Elite Brexit power play locks people out

FOLLOW MY LEADER? neither Corbyn nor Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard are backed by their parliamentary colleagues

by Ken Ferguson • The Voice goes to press as Jeremy Corbyn announces a Labour policy shift to endorse “a customs union” with the EU and beleaguered Premier May is slated to make yet another supposedly “game changing” policy speech.

In the Labour camp—as predicted in the last Voice—the hard-right forces, led by the same MPs who twice tried to topple Corbyn and remain hostile, launched a demand for the UK to stay in the single market on the eve of Corbyn’s speech.

Significantly released to The Guardian’s Sunday sister The Observer, the list is peppered with ennobled Blairite ex-ministers and includes Lord Kinnock and a range of Scottish figures including MEPs, ultra-right wing MP Ian Murray and the Labour group leaders of both Edinburgh and Glasgow city councils.

Under the cloak of concern to ensure a Corbyn government has the cash for its progressive programme, this is really just further evidence that they still hanker for a different leadership, and their “loyalty” is skin deep.

Meanwhile, the supine Tory press continue to dutifully spin the fairytale that Tory unity was sealed by the so-called “Cluedo” Chequers meeting and that the road to Brexit will now become clear.

In reality, this is pure tooth fairy stuff, and the divisions spotlighted by the Labour letter are also reflected in the Tory party.

Of course, the breathless hacks have been busily war-gaming the scenario which sees Labour tabling a Commons motion on the customs union which attracts dissident Tory votes and defeats May, opening the way to an election which will sweep Corbyn to Downing Street.

However away from the Westminster bubble, this is a tale which is, for working people, highly problematic.

Firstly, the Tories can also read the papers and will no doubt work flat-out to keep their dissidents—from Rees Mogg to Soubray—onside, and the government in power.

But more significantly, this reversion to a fascination with machinations on the green benches of the Commons runs a real risk of becoming all-consuming and sidelining all the other real battles facing working people.

Undoubtedly, this is also a wider problem which sees socialist change coming, essentially through the election of a Corbyn government, which then implements a series of measures reversing the neoliberal pestilence backed for 40 years by both Tory and Labour.

It’s a seductive scenario and one which has seen cheering, chanting crowds and transformed Corbyn from joke to giant challenging for power. But it also poses some real problems in how change is to be delivered.

Essentially, the Tories don’t just rely on parliament but wield power through business, the City, a largely Tory mass media, all making their ideas appear what Gramsci dubbed the “common sense” which dominates how voters view the choices before them.

Socialists and socialist ideas need to go beyond the benches of Westminster and Holyrood taking up the issues of jobs, wages, health housing and much more with a coherent socialist alternative.

Of course, electing socialists to Holyrood and Westminster matters but without serious campaigning outside the debating chambers, the fight for a different society will remain, for most people, largely a spectator sport.

And that Westminster Labour now has a left leader—like his Scottish counterpart—not backed by their MPs and MSPs—simply underlines the scope of the problem and the need to build the movement for change in workplaces, colleges and communities.

In this context, a much higher priority needs to be given to the biggest force representing working people, the trade unions, which are still by far the biggest force for an alternative society here in Scotland.

The action currently underway in the universities defending pensions is an example of the kind of action needed both to win change and build a confidence that another alternative is possible.

And an excellent example of what can be achieved by consistent principled activity in the workplace to build union power is the election of Voice columnist and socialist activist Richie Venton to the UK executive of his union, Usdaw.

The Voice congratulated Richie personally and as an example of what can and must be done in the drive for fighting trade unions.

All around us, working people are under the cosh of austerity, falling wages, bosses dictation of zero hours, a chronic housing shortage dominated by profiteering landlords and, as winter bites, fuel poverty.

The truth is that while MPs and MSPs are important, they will only be able to break with the ruling pro-market consensus—particularly dominant in Holyrood—when faced with mass activity by trade unions, communities, socialists and other progressive forces.

And overhanging all this in Scotland remains the unresolved national question which, if not totally dominant, is still a major factor in the debate about Scotland’s future.

The Voice is a longstanding independence supporter but also firmly believes that it cannot be reduced to a Brexit bargaining chip—it must be integrated into a vision of real change.

That way opens the door to real independence, capable of winning Scotland’s working class majority and society putting people and planet before profit.

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