Thursday, March 17, 2016

The EU discussion at the WLG meeting on March 5th by Peter Rowlands

I could not make this, but thanks to Nick for producing a summary of the discussion. Fairly predictably this appeared to encompass most of the positions on the left, with a majority, seemingly without much enthusiasm, supporting IN on the grounds that BREXIT would disadvantage the left. This is true, but it is a negative position; few on the left now advocate BREXIT, but most share this negative attitude, including, I am sorry to say, JC himself.

I think this is all quite wrong.  While there is much at fault with the EU it is not unreformable and we should seek to change it alongside our friends in the range of left and centre left parties in the EU, most of whom do want to remain in a reformed EU.

Indifference to the EU is wrong, but it is doubly so when faced with a referendum that polls show is rather close. If we wake up on June 24th and find that the Brexiteers have won we will only have ourselves to blame. There is a good left wing case for IN and I hope that Jeremy and John can make it in the coming months. Alan Johnson and the current Labour campaign certainly aren’t.

There is no future for an independent socialist UK. It is not possible. It probably wasn’t in 1983, it certainly isn’t today. We cannot ‘build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land’. BREXIT would mean that Scotland would rejoin the EU anyway, and so would we in Wales if we had any sense, although the likelihood of a significant vote for UKIP in the forthcoming Assembly elections indicates that this is lacking in certain quarters.There would be a huge rise in unemployment as foreign firms relocated in the EU, big capitalism would name its terms and they wouldn’t be pleasant. The apparent regaining of sovereignty would in fact be the reverse, as there would be less real control over our affairs, but this would be waved away as the new Conservative /UKIP coalition took office ( with Boris as PM ) amid an orgy of distasteful nationalist and imperialist nostalgia. The right would be in the ascendant, but BREXIT would also help the not inconsiderable forces of the right in the EU, from the ‘respectable’ fascists of the French National Front to the real Nazi article in the shape of the appalling Jobbik and Golden Dawn. These people want to break up the EU and go back to the Europe of the 1930s. BREXIT could help them succeed.

There is surprisingly no mention in Nick’s account of the left in the EU, but it is in fact a substantial and growing force. Many of the social democratic parties, like Labour here, lost their way in the 1980s and moved to the neo liberal right, but partly as a result of that new parties of the left emerged, most successfully in Germany as Die Linke, but also in Finland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain, and more recently in Greece as Syriza and Spain again as Podemos. Most of the newer left parties do not want to leave the EU, although they are highly critical of it, and while most of the social democratic parties are still floundering they are in the main moving towards a more left wing approach.

The umbrella group representing the left parties increased its representation substantially in 2014, while the social democrats held their own. The big losses were by the conservative parties to the right wing populists like UKIP here and the French National Front.

Comrades are invited to have a look at the policies of the Party of the European Left, (Socialists and Communists), the Party of European Socialists, (social democratic parties) and the European Trade Union confederation. Policies generally favour an end to austerity and policies for growth and full employment, a renewed emphasis on ‘social Europe ‘with improved employment and social rights, greater democracy and transparency with more powers for the parliament, and increased curbs and controls on big business. (This is crucial. Huge global corporations can only be controlled by an entity the size of the EU. Contrast the treatment of errant banks by the UK and the US).These are the sorts of policies that Labour surely supports.
There are huge problems in the EU, mainly to do with the Euro, and heightened by the refugee crisis. But it still has the greatest concentration of left wing parties and support for what they stand for in the world, despite the dilution and distortion that many have undergone. It would be unthinkable to walk away. It is not just a question of international solidarity. It is a question of how we, the UK left, make progress. There is no possibility of an independent socialist UK. A socialist Europe, based on a reformed EU, is a possibility. BREXIT would have the effect of significantly reducing that possibility. We should therefore campaign strongly to remain.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The left and the EU referendum debate by Nick Davies

At the Welsh Labour Grassroots meeting on 5 March, there was a discussion on the stance socialists in Wales should adopt towards the EU referendum and the EU in general. A summary of that discussion is set out below, the purpose of which is to stimulate and develop future discussion. 

One view was that the EU is fundamentally pro-capitalist and pro-privatisation of public services. It is also undemocratic to the extent that it is incapable of reform. We should therefore vote to leave, it was argued, yet there is no progressive 'leave’ campaign in existence. The campaigns by UKIP and the Tory right are seeking to make the referendum about immigration, as a result of which the referendum campaign will be a carnival of reaction.

Other comrades had therefore concluded that, while the EU is indeed pro-capitalist, pro-privatisation, pro-austerity and anti-democratic, we should vote to stay in because of the possibility of positive change and because the UK labour movement would not be strengthened, and would very possibly be weakened, by ‘Brexit’.

There was general agreement with the critique of the EU as it currently exists and some comrades made particular reference to the additional threat to public services, and the ability of elected government to act, presented by TTIP.

It was pointed out that there are environmental directives and workplace regulations which emanate from the EU and which are beneficial but, given TTIP in particular, it is difficult to know whether to vote to leave or remain.

Given the predisposition of the Tory government towards free markets and deregulation, however, it was also argued that TTIP (or something very like it) would be a danger whether the UK is 'in' or 'out'. Leaving the EU would not, in itself, be an escape from the kind of threats presented by TTIP.

The EU has come a long way from noble ideals of its foundation and, under the impact of unpopular austerity policies and migration issues, it could implode. Whatever the original social-democratic/christian-democratic consensus underlying the original union, austerity is now built into the project, as reinforced by a succession of treaties.

Therefore, even if the left should back the campaign to stay 'in', it needs also to call for the tearing up of the treaties of Brussels, Lisbon, Nice, Maastricht, and Rome etc.

The Labour leadership is therefore missing a trick, it was argued, by being insufficiently active on the EU issue and the referendum and failing to put pressure on Cameron but at least Labour is not campaigning side by side with Cameron, a lesson learned from the referendum campaign in Scotland. The situation in the Tory party and the splits in British capitalism on the issue are such that it is cannot be ruled out that the referendum will not take place.

Finally, it was observed that although there was broad agreement within WLG on the undemocratic, pro-capitalist, free market nature of the EU, there was much less agreement, and a lot of uncertainty, was whether there should be a vote to leave or  remain, given the reactionary nature of much of the 'leave' campaign, the benefits that have accrued to Wales as a result of EU membership, the likelihood, or otherwise, of success in changing the culture and structure of the EU and how this could be brought about. For many, the decision will be one of tactics rather than principle.

Further contributions to this debate are strongly encouraged.

Welsh Labour MPs Feel The Heat on Syria by Nick Davies

That in a free vote, only 66 Labour MPs in a largely hostile Parliamentary Labour Party voted with the Tories to bomb Syria, was an early success for Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.  The votes of Welsh Labour MPs contributed to this. This is all the more surprising given that there’s little Clear Red Water in evidence at Westminster, most Welsh Labour MPs being on the right of the party and lacking the radical instincts of some of their counterparts in the Senedd.

In the end only four Welsh MPs voted with the Tories. In the days leading up to the vote, many MPs, as in England, felt the weight of opinion from their CLP members and constituents on the issue.  Some were no doubt persuaded that the case for bombing did not stack up, some were no doubt wary of any military response, having had their fingers burned on Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. Some felt obliged to vote against bombing given the weight of the views of their constituents and members. 

Reportedly, Owen Smith, Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, was minded at the PLP meeting a few days before the vote to support bombing. That he voted against says something about the pressure he must have been under from his Pontypridd members.  Swansea West MP Geraint Davies, who voted for the invasion of Iraq and has never been a natural rebel, voted against the government, 85% of his constituency members who gave their view having advised that he should. 

Thus, pressure can be applied to Labour’s parliamentary caucus to heed the views of the members who work to send them to Westminster.  The rank and file members – excluded, marginalised and disregarded in the New Labour years – must be the necessary counterweight to the largely hostile PLP, in support of the Corbyn-McDonnell leadership. 

What of the Welsh MPs who did vote to bomb Syria? Chris Bryant (Rhondda) is an open Blairite somewhat surprisingly given a job by Jeremy Corbyn. Wayne David (Caerphilly) is another frequent Corbyn critic.  Something of a surprise was Susan Elan Jones, not known as a strong right-winger. Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South & Penarth) went on to excel himself by orchestrating his on-air resignation with the BBC, a piece of destructive vanity which may damage his standing with his local party more than it damaged Jeremy Corbyn.

This article first appeared Labour Briefing magazine.