Boris Johnson is still trying to do his “poundshop Mussolini” act and push through decisions against the duly-voted will of Parliament and against majority opinion in the electorate.
He has been pushed back. He can be stopped.
That calls for a Labour Party and a labour movement with a clear voice for workers’ rights, for migrant rights, for free movement, for social and ecological levelling-up across Europe, against Brexit, for Remain and Transform.
Not for mumbling, triangulation, and equivocation.
Johnson has been defeated in every vote he’s called in Parliament. The condemnation of him as a blustering opportunist by former Tory prime minister David Cameron reflects a sizeable chunk of the Tory party which has turned against him.
He has been heckled almost everywhere he’s gone. His shutdown of Parliament has been ruled illegal by the highest court in Scotland, and that ruling may be confirmed by the Supreme Court sitting 17-19 September.
Leading figures in the EU dismiss Johnson’s claim that he has a chance of getting a Brexit deal before 31 October, and say he hasn’t even put a serious proposal, let alone got near getting it agreed.
But still Johnson stands on the high ground of the unelected machinery of government. There will be a general election soon. Labour can win that election. We can get a new public vote on the available Brexit formulas vs Remain, and stop Brexit.
But for that we want Labour to be clear, sharp, forceful, convincing.
Labour has been edged by circumstances into de facto anti-Brexitism — opposing the available Brexit formulas, supporting a new public vote with a Remain option.
But the Labour leadership, centrally the Leader’s Office, is ostentatiously reluctant about it. Equivocal. Wishing it weren’t put on the spot.
It still talks about negotiating a better Brexit deal (better, apparently, mainly by way of a greater degree of customs unification than the “Irish backstop” already mandates, but still without free movement). Jeremy Corbyn refuses to say what vote he’d recommend in a referendum on that imaginary better Brexit deal vs Remain.
Ninety local Labour Parties have submitted policy proposals to the 21-25 September Labour Party conference on Brexit. 81 of them call for an unequivocal “Remain” policy.
Workers’ Liberty and other activists at the conference will push against that rank and file demand being fobbed off with ambiguous formulas, as it was in 2018.
Another thing needs to be done in the Labour Party.
Since 2017 Labour’s leadership has allowed the sweeping anti-cuts message it had then to be thinned down into, often, little more than a complaint about reduced funding for the police.
Boris Johnson’s talk of ending austerity is shallow demagogy. We call for Labour to counter it with programs for real revival of the Health Service, of schools, of benefits, of local government services.
Those should include making the NHS again a fully publicly-owned, publicly-run, service, without contracting-out and marketisation, and bringing all schools back into local authority control and standard work conditions.
The only reliable living champion, guardian, and enforcer of social rights is a revitalised labour and trade-union movement with the right to take solidarity action.
All social promises will be thin and unstable unless they are linked with action to repeal the Thatcher anti-union laws (not just the latest 2016 Trade Union Act) and institute full union rights.
Who obeys whom?
“Not obeying the law must surely be a non-starter. Period”, says John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, responding to Boris Johnson’s statement that he will not ask the EU to extend the Brexit deadline of 31 October.
“It would be the most terrible example to set to the rest of society”.
He’s right that it is an outrage for the Prime Minister and the unelected state machine to try to overrule the elected assembly to which they are answerable.
He signals, however, that he is even more bothered by the example that “not obeying” would send to others than by the action itself.
What he has in mind is not Margaret Thatcher’s statement during the miners’ strike of 1984-85 that if the unprecedented police blockades against the miners were ruled unlawful, then she would change the law as much as was necessary to maintain the blockades.
It is action like Poplar Labour Council’s in 1921, when it defied unfair local government finance laws, and forced change, under the slogan “Better to break the law than break the poor”.
Or the mass defiance of the poll tax in the early 1990s, when thousands faced jail sentences for not paying the tax, but the police warned councils there were so many tax-defaulters that they couldn’t arrest them all. The Tories backed down and repealed the tax.
Or the strike wave in July 1972 which made the Tories’ anti-union law of that time, the Industrial Relations Act, unworkable. The Labour government elected in February 1974 felt obliged to repeal that Act completely and promptly.
Or the strikes and industrial action, strictly speaking in breach of the ultra-strict anti-strike laws currently on the law books, which still go on under the radar.
The right of an elected assembly or Parliament to control the government which claims authority on that basis of that parliament is one thing.
The supposed “right” of a parliament elected and operating through very limited forms of democracy, and of a government claiming authority from that parliament, to control the people, is another.
The 1793 constitution coming out of the French revolution, the founding document of democracy in the modern era, said:
“When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people, and for every portion thereof, the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties”.
Johnson’s moves warn us that the Tories’ adherence even to their limited forms of democracy is always conditional.
They warn us about how the Tories would respond faced with a left-wing, working-class majority in Parliament.
They tell us that the real substance of democracy always depends on class struggle.
Rallying Labour’s anti-Brexit left
Labour for a Socialist Europe is a campaign by Labour activists fighting to stop Brexit and build a socialist resistance to the right-wing forces and ideas driving it.
It was launched from the Another Europe is Possible conference in December 2018, and held a formal constituting conference on 9 March 2019.
It produced independent pro-Labour, anti-Brexit publicity for the Euro-elections in May 2019, and bundles of leaflets totalling some 50,000 were taken and used by local Labour campaigns and by individuals.
It has also been active in the effort to get anti-Brexit, pro-free-movement policy motions to the Labour Party conference.