John McDonnell

There is a hierarchy of political issues

John McDonnell
There is a hierarchy of political issues

LABOUR HAS NOW WITHDRAWN FROM the talks over Brexit with the Tories.. Theresa May’s deal will be on its way back to Parliament and likely defeat. Even if her deal gets through the Commons, the European Research Group will be planning for a parliamentary guerrilla war to undermine the next stages of May’s Brexit.

It’s also likely that May will be close to quitting as Prime Minister, with various Tory leadership hopefuls joining Boris Johnson in declaring their candidacies. Boris must be the bookies’ favourite for the next Tory leader with his still significant following among the hard Brexiteer membership within the Conservative constituency associations - many of which have now become populated with ex-UKIP supporters.

However, never underestimate the low animal cunning of Michael Gove in being able to summon up the dark arts in order to rally around another candidate to stop Boris and secure for himself another slide up a further few inches of the greasy pole of Tory politics.

If Boris secures the top job he’s been craving for so long and which he obviously feels he’s entitled to, the temptation will be overwhelming for him to set in process the operation to win a personal electoral mandate in a General Election. The likeliest scenario is that the leadership contest is timetabled to announce the new leader just before or at the Tory Party conference in October. If it’s Boris he goes off to negotiate a new Brexit deal with Brussels. He has a row with the EU negotiators and other EU leaders, returns home wrapped in the Union Jack and calls a General Election based upon support for a no-deal Brexit.

You can almost hear his Churchillian style speeches now, summoning up the Dunkirk spirit with echoes of Henry V’s Agincourt speech, courtesy of William Shakespeare.

Farage’s Brexit Party campaign in the elections for the European Parliament has prepared the ground and climate for Boris Johnson and indeed any Tory leader to tread so easily down the reactionary path of right wing nationalism. The rise of Yaxley-Lennon and all the associated alt right movements in the UK and across Europe is clearly deeply worrying. Faced with these prospects isn’t it just desperately time the left woke up?

While the left is engaged in, at times, a quite bitter wrangle over the question of whether to remain or leave the institution of the EU, the hard right is seeking to gain new ground and the Tory harsh right is seeking to gain a renewed grip on British politics overall.

I have confessed that I am at heart a Remainer. My reason is that despite the ascendancy of neo-liberalism deep within the institutional settlement of the EU, I recognise that if we are to defeat the hegemony of neo-liberal politics the challenge will not succeed if it is attempted in just one country. The socialist movement learned some time ago to its cost that socialism in one country is not a runner.

The institutional architecture of the EU provides the left with a significant arena in which the international socialist challenge to neo-liberalism could be played out. In a recent article in The Spokesman, Stuart Holland, the former Labour MP and adviser to various European politicians, has described the history of the many attempts by the European left to promote a socialist alternative across Europe. He outlines the various transnational alliances of socialists that have been formed over the years because of their involvement in the institutional framework of the EU.

However whatever institutional and constitutional arrangements for our relationship with the rest of Europe come out of the current impasse, as socialists we must ensure that our movement remains an internationalist movement. For us the priority is relationships, not institutions.

The relationships we need to forge urgently now are with all those across Europe who are willing to confront the rise of the right. We must not stand by and allow the newly confident right bring about a new dark age over Europe. If this sounds like preaching, it most certainly is. So here is the lesson. There is a hierarchy of political issues.

The rise of the right in all its forms from the alt right to the Boris Johnson harsh Tory right is the real and imminent threat. The institutional arrangements for our economic relationship with the other 27 EU states is an important but subsidiary question compared to the seriousness of the prospect of the long term political dominance of the renewed right within our own country and across Europe. And it should be an issue for quiet debate and not highly emotional division.

Moral of this story? Let’s focus on the real enemy and the real issue. It’s the right and its rise.

Shadow Chancellor, MP for Hayes and Harlington, Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs and Chair of the Labour Representation Committee. John has been involved in Labour Briefing since the early years.