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Five reasons why a new centre party is a stupid idea

It’s truly silly season if talk of a new centre party is abroad yet again. James Chapman, ex-Daily Mail and former office boss in David Davis’s Department for Exiting the European Union sparked off the latest chittery-chattery in a series of pointed posts on yours and mine’s favourite social media outlet. He said Boris Johnson should be banged up for his moronic £350m/week pledge to fund the NHS, and took several gormless ministers to task about how Brexit is affecting their briefs. Of more interest is his desire for a new ‘Democratic Party’ that would seek to overturn the result of last year’s referendum. No cheap shots on the incongruence between the name and the reluctance to accept a democratic decision, please.

Unfortunately for “Chappers” his new party fantasy is just that. It might be a dream he shares with Tony Blair, the Jolyon scene and “very interesting people”, but it’s the pantomime gesturing of a political elite left out of sorts by the post-referendum, post-election landscape. It appears superficially similar to what went before, but try as they may it rebels against them. Nothing underlines this confusion more than their stubborn, centre party meme. Here then, for the umpteenth time are five reasons why it won’t work and cannot work.

Show me the money, show me the money, show me the mon-ey
There was talk before the election, at least according to gossip relayed by The Mail of Tony Blair lining up donors to fund a new centre outfit should Labour losing badly but Jeremy Corbyn stay on. Since then, nothing. Lord Sainsbury, the normal “secretive billionaire” go-to for political money has decided that charidee alone will now benefit from his financial largesse. And there are no other takers. According to Private Eye, Blair even tried touching Brexit-supporting ex-Labour donor John Mills for moolah. You can imagine the conversation didn’t go well. The problem with rich donors is they expect a return as they would with any other investment. That His Blairness, now worth a reputed £60m give or take, isn’t stumping up the readies says everything you need to know.

Absent friends
What MP is going to be tempted by a new centrist party? Apparently Chuka Umunna had one on the launch pad and ready to go, and then the electorate spoiled everything and awarded Labour its largest vote for 20 years. How thoughtless of them. Now, while Chuka might needle Corbyn over Brexit and sundry others cause mischief about Venezuela and the like, no one is about to tender their resignations for an unproven force. The same applies to annoyed Cameroons such as Nicky Morgan and Anna Soubry. The one thing most MPs want is … to remain MPs. Would anyone currently out of step with their respective parties want to go to the electorate with ‘Democrats’, ‘Spring’ or some other meaningless appellation and have someone else stand under the Tory or Labour banner? No. Simon “800 votes” Danczuk helpfully rendered his former colleagues a service by offering a vision of their potential futures to honourable members tempted to jump ship.

Generals without an army
Party members can be very annoying. They badger parliamentarians in their constituency/association meetings, bang on about issues no one cares about and sometimes have the temerity to want a degree of collective control over their party. Yet party members are a necessity too. You must have people to fill candidate vacancies in local elections, folks who’ll speak to punters on the doors, on stalls, at work and in all the social settings they inhabit. Someone has to deliver the leaflets. Who then are going to do this for a new centre party? Though they’re not going anywhere, let’s have a brief look at the standard bearer of the self-described centre politics in Labour. That would be our friends Progress, and they’re bust. The sugar daddy has left them high and dry, and an attempts to infuse new blood to keep them attractive has failed. Turnout in their recent round of strategy board elections finds just 50 young members, and 2,500 members in total. In short, a body not much larger than Britain’s principal Trotskyist outfits and, I would wager, with considerably fewer activists. If Progress is the most likely feeder for a new party from Labour, what about the Tories? They’re hardly overflowing with members and, if anything, their base is getting more right wing as all the kippers come back. The Cameroons did not have a numerous grassroots cadre to fall back on either. Might a new party attract people presently uninterested in politics? Unlikely, because …

Dissolve the people and elect another
The electorate aren’t in the market for a new centre party. The election result squeezed the smaller parties severely – even the SNP weren’t immune and are likely to be less resilient in future. On the one side the Tories have stacked up a coalition of classes and class fractions in long-term decline, which means they are too. Labour on the other hand are presentlybenefiting from changes to the class composition of British capitalism, which accounts for how it is managing to win over middle class strata and the most exploited and marginalised. The election result was polarised because politics is now in line with the real polarisationtaking place beneath the froth of official society. Our self-described centrists, our Blairists and Cameroons do not and cannot understand this because their privilege inoculates them against conceiving of the world as anything other than the shilly-shallying of fellow elites. Sadly for them, the realities of the new class politics is no respecter of ideological illusions. The real asserts itself whether you recognise it or not.

The only centre party in the (Westminster) village
All talk of a new centre party has an element of unreality about it, because there already is a centre party. The Liberal Democrats are hardly in the rudest health, but they’re not doing too badly considering how the tectonics of politics are shifting. They now have in excess of 100,000 members, they made a modest advance in the election, and while their polling is rubbish local council by-elections are returning okay results. Not on the scale of their surge in the 12 months leading up to this year’s council elections but respectable enough. What can a new party offer what the LibDems can’t already, especially as they’re now doubling down on a second referendum on the Brexit deal? Tony Blair and “celebrity” newspaper columnists? Please.

A new centre party is a stupid idea in defiance of political realities. But the people touting it are so disoriented by British politics that seeing through this absurdity cannot be ruled out.

41 Comments

  1. JohnP says:

    All very complacent , Phil BC. But look just across the Channel to France and we see what could indeed , in Emmanuel Macron’s recently victorious , entirely rootless, concocted by Big Business and its mass media ,globalist, EU fanatic, neoliberal En March pseudo Party and Presidency, be the “longer game” model for an eventual restructuring of UK politics too.

    The hopes today ,of sections of the neoliberal Tory Remainers, Labour Right and Lib Dems for a “new Centre Party” in the light of the now obviously highly popular Corbynist Labour agenda , and its mass member, and voter, base, are indeed doomed to be thwarted.

    Such hopes of a radical political restructuring must have looked equally daft just a few years ago in France too – with conservative Right still pretty solid, though discredited by Sarkozy, and the Left pretty much sewn up by the victorious Socialist Party under Holland, galvanising the electorate with a Left Keynsian , anti austerity programme.

    What happened to the French Socialist Party and Hollande ? They ended up (like Mitterrand before) crushed by the EU economic straightjacket and the competitiveness pressures of the capitalist market generally. Hollande and the Socialists ended up in open street warfare with their own working class base all last year as Holland tried to smash French workers rights on behalf of Big Business.

    Then, with the traditional French Conservative Right still discredited by Sarkozy’s period in office and newly scandal-ridden , the French Bourgeoisie were faced with a potential face off between the anti globalist radical Left , versus the anti globalist populist Far Right under Marine Le Penn. So what did French Big Business do ? In the vacuum at the centre , it concocted an entirely made up “neoliberal hero” , the ex banker and briefly ex Socialist minister, Macron, with unlimited funds to create a new party almost overnight , En Marche. With massive mass media backing Macron and his new parliamentary party of both previously non-political stooges and ex Republican and Socialist Party turncoats, seized both the Presidency AND the parliament. A “soft political coup” by the French bourgeoisie – ready to take on the French working class and their remaining “labour inflexibilities” in the next few years of coming vicious struggle.

    Fast forward to a future Corbyn government – maybe even next year. In its present state , with a PLP eand Party machine entirely in the hands of the neoliberal Right , and no strategy to mobilise and react to the inevitable economic sabotage and currency manipulation that even our modest anti austerity Manifesto would provoke, Labour could not progress our Left Keynsian agenda without adopting increasingly radical measures. This is the “crossroads point” always reached by radical social democracy during economic crisis — the “Syriza moment” of the Greeks so recently.

    During this economic and social turmoil who could doubt that most of the Labour Right would jump ship to a new “Macron En Marche neoliberal Centre party concoction, along with the Lib Dems and many Tory Remainers. This realignment could happen either during a Corbyn government crisis, or immediately afterwards once it had fallen , discredited ,Hollande Socialist Party-style.

    UK Big Business will not leave the political field empty of a pro-capitalist, pro neoliberal, supposed “centre Party” to carry out their privatisation and austerity . If the Tories are discredited, and hopelessly divided, as they are, and Labour is held firmly by the radical Left, they WILL create a new Party of the neoliberal centre , and the full financial and propaganda resources of UK state and bourgeoisie will give such a restructuring maximum support.

    Don’t write off the daydreams of the neoliberal, pro EU Right for a new Centre party quite yet, Phil, this game has quite a few matches to play yet.

  2. kurt andersen says:

    Those now calling for a new centre party are showing how detached they are from current politics. They do not understand how it was their policies of creating a false concensus that has led to the rise of protest parties (USA, France, Greece) as well as the return of ‘old fashioned’ socialist parties (UK, Greece, Spain, Portugal).
    The general abuse of democracy and support of big business of Clinton, Blair, Hollande and other alleged ‘left’ politicians caused unrest, the launching of illegal wars pushed people onto the streets; the crash of 2007 created despair and real anger and it was clear that there was a power vacuum (socialism wasn’t dead but the leaders had been killed off, replaced by neoliberal stooges). A political vacuum created the space for change and now that change has been filled it will not be replaced by an external putsch to create a fake middle ground party because there is no middle ground, only the people and the ‘owners’

  3. David Pavett says:

    I largely agree with John Penny (above). In addition I found the mocking tone of the piece, along with its author’s confident assertions about what will or will not happen in the next few years, both annoying and unwarrented.

    Phil BC seems to have learned nothing from his prediction that the UK elecorate would vote to stay in the EU, that Trump would never get “within sniffing distance” of the US presidency and that “everone knows” that Corbyn could never win the Labour leadership (the reason why Phil backed Yvette Cooper). He still goes on making ridiculous predictions and does so with his penchant for describing the people he disagrees with as “stupid” or even “idiots”.

    This is not social science it is political punditry. It is a waste of time.

    Could a new centre party take off? I don’t know and neither does Phil B-C. I think he is mistaken in thinking that the 2017 is a solid return to two-party politics. The underlying reality is that both Labour and the Conservatives are riven with deep internal division. The division could develop and be resolved in a variety of ways. None of us can say in advance which of the possibilities will eventually be played out.

  4. C MacMackin says:

    It doesn’t due to be complacent or sneering, as John and David point out. I do tend to think that a new centre-party would be a failure at the present moment, given that the Lib-Dems basically already are such a party and aren’t doing that well. Maybe it would be enough to let the Tories into power, though. It’s always hard to tell with the UK’s electoral system.

    I agree with John’s warning of what could happen if Corbyn gets elected without a more coherent plan. I’m not sure that a new centre party would ultimately be the resolution to that crisis, though (not that I rule it out either). The problems with comparisons with France is that they have a very different electoral system than the UK. Who knows how things would shake out here, although it’s safe to bet they would be bad for Labour. I’m also not sure a new centre party would get as much media press here, given how rabidly right-wing much of it is. It would get the endorsement of the Times, certainly, and probably the Indie and Guardian. But I can’t see the Mirror abandoning Labour or any of the rest abandoning the Tories. I think the more likely outcome of a Labour government in crisis is the party splitting and forming a national government with the Tories as happened in the 30s, although ultimately I’m just guessing too.

  5. Verity says:

    Whilst I enjoyed the mocking of the arrival of arrival of ‘new kids on the block’. I do think that the wherewithal to effect a new political force could be mustered if neither the shape of the Conservatives and Labour looked to the Blairites as unattractive as it does. I do agree with the contributor about the five reasons mitigating against its sustainability. However I think what is missing from this, is the sense of self importance and wilfulness of Blairism in their salvation capacity and thoughts about how they deserve a better destiny. In the medium and long term I think a centre party is unlikely to be successful, however that does not preclude some from thinking only of their own importance and make the starting moves which in the short term could blow a big bubble for a while. At least long enough for many to remain as MPs or secure their next appointments.

    Much confused and liberal thinking amongst some Labour members around the EU could potentially forge a central mission. Even as delusional as it might now seem to the non – participants. Once Corbyn vacates the seat, and given its slow development and grasp of political fundamentals outside of values, I would not myself preclude the attractiveness to thousands of current Momentum members. They would not flock to McDonnell will they? All that this new centre force needs to propel it forward is sufficient energy and momentum for early success. Never mind the long term. Significant damage can then be done to Labour to claim a great achievement.

  6. Bazza says:

    I fear JP is broadly correct.
    I went to my left wing union branch meeting just after the general election had been called and I said I was worried Labour wasn’t ready, but we must fight as never before as working class people, it is all we can do.
    I had previously been to the Momentum National Conference in Birmingham and had said there in a workshop that we should learn from history.
    When Tony Benn first stood in Chesterfield in the 1980’s by-election I went to help; Tony was being vilified in the Right Wing media and I noticed (whilst not ignoring the media) he bypassed the media and went direct to the people with community meetings and rallies all over Chesterfield.
    I said that Jeremy should do this too as our best hope.
    And then came the better than expected manifesto and we finally had good IDEAS to discuss on the doorstep!
    And then the Corbyn surge!
    But I also said at that union meeting at that time, I always thought ahead and I was worried even if Labour won; would the Right Wing Labour MPs go through the lobby to vote for the progressive manifesto?
    Labour’s best hope (and ours) I would argue is (a) to keep and build up our dynamic leadership and (b) to draw on the ideas and talents of our new mass membership – we need to democratically reform Labour and Conference and to build a culture of grassroots involvment in policy development and decision making plus (c) build support in the wider community and to an extent JC has already planted a seed there with his many rallies.
    But I would argue we need 620 socialist stars as candidates and with 350 left wing democratic socialist Labour MPs or so and an involved mass membership plus the wider community behind us then I believe we will be in a good state to try to democratically transform UK society (and as a model for other countries).
    “The old order (Neo-Liberalism) is dying.
    But the new cannot yet be born.
    Perhaps we are all being tested.
    And only stars will ride the storm.”

  7. Peter Rowlands says:

    I agree with the general thrust of what Johnp has said, but the differences between the two countries are significant. In France the bourgeoisie calculated that there was sufficient disillusionment with both main parties to go for Macron, which succeeded, but we are not at that stage yet.But the urgency here is in many ways greater than in France as the British bourgeoisie’s main aim is to avoid Brexit, and to wait for a failing Labour government may well be too late for that.
    If Labour can unite on a pro single market basis that would probably be sufficient to stop Brexit via a second referendum, given the changing mood and increasingly obvious Tory incompetence, but if Labour split on the issue a new party might be the only alternative.

    1. JohnP says:

      The UK isn’t France – but a lot of the socioeconomic dynamics at play that produced the “soft Coup” of “Macronism” are also in play here. If Labour adopted an unambiguous pro Single Market , with a second Referendum, position, we can wave goodbye to whole swathes of our Labour Heartlands in the Midlands and North , on the continuing of unlimited Labour Supply/Freedom of Movement issue alone.

      Not that I think Labour CAN adopt such a position for internal and external political reasons. That is just your desire for Labour Policy, Peter.

      Ain’t going to happen, Peter. Most likely scenario is a Corbyn led Labour government elected within a year or so – and then the issue of what the Labour Right do then on behalf of their pro EU/Single Market Big Business backers – OR during an inevitable manufactured economic crisis faced by the new government. One thing is certain , the obvious political bankruptcy of the Tory Party AND neoliberal New Labour , as a vehicle for continuance of the UK bourgeoisie’s competitiveness, financialisation and Austerity agendas , and the capture of the Party membership by “Corbynism” , means there already is a gap in the UK political scene for a CREDIBLE neoliberal pro Austerity “Centre Party” , from the point of view of Big Business , but not the electorate as yet. And old Vince Cable’s ramshackle Lib Dems isn’t that vehicle.

      Time is now very short for the almost entirely pro-EU UK bourgeoisie (if there is such a distinct entity in the UK, with our highly globalised bourgeois class) to reverse Brexit. Despite your worst fears, Peter, I think it’s going to happen. If not, stand back as a new, very radical popular party of the Far Right explodes into mass being , on the back of the “betrayal” narrative such a reversal will produce.

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        John, Labour’s position is already pro single market but respecting the leave position, thus EEA or some variant, and until that changes it does not mean that we will lose large numbers of the Labour leavers who have so far stuck with us, although the position is likely to be increasingly difficult to hold. If Labour split with JC and others pushing a left Brexit line that would be electorally disastrous and could well destroy the party, although such an outcome is obvious that I don’t think it will happen.If it did a new party could well win the day, with the votes of many previous Labour voters in support.But we both agree that time is getting short for big business to reverse Brexit. But if they succeed there will be no new right wing party – what remains of the Tory party will fulfil that role.

  8. C MacMackin says:

    First off, Labour did not campaign on continued EEA membership. It campaigned on prioritising access to the single market. Given that a desire was expressed to manage immigration, clearly EEA membership is not considered to be the first choice. Second, a free trade agreement with the EU (which you claim to support if it can be negotiated, Peter) is not equivalent to EEA membership. All it would mean is the absence of tariffs on goods and possibly services. That does not correspond to free movement for either, which would require the customs union and a common regulatory framework. Obviously if such an approach is taken there would not be free movement of people and we can hope that Labour would put in place capital controls. As such, none of the four freedoms would remain. Peter, if you think the party is so fragile over the EU then surely even this would be enough to provoke a split.

    Corbyn is clearly not friendly towards the single market. However, it’s not clear to me that he’d choose WTO rules over EEA membership. He hasn’t really acknowledged the possibility that a free trade agreement won’t be reached, so we don’t know his preference. I believe he has supported the idea of a bridging agreement, though, which suggests he’s not . The position of Starmer seems to be “the EEA if necessary, but not necessarily the EEA”. I doubt he’d be taking such a line if the leadership is opposed.

    I don’t think we can say with any certainty that Labour would lose massive numbers of votes if they took a strongly pro-EEA line. How Labour presented itself during the election had some studied ambiguity (although I think the manifesto largely matches my description in the first paragraph) so Brexiters might not have felt they were voting for a pro-EEA line, just as Remainers may not have felt they were voting for an anti-EEA line. As the position is clarified I’m sure Labour will lose some votes from at least one of those camps. Whether it would be enough to spell disaster I don’t know. My guess would be that it doesn’t because the majority of Remainers have reconciled themselves to Brexit happening. Mind you, I didn’t expect Leave to win in the referendum or Labour to do as well as it did in the election so I could easily be wrong again.

  9. Peter Rowlands says:

    Chris, I did not say that Labour campaigned for an EEA outcome, but that that is the most likely result of a single market position that respects the leave decision. If a free trade agreement was arrived at that would I think be enough to satisfy all parties except a minority of hard remainers ( no, I don’t support it, I want to remain in the EU and reform it, but I recognise that it would be widely accepted).Big business would retain its EU markets, economic downturn would be avoided and the people’s will honoured! But it’s unlikely to happen.It would effectively be rewarding the UK for leaving, and inviting others to do so. If it happened the three stooges would become heroes, and the Maybot given a new lease of life, and it would leave Labour on the defensive, but it’s unlikely.
    You appear to agree that Labour’s electorally fruitful but ambiguous position may be more difficult to sustain from now on, but that a serious split, on a hard v. soft Brexit basis is unlikely. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking and big business wants to remain in the EU, but their prospects of doing so don’t look very good at the moment.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Peter, there won’t be a further EU referendum in the foreseeable future – there is absolutely no basis for it.

      And once again, we have already held a “second referendum” the first one was in 1975 and the second one was last year. A further EU referendum would be the third.

      Given the fact that we are leaving the EU, the decision for us is whether we want to stay within Thatcher’s EU Single Market or not.

      Why on earth would anyone on the left want to stay within Thatcher’s EU Single Market?

      1. JohnP says:

        “Why on earth would anyone on the left want to stay within Thatcher’s EU Single Market?”

        Karl, the answer, for Peter, and quite a number on the Left at least, would appear to be an overwhelming conviction that leaving the EU and/or the Single Market will automatically (possibly even under a Corbyn government )bring about economic disaster and/or a rebirth of the UK as a totally neoliberal , offshore tax haven.

        And, some on the Left, Peter as an example, counsel instead that the Left should actually campaign, with h labour Right and Lib Dems and SNP, to at least say in the Single Market (or an arrangement that still ties us in to its strictures) – and hope that the Left in the EU will somehow manage to overcome the current decidedly Rightward lurch in EU member governments , so that a renascent Left-led EU can be transformed from within.

        This position displays both a remarkable pessimism about the UK labour Movement and Labour-led Left’s ability to fight off the Right Brexit Fox/Davis/May plan to convert Britain to a privatised, workers rightsless, tax haven, and a corresponding extraordinary optimism about the prospects for major Left advance at EU member states level such as to change the current resolutely neoliberal direction of the EU !

        This position also shows a total lack of belief in our ability to win a General Election under Jeremy and his Left Keynsian manifesto and achieve anything useful outside of the neoliberal EU/Single Market and its “Four Freedoms” economic straightjacket. Even though Peter should know full well that any stitch up to result in us not actually leave the Single Market – particularly retaining unlimited labour supply, but also with all the other Single Market restrictions, would make a reforming Left agenda impossible to implement.

        This “let’s go along with the Single Market neoliberal rules for now – until the rest of Europe is dominated by radical socialists” argument, is simply a Left Labour variant of Right Labour Fabianism – ie, expressing a purely rhetorical verbal opposition to capitalism – but when for the first time in generations a real opportunity for Left advance appears , as capitalism once more gets bogged down in stagnation and crisis – balk at the risks and dangers – and retreat into a ” oh dear, let’s just maintain the capitalist status quo for now – and wait for someone else to create the socialist conditions that will make it easy for us to implement our socialist beliefs” impotence.

        It’s a tragic position for self-described Left Wingers to propound – but very much in line with the entire craven history of the Labour Left I’m afraid.

        1. Peter Rowlands says:

          We have been over this several times so I’ll be brief.
          a) My views are held by a majority of the left in the EU (Diem25, parties of the PEL) and here ( Corbynista single marketeers).
          b) Two thirds of Labour members and voters are single market soft Brexiteers. It is therefore not possible to commit the party to a hard left Brexit, and if that happened the fall in support and members would be huge, with any hope of winning an election gone. Labour’s vote in June in part reflected its Brexit position.
          c)It is unlikely that big business would allow a left government to operate for long. In my view socialism is unlikely to be built except on an all EU basis.

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            a) There are also plenty of left-wing parties across Europe who have some backbone and who thoroughly oppose the EU.

            b) What you’re claiming here is simply not true. You’ve taken the majority view of Labour Party members over the EU referendum and you’ve just invented a view that because most LP members voted to stay in the EU last year, then this automatically means they support Thatcher’s EU Single Market now. As for Labour voters, you have absolutely zero evidence to back up your claim that most of them voted for the EU, and you also have absolutely zero evidence to back up your claim that most of them support Thatcher’s EU Single Market.

            (Peter, you can’t just invent stuff to try to back up your arguments. It’s fantasy.)

            c) Of course it’s unlikely that big business would support any move by a future Labour government in the direction of social democracy – we need to fight them.

    2. C MacMackin says:

      One thing I forgot to mention in my reply below. The fact that a free trade agreement would help the Conservatives electorally says nothing about whether we should support it in principle. If Theresa May committed to fully funding the NHS then I’m sure it would help her electorally, but I’d still be glad she did it. Similarly, I think that a trade agreement (if possible) would be the best option for future relations with the EU, so if the Tories managed to get one which didn’t turn the UK into a tax haven then I’d be glad.

  10. C MacMackin says:

    Peter, your first two arguments are just arguments from popular opinion. It doesn’t make a pro-EEA or pro-EU stance correct. As Karl says, European left parties are far from united on this question and a great many are anti-EU. Labour would hardly be isolated if it took a left-Eurosceptic position. Indeed, it would be aligning itself with many of the most dynamic parties on the European left. In any case, the European left parties are united on various issues on which they have taken the wrong position, such as nuclear power and GMOs. We shouldn’t take their analysis as gospel.

    Karl is wrong to say there is no evidence Labour voters wanted to stay in the EU. Polls clearly show that they did and I don’t see any good reason to doubt them. Who owns a polling company doesn’t necessarily mean anything. After all, YouGov is owned by a former conservative parliamentary candidate but it gave some of the most favourable polling for Labour last election. But it is true that this doesn’t necessarily mean they are all pro-EEA. For example, Aaron Bastani (editor of Novara Media) voted Remain but since the result has been critical of trying to stay in the EEA. While I’ve seen some misgivings about the Brexit process, I haven’t come across many Labour people since the election who have turned against Corbyn and his skepticism of the EEA.

    In any case, we need to first and foremost argue for what is right and what is possible. If for some reason the majority of the party wanted to repeal the law of gravity and would split over this issue, I would still argue that what they are demanding is impossible. Similarly, I don’t think it will be possible to pursue a Left program within the EAA without almost immediately starting to break its rules, for reasons I have explained in the past. So, I am going to argue that, whether the party wants to hear it or not. It may be Quixotic, but I feel I have to try to make people aware of these issues. Right now you can’t even really say that most people in the Labour Party are pro-EU in the sense of DIEM25, which has a detailed argument about what the EU’s problems are and what reforms are necessary. Most Labour/Corbyn supporters Europhilia seems more instinctive and means they don’t seem to acknowledge the EU’s many problems. Maybe I won’t turn members into Eurosceptics, but at least I might make them aware of the debate.

    It is only in your final two sentences that you get to the debate. As Karl says, business will always try to oppose a Left government. It would doubtless try to oppose an all-EU left government, although a government that large would certainly have an easier time fighting. But let’s look at the details. What do you think business would do that can’t be counteracted with policy on the national level? Looking at this from the other side, you acknowledge that Labour will have to fight off reaction from business (you’ve mentioned an attack on the pound and capital flight) even if in the EU. What measures do you propose to address this? Would the UK be able to apply them in the EU? What about a capital strike? How do you propose to address that? I’m not trying to catch you out with these questions; I genuinely want to have this debate.

    1. Peter Rowlands says:

      Chris. No, I’m not claiming that my position is correct just because it is a majority position on the left, here and in the EU, but John and Karl were I think implying that mine was a minority position on the left. It isn’t.
      On a free trade agreement, yes, that’s effectivly what I said, but it’s unlikely to happen.
      I’m glaad you acknowledge that Karl is wrong on Labour members and voters on the EU. I will reply to him with details.
      But yes, as you say, let us argue for what is right and WHAT IS POSSIBLE. (My emphasis on your words). Irrespective of whether it could succeed, and I don’t think it could, Labour cannot win an election on a left hard Brexit position, and if it was attempted would be electorally and in membership terms disastrous, leaving the way clearfor a big business backed centre party who could well succeed.
      I will come back to you on your other points.

      1. C MacMackin says:

        Do you have any evidence (e.g. polling data) that Labour would lose an election on such a position? My (subjective) impression is that enough voters are resigned to Brexit Labour could probably retain them. Labour supporters are pretty used to compromising, after all. It’s also not clear to me that people can’t be convinced of a left-Eurosceptic line—we haven’t really had a proper debate about this on the left.

        In any case, as I’ve said in the past, I’m not suggesting running on a hard-Brexit line. We should run on the goal of getting a trade deal and also make it clear what our criticisms of the EEA are. If we can’t achieve a better trade deal then we’d accept EEA membership but start to violate its rules in the pursuit of a Left program. As part of this we’d quietly begin restructuring the economy to be less dependent on EU trade in sectors where there would be high tariffs. Then once our program leads us into conflict with the EU we would explain to the public that EEA membership has proven incompatible with our goals and see if we could get support to leave. We might fail to get support, of course, but left-wing politics always involve taking a risk.

        1. Peter Rowlands says:

          Chris, if 65% of Labour voters are pro soft Brexit, then many or most would be likely to decamp to the Lib-Dems or a new party, made more likely by Labour’s change of line.
          Your strategy is ingenious in that it gives Labour time to lay the groundwork for resisting the attacks that would come following leaving the EU.

    2. Peter Rowlands says:

      Good point on attitudes to EU. Yes , most labour members are just Europhiles, without any clear idea of how, if at all, the EU should be reformed.Yes, there ius more discussion of the EU, but its about Brexit rather than how the EU functions. This must change.Still philia better than phobia!

  11. JohnP says:

    Yes, yes, the majority of Labour Members did indeed choose to support, reluctantly or keenly, the official Remain position in the Referendum (though Jeremy’s nuanced position which won so many round was very critical of the EU status quo – totally unlike the entirely uncritical pro EU enthusiasm of the neoliberal PLP majority) .

    With Labour voters the position is much more unclear, with heavily “weaponised” polling then and since making claims for Labour voters which are hard to verify either way. Claims about the Youth vote, with turnout actually so low in this cohort, have proved equally dubious.

    What is clear in most independent polling TODAY (though feel free to quote yet more weaponised dodgy polling by the Remoaner factions with the opposite conclusion)is that the overwhelming majority of REMAINER voters have accepted that the UK is leaving the EU – and that includes Labour members.

    There simply is no “hard” or “soft” Brexit, Peter – that claim is entirely a concoction of the Guardianista bourgeois media, and the political class and their Big Business backers who are determined NOT to actually leave – via a fudge which leaves us in the neoliberal Single Market in some form or other.

    There are only two real options – ie, respecting the Referendum, and leaving – or some fudged stitch up that leaves the UK subject to the full restrictive might of the neoliberal “Four Freedoms”. Your repeated bogus assertion that the official current Labour position is to stay in the Single market , is NOT Labour’s position. Labour’s position, as explained repeatedly by Jeremy and John is to “seek the greatest possible ACCESS to the Single Market”. So stop repeatedly claiming what is simply untrue. Of course the internal politics of the Party , with the Big Business creature majority of the PLP determined to stay in, by whatever fudge is required, makes Labour’s position very (deliberately) ambiguous. Your position, however, is simply identical in all important regards to that of the Labour Right – with no ambiguity whatsoever.

    Your statement that Labour cannot win an election on a “Left hard Brexit” position is balderdash. There simply is no “hard” or “soft” Brexit. Labour just has to campaign as it did this year to respect the Referendum “leave” decision, and acknowledge that the Four Freedoms straightjacket is dead – particularly unlimited labour supply – and campaign on our 2017 Manifesto programme, and we will sweep to power .

    It is those in Labour , in collaboration with the Right, who wish to betray, via fudge and manoeuvre, the Referendum decision to leave, and advocate the retention of the straightjacket of the neoliberal Four Freedoms, particularly Freedom of Movement, who will discredit our Party with the electorate.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Well said JohnP.

      There is no such thing as “hard” or “soft” Brevit – these terms are invented by the capitalists and make no sense at all.

      Stop using the capitalist class’s terminology.

      There was some opinion polling done after last year’s EU referendum, which asked about 1,000 people which way they voted in the referendum and which party they voted for in 2015.

      There has been no such analysis since the June 2017 general election has there Peter? The election in which an extra 3.5 million people voted Labour.

      No analysis of these people’s opinions, whether or not they support Thatchers Single Market?

      You’re simply making stuff up Peter. Inventing stuff to suit your own agenda.

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        Karl. I have answered JohnP on hard /soft Brexit.
        On polls, see You Gov June 27th, 65% of Laboiur voters were previous remainers.
        On members, see Bale, survey done by QMC and Sussex Unis, 17thy July, 66% pro single market.
        I follow these things fairly closely and I do not make things up.I hope you will now accept this.

        1. JohnP says:

          Just try to grasp this Peter, outside the “narrative shaping of the Guasrdian and Remoaners generally , there is no “hard” or “soft” Brexit, – just Leaving (and the Labour Movement fighting to defend workers rights and winning a Labour government) or a betrayal of the quite clear decision of the majority of UK votes to Leave . This includes leaving the Single Market AND its Four Freedoms in any other fudged guise .

          Despite constant, entirely bogus, claims by Remoaners , the reality that leaving the EU ALSO meant leaving the Single Market WAS repeatedly discussed (by David Cameron in many an interview for one) during the Referendum debate. Daily Politics’ Andrew Neil ran a series of video clips to demonstrate this conclusively a few months ago – yet the Remoaners continue with this lie.

          That you have the sheer affrontery to claim that OUR attitude to the electorate is patronising, takes the biscuit, when your Remoaner co-thinkers claim that the dim voters never realised what a Leave vote entailed, are seeking to undermine the democratic Leave decision by some fudge that would leave us trapped in the Four Freedoms neoliberal straightjacket, and simply have no stomach for the hard inevitable fight to implement a Left economic programme in the Uk.

    2. Peter Rowlands says:

      OK, we agree on Labour members, note however that the survey found only 4%strongly in favour of leaving.
      Yes, it’s a little more complex for voters, although You Gov thought that 64% of Labour voters were soft Brexit.
      About half of the remainer voters have accepted that we should leave, on a ‘people’s will’ basis.
      The hard/soft Brexit distinction is very important, and the electorate can distinguish between what they each entail.The electorate are not fools, your attitude towards them is patronising and if carried would be a disaster for the party and help to deliver a big business backed party that could carry the day. Yes, I know our position is access to the single market, but short of an unlikely trade deal that in practice means the EEA or some variant.
      Labour must be careful about how it handles this issue if we are to sustain the great progress we have made.

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        Peter: According to the actual data from actual votes cast, two-thirds of the seats Labour won in 2015 returned leave majorities.

        Actual votes cast Peter, not opinion polling of samples.of around 1,000.

        And this June, with a programme of respecting the referendum and not seeking ongoing full membership of Thatchers EU Single Market, Labour put on an extra 3.5 million votes and increased vote share from 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

        So the actual.polling data contradicts you Peter.

        1. JohnP says:

          Quite right Karl. Polling on Corbyn’s Labour has been utterly “weaponised” since he became leader, such as to discredit pretty much any contemporary polling on the Labour policy/Brexit issues . People who want to defend current polling on Brexit cite the accurate election forecasts delivered by YouGov , to argue that it was just “methodology that was wrong” not the motivation of all the pollsters. This conveniently forgets that in its very last poll before General Election day, YouGov utterly “bottled it” and out of the blue plucked a predicted 6% or so lead for the Tories !

          Peter is simply plucking tiny dodgy sample-based , polling claims out of the air to support his utterly unsupportable contention that a Labour Party maintaining its “Access to” but not “Membership of” the Single Market , alongside our mildly radical Let Keynsian anti Austerity 2017 Manifesto programme, will not win us the next election. This position will avoid destroying our vote in the core Labour heartlands, where, whatever Peter believes, ending the Single Market’s non-negotiable principle of unlimited labour supply is a core issue for voters we need to both retain and win.

          We have, as you say, Karl, only one CERTAIN polling result we can believe in, ie, our incredible advance in votes over just a three week period , based on our radical Manifesto and Jeremy as Leader, at the June General Election.

        2. Peter Rowlands says:

          No it doesn’t Karl. I think you mean 2017, when according to Hanretty 70% of seats Labour won were probably leave ( it’s not possible to be precise about this because the figures were often for local authority areas, not constituencies). However, this left almost 400 seats , in all of which there were Labour votes, and the majority were remain. So no contradiction there.
          Labour’s position, and I am not going to spell this out again, was to seek to retain the benefits of single market membership while respecting the decision to leave, and this somewhat ambiguous appeal managed to persuade lots of Labour leavers to stick with Labour.To imply that it was a vote against the single market is nonsense. Anyone with strong feelings that way would have voted Tory.

          1. JohnP says:

            So you now FINALLY recognise Labour’s position (forget the Labour Right’s totally pro EU/Single Market position oft given out to the mass media as “Labour’s position”) was in the 2017 Election , and still is, to seek to retain the benefits of Single Market membership ” ie, Access to the Single Market, NOT , as you claimed for months with absolute certainty, that Labour’s official position was to REMAIN within the Single Market ! Leaving the EU and Single Market is the only way to “respect the Referendum democratic outcome” , Peter – not seeking to actually stay in the EU’s Single Market straightjacket by a tricksy fudge .

            If you deny this was your constantly repeated position I’ll have to go back and dig up your many, many statements of this position – but readers can do this for themselves.

            Simply making stuff up , along with spouting endless tiny-survey sized weaponised polls, is no substitute for a credible socialist analysis and strategy or the real evidence from the 2017 General Election result.

  12. Peter Rowlands says:

    JohnP. Labour’s position was only clarified in the manifesto, since when I don’t think I’ve claimed otherwise, although as I have said, in practice short of an unlikely trade deal the only way to secure the benefits of the single market is through the EEA or some variant of it. JC has said we will leave the single market as we will no longer be members of the EU, although we could be as I’ve said via the EEA. Before the hols everyone agreed to cool it, saying that everything was still open, but some resolution of the position is probably needed at conference. Anything other than sticking to our soft Brexit position would be disastrous, as I’ve said.You are trying toclaim that Labour’s ‘access’ position is synonymous with a hard brexit It isn’t.
    I do not make anything up, as I said to Karl. You dismiss my reference to polls because you cannot disprove them, but they are needed if we are to promote a credible strategy on Brexit which I am afraid you have failed to do.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      Peter Rowlands: You refer to out-of-date opinion polls, which sample the views of around 1,000 people. By contrast, I’m citing actual votes cast in actual elections by many, many millions of people. You keep saying no-one will vote Labour if Labour has a policy of not retaining membership of thatcher’s EU Single Market – but in the election in June, Labour had a clear position of not retaining membership of Thatcher’s EU Single Market and Labour’s vote INCREASED by three and a half million, up to 12.8 million from 9.3 million. Labour’s vote share INCREASED by 10 per cent, up to 40 per cent from 30 per cent. So the actual electoral facts, based on the actual votes cast by many, many millions of real people completely disproves your claims. How on earth can opinion polls, sampling the views of around 1,000 people possibly be stronger evidence than many millions of actual votes actually cast by real people? The fact is that it is you who wants to belong to Thatcher’s EU Single Market not Labour voters. Argue by all means in favour of Thatcher’s EU Single Market, but don’t make untrue claims about the level of support for it, because the truth is that support for Thatcher’s EU Single Market among the electorate as a whole is actually quite marginal.

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        Karl.The polls I cite are recent and there is no reaso to suppose that they are wildly inaccurate.Labour’s line was to retain the benefits of the single market. That does not square with voting against Thatcher’s single market.Yes, some who voted leave voted Labour, for reasons other than the EU or because they accepted that Labour respected the decision to leave.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          A position of “retaining the benefits of….” is clearly qualitatively different from a policy of “retaining membership of…”

          Labour’s election manifesto absolutely crystal clearly stated the former.

          And Labour won an extra three and a half million votes on the basis of that crystal clear position.

          Since the election, the Blair it’s have sought to change Labour’s electoral lyrics popular and electoral lyrics successful “retain benefits of” position to the unpopular and electorally detrimental “retain membership of” position.

  13. David Pavett says:

    This debate has little to do with Phil B-C’s article but never mind.

    For John P’s everything is black and white and the future is already known. This is born out by telling us what “Ain’t going to happen”, that those who want to stay in the single market are the dupes of their “Big business backers” and that a Brexit reversal due to a shift in the electorate would guarantee that a “ Far Right explodes into mass being”. He also appears to think that advocating a line which would coincide with that of labour Right and Lib Dems and SNP on the single market is by definition wrong. His main point is that doubting the wisdom of breaking with the SM show pessimism about our ability as a single nation to manage our affairs free from the control/interference of global capitalism. He says that waiting on the reform of the EU for deep social change is just a variant of Fabian purely rhetorical opposition to capitalism while supporting it in practice. Interestingly he says that there is no hard or soft Brexit but just leaving which, paradoxically for him, sounds like the line of the Tory right Brexiteers.

    Peter R attempts to combine both his analysis of the objective issues and the subjective factor or what Labour members/supporters will back. He argues both that (1) soft-Brexit is desirable because the alternatives are worse AND that (2) the majority of Labour members and supporters favour soft-Brexit. He also says that Labour’s ambiguity on relations with the EU served it well in the general election but will not continue to do so. He points out that his views are shared by many left-wing groups and parties across the EU (I think his unstated point is that the Brexiters show little interest in the views of left-wingers across Europe). He clearly thinks that socialist advance on the basis of a single nation state is not credible because of the context of global capitalism. He does not, however, spell out why he thinks this is so (presumably because he thinks it is to obvious to require that).

    Chris M says that free trade ≠ free movement which requires a customs union and a common regulatory framework. He also says that Labour will shed some support whether it supports or rejects a pro-EEA line but that we can’t predict the extent of the loss either way. He agrees with Peter that Labour’s studied ambiguity on relations with the EU is unlikely to be to its continued advantage. He also makes it clear that, unlike John, he is prepared to determine the value of policies irrespective of whether they have right-wing support or not. Good policies can be motivated by the wrong reasons but they should nevertheless be supported. We should know what the objective possibilities are whatever the current subjective evaluation of the majority. He poses a clear question to Peter “What do you think business would do that can’t be counteracted with policy on the national level?”. He also says that if we can’t achieve a better trade deal outside of the EEA then we should “…accept EEA membership but start to violate its rules in the pursuit of a Left program”.

    There are other points (e.g. about what we can glean from polls) but that’s what I found. John’s position doesn’t depend on any further investigation of different views of the same facts. His position is shielded from criticism by his firm conviction that the EU is an unmitigated evil and this conviction is bolstered by his stream of “hot” rhetoric. Those who disagree with him betray “ a purely rhetorical verbal opposition to capitalism” which is “in line with the entire craven history of the Labour Left” etc., etc.

    It seems to me that there is a real debate between Chris and Peter since both admit to limited knowledge and to the possibility of considering different strategies depending on the circumstances. Chris, as opposed to Peter, is disinclined to look for solutions within the the EEA or the ESM but is prepared to judge according to the circumstances to be determined empirically. Peter is inclined to look for solutions within the EEA or the ESM adopts but nevertheless a similar stance.

    My view, as someone who is undecided about the possibility of a democratic transformation of the EU, is that we need far more debate exploring the assumptions about those possibilities. I don’t know enough and so far the debate is not giving me what I need to think through the issues for myself. It would help of Left Futures would publish some serious contributions exploring the contrary points of view. Debating in a comradely way would also help a lot.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      DavidP: I think PeterR’s position is utter nonsense, but at least he is advancing an opinion, a position for which he is arguing vigorously. You, on the other hand, don’t seem to have an opinion at all, just wishy-washy platitudes asking people to all be nice to each other.

      1. David Pavett says:

        You think that not advocating a definite conclusion is the same as not having an opinion. That’s a shame.

        You are right though that I believe that serious debate requires a comradely tone and a recognition that alternative views are not always stupid – even if you try to ridicule this as a demand that we should all be “nice” to each other.

        And btw, on some rather pressing matters coming up in a few weeks at Labour’s Annual Conference on which I feel well informed enough to express definite opinions such us on Labour’s education policy or its international policy, I notice that we haven’t had the benefit of your opinion (John P, Chris M and Peter R have all shared their views on those topics).

        As for asserting definite conclusions on topics about which I feel unsure I stick to Wittgenstein’s formula: “What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence”.

    2. Peter Rowlands says:

      Thanks for this, an excellent summary of the debate.
      On my being opposed to a go-it-alone attept by a left government after a hard Brexit , i think that any government would find itself in difficulties here, because of economic weakness ( huge trade deficit, sluggish growth) and vulnerability to car firms, almost all of which are foreign owned, relocating in the EU to protect their markets, and our banking and finance industry being excluded from trading with the EU. A left government would face even greater pressures, and would find things very difficult.

    3. C MacMackin says:

      A fair summary, I think. You can find some decent back-and-forth between myself and Peter under a few LF articles (assuming you have not already read it). For example:

      http://www.leftfutures.org/2017/06/who-has-eaten-their-humble-pie/#comments where we discuss where we talk a bit about the auto-industry, strategy for Brexit negotiations, and what we think are likely outcomes.

      http://www.leftfutures.org/2017/07/labour-mps-put-internal-divisions-on-public-display-again/#comment-258375 where I discuss a bit about nationalisation and public monopolies. Peter and I discuss the likelihood of a non-EEA trade deal and a little bit about whether Labour Party opinion is relevant to the debate. Karl and I talk about to what extent international supply chains could limit a Left industrial policy pursued in only one country.

      If I add another link the comment will get held up in moderation, so I’ll continue below.

    4. C MacMackin says:

      http://www.leftfutures.org/2017/07/what-chuka-umunnas-amendment-showed-us/#comment-258316 where I lay out why I think Yanis Varoufakis’ strategy for reforming the EU won’t work. Peter and I discuss whether we can hope for the EU to be reformed in a timely manner and why I don’t think a left-Labour government could survive in the EEA.

      In reference to Peter’s reply to your comment, I’ve touched on some of these issues elsewhere. I proposed nationalising car factories and repurposing them to produce electric vehicles (both for individuals and for mass transit). Peter felt that this could not be done quickly enough, but I wasn’t clear on why he thought this. I note that BMW is going to start to produce EVs at their Mini plant in Oxford, so we should have some local capacity for this already which can be expanded. This proposal is similar to what was put forward by the Canadian left when the North American auto-sector went into crisis in 2008 and many plants closed down.

      I don’t think Peter’s concerns about finance are justified. London is the gateway through which Europe accesses American markets, so they won’t want to lose access to it. It is not simply a matter of the banks moving either. London has a considerable concentration of expertise in finance which would be difficult to move. Due to Germany’s aversion to moral hazard and consequent unwillingness to engage in bale-outs, the Eurozone would also be a less attractive place to do business. Moreover, banks in other countries don’t have quite the same cozy relationship with government as they do in London. No doubt a Corbyn government would make the British climate somewhat less friendly, but I’m not convinced this would be sufficient to cause a mass-exodus before we had a chance to diversify the economy.

      As for the economic weakness argument, I’m not clear on why this would be substantially worse outside of the EU than in, except regarding banking and finance (which I’ve already addressed).

      1. Peter Rowlands says:

        Chris, my apologies for not having come back to you before, but you have made further points which I will try to respond to.
        The main point is that ANY governmentpost hard brexit, of whatever political hue, would be in difficulties, for reasons I’ve given, but a left Labour government more so.No , the city will not immediately collapse, but banking is a competitive busines and Frankfurt and Paris are not insignificant centres already.But if passporting rights are not secured the game is up.

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