England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Issue 2 Editorial: Johnson government on the ropes

To add to this mounding pressure, ex-Prime Minister and wannabe author David Cameron has exposed Johnson’s pre-referendum position on Brexit: he didn’t actually support it. A politician hypocritically taking positions to further their own career? Hardly something new.

In reality, Johnson’s floundering says more about the crisis in the British establishment than it does about his personality. The quagmire they find themselves in is not easily solved and is reflected across all political parties. It is also shown through the increase in protests, both the “stop the coup” protests against Boris Johnson and the climate strikes.

Brexit is a symptom rather than a cause of this crisis. One thing that may help to alleviate the symptoms, although it won’t be a cure, is a general election. The referendum result in 2016 detonated a chain reaction of resignations, panic and instability in political parties – an indication of what was happening across the capitalist class. However, the result in itself was just one expression of what was bubbling under the surface: a deep anger, bitterness and resentment to the establishment after years of falling living standards and increasing inequality.

In both the Leave and Remain votes were aspects of a desire for change. So what is needed is not just a better deal on Brexit, or a new referendum, but a general election. A Cobyn-led government which can be pushed to carry out reforms, such as free education, council house building and public ownership as part of a socialist ‘Green New Deal’ would have a huge impact on the lives and the attitudes of working class people. It is necessary to end the parliamentary maneuvering and to mobilise a mass movement to get the Tories out now. The trade unions should use the huge protests that have taken place already, including some workers joining the school students on strike on 20th September, as a catapult for wide-spread and coordinated strike action.

If the TUC is not prepared to do this, as it does not appear to be, then a ‘coalition of the willing’ of the left trade union leaders, broad lefts and rank and file organisations, should be convened to organise action. This call would be supported because the idea of striking for ‘political’ reasons, rather than just economic ones, has been popularised by both the climate strikes and by, no matter how sincere it actually was, the calls by MPs like Lloyd Russell-Moyle for a general strike to re-open parliament.

A general election called on this basis, linked to anti-austerity demands, could propel Labour into power despite being behind in the opinion polls at the current time. During the election, Labour should organise mass canvasses, rallies and protests open to all of those who want to see a Corbyn-led government. The aim of these should be to campaign on many of the issues that were popular in 2017 and to mobilise the biggest vote possible. It will also mean having a clear message on Brexit. Corbyn’s position, supported by the Labour Party conference, will give them the opportunity to do this.

He is calling for a general election first and then for Labour to renegotiate a Brexit deal, with a customs union with the EU and the protection of workers’ rights, which would then be put to a referendum alongside a Remain option. We would not be opposed to such a strategy – provided a deal was negotiated on the basis of ending the anti-worker and pro-privatisation elements of the EU customs union. If this cannot be achieved, Labour should not enter into any customs union with the EU.

An issue that Corbyn will face will be some important figures in the Labour Party. Already the conference decision has been opposed vocally by Tom Watson, Clive Lewis, Unison and many local Labour parties. The Blairites will support either a Remain vote or a “Brexit in name only” type deal, which will mean the continued race to the bottom for workers and public services across the EU. Both leaders of Labour in Wales and Scotland have said they will also campaign for a Remain vote. In response to Tom Watson openly undermining Corbyn (again), Jon Lansman, leader of Momentum, moved a motion at Labour’s NEC calling for the post of deputy leader to be abolished.

The issue is not Tom Watson as deputy leader, or even having a deputy leader at all, but the ongoing political civil war in the Labour Party. Achieving principled unity is not possible and campaigning for a united position on Brexit cannot mean ignoring the differences and just leaving a decision to special conference after a general election victory.

This issue cannot be kicked into the long grass and will have to be dealt with ahead of a general election if Labour are to win many of the most disenchanted voters across the country. The truth is that Watson et al will do all they can to sabotage a Corbyn victory and the left should fight for immediate selection votes in every constituency to determine who the Labour candidate will be in an imminent general election – and to campaign for the candidates to be real lefts. Corbyn’s attempt to cut across the false divide between working class Leave and Remain voters should be welcomed.

It would be a mistake, however, for Corbyn to remain ‘neutral’ on a referendum. If he has managed to negotiate a good Brexit deal he should fight for it to be voted for. It is ridiculous to argue that a deal should be negotiated and then that the Labour Party should be campaigning for a Remain vote in the referendum. It would also be a mistake for Labour to go into a general election arguing only for a second referendum and a Remain vote. The Blairites fear losing some votes to the Lib Dems but they don’t question the millions of working class votes that were lost during the reign of Tony Blair, due to his policies of privatisation and support for illegal wars.

The key to Labour winning a general election goes beyond the EU and lies in policies that will mean an increase in wages, better public services and a cheaper cost of living for the majority of people. Brexit is a dominant political issue of 2019 and will be in a general election. Not because it is fundamental whether we remain or leave – we do not support the EU because it is a set of treaties and agreements between capitalist countries aimed at driving down wages and conditions and privatising public services, but a Brexit on a Tory basis will not solve these problems. If we remain in the EU, its laws would be a big barrier to a socialist government in Britain carrying out nationalisation and would have to be broken. It is dominant because it represents a crisis which runs much deeper into the heart of a broken system.

The Financial Times recently had a headline declaring “Capitalism: time for a reset.” Martin Wolf, the author of the article, argues for a reversal of some of the trends of neo-liberalism since the 1980s. He wants more investment in manufacturing and more so-called “corporate responsibility” i.e. paying higher taxes and wages.

The reasons for some capitalists arguing along these lines are more than just a realisation that austere economic policies are making things worse, with recessions already in some European countries and low productivity and low growth internationally. It is also a fear of the movements that are developing.

The rise of new left movements and of more uncontrollable forms of right populism in various countries and the ongoing Brexit crisis, with splits in the Tory Party, evoke alarm in them. The global climate strikes and an increasing radicalisation of young people and workers, including the mass democracy protests in Hong Kong and revolutionary movements in Sudan and Algeria, cause terror.

This is also why they oppose a general election and a Corbyn victory. It would be a step forward for us – there could be real gains made for working class people. Some policies, such as the nationalisation of the water companies and investment in infrastructure, would even be supported by sections of the capitalist class. They fear that the enthusiasm for these policies would mobilise and radicalise the working class and youth further, and in turn could push Corbyn further to the left and to carry out more far-reaching reforms. Our movement would need to be prepared for stopping sabotage such as capital flight by big business and the rich and even the dissolution of parliament by the monarchy.

Millions of people could be mobilised on to the streets to oppose these measures. However, key to this will be widespread general strike action and occupations of the companies and the banks responsible. If organised democratically, such a movement could help to prevent sabotage. A Corbyn government would need to take major companies, along with the banks and other key sectors of the economy into public ownership, to be run democratically, in order to meet the needs of people, not profit.

Supreme court judgement against Johnson

In an astonishing judgement the Supreme Court has declared Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament as null and void, and pronounced him guilty of deliberately giving misleading advice. Their excoriating verdict was delivered unanimously, which shocked the media commentators who had, almost universally, been expecting a mild reproach, perhaps with a split court, to Johnson for disrespecting Parliament.

Socialist Alternative opposed the parliamentary coup Johnson attempted when he prorogued Parliament on 10 September, and went out onto the streets to call for a general election. The conflict over Brexit, which has split the Tory Party from top to bottom and caused an unprecedented constitutional crisis, is being played out even in the highest court in the land.

The Tory Party under Johnson is in the hands of the die-hard Brexiteers, and Johnson has expelled 21 of the Remainers from the Parliamentary Party. Yet his reckless antics panic the mainstream capitalists who want desperately to stay in the EU and who fear the uncertainty and economic pain a ‘no deal’ Brexit will bring. On this occasion the court has gone, unprecedentedly, against a serving Tory Prime Minister.

We can have no confidence that these judges, drawn, in the main, from the exact same echelons as Johnson himself, to defend our democratic rights. In fact, we can be confident that they would react vehemently against a left Labour Prime Minister confiscating the property of absentee landlords or tax-dodgers! After all, we only need look at the record of the courts in recent years in upholding anti-union legislation and voting to thwart industrial action.

Johnson has reacted with typical arrogance, maintaining that he doesn’t agree with the judgement. He may bluster in the Commons and delay his response but he is in an extremely weak position. There is even a whiff of corruption emerging about his activities as Mayor of London.

Jeremy Corbyn has rightly called on Johnson to resign, in clear and direct language, abandoning the usual mealy-mouthed formula of ‘should consider his position’. This came on a day in which Corbyn announced several pro-worker policies which also point in a positive direction.

But as MPs return to the commons, it’s crucial that Corbyn does not allow himself to be drawn too deeply into cross-party maneuvering and parliamentary game playing. This means him resisting the pressure he will inevitably come under from Labour’s right. He must instead use his position to call directly on workers and young people to begin mass mobilisations against this government. And he must fight to win a general election on the basis of a bold socialist programme. Johnson is on the ropes and this is a heaven-sent opportunity for the movement to administer the knock-out blow.


  • No confidence in Boris Johnson! Mobilise mass opposition, demanding a general election now
  • No to a Tory Brexit – deal or no deal. Oppose the capitalist EU. Build real solidarity and coordinated resistance to capitalist policies across Europe
  • For a Socialist Corbyn-led government. Transform Labour into a fully democratic working class party standing on socialist policies. Build a movement on the streets and in the workplaces to push for the full implementation of such a programme

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