At this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, but instead there is division. The country is coming together, but Westminster is not.
With these words Tory Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced a shock general election for 8th June and demanded a direct mandate to take the UK through the Brexit divorce with the EU.
After initially ruling out a general election until 2020, May has “only recently and reluctantly” concluded that an election was desirable. “The decision facing the country will be all about leadership,” she said from Downing Street.
In effect, May has thrown down the gauntlet to the working people of Britain. She is seeking a bigger mandate for Tory rule. With Article 50 triggered and the Brexit process underway, she is determined to create a strong government with which to attack the working class, starting with the poorest sections.
The Tories hope to stampede the country into increasing their slim parliamentary majority of 17, as Margaret Thatcher did in 1983 after the Falklands War. They have been given heart with opinion polls over the Easter weekend putting the Tories 21 points ahead of Labour.
It is also an attempt to strengthen May’s personal mandate as prime minister - a position she gained without any challenge, after David Cameron resigned and Andrea Leadsom pulled out of the final round of the Tory leadership race. If she had remained in office until the next scheduled election date of 2020 without a vote, it would have been the longest any prime minister had served without having contested an election since Winston Churchill during the Second World War.
Political turmoil on the horizon
The Tories’ slim majority was always going to make it more difficult to push through its Repeal Bill, which transfers EU legislation into the statute book, without amendments. May hopes that a bigger majority would eliminate such difficulties.
Other difficulties, where the row over election expenses has led to police investigations over alleged electoral fraud in the 2015 election, would conveniently disappear in the aftermath of a new election.
Nevertheless, a general election holds electoral risks for the Tory Party. It cannot be ruled out that the Lib Dems, which had a disastrous 2015 election, could stage a revival in Remain-supporting areas. This could undermine the Tories in key seats. However, May is looking to make up for any losses by winning seats from a deeply divided Labour Party, especially in Leave-supporting areas.
Ironically, May ruled out a second independence referendum in Scotland “as the time was not ripe” to decide on self-determination, but feels “the time is right” for a general election for her own political ends.
The Scottish National Party will use the general election to confirm its dominant position in Westminster and to win a new mandate for an independence vote. For them, the prospect of a new stronger Tory government in Westminster pursuing a Hard Brexit will be a powerful argument for independence.
As Theresa May talks of “the country coming together”, however, the country is falling apart. Not only is Scotland moving away, but Northern Ireland remains in political turmoil, following the failure of the main unionists and nationalist parties to come to a power-sharing deal.
Which way forward for Labour?
In the current climate, with Labour in a mess over Brexit, and the continuing backstabbing of the Blairites, the Labour Party is in a difficult position. The right wing in the Party are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of a big defeat for Labour, albeit wary about losing their own seats. They were already getting their knives out in advance of the local elections in May, where some predict that Labour could lose up to 120 councils, half in Scotland. For the Blairites, any setback will be seen as a golden opportunity to get rid of Corbyn and push the party far to the right.
Over the last 12 months, Labour has been struggling in the polls. Recently, Jeremy Corbyn has been trying to outline a radical alternative. His proposals include levying VAT on private school fees in order to pay for free school meals, raising the minimum wage to £10 an hour in 2020 and punishing large companies that are slow to pay their suppliers. He has also put forward the idea of renationalising the railways and fighting austerity. Such policies have widespread cross party support, with polls suggesting between 60% and 70% in favour.
If Corbyn jettisons the disastrous 2015 Labour manifesto, which was based on demands for “austerity lite”, and campaigns instead on the basis of a radical programme and mass rallies across the country, he can turn the situation around.
Of course, Corbyn will face sabotage from the right wing within the party. “Any policy [Mr Corbyn] touches is probably doomed to sink with him, even if it is half-sensible,” said one Labour MP who opposes him. With the majority of his MPs opposing his leadership and doing everything to undermine him, Corbyn’s unpopularity is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just last week Corbyn’s opposition to the US strike on Syria led to new splits with senior MPs, including his deputy Tom Watson who supported Washington’s actions.
“What’s interesting is when you poll the issues and our policies they are extremely popular so what’s preventing people translating that into strength in the polls?” John McDonnell asked in an interview with Sky News. His answer was: a lack of unity in the party.
This gets to the heart of the matter. The Blairite majority that dominates the Parliamentary Labour Party are determined to push Corbyn out. This right wing clique also controls the party machine and has been continually working to discredit Corbyn and his supporters. Despite the failed attempted coups, they have the support of the ruling class and they will never give up.
Unfortunately, the Labour Left thought they could compromise with the right for the sake of “unity”, but the Blairites were having none of it.
The only way forward for Corbyn was to rest upon the support of the party’s 500,000-strong rank and file and wage a war on the Blairites, starting with the reintroduction of mandatory reselection. This would have to be a fight to the finish for the control of the Labour Party. It would have been an inspiration for those wanting to change society.
Fight the Tories with socialist policies!
Today, faced with a general election, Jeremy Corbyn faces an uphill struggle. This requires a bold campaign to face down the capitalist media, the Tories, and the Party’s own right wing. This is precisely what Melenchon has done in France, coming from behind to now be in with a fighting chance of winning the French presidential elections. It is what Bernie Sanders did in the US, where he promised a political revolution against the billionaire class. A radical, fighting stance, combined with mass rallies and a mass grassroots movement, won Sanders and Melenchon tremendous support from working people and the youth, in particular. This is the key lesson for Corbyn and the British Left.
Of course, as we are seeing around the world at present, things can quickly change in just a few weeks or months. No election outcome can ever be considered certain, as we have already witnessed. Despite their lead in the opinion polls, the Tories are themselves divided and are seen as the party of austerity. An anti-establishment mood exists within British society - and everywhere internationally - and is looking for an expression. If Corbyn was to present a clear alternative, based on attacking the broken status quo, then the polls could narrow.
Despite the opinion polls, Corbyn has everything to play for. We will fight strenuously for a Labour victory over the Tories and their government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich. But we will also tell the truth. In the midst of a deep crisis of capitalism, Labour must not seek to patch up a discredited system, but campaign for a real socialist programme that will do away with capitalism and all its ills.
Whatever happens, the struggle has not finished - not by a long way. An election is only a snapshot of a moving situation. Britain is facing a deepening crisis. Even if the Tories win this election, the establishment and their rotten system will become increasingly hated. More and more will look for a way out of this nightmare and begin to fight back. Only a revolutionary transformation of society can offer a way forward.