Does Theresa May really have a plan? Her ‘big speech’ in January seemed to commit the Government to a hard Brexit, which would sacrifice the single market in order to appear to have ‘listened to concerns’ about immigration. UKIP were delighted. Much of the City remains ambivalent, concerned about self-imposed isolation from Britain’s biggest overseas market, but equally visualising new opportunities posed by this crisis.
For crisis is what it is. The EU referendum exposed huge divisions which many people clearly felt had not been addressed. But it also unleashed a constitutional crisis on several fronts. There is a crisis of representation where many believed that voting in elections had not enabled them to express fully the anger or despair they feel at their marginalisation, which did not begin, but intensified with the 2008 crash. There is also a crisis of the UK state: Scotland did not vote for Brexit and its leaders will feel legitimised to push for a second independence referendum. Notwithstanding May’s assurances, the issue of the northern Ireland border also threatens to unravel the 1998 Peace Agreement.
Crises attract vultures and the conditions are being created, partly consciously, for disaster capitalism. This is inherent in much of May’s discourse: “taking back control” means rolling back workers’ rights, environmental protections and the welfare state. Jeremy Corbyn was absolutely right when he characterised this as making Britain an offshore tax haven, a refuge for plutocrats and an island of cheap labour.
We can’t rerun last year’s referendum, but we can reject this version of Brexit. Labour has an opportunity to show it has broken with its past of taking working class voters for granted and standing by while neoliberal economics, initiated under Thatcher but continued under New Labour, destroyed jobs and hope. Now is an opportunity to show solidarity with these communities.
This is what Jeremy Corbyn did in his response to May’s Brexit strategy. He spoke for
a Brexit that works not just for the City, but in the interests of all, that puts health and social care, decent jobs and living standards first, together with a better deal for young people and areas of the country that have been left behind for too long.
Access to the European single market to protect living standards and jobs should be part of this. But we must also press to repatriate powers from Brussels for the British government to develop a sustainable industrial strategy, putting power, resources and investment into local communities where needed, so that none is left behind.
The Tory vision is low taxes for the rich, low pay for the rest, under-funded public services in preparation for their further privatisation and finding someone to blame - the EU, migrants, claimants, whatever. It’s a ruthless, brutal, failed model that Labour should expose for what it is - while seeking solutions to problems, not scapegoats.
Our leaders should argue that the Brexit negotiations enable us to intervene decisively to prevent workers, from here or abroad, being exploited to undermine pay and conditions at work. On border controls, we should stand proudly by our international obligations to refugees fleeing wars and persecution. EU citizens who are already here should have their rights guaranteed and international students should continue to be welcomed. While the Tories prefer to surrender access to the single market - and thus lose vital export markets and destroy jobs in order to pursue UKIP's agenda of cracking down on immigration, Labour should make access to the single market, without tariffs or encumbrances, its priority, recognising that this entails a commitment to free movement.”
The new international context - above all the election of President Trump - constitutes a very real threat to all our core values. We have to unite as a party, seeking allies beyond, to defend our values of solidarity against the huge dangers we face. Against May, Trump and the representatives of a new world disorder, we stand with the 99%, organising in defence of our communities and the jobs and services on which they depend. Mobilising for a massive turnout on the March 4th demonstration to defend the NHS is a vital first step.