Socialist Party Scotland statement
The announcement by Theresa May that a general election will take place on 8th June has the potential to backfire spectacularly on her and the political establishment. Her gamble is primarily a sign of weakness not of strength. As the Financial Times newspaper pointed out: “The unravelling last month of Mr Hammond’s first Budget following a Tory uprising over planned rises in national insurance contributions for the self-employed was a reminder of how precarious that majority is.” “The decision to call a snap election reflects the growing acceptance in Number 10 that Brexit could take longer than first thought…Fighting a 2020 election while Britain was still “half in” the EU might have antagonised Tory Eurosceptics and given Mrs May big political problems in an election.”
The Tories are deeply divided over Brexit, and these divisions have the potential to break out into open civil war as the Brexit process plays out. Not even factored into the openly declared calculations of the FT is the growing working class revolt over issues like the NHS, cuts and falling wages. If a political movement emerges that can capture that class anger the Tories could be defeated.
Left and socialist ideas are popular
This is precisely the lesson from the Bernie Sanders insurgent campaign in the US Democratic Party primaries in 2015/16. The current spectacular gains being made by Jean-Luc Melenchon in the French presidential election is also a crystal-clear example of the potential for mass support for radical left wing ideas internationally.
Therefore the key task facing Jeremy Corbyn is to do precisely that, to articulate an unambiguous and clear platform in favour of the working class majority. An end to cuts, a £10 an hour minimum wage, public ownership of the railways, Royal Mail and the energy companies, a massive house building programme and tax rises for the rich and big business would all be massively popular. As would a Brexit in the interests of the working class that ended the neo-liberal policies of privatisation and attacks on workers’ rights enshrined in the EU treaties.
Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on Thursday 20th April, his first following the announcement of the election, made reference to the following: “It is the rigged economy the Tories are protecting that Labour is committed to challenging.We will not let the elite extract wealth from the pockets of ordinary working people any longer. We will no longer allow those at the top to leech off of those who bust their guts on zero hours contracts or those forced to make sacrifices to pay their mortgage or their rent.”
It addressing the role of the establishment and the pro-big business media he said:
“In a sense, the Establishment and their followers in the media are quite right. I don’t play by their rules. And if a Labour Government is elected on 8 June, then we won’t play by their rules either. They are yesterday’s rules, set by failed political and corporate elites we should be consigning to the past. It is these rules that have allowed a cosy cartel to rig the system in favour of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations. It is a rigged system set up by the wealth extractors, for the wealth extractors.”
These points, if followed through by Corbyn with a consistent narrative and a left and socialist manifesto, have the potential to gain mass support. However, it’s not yet clear that he is prepared to fight on such a platform in a consistent way.
Jeremy Corbyn faces a new hostile front in the up to now one-sided civil war with the right wing in his own party. The Blairites will seek to actively undermine and sabotage his campaign, as well as demanding concessions on the manifesto Corbyn and the Labour Party stands on. He must reject these efforts. A fighting left policy can win millions of people to its banner. The policies that Corbyn does support should be linked to the need for fundamental socialist change – for a society run in the interests of the majority instead of for the profits of a few.
In addition a Corbyn election campaign, as the Socialist Party England and Wales rightly commented, “should not be limited to speeches and election broadcasts. The campaign to defend the NHS should be linked to the mass movement which began with the national demonstration on 4 March. Jeremy Corbyn spoke at that demonstration. Now he, together with the trade union movement and health campaigners, should call a second demonstration, during the election campaign, mobilising millions onto the streets against the Tories and in defence of the NHS.”
The powerful anti-Tory mood in Scotland will likely see the SNP hold a majority of the 56 seats they won in their landslide victory in the 2015 general election. However, they are quite likely to lose some seats, including to the Tories in the conservative, rural parts of Scotland. Tactical voting by pro-union supporters to back the most likely candidate who can defeat the SNP will also play a role. Unless Jeremy Corbyn fights a real insurgent left wing campaign, Labour may struggle to even hold onto the 1 MP they have in Scotland. Conversely, if Corbyn does offer a clear left and socialist vision, Labour could recover some ground.
However, the disastrous decision to oppose independence in 2014 and to campaign with the Tories for No vote has inflicted colossal damage on Scottish Labour. Moreover, Labour in Scotland is led by the right who oppose Corbyn. Their councillors have voted for savage cuts in local government. Unfortunately Corbyn has not sought to demand that Labour councillors resist austerity through no cuts budgets. Nor has he called for the re-positioning of Scottish Labour on independence. Instead he has insisted that Labour will campaign for a No vote in a future referendum. This is a big mistake.
The SNP are increasingly vulnerable to a left challenge to their pro-cuts policies. Yet Scottish Labour has dropped to historic lows in the latest opinion polls. Only if the left in the Labour Party fights to clear out the dead-hand of the capitalist wing of the party – the Blairties – and stand on clear left policies will they be able to recover in Scotland.
If the Tories were to win an increased majority in June, this would add further impetuous to demands for a second referendum and support for Scottish independence. It could also set a collision course between the Scottish Government and Westminster over that issue. Theresa May has so far refused to countenance a section 30 order to allow a legally binding referendum to take place as the Scottish parliament has called for.
The Tories can be pushed back and even defeated if a clear left alternative is available to the millions who have suffered the nightmare of an almost decade of austerity, with more of the same to come. It’s that potential that Jeremy Corbyn has an historic responsibility to capitalise on over the next six weeks.