When the Corbyn bubble bursts

The second Labour Party leadership contest in a year has resulted in another Jeremy Corbyn landslide in advance of the party’s annual conference in Liverpool. It means now that the bubble within which thousands of Corbyn supporters have been cocooned from the reality of a country mired in the profound political uncertainty ushered in by Brexit is about to burst.

When the energy expended in campaigning for Corbyn throughout a leadership campaign that had allowed them to suspend disbelief and revel in the buzz of attending mass rallies and meetings at which everyone speaks the same language and shares the same worldview (and quite literally wears the same T-shirt), when all that energy is now diverted to the task of engaging with the general public, as it must, they will encounter a stone wall of indifference, perhaps even hostility, to the passion and idealism that has sustained them over the summer.

Many will inevitably become demoralised in response to the ineffable gulf that exists between life in the Corbynista bubble and the world outside. Others will stay the course, fuelled by an ever-decreasing well of optimism, knowing that giving up on Corbyn means giving up on their belief in a better and more just society.

And herein lies the problem – one for which, in parenthesis, Jeremy Corbyn cannot be held personally responsible. It is that the Corbyn phenomenon is a product of deep despair giving way to soaring hope with nothing in-between. It is thus a phenomenon which defies gravity and every other law of physics as it swaps reality for unreality, calling to mind Gramsci’s overused mantra, “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

People who’ve been on the left for any amount of time live and die by Gramsci’s creed. They simply have to, otherwise it would be impossible to summon the strength and stamina to continually swim against the tide of apathy and anti-politics that is the default political position of millions up and down the country. These are people for whom politics belongs in the same category as a visit to the dentist — something that comes round once every so often and which they prefer to get out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible. Regardless, this is the core demographic and constituency that has to be won over for Labour or any other party to succeed.

The reputation of opinion polls as a reliable barometer of voting intentions and support for parties and leaders has justifiably taken a battering of late. However it would be foolish to ignore them altogether, given that they are the only measure we have, short of an election, when it comes to the viability of a given leadership. And according to the most recent polls, Corbyn’s prospects of being elected prime minister remain grim.

It is entirely true that the Labour leader has been battered by the right wing and liberal media throughout a second leadership election that, while triggered by Brexit, essentially came about because the majority of the PLP had refused to accept his leadership or mandate since the day he was elected in 2015, and in truth never will. Many, undoubtedly, would prefer Labour to be driven to destruction than succeed with Corbyn at the helm. It is a situation that has fed a hardening of Corbyn’s support, with his supporters understandably enraged at the arrogance of Labour MPs who refuse to accept the party’s own democratic structures and wishes of the overwhelming bulk of the membership when it comes to who the leader should be. Allegations of abuse and bullying and intimidation merely reflect the depth of acrimony between both sides in what had become a zero sum game.

But where Corbyn and his team must shoulder responsibility is over the failure to understand or appreciate the reactionary and racist nature of Brexit; and how if it came to pass it would entrench an unalterable shift to the right in British politics. This lack of understanding was reflected in one of the most dispassionate and lacklustre campaigns ever waged by a party leader, one that has led to credible accusations that he and his team purposely worked to sabotage the Remain campaign.

The wider point is that so much energy has been expended in fighting this leadership battle, in rallying round Corbyn’s leadership against the PLP, it has created a false political reality. This reality, as mentioned, exists not at mass rallies or mass meetings, but on the doorsteps of millions of voters across the country. In Scotland Corbyn’s leadership has completely failed to puncture the SNP’s political dominance, while down south, in large swathes of the country’s former industrial heartlands, it is the right wing of the Tory Party and UKIP that are making the running with their brand of regressive British nationalism.

Brexit confirms that we have entered an era of competing nationalisms north and south of the border, involving the opening up of a political scissors to confirm what many had chosen to deny up until the EU referendum— namely that there is a marked difference in political culture, underpinned by national identity, between Scotland and England. The result is an inclusive and civic nationalism in Scotland that exists in sharp contrast to its exclusive and xenophobic counterpart in England. In between both you have a Corbyn-led Labour Party whose support outside London is restricted by and large to urban centres such as Manchester and Liverpool, where Labour’s roots remain deepest.

This is not to claim that Owen Smith or any other leader would be better placed to improve Labour’s fortunes. The squeeze on Labour as the vehicle of working class political representation had already crashed before Jeremy Corbyn came along. The lack of any strong and effective ideological opposition to austerity post-economic crisis saw the Tories win the battle of ideas on public spending, welfare, and Labour mismanagement of the economy. Allied to UKIP’s narrative about the EU and unlimited mass immigration – a narrative based on a set of untruths, half-truths, and outright lies – and the damage was done.

The result is that rather than anti-austerity it is the politics of anti-immigration that are driving the voting intentions of working people across former Labour heartlands in England and South Wales.

Corbyn and his supporters and are in for a sharp shock.

55 comments on “When the Corbyn bubble bursts

  1. Pessimism of the intellect and pessimism of the will together can save an awful lot of time and energy. As my old dad used to say: “you’re banging your head against a wall, and the only good thing about that is that it’s nice when you stop”. The sooner we all abandon politics altogether in favour of gardening, the better.

  2. Yes, because everything is either moving irreversibly to the right or irreversibly to the left. There can’t be any contradictions or complexities. And those thousands who have supported Corbyn are in a bubble. That is, totally unconnected from the world. They have no friends, family or workmates. They represent no force or current of opinion in wider society, so they can’t influence anything, what with that ‘stonewall of indifference.’ Because, outside the ‘bubble’ the working class is irredeemably nationalistic and racist. Is that an accurate summary?

  3. Who needs the Labour right and the media to mythologise and parody hundreds of thousands of people who’ve voted for Corbyn when supposed Leftists can do it just as well. If you get out you’re own bubble, you might actually find out that there are many of us who’ve actually been active for a long time and have no illusions about the task ahead.

    The first of which surely is to make sure there’s no pussyfooting about and backsliding talk of unity with the right by Corbyn et al i.e. with the sort of people who don’t have an ounce of socialist principles or respect for democracy and will never stop trying to undermine us. A dose of bloodletting is now in order, to crush these people once and for all. Then we can get on with the job of connecting on a regular basis with the millions that we need to reach and talk to.

  4. #4 John Wight is no more a leftist than Tony Blair or Neil Kinnock.

    He is absolutely 100 percent in their camp.

    His goal is to spread defeatism and negativity amongst the left and the obvious question is, “why”? I mean, why continue to bother with this blog when his clear message to all those who read or contribute to it is that we’re wasting our time and that some at least of us are a bunch of racists?

    And for that matter can anyone find anything in his contributions ever on any issue where he has proposed a positive line of march or promoted the unity that this blog is allegedly promoting? Which begs some serious questions.

    In fact the question that really is begged is what if any useful purpose is now served by this blog.

    I had hoped (why I don’t know) that we could engage with some serious practical discussion about the way forward once the referendum had been concluded.

    Andy to his credit has attempted to engage in this, but when reactionary, anti working class and defeatist drivel like this is able to co-exist with his contributions, that simply isn’t enough and I really have better ways to expend my time.

  5. jock mctrousers on said:

    jack: And those thousands who have supported Corbyn are in a bubble. That is, totally unconnected from the world. They have no friends, family or workmates. They represent no force or current of opinion in wider society, so they can’t influence anything,

    Let me play Devil’s advocate for a minute. If there is a rude awakening coming, maybe it’s from taking ‘Momentum’ for granted? Supposedly this is a grassroots movement to co-ordinate the energies of the new Corbyinista Labour supporters, but it seems more like an astroturf controlled strictly from the top operation, maybe designed to dissipate and confuse…. any evidence of genuine democratic structure building….?

  6. John Grimshaw on said:

    Doug: The first of which surely is to make sure there’s no pussyfooting about and backsliding talk of unity with the right by Corbyn et al i.e. with the sort of people who don’t have an ounce of socialist principles or respect for democracy and will never stop trying to undermine us. A dose of bloodletting is now in order, to crush these people once and for all.

    Of course Doug as you know the line being pursued by Corbyn and MacDonell (see his interview on Radio 4 this am) is that they are holding out a olive branch for the self servers in the PLP. Whilst as far as I can see attempting to pursue a left Keynesian economic strategy. This I would think is entirely consistent with where they are coming from. That being said some right-wingers are beginning to depart from the LP of their own accord. Not just Lord Mitchell (if I’ve got that right) but also some of the press is reporting, others who are cutting up their cards and posting the pictures on-line.

  7. John Grimshaw on said:

    “politics of anti-immigration that in 2016 are driving the voting intentions of working people across former Labour heartlands in England and South Wales.”

    Chuka Umunna was on the telly on Sunday morning saying that he thought 1/3 of working class people had voted Brexit for anti-immigration reasons. How he knows this I don’t know. Some things occur though. Assuming I can trust his figures (which I don’t because of his political orientation) are all working class people who are concerned about immigration racist? Or are they concerned about jobs and security? They may of course have come to this conclusion because of some of the “logical” bullshit that has been floating around but then it always has. The best way to counter this is by getting a government and propaganda out that talks about things like guaranteeing everyone in a certain type of job a real wage with no exceptions. That means taking on the bosses. There has always been racism amongst certaing sections of the WC. Where it’s casual we argue against it. Where it’s organised we get organised. I don’t see the case for John’s “paradigm shift”.

  8. John Grimshaw on said:

    Francis King: Then you’ll need to mobilise and fight for… AGH! Politics again…

    🙂 One of the people round here who has got an allotment is an ex-bank robber (admiitedly a long time ago) and a very nice man. It’s just not fair.

  9. John Grimshaw on said:

    John Grimshaw: in a certain type of job

    I meant the same type of job, so all workers doing the same work should get the same salary and obviously a decent minimum. I was conflating two issues without thinking.

  10. jock mctrousers:
    DOOM-ED?

    Jon Wight seems to have had a downer on Corbyn from the get go.

    But he has swapped horses recently and is into the whole Scottish thing now so why should it matter to him what happens in England?

  11. George Hallam on said:

    jock mctrousers: Let me play Devil’s advocate for a minute. If there is a rude awakening coming, maybe it’s from taking ‘Momentum’ for granted? Supposedly this is a grassroots movement to co-ordinate the energies of the new Corbyinista Labour supporters, but it seems more like an astroturf controlled strictly from the top operation, maybe designed to dissipate and confuse…. any evidence of genuine democratic structure building….?

    Interestingly, a friend who is a stalwart activist made a similar point to me a few days ago.

  12. jock mctrousers on said:

    George Hallam,

    I recall the BIG anti-Iraq-war demo – maybe 2 million march, listen to speeches, then turn into a headless chicken and go home… I know that maybe even MOST of those people might not even consider themselves ‘left’, but to me they seemed like the REAL left – those that had dropped out of the Labour party or trade-union membership in the last decade or so… And my guess is that this is where Corbyn’s support base mostly comes from; the constituency was always there. But how do they come together to express a common will, instead of turning into a headless chicken? And the answer pops up a little too readily: Momentum!

    I’m not able to attend meetings so maybe I’m missing stuff, but the few accounts I’ve found of Momentum local meetings sound like the ‘message from the central committee’ model… I find nothing online but amateurish webpages with unresponsive links.

    Does anyone know a Facebook forum or whatever where there is a genuine living Momentum presence? Do any of the Labour members here feel that they can influence Momentum in any way? Or is Momentum a special branch, BBC anointed astroturf straw man?

    The chicken needs to keep its head. And the bubble that needs bursting most may involve the rude awakening that maybe Momentum is as much the enemy of Labour party democracy as the right? I hope not, I really do… and I can’t do much myself now, but I don’t want to see the Corbynistas let it all slip away.

  13. My allotment is being neglected because of aI have to keep up with a hyper-active Momentum group in my town.

    Francis King:
    Pessimism of the intellect and pessimism of the will together can save an awful lot of time and energy. As my old dad used to say: “you’re banging your head against a wall, and the only good thing about that is that it’s nice when you stop”. The sooner we all abandon politics altogether in favour of gardening, the better.

  14. George Hallam on said:

    jock mctrousers: I’m not able to attend meetings so maybe I’m missing stuff, but the few accounts I’ve found of Momentum local meetings sound like the ‘message from the central committee’ model…

    Last October I went to a production of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. It was announced that at the end of the performance there would be a political discussion. This was introduced by a representative of the local branch of Momentum who exhorted us to join. The speech was so long that there was no time for a discussion. Funnily enough I’ve never been to a Momentum meeting.

  15. jock mctrousers on said:

    I got a letter (their first I think) from Labour Party Marxists which touched on this:

    ” 3. Give Momentum its head!

    This grassroots organisation needs an urgent injection of democracy, transparency, trust in the membership and the election of and right to recall all its own officials. End top down control-freakery. Maximise mobilisation by giving local branches the full membership lists. Momentum members can then transform themselves and others, become leaders locally and nationally, caucus and lay plans to beat the right. ”

    http://us9.campaign-archive2.com/?u=ce1d69a0213b818b7b73bdbc8&id=7e2c92c3b2&e=27ef649245

  16. John Grimshaw on said:

    George Hallam: The speech was so long that there was no time for a discussion. Funnily enough I’ve never been to a Momentum meeting.

    This is a constant problem with the “left”. Now whether it’s by accident or whether it’s….? I couldn’t say in this case. Like you I’ve not been to a Momentum meeting, but there don’t seem to be any in Tower Hamlets, but then it’s a funny place. That being said I haven’t searched too hard. Partly because I’m not a LP member but also because I have a suspicion that Jock’s Devil’s Advocacy may be right. Someone correct me if I’m wrong?

  17. John Grimshaw on said:

    Nick Wright: My allotment is being neglected because of aI have to keep up with a hyper-active Momentum group in my town.

    Welll….depending on where your town is and if you pay me a good rate I could sort it out for you. I also know a gardener at Kew.

  18. Andy Newman,

    About as much nonsense as your support for Tony Blair up until Corbyn came along. About as nonsense as your support for the extradiction of British citizens to the US for the crime of hacking into US miltiary websites. And about as much nonsense as you using the platform of this blog to act as judge and jury on allegations of domestic abuse made against leading trade unionists.

    Yes, frankly nonsense.

  19. Civil wars are very easy to start and very hard to end. They often end up destroying the very thing people were fighting over. The same goes for factional warfare within political parties. Unless both camps in Labour wise up – and grow up – they will wreck the whole party, all the time attributing exclusive blame to the other side. I hesitate to suggest that this blog may be demonstrating the process in miniature…

  20. John: About as much nonsense as your support for Tony Blair up until Corbyn came along. About as nonsense as your support for the extradiction of British citizens to the US for the crime of hacking into US miltiary websites. And about as much nonsense as you using the platform of this blog to act as judge and jury on allegations of domestic abuse made against leading trade unionists.

    Is it not possible that, on these respective occasions, both of you were spouting nonsense?

  21. John Grimshaw on said:

    John: using the platform of this blog to act as judge and jury on allegations of domestic abuse made against leading trade unionists.

    These sorts of comments need justifying. Otherwise it becomes sinister. Are you talking about who I think you are? Remember I know people who you might be talking about or people who know these people. If you take my point.

  22. John: About as much nonsense as your

    blah, blah …. There is no point in getting into a slanging match, especially over these tendentious claims you make about me.

    This is the heart of your mistaken view:

    But where Corbyn and his team must shoulder responsibility is over the failure to understand or appreciate the reactionary and racist nature of Brexit, and how if it came to pass it would entrench an unalterable shift to the right in British politics. This lack of understanding was reflected in one of the most dispassionate and lacklustre campaigns ever waged by a party leader, one that has led to credible accusations that he and his team purposely worked to sabotage the Remain campaign.

    The wider point is that so much energy has been expended in fighting this leadership battle, in rallying round Corbyn’s leadership against the PLP, it has created a false political reality. This reality, as mentioned, exists not at mass rallies or mass meetings, but on the doorsteps of millions of voters across the country. In Scotland Corbyn’s leadership has completely failed to puncture the SNP’s political dominance, while down south, in large swathes of the country’s former industrial heartlands, it is the right wing of the Tory Party and UKIP that are making the running with their brand of regressive British nationalism.

    The responsiblity for Brexit lies within the Conservative Party. David Cameron launched the referrendum for reasons of the internal politics of his party, and a hubristic faith in the powers of his marketing spin to secure a substantive win for Remain.

    I agree with you that the allegedly progressive strand of “Lexit” had totally misjudged this situation, but they were in fact almost entirely marginal. However, the judgement of the major trade unions was for Remain, on balance of judgement, but recognition that a gushing campaign extolling the virtues of the EU would be unable to connect with a highly sceptical electorate, for whom the EU was seen as part of an economic and social establishment that was failiing them, their families and their communities. This position from the unions was based upon extensive consultation.

    Of course Labour politicians also had expereince of this, and what is notable is that those MPs who were most enthusiastic in their support for Remain often saw the majority of voters in their constituencies vote for leave.

    There are a number of things that can be said about this, and the fact that 70% of Labour Party voters supported remain. The Labour Party’s electoral constituency has always been a diverse and coalitional one, and there is a general disconnection between voters and politicians, so that most individual decisions on who to support were only influenced to a relatively small extent by what any politician said. The establishment totally misjudged the mood, treating the contest as an internal blue on blue argument within the Tory sandpit, that would be played to what they saw as an inevitable Remain victory.

    The entire referendum campaign on all sides was conducted with a spirit on ennui, and the responsbility for that does not lie with Labour.

    In so far as the Labour Party’s own campaign was reported, it was seen by the media as just another opportunity to emphasise divisions in the party. However, I know from personal experience that there were leave voters persuaded to vote remain by the nuanced approach taken by Corbyn, Paul Mason and others, that they were unenthusiastic about the EU, but that on balance it was better to remain – pretty much for reasons that you say, that Brexit would put wind into the most reactionary political sails.

    The accusation that Corbyn and his team deliberately sabotaged the Remain campaign is not only Westminster bubble talk, concentrating on the personalities of activities of individual professional politicians, and not looking at the dynamics of the wider social forces, but it is also reminiscent of a conspiracy theory. Frankly, the Brexit result was achieved by the most roguish and irresponsible parts of the political establishment mobilising a coalition of anti-establishment forces on a right wing, and often racist and irrational basis.

    The fact that there was no plan what to do in the case of an actual Brexit vote, and that the overblown promises could never be fulfilled is an enormous problem for the Conservative Party, for the British state, the City and the establishment.

    This is why you are wrong in this judgement:

    You say:

    The wider point is that so much energy has been expended in fighting this leadership battle, in rallying round Corbyn’s leadership against the PLP, it has created a false political reality

    No, it hasn’t created a false reality, it has only created a paradox. What occurred was that on the very morrow after the Brexit vote, the PLP attempted a palace coup, further revealing the degree to which it is they that live in a bubble and false political reality. Instead of seeking to hold the Conservatives to account for the mess, and seeking to hold the Leave campaign to account for their lies, they prioritised their own careers and pampered egos. This totally reveals the degree to which they didn’t understand why so many working people voted Brexit.

    The Brexit vote happened, it is now a question of how we deal with the fallout. It is not true that the Conservative right and UKIP are in a position to sustain the initiative on this issue, because Brexit is not supported by the majority of British business; and the circle cannot be squared between the aspirations of Brexit voters over immigration, and the aspiration of business for access to the single market. As this becomes clear, this will become a crisis for the Tories, and they do not have the calibre of leadership to resolve it. The Conservatives can still lose the next election.

    Let us be clear, the “bubble” is not Corbynism, but the delusional view of the Labour right that going on the same old way that has lost Scotland, that lost the last twi general elecctions, and lost 4 million vote between 1997 and 2010, is a viable alternative.

  23. John says:

    The result is that rather than the politics of anti-austerity it is the politics of anti-immigration that in 2016 are driving the voting intentions of working people across former Labour heartlands in England and South Wales.

    And yet Bristol elected a black Labour mayor this year, and UKIP has been unable to sustain the momentum from the Brexit vote to boost its own party support.

    Hope Not Hate has been conducting a long term project examining attitudes to immigration and multiculturalism for a few years now, and the report earlier this year showed a general shift across the population towards being more welcoming of multiculturalism.

    I think part of the fallacy of the argument is to assume that racist attitudes expressing themselves as an anti-Labour vote is a new phenomonon. There has always been the case of the Alf Garnett voter in working class areas.

  24. jock mctrousers: I’m not able to attend meetings so maybe I’m missing stuff, but the few accounts I’ve found of Momentum local meetings sound like the ‘message from the central committee’ model… I find nothing online but amateurish webpages with unresponsive links.

    Does anyone know a Facebook forum or whatever where there is a genuine living Momentum presence? Do any of the Labour members here feel that they can influence Momentum in any way? Or is Momentum a special branch, BBC anointed astroturf straw man?

    Jock. I have dealt with Momentum, and it is a real thing. It was however set up in haste last year, and became chaotic and geographically patchy, and also some decisions were taken about structure and membership which were not the ones I would have preferred.

    However, that is what happens in real world politics. There are also, in some places, well functioning Momentum groups, that do stuff. The second leadership contest has forced the left to become organised, and I am sure that this will continue much better this time round.

    It is going to take a few years for the change at the base of the Labour Party to work its way through, our task is to hold the line to give that process the opportunity to happen.

  25. John Grimshaw: Chuka Umunna was on the telly on Sunday morning saying that he thought 1/3 of working class people had voted Brexit for anti-immigration reasons.

    What proportion of the working class have always voted Tory?

  26. Andy Newman: I think part of the fallacy of the argument is to assume that racist attitudes expressing themselves as an anti-Labour vote is a new phenomonon.

    I certainly wouldn’t call it a new phenomenon. Working class people, as with the overwhelming majority of people in the country, vote with their economic interests in mind. Thatcher’s revolution was supported by a large swathe of working class voters who materially benefited from her structural adjustment of the economy, particularly in the ability to get on a property ladder that had been unthinkable before she came along. They did so regardless of the wider social impact. We are talking about a generation who grew up knowing nothing else but the welfare state, NHS, and high social wage, so did not hold the same appreciation for them as previous generations of working class voters, reared on the collectivist ideas of past Labour governments. TINA was bought into by a Labour Party soundly defeated with no ideological or economic answers to this new reality and, as such, the roots of working class support for the Tories and right wing ideas were planted in the context of deindustrialisation.

    Similarly, working class supporters of Brexit have been won to the argument that immigration is key to their own economic problems and struggles 8 years on from the economic crash. Abstract notions of sovereignty and a constructed British national identity, based on white supremacy, has dovetailed with the rise of the far right across Europe in recent years, predicated on the collapse of a political centre ground and Third Way nostrums which held sway during the boom years.

    Corbyn is not entirely to blame, as I wrote in the article. But it was clear to me, and to you, though not as strongly held I think, that Brexit was being driven by the most reactionary political forces in the country, exploiting the wave of anti-politics that had grown in the wake of austerity, and should have been opposed on this basis.

    If Corbyn and Momentum had expended a fraction of the energy into opposing Brexit – not in favour of the EU but in solidarity with migrants and in defence of multiculturalism – the result may not have been any different, but it would have established a clear line of march for the left thereafter.

    His speech to conference was excellent, I acknowledge, but based on the prior speeches of Tom Watson and Sadiq Khan, the statement on immigration by Rachel Reeves, this is not going to be a united party anytime soon.

  27. John fancies himself as something of an iconoclast. In reality he’s just a very naughty boy! 🙂

  28. Andy Newman on said:

    Feodor:
    John fancies himself as something of an iconoclast. In reality he’s just a very naughty boy!

    I think John is wrong here, but over the years he has been right enough times to have his opinion respected.

  29. Andy Newman on said:

    John,

    The party is in the process of transformation, and there is likely to be a complex mix of disunity and new coalitions being built.
    But there is a battle on and the left needs to make the best we can of the opportunity.

    Now clearly had it been possible to mobilise the type of passion we have seen over JC’s leadership campaign to defeat the racists that would have been good. But it was not something that could have ever happened, for a number of reasons.

  30. John Grimshaw on said:

    Andy Newman: What proportion of the working class have always voted Tory?

    Indeed. In my experience they usually vote Tory because of nationalism.

  31. John Grimshaw on said:

    John: Thatcher’s revolution was supported by a large swathe of working class voters who materially benefited from her structural adjustment of the economy, particularly in the ability to get on a property ladder that had been unthinkable before she came along.

    Well yes. I can see that. I know it from experience. But they don’t stop being working class. I don’t think Marx, for example, insisted that there was some implicit virtue in being working class. A now dead well known member of the SWP exercised his right to buy by the way. As an aside.

  32. John,

    Polycentrism has gripped Socialist Unity! Given the rapid changes, sudden paradoxes and swift reverses that have taken place over the last year it is not surprising that people who normally agree discover differences.

    It is clearly wrong to attribute the entirety of the Brexit vote to racism yet it would be foolish to discount the political effect of the Tory UKIP campaign and its interaction with the deep strains of chauvinism that exist across all classes and strata in imperial Britain.

    However, if the left persists in denying the significance of this so-called free market in labour in driving down the pay of millions and in buttressing an increasingly exploitative labour market it will lose contact with precisely the people it needs if it is to form a government.

    But even where racism is a factor in the working class vote for Brexit other factors were active including powerful notions of sovereignty (which themselves are shot through with reactionary and progressive impulses). Much of the antipathy to the EU is built around the issues of austerity and privatisation and the neo liberal nature of the beast. This is where Corbyn and his team played a difficult hand rather well. He held in check, to an extent, those who resisted his principled critique of the EU and his studied distance from the official Remain campaign gained him has some credibility among working class people who voted for Brexit where other Labour politicians lost the plot completely.

    Incidentally, we should not discount the hostility of those of Asian and West Indian descent to the EU’s and Britain’s racist immigration systems which prevent families from Britain’s former colonies from being together.

    John persists in his notion that “Brexit was being driven by the most reactionary political forces in the country’.

    But our ruling class is divided while the most reactionary forces and the principal opponents of a progressive labour government are the City, banks, big business, NATO military intelligence and aerospace nexus, the North Atlantic lobby who were most enthusiastic for Britain to remain in the EU.

    Brexit is seen by millions of working people across the EU as a positive thing and something to be emulated.

    Where I agree with John is the need to work more actively in solidarity with migrant workers. Here in Kent we have what are in essence forced labour camps of young workers driven by the lack of work in the parts of the EU from where they come. They live in primitive conditions, on poverty wages and insecure seasonal jobs working for the big farmers. That is the reality of the free movement of labour. Auf Widersehen Pet come home.

    Corbyn needs to flesh out the policies for higher wages, an end to zero hours, employment and union rights, sectoral bargaining and wages inspection if the grounds of the debate are to be shifted. One thing is certain, if Labour goes into the next period giving the impression that it would like a rerun of the referendum and it is indifferent to the full range of factors that underpin the precarious working lives of millions it will not regain the millions of votes lost by the neo liberal policies of Blair and Brown.

  33. Nick Wright: However, if the left persists in denying the significance of this so-called free market in labour in driving down the pay of millions and in buttressing an increasingly exploitative labour market it will lose contact with precisely the people it needs if it is to form a government.

    This strikes me as the classic error, synonymous with vulgar Marxism, of theory being used to inform reality rather than theory being informed by reality. It posits Marxism as justification for inaction instead of using it as a guide to action. Taking this issue from the standpoint of “migrant workers driving down wage”s merely confirms the absorption and acceptance of a nationalist consciousness to the exclusion of a socialist and internationalist one .

    Migrant workers are the most exploited section of the working class. This is the starting point, surely, of a socialist and internationalist analysis, and the guide to the kind of solidarity work required.

  34. Andy Newman on said:

    John: Migrant workers are the most exploited section of the working class. This is the starting point, surely, of a socialist and internationalist analysis, and the guide to the kind of solidarity work required.

    They are among the most exploited, but they compete for entry level jobs with a number of other groups of vulnerable workers, such as the young and unqualified.

    The point you are missing John, is that both your point and Nick’s can simultaneously be true. As labour power is traded as a commodity then the level of supply impacts on price.

    I have given several examples previously of workplaces, such as Stonegate packaging, where migrants have been used to push down wages over the last several years.

    Of course, ultimately the blame lies with the employer, but the effect is undeniable, and it tends to happen at the more marginal ends of the labour market, where both collective organisation is weak or non-existent, and individuals have little choice.

    You simply cannot credibly deny that this happens, when the experience of trade unions is that it simply does.

  35. Andy Newman on said:

    John: the guide to the kind of solidarity work required.

    I don’t see this as an issue of “solidarity work”, but as an issue of class organisation.

  36. John: Migrant workers are the most exploited section of the working class.

    John
    My formulation, which I was careful to use, was not that ‘migrant workers drive down wages’ (this is your construction) but rather that increased exploitation (i.e. further driving down wages) is an essential and inevitable function of capitalist competition. I actually wrote: ‘if the left persists in denying the significance of this so-called free market in labour in driving down the pay of millions and in buttressing an increasingly exploitative labour market it will lose contact with precisely the people it needs if it is to form a government’.

    Migrant workers do not drive down wages, this is the act of the employing class and the law makers who construct the legal framework in which labour is bought and sold.

    If, instead of deploying vulgar liberal categories we treat this question analytically, from a class standpoint, we can proceed from an examination of the material facts. The conditions under which migrant workers labour — and the conditions which forced them to migrate here — which can be seen ten minutes walk from where I writing this are an example of such. Andy Newman has referred to others. This is the stuff of daily life where I live. I heard two examples of such ‘labour substitution’ and the downward pressure of pay rates by farm and building workers in the barbers this afternoon

    This is why trade union activity to raise the price of labour and the related political activity to change the legal framework can only be part of the solution. Alongside this there needs to be continuous activity, practical and theoretical, to deepened working class understanding of the capitalist nature of the system under which they labour and present the socialist alternative – of a society in which the ruling class becomes the class ruling a new state.

    One aspect of this is the political and ideological struggle to overcome racism and chauvinism and find opportunities to forge united action.

    We have to start where workers are. If, as you write, “Migrant workers are the most exploited section of the working class’ how are we to transform the consciousness of those workers, often earlier generations of migrants, whose previously marginally better pay and conditions are worsened by the very fact that today’s migrant workers are thus super-exploited?

  37. Andy Newman: I don’t see this as an issue of “solidarity work”, but as an issue of class organisation.

    No, at this point it is an issue requiring solidarity with workers under an unprecedented racist and reactionary assault, unleashed by Brexit.

  38. John,

    The rise in racism is undeniable, but as a trade union branch secretary with hundreds of migrant workers in membership. And being the majority of the workforce in some places we organise, I can assure you that the question of maintaining organisation is actually how we resist the exploitation and push wages up.

    It is also important to understand that migrants have some agency themselves here, the answer to overcoming exploitation is also union organization, but there are real challenges in achieving that.

  39. Andy Newman: I can assure you that the question of maintaining organisation is actually how we resist the exploitation and push wages up.

    I don’t disagree with this. However before this can be done the TU movement must confront this beast on its own terms – i.e. by affirming that migrant workers and indigenous workers are not separate, do not have separate interests, but are the same. The idea of Brexit will only be defeated by another, more powerful idea, the idea of class solidarity

    Andy Newman: t is also important to understand that migrants have some agency themselves here,

    They will have to organise, but if left to organise themselves it will be a travesty.

  40. Andy Newman on said:

    John: the idea of class solidarity

    Useless if left as an abstraction.

    Class consciousness can only be built – outside the rarified hothouse of the political far left – on the basis of real lived experience.

    Trade union organisation is an art and a skill, and orgsnising migrants has been and is being done on a daily basis.