Twelve years ago, Naomi Klein wrote a book about “Disaster Capitalism”, describing how plunderers and capitalist social-justice-warriors had picked up on catastrophes, throwing society off-balance, in order to slam through their plans.
The New Orleans flood of 2005 was one example. Another was the slump which started in Britain around the same time Thatcher took office in 1979 and – pushed in the first place by world oil price rises – had taken industrial production down 15% by early 1981.
Boris Johnson’s drive for “no deal” is an exercise in disaster capitalism. For him, there are advantages to doing Brexit in a chaotic, off-balanced, improvised way.
That way makes it easier to use Brexit as a lever for social regression and worker-bashing.
“No deal” is not what it says on the can.
No one, not even the Tory free-market ultras, believes that Britain can “build a wall” in the Channel and continue without negotiations and arrangements with other countries.
“No deal” means mainly that the deal-making will be helter-skelter, ad hoc, and tilted towards closer ties with Trump’s USA and away from continuation of the social regulation acquired in Britain as part of the EU’s patched and fumbling processes of social “levelling up”.
As far as we can judge, Boris Johnson’s policy on the Irish border will be to turn a blind eye there to the tariffs and checks introduced elsewhere on EU-British frontiers. Probably Ireland and the EU will do similar, initially.
Each will “dare” the other to be first to move against the resulting anomalies. Johnson can hope for a new “hard border” at least to seem less hard than it might have been, and quarter-plausibly blamed on the EU.
The Tories’ Immigration Bill has been stalled since March. Under it, the Tories plan to end free movement, and limit EU workers on less than £30,000 a year to applying for 12-month visas, with a minimum gap of 12 months between visas.
Johnson’s chances of pushing through a harsh version of that will be improved if he can do it in emergency mode, after a “no deal” Brexit.
Johnson’s plan is risky. But it will not necessarily fail through its own contradictions. He may be able to put it through if the labour movement does not mobilise.
Some months ago, Tom Kibasi, director of the IPPR think-tank, not a left-winger but anti-Brexit and someone who’s spoken at Another Europe is Possible events, called for a cool appraisal of “no deal”.
“There won’t be trucks filled with rotting food in Calais or shortages of medicines in pharmacies. Planes will continue to fly... A thin agreement – covering areas from aviation to contract continuity – [will] be quickly concluded...”
“No deal”, he argued, will be a regressive hit. But over time, rather than through a quick spasm of chaos.
Suppose Kibasi is right, or nearly right. “No deal” Brexit on 31 October is disruptive, but manageable. Its worst effects will develop only after time, as Tories leverage the emergency bit by bit.
In that case, if Labour does not sort itself out fast, Boris Johnson has a good chance of winning a snap election.
He has a good chance of recouping the Brexit Party vote for the Tories. What will Farage have to say, if Johnson has already “delivered” Brexit? If Labour does not recoup its votes lost to Lib Dems and the Greens in the Euro-election, then the mechanics of first-past-the-post will bring the Tories a clear parliamentary majority even if their percentage vote is mediocre.
Labour is not prepared.
Jeremy Corbyn still will not say what policy on Brexit he would take into a general election. His fantasy “I’m better at bourgeois diplomacy than the Tories: just watch me fix a deal”? Or a visibly reluctant what-else-can-we-do Remain policy?
The social-welfare, anti-cuts message which drew a big Labour vote in 2017 has been undercut in two ways. Labour’s high command has narrowed it to a thin pleading for more money for cops. Johnson is set to gazump that, and to promise specious boosts for schools and the NHS, too.
The latest figures (for end-2018) show that Labour still has 519,000 members.
Some will have dropped away in the last eight months; some will still be on the books, but deactivated by the leaders’ dithering over Brexit and antisemitism. It remains a much bigger membership than any other party, and bigger than Labour has had for decades.
Fifty local labour parties so far have voted to send left anti-Brexit motions, promoted by Labour for a Socialist Europe (L4SE), Another Europe Is Possible, and Open Labour, to Labour’s conference on 21-25 September. As Nadia Whittome of Labour for a Socialist Europe says: “In a moment of polarisation between us and an extremist No Deal Tory campaign, we need to cohere the Remain vote around us – it’s our only way out.”
Labour’s membership needs to use the Labour Party conference to call the leadership to account and send it out with policies attuned to working-class demands and to the depth of the impasse of global capitalism:
• Remain, Transform, Rebel
• Green New Deal, with public ownership and control, and rapid conversion, of the energy industries
• Make workers free to reclaim our rights, by scrapping all the anti-union laws, Thatcher’s laws as well as the 2016 Trade Union Act
• Restore the NHS and schools to full public ownership and control, and to adequate funding
• Restore the benefits system, especially for the disabled
• Public ownership and democratic control of utilities and banks
• Tax the rich!