The “build unions, not borders”, “socialist Europe”, “free movement” anti-Brexit left is organising to make an impact in the Labour campaign for the Euro-election on 23 May.
A model is the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory (SCLV) initiated in 1978-9 by Socialist Organiser, a forerunner of Solidarity. It produced literature arguing for a Labour vote against Thatcher’s Tories, and also criticising the 1974-9 Labour government and proposing socialist alternatives.
Some constituency Labour Parties voted to back the SCLV and to use SCLV leaflets. In other constituencies individual activists were able to use SCLV leaflets while campaigning.
Since the Blair days — and still today — Labour’s election campaigns have been more tightly controlled, and the volume of will and energy to speak out for sharp socialist ideas has been less.
There is more scope for distinctive activity in this election for four reasons.
First, there is already an organised body of Labour left-wingers speaking out, in Labour for a Socialist Europe (L4SE). Their efforts are being amplified by the Love Socialism, Hate Brexit group of left MPs, who are speaking at meetings round the country.
Second, the Labour “Leader’s Office” knows it is isolated in the Labour Party in its accommodate-to-Brexit stance, and is losing its political authority in the movement. On 30 April Labour’s National Executive decided a vague formula: if Labour cannot reach an acceptable Brexit compromise with the Tories, then to “back the option” of a public vote.
What’s “acceptable”? Who decides? Really Labour should break off the talks with the Tories. It should call a special conference to decide a clear Brexit policy democratically.
The vagueness makes it hard for the Leaders’ Office to keep tight control.
Third, many of Labour’s Euro-candidates are anti-Brexit. Two sitting MEPs, Julie Ward and Jude Kirton-Darling, have backed L4SE’s statement on the Euro-election.
Fourth, on the evidence little more than three weeks from polling day, official Labour election campaign efforts look weak.
If L4SE and other “bring-down-borders” leftists organise a decent scattering of street stalls, then that will create a visible profile, not swamped by the hugeness of official efforts.
Opinion polls show that the Tories will do poorly on 23 May, and the main contest will be between Labour and Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party.
The dangers for Labour are that it will not sound a clear note against Farage, that it will leave space for Chuka Umunna’s Change UK and the Greens to pull away pro-Remain voters, and that it will be so blurry that Labour supporters won’t bother to vote.
To build an internationalist workers’-unity wing in the labour movement, we need a strong Labour left Remain voice in the Euro-elections.
Make it clear-cut!
Clive Lewis MP spoke to Solidarity
Whatever Brexit deal passes, whether it’s one negotiated by the Government with Labour, whether it’s one passed through Parliament that is separate from those talks, whatever it is, it needs to come back to the British public for a final say and a confirmation vote.
Anything that fudges that issues fails to put clear water between us and the Brexit Party on a critical issue. We can talk about social care, health, the environment, and many of those things also have a European dimension.
If we’re not going to have a clear-cut position on the fundamental issue, then it’s a fudge, and political parties that are not clear about their strategic dimension pay a price. Some of the electorate, not all, but some of the electorate, will vote for the parties they see as being clear in what they stand for.
European elections are different from a national election. People feel that the relationship between them and their MEP is quite distant. People often don’t know what Europe does — they know even less than they know about what their local authority does. As a result, the European elections come to be used as a way to send a message to political parties and the political establishment.
My fear is that many of the people who want to stay in the EU and really want a confirmatory vote will say that it’s not a vote for the next government, or even for their local authority, and therefore they will vote with their “conscience” rather than their “tribal preference”.
We will pay a heavy price if we fail to articulate our overall strategic aims in this election.
I think Labour needs to be really clear on free movement. With the rise of the far right and racist sentiment, not just in this country but across Europe, we need to have a very clearly expressed view on freedom of movement.
There’s an opportunity for the Labour Party to put clear water between itself and the Conservative Party on this. But it’s complicated, because we’ve adopted a position for a points-based system — very similar to the Conservatives in some ways.
Of course it will be a Labour-led government under Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn who would implement the policy, but nonetheless there’s potential for confusion, for a green light to groups who say that immigration is bad for this country.
That’s one of the weaknesses of having a position which is other than freedom of movement.
The other side of this is that we need to be in Europe to make sure that Fortress Europe is changed, and that as a European entity we have changes towards migrants and migration.
It’s a multi-faceted issue which has to be looked at in some depth.