Everybody out – time for Labour members to strike over Brexit?

Like many Labour Party members, I have watched with horror (but not really surprise) at the Labour Party leadership’s refusal to respond to the looming catastrophe of Brexit. In recent weeks, as the implications of the Brexit vote become clearer, the Labour position has not changed.

People’s Vote protest, London 22 October 2018

The official position is that any deal needs to be assessed against Labour’s six tests. Any deal that does not meet those tests should be rejected, and if the Government’s proposed deal – which quite obviously fails to meet those criteria – is voted down, to propose a vote of no confidence and secure a general election, to elect a Labour government that would secure a Brexit on better terms – including, for example, participation in a customs union but with the right for the UK to make its own trade deals. If there is no election, all options – including a People’s Vote with remain as an option – would be on the table. And it’s worth remembering that this position was reached as part of a conference fudge to avoid embarrassing the leadership, whose position on Brexit was facing defeat on the Conference floor.

The incoherence of that position has been set out many times. To summarise briefly: the deal that Theresa May has secured is the best Brexit deal available. The EU cannot go any further without traducing its fundamental principles – at a time when it is facing sceptical governments in Poland, Hungary and now Italy. It is not in the business of granting favours to former Member States who choose to leave, by giving them a privileged position. Hence Labour’s talk of negotiating something better after a general election is, quite simply, fantasy. There are three options: May’s deal, no deal or remain (the last option given a boost by the recent European Court decision confirming that the UK can withdraw its Article 50 notification unilaterally). A general election will do absolutely nothing to change that.

In pretending otherwise, the Labour Party is being deeply dishonest with the electorate – at a time when faith in the political process is at an all time low. Of course it is the job of an opposition to defeat the Government – and there is nobody in the Labour Party who wants to see the continuation of this Tory government in office. Of course there is desperate hunger for a Labour Government.

But among Labour party members – the vast majority of whom want to remain in the EU, and who support a People’s Vote – there is deep and growing frustration at the refusal of the leadership to listen to Party members who appear to have a much more fundamental grasp of the issues than the leadership does. Everybody in the Labour Party wants to defeat austerity – but there is a refusal by the leadership to understand that Brexit – any form of Brexit – is a project of the Right, designed to embed austerity; if you are intellectually serious about fighting austerity, you must – as a matter of simple logic -oppose Brexit, a project that is designed to turn Britain into a low-wage, unregulated economy (even more than it is now). Brexit is the logical conclusion of the Thatcherite project, a project about the transfer of power and wealth from the many to the few dressed up in the language of national sovereignty. It is a culture war, one in which nobody who calls themselves a democratic socialist can, to the extent they have any understanding at all, sit on the fence. To be true to our core Labour values, we should be opposing it with every sinew in our bodies.

So, in the face of the leadership’s fence-sitting, what is to be done?

Many thousands of people have simply left. Faced with the double whammy of its support for Brexit and the leadership’s grotesque institutional antisemitism, many thousands of the Labour Party’s finest people have given up altogether – in my experience the people who did the work at election time, who maintained the party locally, whose passion and dedication sustained the Labour movement at a grass-roots level in a way that the £3 cultists could never understand. Thousands of the best Labour people have gone, and of those that remain there can only be a very few who have not thought about it. And it’s not an exodus of the right, of disgruntled so-called Blairites – many of those I know personally have long been on the left and centre-left, but cannot bear the erosion of Labour values that the leaderhsip’s position on Brexit represent.

I have the utmost respect for people who have left – especially those Jewish former members for whom the Labour Party is no longer a safe place (and the fact that this situation exists is perhaps the greatest shame our Party has faced in its century-long history). But – for now at least – I am staying because I believe that if you leave you have no say; and, moreover, you are giving the cultists what they want. One of the key aims of entryism has always been to drive the real Labour grassroots away: cuckoo politics. Loyalty has always been Labour’s greatest strength; but it is all too easy for the entryists to exploit it; and to create the illusion of a member-led party while ensuring that the membership are no more than the obedient and disempowered represented by that most odious of phrases, “rank and file.” I also believe that we as a society have never needed the core social democratic values of the Labour movement more.

Fortunately, the Labour movement has always had one powerful weapon against the sort of incompetent and hidebound managements that the current Labour leadership represents. It is the strike – and, as of now, I am on strike. I will continue to pay my subs but I am not going to work or campaign for Labour until the Party’s line on Brexit changes, to oppose it and support a People’s Vote. As a democratic socialist my efforts will be focussed on defeating Brexit. I am not going to meetings (no great loss in my case, because it means that one does not have to engage in a comradely fashion with people who, for example, tweet in support of some of the most egregious anti-semites in the Party, or who describe the Leave voters in deprived South Wales valley communities “uneducated and bigoted”).

And in the unlikely event that Corbyn gets his general election, I will not vote for, or campaign for, any Labour candidate who does not oppose Brexit and back a People’s Vote. I’m quite fortunate – I live in Cardiff West, and in my neighbouring constituencies there are Labour MPs like Anna McMorrin, Stephen Doughty, Jo Stevens and Owen Smith who have stood up for true Labour values by opposing the hard-Right, austerian, intellectually-fradulent policy that is Brexit. I can find Labour MPs who are worthy of my effort on the biggest political issue of our generation no more than a short bus-ride away. I will not vote – and least of all campaign – against a Labour candidate here in Cardiff West, but my vote has to be earned. It’s time Labour MPs and AMs stopped taking the votes of Labour remainers for granted.

There will be no picket-line or warming brazier outside the Cardiff West Labour office (which happens to be just around the corner from where I live) but there will be no door-knocking, no phone-banking. I have withdrawn my labour. And my vote is a matter for negotiation.

And I would ask other Labour members to do the same. We are supposed to be a member-led party; and our leadership is ignoring the overwhelming will of its members. So let’s send our MPs – who after all have the key role in the weeks ahead – but also our Councillors, our AMs and others a blunt message; if you want the loyalty of party members, it’s time you stood up to the plate and earned it. Start showing some respect, not just for the people who work for you, but the people you represent and work for, and for the core values of the Labour movement. Let’s stop talking the talk about a “jobs first” Brexit when you know full well it is working people, those on the lowest incomes, who will be hit hardest by Brexit. Let’s end the evasions and have some straight-talking, honest politics; it’s time you rediscovered the values you came into politics to promote and defend.

And until you do, your political future lies with the work-ethic of the £3 cultists.

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