a parliamentary vote on the final deal, and to “set out proposals to remain within the customs union and single market”.
The whole reactionary package was given a more progressive colouring with demands to pay more respect for the devolved administrations and protections for EU nationals already living in tBritain.
Chuka Umunna, whose sotto voce struggle to surpass his Progress rivals as leader of the Macron tendency in Labour, tweeted: ‘As I said to constituents during the election, I’ll keep fighting to keep us in the Single Market and Customs Union – the best deal for the UK’.
So fixated are they on their subversion that they either failed to notice , or did not care, that their manoeuvres threatened to disrupt Labour sophisticated stroke in amending the Queen’s speech to lift the public sector pay cap.
Fresh from his Common’s triumph an increasingly emboldened Jeremy Corbyn promptly sacked the three shadows ministers the better to campaign on a clear demand for a left wing Brexit which protects jobs, democracy and public services.
The parliamentary line up in favour Chuka Umunna’s amendment reeks of hypocrisy. The two nationalist parties, in reconciling a surface anti austerity stance with loyalty to the EU, have now established facing two ways as a permanent feature of their increasingly opportunist politics. It is a source of disappointment that Plaid’s leader has abandoned her earlier criticisms of the EU while the SNP marked the death this week of its earlier, and staunchly anti EU leader, with another parliamentary pirouette which allowed them to implement austerity policies in Edinburgh while opposing them at Westminster.
How the usually hard-headed Caroline Lucas is able to square her generally progressive outlook with an almost religious belief in the EU is a mystery that can only be explained by the party management priority to accommodate the naivety of her party members.
Meanwhile, top EU political figures are helping the Brexit betrayers with a change in the mood music. There is talk of an ‘open door’. German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, is talking up the idea that the British people might, at some point , conclude it had “made a mistake”.
Meanwhile chancellor Philip Hammond wants to kick the issue into the long grass and suggests a very long transition period.
The post-election plans of Progress – which were predicated on a disastrous Labour defeat – assumed that a change of leader would be difficult but, if unsuccessful, Plan B entailed the establishment of a parliamentary grouping organised as an opposition to Labour with the reserve option of a new party of the the so-called centre to be fashioned from any permutation of the above.
These delusional dreams were given some impetus by the media manufactured emergence of Macron as the candidate of the big business, pro-EU tendency in French politics. A strain that exists, as it does in the Commons, in many of the party groupings in the French Assembly.
As thousands march in today’s renewed Peoples Assembly assault on austerity it is time to construct a new language around our democratic decision to recover our sovereignty. Defending the rights of citizens from other countries who work and live here is an inalienable part of our internationalist tradition. Both Mazzini and Marx came here after the counter revolution rolled back the revolutions of 1848.
It is around the protection and extension of labour rights rather than labour market flexibility that the issue of migration must be negotiated. Just as expatriates working in Britain must share the rights and duties of workers in Britain so must British migrants in other countries become active citizens.
The ‘free’ movement of labour under capitalism is, for millions in the enlarged EU, forced migration. It is the twin of the untrammelled movement of capital. Britain cannot establish a planned economy, mobilise our national resources for infrastructure investment and renewed public services and raise wages and benefits without control over the movement of capital including taxing it more systematically. A new internationalism can be forged in our common struggles against neo-liberalism, globalised capital and militarism. It cannot be created except by struggle against the very institutions that enshrine the power of capital.
As Lenin said: ‘From the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism—i.e., the export of capital and the division of the world by the “advanced” and “civilised” colonial powers—a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary.’