Corbyn And The Left After The 2017 Elections

The snap elections called by Theresa May in Britain in June and the unexpected result of a hung parliament, has increased the widespread feelings of uncertainty of where the country is going.   She emerged as prime minister of the most right wing government in modern British history following the split in the Tory Party and the result of the referendum with a vote in favour of leaving the EU. Theresa May’s gamble to increase her parliamentary majority and give her a freer hand against her critics in the Tory Party and the opposition parties in the negotiations to leave the EU (Brexit) failed . The Labour Party (LP) under Jeremy Corbyn’s inspired leadership wrested enough seats from the Tories for the latter to have to sign an agreement of understanding with the most reactionary party in parliament, the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.  The  DUP, without a formal coalition, promised to vote for the Tories on crucial legislation to enable them to stay in power. There is a polarisation of forces politically in Britain, with the  Tory Party at the one pole and the radical left wing forces led by Corbyn at the other pole.

The neoliberal agenda driving the programs of the big capitalist governments is the only one on offer and has landed Britain in having to leave the EU in a wave of xenophobia and anti-immigrant feeling. Disaffected LP  supporters, particularly in the north of England,  who had felt betrayed by LP pro-austerity policies before the advent of Corbyn and some of whom had been caught up in the racist and anti- immigrant rhetoric of  UKIP and right wing Tories in the referendum, voted to leave the EU. Their vote mattered in the defeat of the Remain Campaign in the referendum. Theresa May’s government has adopted policies championed by UKIP and is set on doing away with the free movement of people from the EU and reducing immigration. On internal policies it is starving the NHS of funds, despite being warned by its own administrators that the NHS needs extra funding immediately to hire nurses and provide more beds. Otherwise, the NHS will face an even more severe crisis this winter than the last one. Its housing policy favours landlords pushing up rents and instead of engaging in a program for councils to build more social housing to deal with the housing crisis, it is promoting the privatisation of housing, boosting private contractors and speculators.

With a big increase in membership topping the 500 000 mark, very many of the younger generation and making it the largest political party in Europe, the LP contested the 2017 elections on an anti-austerity program  directed at reducing the huge inequality in living standards. Their election manifesto promised full employment, employment legislation abolishing zero hour contracts and ensuring a living wage for six million workers earning poverty wages. It also committed the LP to repeal anti-trade union legislation. The manifesto  promised a building program  to provide a million new homes, half of them council homes and to control private rent. It vowed to properly fund a strong public NHS and social care and to provide a national education service for all. It promised to take the railways back into public ownership and restore public ownership and control of services.  It endorsed action on climate change.

The anti-austerity policy laid out in the LP manifesto constitutes a challenge to the neoliberal agenda of the EU as well as the Tory party. Contrary to the expectations of the Tories in the elections , many previously disaffected LP  supporters warmed to the LP election manifesto and voted Labour. If there had not been so much division in the LP  with the Blairite wing of the party supported by so many MPs, councillors and the party apparatus in opposition to Corbyn’s policies, the LP might well have won the election. The internal struggle in the LP, to democratise the party and for it to reflect the views of the majority of its members is ongoing. Left wing socialists outside the LP, by joining the LP can play an important part in the struggle to promote the policies championed by Corbyn.

 The LP needs to strengthen its policies on the economy, doing away with the Fiscal Credibility rule excluding borrowing for current spending in education, healthcare, etc. It needs to remove  the independence of the Bank of England. The LP will have to rethink its policy on Scottish Independence. Without supporting the right of Scotland to  independence from Britain, it will not be able to rebuild the support it previously enjoyed in Scotland. The two party system is breaking up in Britain. There are multiple parties and without an alliance with the other anti-austerity parties,  the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru (Wales) and the Greens it will not be able to win a majority in Parliament. The LP must commit itself to doing away with the First Past the Post System in elections and embrace Proportional  Representation. On negotiations to leave the EU , having accepted that the referendum binds the  political parties to leaving the EU, the LP must oppose the policies of the right wing Tories of a hard Brexit, building a tax haven based on low wages, a race down to the bottom for employers to exploit. It has to support an alternative Brexit, one based on remaining in the single market, retaining free movement of peoples and guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens already in Britain. It must be committed to working with the other left wing parties in the EU struggling against the neoliberal agenda pursued by the EU governments.

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