As the Tories brutally turn on each other in their bid to replace Theresa May as prime minister, significant sections of the Parliamentary Labour Party have decided it’s time to launch yet another attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.
So we have two parallel civil wars in Parliament as both major parties consume themselves over Brexit and other matters. With some Tory candidates suggesting that Parliament should be bypassed altogether in order to force through a no-deal Brexit on October 31, we are sailing deeper into uncharted political and constitutional waters.
On the surface, the PLP outrage at their June 10 meeting was about the disastrous showing by Labour in the European elections, when the party finished third. Others seized on the disorganised way Labour deals with disciplinary issues over anti-Semitism and other questions as a stick to beat the leadership with. (Having a candidate for the Peterborough by-election who acknowledged she played fast and loose with anti-Semitism on social media didn’t help).
Yet it is not difficult to believe that the PLP majority want Corbyn removed and the party returned to the centre ground of UK politics irrespective of Brexit and internal matters. Where was the indignation, for example, at the outrageous suggestion by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, that he would plot with the Israeli government and others to prevent Corbyn from becoming PM? You’re right, there was none.
Brexit remains at the heart of the political crisis. Having asked the people for their verdict in 2016, a majority of MPs are actually for remaining in the European Union and will block Brexit if they can. Those who advocate a second referendum more often than not use it as a device to disguise their real intentions. That’s why May was unable to win a vote on her deal and was driven out of No 10.
In truth, there is no Parliamentary “solution” to Brexit or any other major issues for that matter. The pure act of either leaving the EU or remaining a member state would not even begin to answer the implications of the referendum result. Simply leaving without an alternative economic plan in place, as advocated by Boris Johnson et al, would severely disrupt the capitalist economy.
That’s why big business – and no doubt the deeper levels of the UK state – are totally opposed to such a course. Naturally, a no-deal Brexit would do nothing for the prospects of those who voted leave because their living conditions had worsened over the last 20 years. Similarly, remaining and setting out to reform the EU (good luck with that project), is pretty hopeless as a policy and ignores the 52% who voted for Brexit.
For Labour, allowing the Brexit crisis to rumble on in the hope that the Tories will implode in the belief that it will be Corbyn’s turn next, would be a mistake. They need a fresh initiative that challenges populism which has taken the shape of the Brexit Party. Labour also needs to be aware of the threat of state intervention as the October 31 deadline approaches. You cannot rule out the imposition of a government of national unity if the state believes the UK’s interests are threatened by a no-deal Brexit.
There are two things Corbyn and John McDonnell could and should do. First, they should convene a special conference of the Labour Party for July. Leaving it until the end of September is too late considering what the Tories are planning. The conference should set out a campaign to bring down the Tories, mobilising communities outside of Parliament, to block a kamikaze Brexit.
That in itself won’t be sufficient to convince leave voters in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North-East. The need for a clear economic strategy to end gross inequality is vital.
So the conference would also have to propose comprehensive policies that actually transform neoliberal capitalism by restructuring the economy in a way that begins to meet the aspirations of those who rejected the status quo in 2016. These could then be taken out to communities for discussion and development.
Such a move would also lay the basis for offering a new economic and political relationship with mainland Europe, in or out of the EU, and rise above the divisive second referendum question.
At the same time, a special conference could open a discussion on a relaunching of the Labour Party itself with a constitution fit for the 21st century rather than its hierarchical, post-World War I set-up which gives the PLP an inordinate amount of power.
Secondly, Corbyn and McDonnell should publicly acknowledge that present political and constitutional institutions are totally inadequate when it comes to reflecting the aspirations of the majority. They represent the very power structures of neoliberal capitalism that led two-thirds of the public to say in a recent poll that politics in the UK was “broken”.
So Corbyn and McDonnell should throw their weight behind initiatives to create a convention of citizens to work on proposals for a new constitution. In a real democracy, power should lie with the people and not, as at present, with a murky corporatocracy. With would-be autocrats like Nigel Farage are waiting in the wings to tear down present institutions, this is not an academic question.