by Ken Ferguson • How many Tory MPs will rebel? Will May fall? Deal or no deal? As the Voice goes to press, the swirl of speculation among the political classes, media “experts” and policy snake oil salesmen on Brexit grows increasingly intense.
However, as it fills our screens, newspapers and airwaves, and sparks claim and counterclaim on social media, one feature is clear about this “debate”—it’s an elite sport with the voters firmly in the role of onlookers.
Nothing more clearly illustrates this than the proposed May vs Corbyn spat about a “leaders” debate on the eve of the commons vote on her deal.
Leaving aside the not insignificant fact that there are rather more leaders of political parties—Nicola Sturgeon, Arlene Foster, Caroline Lucas—shut out of this supposedly era-defining event, the key question has to be exactly what is its purpose?
Unlike in the numerous game shows that cram TV schedules, in the May vs Corbyn event, the public have no vote. There isn’t an election or referendum taking place. Instead we are expected to sit in wrapt attention and, when convinced by their wisdom, go and pressure our MPs.
Well, its growing dark as I write this but looking out my first floor window I could swear a pig just flew past…
The reality is that the carved up elitism of the TV debates is a perfect symbol for the entire Brexit process which has been characterised by a discussion dominated by high level politicians and (mostly right wing) pundits with hardly a sideways glance at the issue of austerity.
As Voice readers will recall, we took the same view as the SSP in the 2016 referendum supporting Remain but as the least worst option.
We have no illusions about the pro-business, neoliberal nature of the EU, which has a core mission of creating the optimum conditions for big business to maximise profits and serve the interests of capital.
At the time of the referendum, we warned that the pro-Brexit case would be dominated by the right, would put reactionary demands centre stage in what would become, in the words of James Connolly “a carnival of reaction”. And so it has proved.
However, the grisly spectacle of Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson and their “bring back the empire” tendency dominating the debate while it rightly revolts progressive opinion with its Dickensian vision, must not lead to an uncritical endorsement of the EU.
As a paper, we share to approach of the Scottish Socialist Party which has always been opposed to the pro-capitalist core of the EU and unimpressed by the narrative which presents the EU as a benevolent lady bountiful bestowing rights and prosperity in her wake.
Faced with this image as the only available alternative to the quasi-racist, pitiless-austerity, free-market ghouls of the Tory Brexiteers, it is not surprising that swathes of people join demos under the starry circle flag of the EU seeing at as a progressive alternative.
In the view of the Voice, this an illusion which overlooks the economics at the core of the EU and their consequences for the rights and living standards of working class people here and across the continent.
At this point it is worth recalling that from the UK’s entry into the then EEC—on the back of the votes of right wing Labour MPs supporting the Heath Tory government—the left warned of the dangers posed for workers by the EEC’s “capitalist club”.
It took the hammer blows of mass deindustrialisation, millions unemployed, draconian anti-union laws and above all else the war on and defeat of the miners and their communities to open the way to breaking this view.
The key point in the process was the speech by European chief Jaques Delores to the 1988 TUC which mapped out a vision of a “social Europe” based, it was implied, on reason rather than struggle.
What we have today is the outcome of the subsequent 20 years in which unions took the road of “social partnership” instead of that of struggle to defend and advance workers rights and the social gains of wider society in housing, health, etc.
In turn, this has ushered in—across Europe—an era in which supposed workers parties such a Labour, the SPD in Germany, PSOE in Spain, PASOK in Greece and Socialists in France turned on their natural base in working class communities and worshiped the new gods of markets and individualism.
The landscape is littered with examples of the results. In Germany, the SPD, the historic party of the working class since the day of Engels, led the charge on weakening workers rights and benefits, opening the door to a decisive bosses victory.
This has led to pegged pay and a German export boom which has put German capital in the EU driving seat. The crucification of Greece was just the most dramatic consequence.
Here, New Labour, despite 13 years of majority power, kept Tory anti-union laws in place, endorsed the legalised theft of PFI and, in the words of the reptilian Peter Mandelson, pronounced themselves “intensely relaxed” at capitalists becoming rich.
Across the EU, the ruling doctrines which prevent public ownership in favour of the virtues of “markets” and boost individualism against collective action are reaping a whirlwind of reaction.
In Italy, France and Germany neo-fascists have taken up the issues and have occupied the former territory of the left on jobs, housing and workers rights and allied it to racism to provide a deadly danger to democracy.
Faced with this reality, the debate about which is the best shape of EU or post-EU for business and capital risks continuing to sideline the key challenges of jobs, living standards, housing and health confronting working people.
Whatever the final Brexit outcome, for working people it can be safely anticipated that all of them will perpetuate the pro-market rule of the rich minority, with insecure, poorly paid work, chronic housing crisis, rip off fares for the rest of us.
That’s why the Voice has continued to campaign for a £10 an hour minimum wage, ending zero hours contracts, for public ownership and a vast increase in public rented homes.
Both in the debate about Brexit and the ongoing independence battle, only a campaign which combines the interests of working people with democratic demands can hope to mobilise the forces capable of challenging the power of big money.
Not only in Scotland but across Europe, such a process can open the way to a radically changed society which prioritises the needs of people and planet before the current heartless capitalist elites. Time is short and the task immense.