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Labour MPs put internal divisions on public display again

This article from the Hounslow Momentum website expresses a widespread alarm at the behaviour of the 50 Labour MPs who chose to make a very public display of Labour disunity. Being the website of a local group it discusses a local MP who chose to support the Chuka Umunna amendment. Similar points can and should be made about all the other MPs who chose to participate in this harmful exercise.

The anti-Corbyn camp told us for two years that electoral advance was impossible under Corbyn’s leadership. The majority of Labour MPs were so sure of it that the opened party divisions to full public view with a vote of no confidence against the leader which 75% of Labour MPs supported (including Ruth Cadbury and Seema Malhotra). And yet Labour rise in the polls was the biggest since 1945. Labour had experienced dramatic decline from the moment when Tony Blair became prime minister – the data is undeniable. It reached its lowest point of public support in the election of 2010 (led by Gordon Brown). Five years later Labour lifted itself marginally from a historic low point by just 2% (led by Ed Miliband) but clearly there was no sea change.

But now everyone and his/her dog knows that the MPs and the great majority of the media commentatriat were just plain wrong. Some of them have had the honesty to admit it. They were wrong and so manifestly wrong that some (far from all) have nibbled a bit of humble pie. But many of us suspected that it would not be long before they were up to their old tricks again.

And indeed it didn’t take long. Just seven days into the new Parliament and 50 Labour MPs felt it worth their while to put on a public display of a lack of party unity by putting an amendment to the Queens speech on Brexit. It is a matter of regret and concern one of them was Brentford & Isleworth MP Ruth Cadbury. Ruth and the others knew that what they were doing would display party differences in an overt and therefore damaging way. No one could have had any illusions on that score. They knew that their amendment stood no chance of being passed. They therefore chose to support an amendment which could not pass and which was opposed by the party leader as a way of signalling their position whatever damage it caused the party. This “virtue signalling” augers very badly for Labour unity.

Let’s be clear that the point here is not whether or not Britain should remain within the single market. Different views on that are legitimately held within the Labour and every one has the right to say what they think. The point is rather the manner of expressing those disagreements. The Chuka Umunna amendment stood no chance of passing and the party leader very sensibly instructed Labour MPs to abstain. That left room for proper debate in the party. And so far proper debate is what we have not had. Certainly not in Brentford and Isleworth where Ruth has produced no paper explaining her views on the contentious points concerning the Single Market. As New Statesman journalist John Elledge put it:

So what was the amendment for? If it was an attempt to embarrass the government, it failed because now, for the first time since the election, the headlines are about Labour splits, rather than Tory weakness. If it was to show the strength of the remain faction then, well, it’s demonstrated that it currently has 101 MPs, which is not quite one-sixth of the House of Commons, and only about a fifth of the Labour party. So it’s failed at that, too.

And if it really was about keeping Britain in the single market, I’m not entirely convinced it’ll help there, either. Labour’s position has so far been helpfully incoherent: the leadership is Eurosceptic, its support base largely isn’t, so everyone seems to have quietly agreed not to talk too much about it.

That may have infuriated those of us who feel strongly about Europe – but being all things to all men also allowed the party to pull in 40% of the vote last month. More importantly, it left the party with the flexibility to respond to events and changes in the public mood, rather than tying it to a particular position that might just end up dragging it down.

Now that phase might be over. The amendment forced Jeremy Corbyn to tag himself as a Eurosceptic and sack some of the remainers still sitting on his front bench. The pro-European forces look weaker than ever – and after a mere three weeks of unity, the Labour party is split once again.

So what was all this meant to achieve, exactly? (The rebel Brexit amendment didn’t change anything except Labour’s unity)

Ruth explained her vote as follows:

Before the election I voted against triggering Article 50 on leaving the EU. During the recent election campaign I made an explicit commitment to the voters in Brentford and Isleworth that I would do all in my power to secure a Brexit settlement that secured jobs, rights and environmental protections. I received strong support for my position from my constituents, particularly young people voting for the first time and many others who voted Labour for the first time. It was a key reason my vote, the Labour vote, increased by over 10,000.

Therefore I had no doubt that I had to support the amendment moved by Labour colleagues with cross-party support today. The amendment ruled out withdrawing from the EU without a deal, sought a Parliamentary vote on the final negotiations and proposed to remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market. Only then can we protect jobs, trade and certainty for business, as well as protecting the rights of EU citizens, with reciprocal rights for UK citizens.

This is a point of principle for me and I felt bound to honour the commitment I had made to voters. I was aware that, as I was breaking the Whip, I could not retain my front-bench role. I have hugely valued working as part as Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench team under Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey.

This explanation falls short of understanding the nature of political processes. It is not enough to agree with the sentiment of a motion in order to vote for it. In the real world such things as timing and likelihood of success and unity of action also have to be taken into account. The failure to consider any of these means that the explanation is entirely spurious. Fortunately Ruth’s ex-boss, Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey (no Corbyn acolyte), had the good sense to abstain. Fortunately also 81% of Labour MPs had the same good sense. That is quite a difference from the disruptive and destructive vote of no confidence in the party leader which 75% of them supported in June 2016. It is however a matter of great regret that Ruth felt impelled to make a public display of her disagreement with the leadership on both occasions even though the number of Labour MPs willing to put party differences on display in this way had fallen from 75% to 19%. This is not a stance that will do anything positive for Labour’s chances in the next general election.

56 Comments

  1. Verity says:

    The article appears to be arguing that it would be alright to continue with Labour leadership opposition if you stand a chance of making a difference to the outcome.

    The 50 voted the way they did because they could get away with it and the Left are in a fairly weak position to challenge without further damaging morale and deflating many others not strongly committed to more in-fighting.

    EU membership has become a proxy for Labour’s Right-Wing opposition (maintaining the superficial culturally open Momentum members at the same time. However the smartest right- Wingers members at least have the sense to know when best to strike. After all with austerity economics virtually written into its framework economic purpose all neo-liberals could use it as a Trojan horse for their devotion to maintenance of the status quo.

    You have to give it to them they have a superb strategy and and potentially winning objective – at least until Juncker reminds us that the European parliament really is ridiculous.

  2. David Pavett says:

    The article appears to be arguing that it would be alright to continue with Labour leadership opposition if you stand a chance of making a difference to the outcome.

    No it does not. I makes the point that a lack of a possible outcome made the exercise not only politically objectionable but also pointless. As such it casts serious doubt on the political intelligence of those involved.

  3. Robin Edwards says:

    The only political existence left to New Labour now is as saboteurs. They have zero chance of ever being an electoral force ever again. Their Third Way is a busted flush. The Labour left however will keep them on instead of pushing them out as an excuse to moderate their own position in the name of unity. The left needs the right or it might actually be faced with a social revolution. But unity with the saboteurs is absolutely no good whatsoever for the working class. It is merely paralysing their ability to properly fight back and develop a cogent radical world view and programme that can tackle decaying capitalism and lead the whole of society out of the current impasse and the coming capitalist catastrophe.

    1. Stewart says:

      Can you please explain the comment:
      ‘…The left needs the right or it might actually be faced with a social revolution…’
      when in the next sentence you state:
      ‘…But unity with the saboteurs is absolutely no good…’. I understand and completely agree with the latter statement. I am not sure I completely comprehend the former used in the current context.

      The urgent task at hand is to ensure the PLP membership reflect the political complexion of the Labour Party membership – who have twice overwhelmingly chosen Corbyn for leadership. Given the possibility of another election soon, it is time the left organize properly and prepare a list of preferred candidates nationally for submission to their respective CLP’s.

      1. C MacMackin says:

        Robin Edwards is an ultra-left troll who has posted here under a number of different names. I believe he is accusing the left of using the right as an excuse not to pursue more radical action. From past comments, he seems to think that British workers would be ready for revolution were it not for Corbyn selling them false dreams of change.

        1. Robin Edwards says:

          Indeed, the opportunist left will never truly take on the party right and indeed often itself becomes the party right.

          At the moment an increasingly militant movement within the labour movement has raised the Labour left to prominence but we cannot stop there. Corbyn’s brand of deluded Keynesianism will be as stable as the Weimar Republic and the working class will need to go beyond these illusions if it is really going to tackle capitalism and overturn its rule in favour of socialism.

          As for ultra-left. No, I’m a revolutionary socialist, a Marxist, a scientific socialist. That is not ultra-leftism. In fact here is an example of ultra-leftism in practise: In 2013 Corbyn voted in Parliament to abandon the Syrian people to the guns, barrel bombs, knives, jail cells, torturers and tanks of the vicious Assad tyranny. This decision was an ultra-left form of anti-imperialism which says you must only oppose your own imperialism and it is ultra-leftism in the service of counter revolution. The result of the 2013 decision was the death of 100s of thousands more Syrians at the hands of the Butcher Assad, the rise of the fascist ISIS to land grab the liberated areas and an invitation to Putin to send in his hospital-bombing air force. That’s ultra-leftism.

          Here’s another example: Corbyn’s support for Hamas and the PA etc and his desire to recognise the Gaza Ghetto and West Bank Bantustan and their governments as Palestine. That is ultra leftism that ultimately serves the Zionists and their bogus peace process and two-state lie. I won’t bother talking about ultra-leftism and Ireland.

    2. john preid says:

      gulp Blair probably realised you need to build a broad coalition, he already appealed to the working class ,needed someone who appealed to the middle class

      now

      all labour has to do is get someone who already appeals to the middle class, and can get the working class vote without losing the middle class vote

      1. JohnP says:

        The Right Wing Troll, john pried, faithfully parroting the latest slippery, utter garbage, attack memes of the Tory press. Hop off back to Progress or Tory central, pried.

        1. John P Reid says:

          I don’t have anything to do with progress, you don’t put any real criticism, you want me to go to the Tories, surely that would lose labour votes

          Why do you say I’m right wing

  4. Mervyn Hyde says:

    I must confess that I take little notice of the arguments forwarded by the likes of Chuka Umunna, not understanding his amendment, I can’t really argue for or against it.

    Simply that he and his entourage have been making noises that they should now have more representation in the Shadow cabinet, proving that on both fronts, this amendment and the right to be in shadow cabinet, is just another ruse and business as usual.

    Europe is dead, we are coming out, they are still fighting the battles of the referendum, flying the Neo-Liberal flag of defiance.

    What is vitally important for us, to clearly identify the lines of demarcation, they are arguing for staying in, without regard for all the circumstances surrounding it. We are offering people transparency, a clear direction, and working for the best outcome for Europe and ourselves.

    These are the people that thought TTIP was a good idea, along with the Tories, The Tories don’t want a settlement irrespective of what they say publicly, they want a T.W.O. free trade agreement and that is what they are working towards.

    Which is what we need to get into the public domain.

  5. Paul Dias says:

    For those of you who still care to learn about history so as not to repeat it:

    Effective opposition to the rise of the Nazis would therefore depend on the strategy pursued by the Communist Party. Tragically it was at this time that the party adopted what was called the “Third Period” line. At the very time when the crisis of capitalism was destroying the lives of millions and Hitler’s Nazis were making huge electoral gains (rising from 2.6 percent of the vote in 1928 to 37.4 percent in 1932) the KPD concentrated its attention on attacking another part of the left. It made preposterous accusations against the socialists, accusing them of being “social fascists” and “1,000 times worse than an open fascist dictatorship”.

    http://socialistreview.org.uk/378/lessons-of-defeat

    For those of you who are happy to be the Barclays brothers’ useful idiots: how’s Brexit working for ya?

    1. JohnP says:

      Hysterical, historically rubbish, Guardianista nonsense, Paul Dias. Your sad uncritical support for the neoliberal EU and Single market can only be based on utter ignorance of the EU’s role and nature.

      Soon we could well have a radical Left leaning Labour Government. Many of our 2017 Manifesto commitments are impossible within the EU or Single market (renationalising Rail and the water utilities for instance) . Time to “get with the programme” Paul. We are leaving the EU.

      1. C MacMackin says:

        I don’t think the EU restricts water nationalisation, although states “will be required to ensure that the price charged to water consumers . . . reflects the true costs”. In recent years we’ve seen cities like Paris taking water back into public hands. You have more of a point on rail, although your wording may be a little misleading. It’s not that membership prevent public ownership—it prevents public monopoly. Or, rather, it will starting in 2019. That’s a restriction I don’t want to be bound by (even more so when it comes to similar directives in energy) and as you know I would prefer a trade deal that doesn’t involve single market membership. However, we should be clear about what restrictions it poses and what restrictions it does not.

        1. Danny Nicol says:

          CMac – there is a Treaty right of freedom of establishment which guarantees the right of undertakings established in one Member State to establish branches and subsidiaries in any other Member State (in any sector).

          If you can honestly rule out the Court of Justice ever applying this right to preclude public monopoly in ANY industry including water, banking, construction….then you have a touching faith in the supranational judiciary.

          As an established part of the regime of neoliberal globalisation along with TTIP, CETA, WTO, the rules of the EU single market were intended to be, and are, entirely incompatible with the project of replacing the capitalist system with democratic socialism. It is only because most Corbynistas are liberals not socialists that they were content to disregard this during the referendum.

          1. C MacMackin says:

            Your post seemed to be delayed in appearing. I address much of this in my response below. In things like water, gas, rail, and electricity, freedom of establishment only prevents monopoly if the sector has been liberalised. This is the case for electricity, gas, and (soon) rail, but not water. So, if a company decided it wanted to dig up all of London’s streets to install a parallel water system then the EU would require that to be allowed, but it would never be profitable for any company to do this. As such, I think water nationalisation is doable. As you correctly say, the EU would not allow monopolies in liberalised sectors like electricity or gas because it has rules structuring them in such a way to make entry into that market easy. Because it seperates the network infrastructure from production and sales, it becomes economical for new actors to enter it.

            I am fully aware of how the rules of the institutions you list are incompatible with socialism. Having grown up in Canada I’m strongly opposed to NAFTA (which is far less restrictive than EEA rules) and would like to see us withdraw. Similarly, I would like to see the UK out of the EEA. Ideally I’d like to avoid even having a free trade deal with them, but I suspect that would be too much of a shock to the economy to handle all at once. I think we should start with a free trade deal restricting tariffs so as not to cause economic chaos. Even here there is scope for negotiating tariffs in some sectors. For example, NAFTA allows Canada to maintain its supply management system with import quotas and tariffs in dairy, poultry, and eggs. Later we can look to move towards a managed trade policy such as you suggest, although it would likely require other countries to be willing to cooperate.

        2. JohnP says:

          As you well know, the Single Market rules “preventing public monopoly” and requiring open access by the private sector to pretty much all areas of each economy (the imminent requirement that all existing EU rail networks are opened up to private sector bids being a case in point) have one core aim – to prevent “natural monopolies, like electricity supply , water supply , postage services, health services, being retained in public ownership. The EU , despite all its “anti monopoly rules” has no problem in practice with the cartel arrangements between the private sector main electricity suppliers, or the dominance of Murdoch in the UK mass media.

          I think in this instance you are merely quibbling on terminology, rather than substance, in your criticism of what I stated, C.Mack.

          If, by manoeuver and fudge, the UK stays in the Single Market, and the straightjacket of its “Four Freedoms”, particularly unlimited labour supply, not only will key elements of the 2017 Manifesto be impossible to achieve, but a new, mass Far Right populist Party on French NF lines will spring up almost overnight across the UK on the basis of “the great Referendum Betrayal” narrative this will vindicate.

          1. C MacMackin says:

            I am being somewhat pedantic, I suppose, but it is important that we are accurate in our language. In Sweden and France there remains a dominant electricity producer/supplier which is wholly or partially publicly owned. In Germany, rail freight (which was liberalised long ago) remains dominated by DB. In Scotland the majority of ferries are still operated by the Scottish government, although they have to compete in a tendering process. There are people on the left who argue against your warnings about the EU restricting nationalisation by pointing out these sorts of examples. If we are not precise in our language then people will dismiss us as being irrational.

            Simply saying that these sectors are natural monopolies and that is why they should be public is not enough anymore. People can look at electricity, see 6 suppliers, and ask what we are talking about. They don’t know that an absurd wholesale electricity market with byzantine rules and regulations is needed to make this possible and that it has failed miserably to get investment in new generating infrastructure. The EU has shown that if you try hard enough, you can create a market in many sectors previously thought to require monopolies. Only the physical infrastructure network (wires, pipes, rails) remain a true natural monopoly. Of course the liberalised systems in place produce inferior outcomes compared to the older public, rationally planned, integrated ownership structures, but this is just another reason why we need to be clear on the difference between public ownership and public monopoly.

            I think Corbyn could truthfully claim to have implemented the manifesto if he did the following. Royal mail would be nationalised, but private competition would remain (as it existed even before it was privatised). Rail franchises would enter public ownership as they expire, operated by a company fully independent from Network Rail. Eventually this company would operate trains across Britain. However, network rail would also lease time-slots to private companies which wished to compete against this new company. A public ROSCO would compete with the private ones to lease rolling stock to both public and private operators. Corbyn’s commitment to nationalise energy was so vague as to be meaningless. All that was really promised was for the grid to (eventually) be in public ownership and to have at least one public or cooperative supplier in each region. The fact he said “at least” one supplier indicates there is no intention of dismantling the electricity market, let alone nationalising the Big 6. As far as I can tell, there are no EU directives requiring water to be open to competition, although perhaps you could direct me to one.

            I’m not saying I want this approach to be taken. In particular, I have argued vehemently in the past for a vertically integrated monopoly in electricity. I’m just saying that it would be legal within the EU’s current laws and that it could be said to be compatible with the manifesto. If we want to avoid these sorts of half-measures we need to be clear on exactly what the EU does and does not allow. While the logic of EU directives clearly tends towards privatisation, there is something else going on here which is subtler but no less damaging. What the EU does is tell us that they don’t care about who owns things (which is enough to satisfy some on the Left) but then forces public companies act within a private market and behave like private companies. This is the actual problem, not supposed prohibitions on nationalisation which people can easily refute by example. We need to be clear on this distinction when we are talking to people so that they understand our opposition to the single market.

          2. C MacMackin says:

            As an afterthought, we on the Left need to reclaim the idea of monopolies. Too many people today phrases their dislike of, e.g., BT or energy companies or rail operators in terms of there not being any real choice. I’ve spoken to people who reject nationalisation if they think it means a return to monopoly. Even many supposed socialists only seem to view nationalisation as meaning a public competitor to private companies. The Left needs to explicitly argue for the economies of scale and nationwide quality service which is only possible with a national monopoly, not imply that the solution is to break up the big private companies into smaller private companies. Failure to do so not only makes it more difficult for us to argue for nationalising strategic sectors, but also implies that everything is fine in those sectors where there is competition. You’ve made similar points before, in different words, when talking about the need for national economic planning and the folly of co-ops. But it is also relevant here; if we wan’t people to understand and agree with our opposition to the EU, we also need to get them to agree with our support for public monopolies.

  6. Bazza says:

    I think we should depersonalise the situation – as a left wing democratic socialist I would argue we should not talk of deselections but the selection of 620 left wing democratic socialist stars as Labour Parliamentary candidates.
    My current MP is a lovely human being but he is not currently a star; I, we, but most importantly this person themselves could make themselves a star.
    I would suggest this persons like have played the Parliamentary game, climbing the greasy pole, but if they actually stood for what they believed in instead as acting like human calculating machines (if I say this to them, and that to them crap etc.) when perhaps you should be honest left wing democratic socialists and stand for what you believe in; then I would argue it is quite liberating!
    To draw from another star – Bob Marley (from a different powerful context) perhaps they need to “emancipate themselves from mental slavery.”
    I would argue we need 620 left wing democratic socialists stars; to quote from a short poem wot I wrote:
    “And only stars will ride the storm.”
    Solidarity!

  7. Peter Rowlands says:

    Excellent points on nationalisation by CMac, I hope our manifesto writers are aware of all this.
    However, it is JohnP’s assertion that we can leave the EU on a left hard Brexit basis that is so completely and utterly wrong.This is not because such an attempt would fail, which I believe it would.That is not the point, which is that any attempt to go down this road would split the party and enormously reduce its electoral support, which is substantially for remain,or at least with a free trade/single market agreement, which is the majority view among members also.This is the ONLY basis on which Labour could successfully appeal to the electorate, and it is political blindness not to recognise this.
    Labour’s position of respecting the referendum result meant that it was able to retain the support of some leavers,and many others who saw the Lib-Dem line of remain at all costs as undemocratic,and while some see that line (Labour’s) as dishonestly ambiguous I do not accept that, although it may require further choices to be made.
    The recent Umunna amendment, while mainly a means of attacking Corbyn, did represent a feeling among some MPs that a hard Brexit line was being pushed in certain quarters, and it needs to be made clear that this is not the case.We will only win on this basis.

  8. Karl Stewart says:

    I really think it seems that only Corbyn really ‘gets’ how to approach this whole Brexit issue.

    For almost everyone else, the issue is one of which of the options that the EU presents us with should we accept.

    So some will say we should take the so-called ‘hard-Brexit’ option of no single market membership, no customs union membership and no ECJ authority.

    And on the other hand, some who want us to accept the so-called ‘soft-Brexit’ option of single market membership, customs union membership and ECJ rulings.

    And of course the many positions in between, agreeing to some elements of each of the so-called ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ options.

    But Corbyn, for me, seems to be completely ignoring all that and simply stating what type of society he wants to build for Britain – on health, education, industry, public services, housing, foreign relations, foreign trade etc.

    And that’s where he gets it right where so many others just get it wrong.

    Corbyn, (sorry to use this cliché, but I can’t find a better term) is thinking ‘outside the box’. He is starting from seeking to meet the needs of the UK people, rather than starting from selecting from the options that the EU are presenting us with.

    And that’s the way we in Labour need to be thinking.

    That’s the way we can maintain the unity of Labour, and that’s the way we can not only hold onto our existing support, but build yet more support.

    We will be leaving the EU because that’s what the country democratically decided to do last year.

    But our direction of departure and our manner of departure will be determined according to meeting the needs of the UK people as a whole, not according to selecting from the ‘menu of options’ that the EU presents us with.

    So when we’re asked: “Do you want a hard, soft, or semi-soft Brexit?”

    We don’t answer that question in those terms.

    We say: “We will create a Britain of full employment, publicly owned and controlled services, a robust industrial sector, affordable housing for all, etc…”

    And if the EU seeks to put obstacles in the way of that, then we appeal direct to the people of the EU nations – tell them what we’re trying to do, appeal for their support, urge them to do likewise.

    That’s what we need to do – (please pardon the cliché again) we need to all ‘think outside the box’ like Corbyn does.

    1. Peter Rowlands says:

      And we all lived happily ever after! Would that it were so simple.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        I don’t think it’s simple Peter, but I do wonder what we would be “leaving” If we decided to remain as members of both the EU single market and the EU customs union ( and therefore, also remaining subject to the adjudication of the ECJ).

        What else actually is the EU Peter?

        That would essentially be remaining within the EU to all intents and purposes.

  9. Bazza says:

    It was only supported by 49 ‘Great Men and Women of History’ perhaps without an original idea in their heads (20% of the PLP).
    Oh just wanted to share, I tried a Virtuall Reality Headset for the first time at a Universiity Event the other day and was thinking of the potential social benefits.
    I have been unhappy at recent Right Wing attacks lately on ending Foreign Aid (from the likes of UKIP etc.) and I always thought “Out of sight, out of mind'” and if we could magically put people in the same room as starving kids etc. unless they had the hardest hearts then they would probably be rattling tins for such charities or running bloody marathons to raise money!
    Then I was walking through town on Friday and 2 Chuggers from UNICEF were there with virtual reality headsets and at s stroke citizens could be taken to the front-line of their work.
    And it got me thinking, Labour members could do it to supplement traditional campaigning and voters could be at an instant in a room with Jeremy Corbyn to meet him.
    We should all get behind JC but think of modern ways too, to add to traditional electoral work – and Vote Labour cagouls – now there’s a thought!
    Solidarity!

  10. Karl Stewart says:

    Is the EU anything else other than a single market, a customs union and a court, the ECJ, which adjudicates any disputes?

    (The only other significant EU function is of course the euro currency and it’s derivative bodies – but we weren’t members of that in any case, so no change there.)

    1. C MacMackin says:

      The Common Agricultural Policy; that is separate from the single market and countries like Norway are not bound by it. I’m pretty sure non-EU members of the EEA still have some ability to negotiate their own trade deals as well. I think there are a few other minor things as well. Of course, new EU institutions could be added as time goes on, such as a common defense force.

      You’re right though, that single market membership would mean Britain would still be taking part in most EU institutions, except without having any say in them.

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        Yes,there is also more autonomy over fisheries and regional policy, but we would obviously still be subject to most EU rules, but not be a member, as Norway isn’t.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          Peter, so your interpretation of last year’s referendum was all about people wanting to withdraw from the EU Common Fisheries Policy?

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            Come.on Peter, surely you must realise that staying in the main EU organisations cannot possibly meet the mandate of leaving the EU?

            And we couldn’t truly withdraw from either the Common Fisheries Policy or the Common Agricultural Policy in any case a if we remained within the Single Market, the Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

            The ECJ would still adjudicate on any fisheries and agricultural complaints against the UK from any of its member states and we would be obliged to follow the rulings if we wanted to remain within the main EU organisations.

            Be honest Peter, the whole “stay in the single market” position is just a back-door way of remaining within the EU.

          2. JohnP says:

            Got it in one, Karl ! Peter’s position, and many others on the old Labour left, is that the UK, even with a possibly near future Corbyn government, should actually stay in the Single Market with all its complex barriers to actually implementing much of our 2017 Manifesto – and await the rest of the EU undergoing a political earthquake and achieving enough radical Left governments to totally restructure the neoliberal basis of the EU.

            This is merely a Left Labour version of Fabianism., ie, “let’s avoid the reality of any significant real world Left advance in the UK – because the inevitable capitalist “pushback” is just too damned scary”. Instead, like every Labour Council across the UK, lets just collaborate with the priorities set by the capitalist markets because to do otherwise is obviously “unreasonable” because of the risks involved.

            And so the profound political cowardice and bankruptcy of sections of the Old Labour Left is exposed. Today’s unprecedentedly vast political opportunities are just too scary , for comrades who have spent their entire political lives manoeuvring away in smoke filled rooms to win over the “soft Left” to achieve successful microscopic incremental “democratisation” motions at Annual Conference.

            We are in a completely different political ball game today. New rules apply.

  11. Peter Rowlands says:

    Yes Karl, while there would be some greater autonomy in some areas, including FOM, we would still be largely subject to EU regulations, although technically, like Norway, not a member. If you feel that this would not be really leaving the EU then you would favour a hard Brexit with all the economic disaster that would bring.This may happen, but it would be a victory for the nationalist right if it did. And to JohnP opinion in and in support of Labour is largely pro remain – Labour cannot possibly deliver a left Brexit. See my response on July 10th above.

    1. C MacMackin says:

      First off, I see the argument that Labour-supporting opinion as being largely pro-Remain (which is true) as fairly irrelevant to the debate at hand. We are discussing what we think should be done, not what we think will be done. I don’t think most Labour members will support the nuclear energy policy I have advocated, but I argue for it all the same in the hopes that I might change their minds. Certainly, there are cases where we decide we have to pick our battles and set aside policies we personally believe in because we know they won’t get the support of many other people. However, if someone considers something to be of fundamental importance (e.g. nuclear in addressing climate change, Brexit in allowing a left economic policies) then I think that is a battle worth picking, even if it will be lost.

      As you know, JohnP does not favour a Hard Brexit in the “no deal” sense. Rather, he thinks that a bespoke trade deal can be achieved with the EU, at least within certain sectors. If I can fault him on anything it is that he does not seem to have a plan for if the EU isn’t willing to pursue that option. I’d be interested to hear his strategy for that situation. (I could draw parallels to how you, Peter, do not have a plan should the survival of a left-Labour government depend on policies which would not be permissible within the Common Market, simply insisting this will not be necessary.) Let’s argue based on actual positions. To that end, I’d be interested to hear whether you would accept a deal which provided tariff-free access to the common market without requiring EEA membership should it prove possible, although I know you think it won’t.

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        Fair points, but Labour is unlikely to split over energy policy, but could and would over Brexit if a left hard Brexit line grew in support.In my view there is absolutely no possibility of Labour getting elected on the basis of such a policy, but the implicit assumption of JohnP, Karl and others is that there is. However, my main point is that I do not believe a left Brexit can succeed, for reasons I have pointed out more than once.In terms of the question you pose, well yes, although as you say it’s unlikely to be offered. As to what a Labour government might do, it would depend on whether it came to power pre or post Brexit – if the former, say in a few months, it could get elected on the basis of its somewhat ambiguous policies, and rapidly become as divided as the Tories are now.What happens then?Could the Lib-Dems sweep to power in a further election with Vince as their Macron?I wouldn’t rule it out.

        1. C MacMackin says:

          However, my main point is that I do not believe a left Brexit can succeed, for reasons I have pointed out more than once.

          You don’t get to have it both ways. In your July 10 post you said

          That [a left hard Brexit failing economically] is not the point, which is that any attempt to go down this road would split the party and enormously reduce its electoral support.

          I do think tariff-free access will prove possible. The recent speech by Michael Barnier was reported as though it indicated that the only options were single market membership or WTO rules. However, when you read the text, that is clearly not the case (although he did warn of the dangers of letting things revert to WTO rules if there is no deal). What he does is warn about the non-tariff bariers to trade which exist outside of EEA membership. The way it is worded to me suggests that some sort of trade agreement for tariff-free access is on the table.

          Frankly, I don’t think the leadership would pursue an option which has serious risk of splitting the party, unless it comes down to a life-or-death situation once in office (similar to how Tsipras was willing to split his party to pass austerity, although if a split comes to pass I’d hope Corbyn would be splitting to the left rather than the right). So, I don’t see that as a reason not to argue for a divisive position. Having these arguments now also creates space for later if we need to re-examine our relationship with the EU. As for your view that such a position would inevitably split the party, I’m not sure. No doubt it would cost some support (although it could also pick some up) and maybe a few MPs , but lots of people have resigned themselves to the referendum outcome. Lots of people may also reason that even if they may not want a hard Brexit, a Labour hard Brexit would be better than a Tory hard Brexit, so it’s best to maintain unity. This is speculation, of course, but so is what you put forward. I certainly don’t see it as good enough reason to restrict our arena of debate about what we believe to be the best policy.

          (By the way, while I doubt it would split the party, a nuclear roll-out on the scale I envision probably would cost some members and votes, particularly among ex-Greens. There are people who genuinely believe that nuclear represents a fundamental threat to their safety. Such a policy certainly would be divisive in the sense that leaving the EEA would probably be neccessary to accomplish it.)

          1. Peter Rowlands says:

            OK, should have re-read July 10th. But if a free trade deal outside the EEA was on offer, which I very much doubt would be the case, then as you say this could carry most remainers along, as it would be the equivalent of a soft brexit, and if the economy remained in reasonable shape we could start implementing our manifesto, although I still think that big business would react against that beyond a certain point, and that successful movement leftwards is only likely an an all EU basis..

          2. C MacMackin says:

            What I’m talking about is not really an equivalent of a soft Brexit (call it a firm Brexit, maybe?), as it would still see the erection of non-tariff barriers to trade. These would take the form of border inspections, longer waiting at customs, products needing to be approved under a different set of regulations, etc. I’d urge you to actually read the speech I linked to, because to me it really sounded like such an arrangement is on the table. In particular, it is stated that “I don’t know the details of the British positions on our future partnership. I certainly don’t want to jump to conclusions. But I know that you will be vigilant – as I will – to ensure that any trade agreement with the United Kingdom will guarantee fair competition and the protections we regard as essential”. I’d be interested to know how other people interpret that, but to me it sounds like the EU will be open to negotiating a trade deal.

            Big business (and, to a lesser extent, smaller businesses) will always try to oppose a reforming left-of-centre government and react against it. That’s why left and centre-left governments almost always water down what they pledged to do during the campaign. Whether business actually defeats a Left government or not depends on the balance of class forces and what actions said government is prepared to take. When you talk about a Corbyn government needing to be able to see off an attack on the pound you acknowledge this. (As a side note, how would this be done? I’m curious but don’t know enough about monetary policy to have the first clue.) What you seem to forget when dismissing more radical measures (e.g. nationalisation) is that while these will antagonise capital, they will also give a Left government the tools it needs to see off attacks.

    2. Karl Stewart says:

      Peter, the terms “hard Brexit” and “soft Brexit” are the way that the capitalists have framed the debate.

      That is their debate Peter. It’s a debate between different sections of the capitalist class about how best to maximise their profits.

      That’s why Blairites like Chuka Ummuna – and of course Blair himself – are on exactly the same side here as Phillip Hammond and George Osborne.

      On the other side of the “hard v soft” debate are the more Atlanticist capitalists like Give, Fox and Davis.

      We’re not on either side in that discussion Peter, we’re on the side of the working class.

      And that’s the essence of Corby and McDonnell position. We will prioritise workers’ rights, the protection of secure employment, public services, health, housing, education, restoring our manufacturing and engineering sector.

      Those are our issues and in our discussions with leaders of other nations – whether in Europe or further afield – these are the issues we will keep uppermost during any talks on trade and commerce.

      Peter, you need to stop approaching politics through the prism of capitalist neoliberalism.

      To paraphrase an old slogan, we must say: “We are with neither the hard Brexiteers nor the softs, we are only with the working class.”

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        I’m sorry, Karl, but your hard brexit position, outside the single market, is not in the interests of the working class, as it threatens depression, unemployment and poverty.A Labour government would have little chance of survival, and would be followed by a nasty nationalist one.
        You make what I think are mistaken points about support for different types of Brexit. Essentially big business, the real ruling class, is overwhelmingly against it on the grounds of the adverse effect it would have on trade and profits, and are hoping that this becomes apparent to enough people to force a change so that we don’t leave after all.The real supporters of a hard brexit are the petit bourgeoisie, the owners of small businesses who do not trade with the EU and resent the regulations imposed on them. They are the reactionary core of the hard brexit movement which if it succeeds would mark a victory for them and a defeat for us.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          Mine is not a “hard-Brexit” position Peter, my view is a pro-socialist position.

          It’s a jobs-first position and an industry-first view.

          If we’re outside of the EU, we can restore our domestic manufacturing industry.

          We can employ building workers to build factories where we can employ engineering workers to build cars, other vehicles, domestic appliances, etc.

          We can employ more building workers to build new steel plants, where we can manufacture the steel we will need for our engineering factories.

          We can build new rail lines, new ships, new trains, public transport vehicles, hospital equipment, new schools.

          There need be no unemployment – there’s so much to do and so many people to do it, and so much money to pay their wages.

          1. Peter Rowlands says:

            No Karl, while I do not doubt your socialist aspirations your position is a hard left brexit one which you believe would further those aspirations and I believe would not.

  12. Karl Stewart says:

    …and more houses

  13. C MacMackin says:

    Karl, while such a left economic plan is something which should definitely be pursued, we need to be aware of its limits. The issue is that Britain is a smallish country and won’t be able to get the economies of scale available through international supply chains. We can not possibly hope to produce everything we need domestically, so that will require some sort of trade. The first issue this raises is what institutional arrangements will be needed to facilitate trade. While left-wing trade agreements are certainly possible, there’s no guarantee we’d be able to get them with other countries. The second issue is that in order to trade we must be competitive on international markets, which puts a downward pressure on working conditions (this will be the case whatever happens regarding the EU). Finally, most of the industries you mention are currently very international (especially the auto industry). It would take quite a lot of re-engineering to have a completely domestic version and doing so would probably be more expensive because there wouldn’t be the same economy of scale. Plus, Britain will always need to import most natural resources. Now, unlike Peter, I do not think these issues are insurmountable, but we mustn’t play them down either.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      CMack:
      I’m afraid “international supply chains” do not necessarily equal “economies of scale”.

      You cite the auto industry – as many do – in defence of your argument. No doubt the old chestnut about engines being made in one country, machining processes taking place in another, spraying somewhere else and final assembly in yet another nation.

      Yes, that’s how auto manufacture within the EU has evolved. It’s utterly illogical from a logistics perspective and from any sane cost perspective as well.

      But the EU Single Market and Customs Union make such arrangements profitable.

      Such arrangements allow the capitalists to switch production between EU nations with ease, to import/export/import/export/import and export again exactly the same items through different stages of production without paying any customs duty and taking full advantage of cheaper labour and overhead costs that may suit them in different nation states.

      Whatever did we do before?

      Well, we had large, integrated manufacturing plants, where engine blocks were cast in the factory’s foundry, fettling was done in the onsite fettling shop, machining of threads and dies and milling of surfaces took place in the onsite machine shop, welding happened in the onsite welding bays, NDT inspection…onsite, coating, priming, spraying…again, all onsite, and then sub-assembly, inspection, and full assembly…yes you’ve guessed it…all onsite.

      So the vehicles all came out the other end and off to be sold.

      Large numbers of people employed in skilled jobs, at the same place, no excessive logistics, and sane and logical manufacturing processes.

      That’s what we did before.

      Let’s do it again?

      1. C MacMackin says:

        I’m not saying we can’t do it again, just that it will be challenging to rebuild those skills and to rebuild that capacity. While it is true that a big part of the purpose of international supply chains is disciplining labour, that doesn’t change the fact that they do also allow specialisation and economies of scale. These have to be balanced against transport costs, but both rail and container ships are pretty cheap (and actually very energy efficient). If Britain tries to pursue some for, of manufacturing autarcy then this will be more expensive due to lack of specialisation and economies of scale. It could certainly be possible to, over time, develop a fully domestic auto-industry but it would only be able to get good economies of scale if it can also feed into the export market. That will place downward pressure on working conditions. We might be able to overcome this, temporarily, if for example we develop the capacity to mass produce a wide variety of electric vehicles. More and more countries are in Europe are moving to encourage their use and a few small ones have even scheduled dates past which new petrol cars can not be sold, so there is certainly an opportunity to break into that market. One of the challenges will be to keep the auto-industry alive long enough to make this conversion, though.

        Meanwhile, we can not hope to get economies of scale and the necessary level of specialisation to be involved in all sectors. Either the UK would have to choose a few sectors on which to focuse in which most of the supply chain could be done domestically (except raw materials, of course) or to work in a variety of sectors but be part of international supply chains. Either way, we will need good trade relationships. These sorts of concerns would be one of the reasons Peter insists left advance can only be made on an all-EU basis. Personally I think that is an overstatement, but in the long-term the pressures of the international market would almost certainly require the UK to link up with other left-wing countries for trade purposes, if it is not to pursue self-exploitation. Where Peter and I differ is on how long a left-UK could survive on its own in and out of the EU and how long it will take for other European countries to get left governments.

        For what it’s worth, here’s what I would propose doing. It is quite similar to what you suggest, but I think it will be more difficult that you expect and will only work for so long—ten years maybe. Britain would pursue the first option (vertically integrated domestic industries in a few sectors). In particular, it would focus on the following:

        – Electric vehicles, including private cars and mass transit. Public procurement could help create an initial market. Labour’s manifesto commitment to electrify the rest of the rail network would play a part in this.
        – Nuclear energy. Not only will this be needed for domestic decarbonisation, but France is planning to phase out a third of its fleet over the coming decade and if they aren’t going to build new fossil fuel power plants they’ll need to import electricity from somewhere. If we develop Generation IV reactors then these could also definitely be marketed to other parts of the world.
        – Clean heating systems, specificallly heat pumps. These are already produced but are still quite expensive, so the UK should work to get economies of scale to make them affordable alternatives to gas. These would include industrial-scale ones for use in public buildings and district heating systems.
        – Recycling technology. We want waste levels to tend towards zero.
        – Pharmaceuticals, especially new antibiotics. The latter is not very profitable but is very important because private companies have not been developing them at anything like the pace needed to keep up with antibiotic resistance. Even a stable supply of generic medications would be very helpful to the NHS and other country’s health services.
        – A state company which works to develop more cutting edge technolies such as automation, space-flight, cleaner manufacturing techniques, etc. This would work with research institutions and offer a way for researchers to commercialise their work without needing to get involved in a startup if they don’t want to. It could also buy out successful startups, rather than let private companies do this. This company would likely take longer to become profitable and should be considered part of research spending.

        The idea is to work in areas which are both socially necessary and not yet well-developed. This would make it possible for Britain to have the first large-scale entry into many of these markets (with all of the advantages that entails) and initially not have to worry about the pressure competition would put on workers. However, eventually private competitors in other countries will catch up and at that point the UK would need to start linking up with other left wing governments to trade. To make this work even on the short term will require massive engagement from workers to restructure their industries towards these social ends and right now I don’t see that as available. While it can be built, this takes time. This is why I think you underestimate the difficulty involved in all of this. While the restructuring is in progress we have to keep the economy from collapsing and that requires some form of at least tariff-free trade (although not EEA membership) for the short-term.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          CMack, I don’t follow what it is you mean by “economies of scale” in terms of diversified manufacturing processes.

          I get that the structure of the EU single market and customs union is created in such a way as to make this production separation financially profitable for companies.

          But what I don’t understand is any kind of inherent logic behind it.

          How can it possibly make any kind of sense to move components and sub-assemblies back and forth several times over many hundreds of miles rather than to move them a few yards around the same site?

          I accept it would not be a simple task to rebuild, re-equip and most importantly to re-staff and re-skill in order to return to sane integrated manufacturing, but surely it would be worthwhile would it not?

          1. C MacMackin says:

            I think the reason they move things around is so that they can have fewer plants producing the same thing. This is what gives the economies of scale. Presumably the reason they do not place those factories next to each other, which would be cheaper, is because 1) they started out with factories located all over the place and that level of restructuring take time; and 2) spreading the factories out makes it easier to set them in competition against each other and prevent collective bargaining as a single unit. I suppose they can also play national governments for favourable tax breaks this way. (Or does the EU forbid that as state aid? They certainly do that in North America, including at the state/provincial level.) There is no particular need for the factories to be in different countries, but there is for them to be large, producing more auto-parts than a single European country would need.

        2. Karl Stewart says:

          I do like the positivity of some of your ideas on how we might expand the various sectors of the economy that you list by the way.

  14. Karl Stewart says:

    Peter Rowlands, my position is on the side of the working class and for a socialist economic and political system.

    Your position is on the side of the capitalist class and for a capitalist economic system.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Peter Rowlands:

      Please come over to the working class and socialist side

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        Karl, I am a socialist, but I believe that making advances in that direction is a complex matter and that not all routes advocated by some on the left, like hard brexit, would facilitate that.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          With hindsight, I was a bit melodramatic with those last couple of comments Peter.

          I don’t doubt you’re on the right side, notwithstanding our disagreement on this issue.

          1. Peter Rowlands says:

            No problem, Karl.

  15. Peter Rowlands says:

    To CMac. I have now read the Barnier speech, which as you say is different to the interpretation put on it by most of the media here. If this is the case it could mean that EU leaders have come to the conclusion that the disruption to capitalism in the EU that a Brexit without such a deal would cause would be damaging to the EU as well as the UK, and therefore not worth it.Such a deal would obviously mean that the motivation for firms to leave the UK for the EU in order to maintain their markets would no longer apply, and the ‘doom and gloom’ scenario would be lifted.But I cannot see such a deal being implemented without much of the single market apparatus remaining applicable to us, although it could resolvethe FOM question.

    1. C MacMackin says:

      Perhaps, but it certainly suggests more room to negotiate. Most free trade deals also make exceptions for certain sectors. For example, Canada restricts trade in dairy, eggs, and poultry in all of its free trade deals. That compromise was extracted in NAFTA by a country less than one twelfth the size of the other two participants, so it could be possible for Britain to do something similar in a few particular sectors: energy, transport, and post come to mind. In the case of energy, a compromise would be to allow a vertically integrated monopoly so long as it is required to transmit other companies electricity. This would allow Ireland to continue interacting with the European energy market. While not quite the model I would prefer, this would be close enough and would allow an effective state monopoly for domestic electricity. The power company in the province I grew up in is structured this way and it presents no problems for long-term planning. A somewhat less satisfactory approach would be to have a sort of internal market within the vertically integrated monopoly, which is the model used by Hydro Quebec. Either approach is fully compatible with continued tariff-free trade in electricity.

      Most free trade agreements also do not place such strict prohibitions on state aid compared to the EU. In North America companies still routinely get bailouts, tax breaks, subsidies, etc. despite NAFTA and CETA placing some restrictions. The thing which would probably be most difficult to get out of is rules around public procurement. As procurement is a valuable tool when fostering new industries this would definitely place limitations on government policy. However, procurement is also one of the easiest things to make excuses for, especially at the local level. If we are fostering new industries which don’t exist elsewhere in comparable size (e.g. electric vehicles), then we might be able to argue that no EU company would be able to meet our requirements. Even within the EU, local authorities have been able to come up with justifications for contracting with local companies for procurement (although they tend to be under less scrutiny than national governments).

      We don’t know for sure what we could get with such a deal. What we do know is that it would open room for negotiations not available if we are seeking EEA membership. Normally free trade agreements are negotiated between two neoliberal governments who don’t particularly mind the restrictions imposed. Many of them are even glad that they can blame foreigners for something they want to do anyway. We’ve never seen one negotiated between a neoliberal and a Left government, so we don’t know what compromises can be extracted. Sure, we probably wouldn’t get all of the freedom I want, but I suspect we could get enough and I am certain we could get more than if we stay in the EEA.

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        The recent agreement with Japan, and indeed that with your own country, are perhaps indications of what the EU might be prepared to do, although we would obviously reject ISDS clauses as in the Canada agreement. The Japan agreement is rather disturbing in that it provides for tariff free export of cars to the EU. There would then be no need for Japanese car manufacturers to remain in the UK.

        1. C MacMackin says:

          It would be good if someone who has really studied those deals could review them and what they mean for EU negotiations. Many people on the Left in Canada were talking about how CETA opens the door to more privatisation. Mind you, they’ve said that about NAFTA too and as far as I can tell the only privatisations we’ve seen since then were fully Canadian in origin. We’ve even been able to keep statutory monopolies in, e.g., liquor sales and post, while my home province successfully deliberalised electricity a few years ago (not that we’d ever gone that far in liberalising it). In the 90’s the premier of Ontaria claimed that he couldn’t fulfil his campaign pledge to bring in public auto insurance because American insurance companies could challenge it under NAFTA, but I’ve also heard in suggested this was really just an excuse to yield to opposition of Canadian insurance companies. CETA has also been criticised for increasing patent protections on pharmaceuticals, although I’m guessing that was just bringing Canada’s rather weak patent regime up to international standards. I don’t think CETA has done much to liberalise energy, transport, or postal services in Canada (all of which remain regulated or monopolies in at least some jurisdictions), although it’s not like EU companies would have been in a good position to move into those markets.

          Two things we can expect to be big issues for any UK-EU trade deal would be procurement policy and ISDS. If I recall, CETA required even municipal government not to descriminate against EU companies in procurement (whereas in previous deals local government was unaffected). I suspect that one will be very hard to get out of, especially seeing as EU member states won’t really be able to use procurement policy either way. I don’t know what the situation will be with ISDS. As far as I know, in all previous negotiations both sides have been fairly keen on them, so I don’t know how things would go if one side made that a red line. There is certainly opposition to them within the EU as well (it was part of what basicly killed TTIP even before Trump got elected) so we might be able to get rid of them.

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