british labour party, what what

EU leaders consider three-month Brexit delay as UK general election looms
Robert Stevens, WSWS, Oct 24 2019

EU leaders spent Wednesday formulating a response after MPs in Westminster, in a vote the previous evening, yet again delayed a British withdrawal from the EU.
MPs agreed to move PM Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) onto the next stage in Parliament, only to delay its passage with another vote by opposing Johnson’s proposed timetable to get the necessary legislation through parliament in just three days. Johnson then “paused” the legislation to hear the EU’s response. Brussels has said that it would respond to Johnson’s request for a three-month extension to the present Brexit deadline, now set for Oct 31. Johnson was opposed to making the appeal by letter but was forced to last Saturday by the Benn Act, passed by Remain-supporting MPs last month. In order to prevent a no-deal Brexit, the Benn Act required Johnson to make the request by letter if his deal had not been agreed in Parliament by Oct 19. Johnson’s deal was only moved onto debate and amendment once his request had been made.
On Wednesday, Angela Merkel added her voice to that of Donald Tusk in supporting the UK having a three-month Brexit delay. Tusk tweeted:

In my phone call with PM I gave reasons why I’m recommending the EU27 accept the UK request for an extension.

Johnson held talks with Merkel by phone yesterday, after which Downing Street put out a statement:

The prime minister made the same point that he made to Donald Tusk that it is his long held view that we should not delay and we should leave the EU on Oct 31.

Also backing an extension to Jan 31 2020, is Leo Varadkar, who agreed after a discussion with Tusk and European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt. According to various sources, Johnson is amenable to a Brexit extension of 10 days, after having previously won substantial backing within the Tory’s hard-Brexit wing with his pledge that the UK would leave the EU “come what may” on Oct 31. Tusk is working to approve a Brexit extension without having to convene a full EU summit. EU ambassadors met Wednesday evening to discuss the extension request, with the Financial Times reporting:

Tusk wants the EU to formalise its decision around the end of this week, or the start of next week, and ambassadors are expected to meet again on Friday.

The FT cited an EU diplomat who said the “mood in the room” was for an extension running to Jan 31, and there was “a unanimous view that an extension will be needed to overcome the deadlock in London.” However, to secure a consensus on any extension with whatever flexibility is allowed, Tusk must overcome opposition expressed by other EU leaders. Pres Macron, according to reports, only supports allowing the UK an extension of a few days. Other EU heads of state are querying why London needs another three months to ratify the WAB after Parliament gave its assent in principle in the vote Tuesday. Despite Merkel’s statement, there is concern in German ruling circles at the impact on Europe of prolonging the Brexit crisis. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that more clarity was needed from London as to the purpose of an extension and on what basis their deal with Johnson could be passed in Westminster. Maas told an interviewer:

We have to know what the reason for it is. What will happen in the meantime? Will there be elections in the UK?

Speculation mounted that any new extension would be flexible, allowing the UK to leave the bloc at an earlier date provided the deal finally passes in Westminster and the European Parliament. Verhofstadt tweeted yesterday afternoon:

The European Parliament’s Steering Group met today & is of the opinion that a flextension, not going beyond Jan 31, is the only way forward.

With Parliament still in stalemate more than three and a half years since the 2016 referendum, speculation is growing about a possible snap UK general election. Brexit has provoked a crisis of rule unprecedented in peacetime for the British ruling elite. Johnson is the Tories’ third prime minister to come to office in as many years. As with his fellow unelected predecessor Theresa May, he has only been able to remain in power thanks to Corbyn, who responded to Johnson’s travails after Tuesday’s votes by immediately offering:

Work with us, all of us to agree a reasonable timetable, and I suspect this House will vote to debate, scrutinise and, I hope, commend the detail of this bill. That would be the sensible way forward.

This was a reprise of the role Corbyn played as he entered weeks of “national unity” talks with May and her collapsing government, after she failed to have her own Brexit deal passed by Parliament on three occasions. On Thursday morning, Johnson and his main advisor, Dominic Cummings, opened talks with Corbyn and his Stalinist aide, Seamus Milne. Also involved was Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, Tory chief whip Mark Spencer and his Labour counterpart, Nick Brown. The talks were unable to reach agreement, with a Labour spokesman saying of the meeting:

Jeremy Corbyn reiterated Labour’s offer to the prime minister to agree a reasonable timetable to debate, scrutinise and amend the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and restated that Labour will support a general election when the threat of a no-deal crash-out is off the table.

Even now, Corbyn is avoiding any call for an immediate general election to satisfy the demands of Labour’s right-wing that nothing must endanger their efforts to reverse Brexit. The Blairites have demanded a second referendum as the means to overturn the 2016 vote, and for Labour to commit to Remain. Corbyn won the backing of Labour’s party conference last month for his position of seeking a general election and then renegotiating Brexit before moving to a second referendum, with MPs free to back either Labour’s renegotiated Brexit deal or remaining in the EU. Key Corbyn allies Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott have joined the Blairites in backing Remain. Moreover, whatever the balance of forces in the Labour Party membership the PLP is overwhelmingly pro-Remain and deeply divided even now about holding a general election—even with a January 31 extension in place.

Johnson has repeatedly called for a general election and again taunted Corbyn at PMQs on Wednesday, asking when he would cease advocating another referendum on leaving the EU. Johnson believes he can win a general election on a pro-Leave agenda, denouncing his opponents for betraying the 2016 referendum. He faces a Brexit Party unlikely to perform well against him, while Labour is expected to lose votes to the pro-Remain Liberal Democrats, now almost even in opinion polls, with the Tories 15 points ahead of both. In 2017, Labour defied the polls, winning its biggest swing since 1945 as a result of widespread anti-Tory sentiment. It might again perform better than expected, but Corbyn’s constant manoeuvres and accommodations have left enormous confusion in the working class over Brexit, and the Labour Party deeply split. Labour itself is in complete disarray and its membership disoriented, thanks to Corbyn’s opposition to any struggle against his own right wing, and his constant retreats on policy whenever they demand these of him. This has left Corbyn advancing a convoluted mess of conflicting policies over Brexit, none of which have anything progressive to offer the working class. He wants to please the dominant pro-Remain wing of the ruling class, represented by the Blairites, but he does not want to risk alienating the substantial minority of traditional Labour supporters who are pro-Brexit, without whom he has no possibility of coming to power and acting as the saviour of the “national interest” he now never tires of proclaiming.

It’s time for Labour to bite the bullet and embrace an election
Owen Jones, Groon, Apr 23 2029

‘Tis the season to be canvassing. The odds on the first December election for nearly a century have dramatically shortened. With Boris Johnson’s commitment to Brexit happening by Oct 31 now dead in a ditch, the Vote Leave faction of his administration is pushing hard for the “parliament versus the people” contest they have always craved. The political calculations now made by Labour will prove critical to the prospects of the embattled Corbyn project. It was a strategic blunder for Labour and other opposition parties not to accept the election gauntlet when it was first thrown down in September. There were two reasons: the first was a genuine fear that no deal could be engineered mid-campaign. This was not baseless paranoia: the Johnson administration had proved itself to be devoid of trustworthiness, and the prime minister’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings, had fed the prospect to the media. The second was driven by those who believed a pre-election people’s vote was possible, potentially facilitated by a so-called government of national unity. But as one Labour source put it to me, the mistake everyone made was to presume that Johnson would not strike a deal with the EU. It wasn’t his political ingenuity that was underestimated, but rather his willingness to capitulate to EU red lines, throw his DUP allies under a bus and consent to a customs border down the Irish Sea which Theresa May once proclaimed “no UK prime minister could ever agree” to, and then for the Tory party to line up cravenly behind him.

All Labour MPs believe in the inevitability of an election, but they are divided over the timing and circumstances. Some senior figures believe that there is a coordinated campaign within the parliamentary Labour party to put off an election until the spring. Partly, that’s down to some MPs who represent majority leave communities fearing that their seats are at risk in a Brexit-defined election. Anti-Jeremy Corbyn MPs believe that there is still space for a government of national unity which has the advantage for them of removing Corbyn from his position. For obvious reasons, Corbyn sympathisers would rather push ahead with an election. How the electorate will respond to their Christmas shopping being interrupted by yet another vote worries MPs from all parties. One senior Labour shadow minister I spoke to is worrying about “campaigning in the rain and cold and dark, especially as tensions are so high,” and is not alone in that fear. Britain’s already febrile political circumstances will only worsen when Johnson’s “do or die” Brexit pledge is broken, after all. The latest an election can take place in 2019 is Dec 12; it would need to be called by early November to allow sufficient time for campaigning. Is a new year election possible if the EU offers an extension until the end of January? It seems far-fetched but the EU, which will never be forced into a position where it takes the blame for no deal, has made it clear it would offer an extension in the event of a poll, and could plausibly add a month to allow a 2020 election to take place. But it is difficult to see how such a scenario could be agreed this side of Christmas, and Johnson may have succeeded in ramming his deal through by then anyway.

Some of the pro-deal Labour MPs believe that the party will be liberated from the Brexit prison if Johnson’s deal is voted through, freed to campaign on its core, bread and butter issues. This may provide a comforting rationalisation for politicians who are willing to lend votes to a hard-right project, but their actions will be relentlessly seized upon by a Liberal Democrat party seeking to exploit the subsequent fury of remainers. Both Jo Swinson and Johnson share a common aim: for the Lib Dems to eat into the Labour vote, the former to win a few more MPs, the latter to secure a majority for a hard-right government. Labour’s least bad option is to agree to an election when it is proposed, after an extension is offered by the EU. Its current prospects seem bad. Its polling is terrible. But if it loses badly, it won’t be because of an excessively radical domestic policy prospectus, which played a key role in its 2017 surge, but rather excessive triangulation and moderation on Brexit as the country polarised. It should have adopted its current policy of “a referendum in all circumstances with remain on the ballot paper” earlier. Centrists have now embraced the culture war enveloping the body politic, seeing remain as a new lasting identity allowing their political rebirth, while Johnson’s forces eye working-class leavers in the small-town north and Midlands. Both phenomena pose huge challenges to Labour. The party transformed its fortunes last time, starting significantly further behind the Tories than now; but have views on both the Labour leader and the Brexit culture war become too entrenched? It is only just over two years ago that 40% of the electorate crossed the psychological barrier of voting for a Labour party led by Corbyn. Since then some of them have crossed another psychological barrier to vote for the coalition-tainted Lib Dems. Which will triumph?

Labour should shake off any self-destructive gloom. It should confidently trumpet its “let the people decide” Brexit policy, offering the only plausible route back for remainers: a compromise position between hard Brexit and the Lib Dems’ arrogantly undemocratic revoke. It understandably fears an election defined by Brexit, but offering clarity about a genuinely uncomplicated position gives it permission to talk about the issues it cares about, as well as winning back supporters who have fled to the Lib Dems and Greens. It must put domestic issues, taxing the rich and big business, public ownership, solving the housing crisis and a real living wage, centre stage, in part by emphasising that such “burning injustices” led to Brexit in the first place and offering optimistic can-do solutions. Given the existential climate threat facing humanity, and the urgency required to deal with the issue, it must make this a climate emergency election, buoyed by polls which show the environment has surged as an issue. Labour must pitch itself against an arrogant, entitled establishment personified by Johnson himself. Corbyn flourishes in campaigning mode: there is every prospect of reversing bad personal ratings, 2017-style. The Brexit culture war may devour the Corbyn project yet. But an election is coming, and Labour has no alternative but to embrace it. It is not a done deal for Johnson: his own cabinet ministers fret over the possible outcome. As for the grassroots who propelled Corbyn to leadership, the battle of their political lives beckons.

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