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British Election results – Response to Phil Butland

Thank you Phil – Your comments are very helpful to stimulate an understanding, of ‘what happened here?” At the outset let me say that like Phil – this was not the outcome I had wanted. What a disaster it is for progressive people, both in what is still called the United Kingdom (for the moment […]


Thank you Phil – Your comments are very helpful to stimulate an understanding, of ‘what happened here?”
At the outset let me say that like Phil – this was not the outcome I had wanted. What a disaster it is for progressive people, both in what is still called the United Kingdom (for the moment at least!) and the progressives of Europe.
But I hope Phil does not mind a slightly differing perspective?
Anyway, here it is.
Phil rightly says: “The Conservative win in this week’s British election was not surprising”.
However Phil then goes on to say that the margin of victory was surprising.
But is it possible that more deliberate reflection, rather than a hopeful optimism, would have made for less surprise?
It can be seen from my phrasing, that I disagree with Phil that this was all that surprising.
Let me argue, that Phil puts the key analysis in the first two sentences in his first subheading.
Any sober analysis would have provided the left, with at least a clue that a large Conservative victory was imminent.
i) The election revolved around Brexit
Phil B: “Whether we wanted it or not it was a Brexit election. Since 2015, the Brexit discussion has paralysed British politics.”
That wording precisely frames a central key issue.
The Brexit to-be-or-not-to-be question, has paralysed not only parliamentary politics but the whole of British society. In fact the entire British atmosphere, tone, daily life, conversations, plans – I daresay dreams, nightmares and sleeps…. Were all infected.
People were… sick of it. I regret that I see something here that is a bit sinister. For I suggest that the whole parliamentary charade of the last period after Theresa May became PM, was deliberately designed to stall and alienate the public. I believe that the conservative opposition and their financiers are very, very cleverly calculating and strategic. The longer a ‘non-decision’ was left hanging, like some Sword of Damocles – the more alienated people would become – from any ‘normal’ semblance to a political discussion. This merely allowed in…. a liar and manipulator… i.e. the now elected PM Johnson.
And – to put bluntly – Jeremy did not help. Jeremy took at least two combined mis-steps on this matter.
After all, of what help is it to the voter, who watched over some two years of enervating, endless parliamentary manouevering, to hear Jeremy say that he ‘has an open mind on Brexit’?
Such ‘agnosticism’ is not admirable in some one supposed to lead.
For wasn’t agnosticism the only logical implication of urging yet another vote-referendum? There was never a clearly put recommendation to the Labour constituency, one way or another.
What is a Labour ‘leader’ supposed to say as the class enemy (I apologise for old-fashioned terminology) approaches with drawn sabres? “Well the sabres may not actually be sharp”?
How could it be argued, that he did not realise that the election was indeed another ‘referendum’ on Brexit?
Let us accept for the moment, that indeed he did not realize this to be so. Then there were two mis-steps – which in reality formed the combined political equivalent of suicide.
So let us return to whether we should have released the election revolved around Brexit.
In fact the very possible outcome had been clearly signalled by the European elections when Labour came a resounding third. As Daniel Finn says:
“the incessant internal attacks on Corbyn’s policy were damaging in their own right. These pressures told against Labour in the Euro elections. Those who took part—only 37 per cent of eligible voters—mainly seized the opportunity to express their views on Brexit. The election itself symbolized May’s failure to deliver, and Tory voters deserted her in droves, with the Conservatives dropping below 9 per cent. Leave supporters gravitated to Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party, which topped the poll with 30.5 per cent. Remain voters lurched in the opposite direction, backing the Liberal Democrats (almost 20 per cent) and the Greens (a little under 12). Corbyn’s soft-Brexit pitch, and his attempt to shift the debate towards domestic political concerns, gained no traction with the electorate: Labour finished in third place, with 13.6 per cent.” [Daniel Finn; “Crosscurrents Corbyn, Labour and the Brexit Crisis”; New Left Rteview; London; 118; July-August 2019.
Now the struggles within the Labour party complicate the picture, and are dealt with in detail by Finn (ibid). However the central issue is that both Jeremy and John McDonnell knew the electoral mood. Yet we should pause – for both Jeremy and John McDonnell are very, very smart cookies. Is it at all conceivable that they truly did not know this was what was happening? Personally, I think they are too smart not to have seen this somewhat obvious fact. I would like to come back to this point at the very end.
ii) The electorate overlook the “real social change” proposed by Labour
Phil goes on to say the Brexit domination of electoral issues occurred: “Just as the Labour Party elected a leader who promised real social change and a Green New Deal financed by taxing the rich, political discussion was diverted to what had started as a private discussion inside the Conservative party.”
But, can we really forget that recent Labour Blair governments continued and escalated the de-nationalisations, that were started by Margaret Thatcher? The infamous North-South divide in wealth inequity was not a new phenomenon of the last 10 years of the Conservative reinvigorated ‘austerity’. Why would the traditional Labour supporting workers believe this 2019 sudden re-discovery of socialist elementary steps?
Such skepticism on the part of Labour voters, is entirely consistent with Phil’s comment:
”For a significant number of people, a vote for Brexit was a protest against the politicians who had systematically ignored them for decades.”
As Phil acknowledges, the ‘protest’ was not just directed at ‘Etonians’ – in fact it does not make sense to argue that.
Actually the Labour electorate voted with their feet. As Phil says: “The problem was that many Labour voters stayed at home.”
The underlying truth is, that the Labour party’s historic role for some time has been to serve as a left mask for a ruling class. Their historic record, finally caught up with them. The working-class electorate could no longer trust their promises.
iii) The Media
Phil goes on to make the point that:
“In the media discussion, the people allowed to make the case for Leave were swivel-eyed racists like Nigel Farage. At the same time, the case for Remain was generally accompanied by a smug assumption that EU membership had benefited “us” – an assumption that was derided by people struggling in the post-industrial wastelands in Northern England and elsewhere. This put Labour and Corbyn in an almost impossible situation..”
There can be absolutely no question that the media was extraordinarily biased, and we agree fully with Phil here. We leave aside one obvious rejoinder, “What do you expect of the capitalist media?”
But let me ask instead, how should a Labour leader respond to attacks? Perhaps not like Jeremy.
For example, when asked whether he was a problem for the election of Labour, Jeremy’s answer was pretty tepid. Does the retort: “Some people like Marmite, others don’t” – cut it? (Interview with Liz Bates Channel4; ‘Corbyn compares himself to Marmite: ‘Some people like it, some people don’t’ – Guardian video clip; Friday 6 December, 2019)
Jeremy here simply devalued political attacks on Labour and himself, by calling these ‘personal attacks’ and making it all about a matter of personal taste.
This ties in with the attacks on the alleged anti-Semitism. Why was there not a robust political defence saying that anti-Semitism is not the same as anti-Zionism or defence of Palestine? Frankly the refusal to ‘apologise’ in interviews, without seizing the didactic moment, simply compounded the whole problem.
Either apologise – or fight back. Honestly, either was preferable to an endless hand-wringing.
Phil takes the charitable view that:
“And yet there was one sense in which Corbyn was a victim of his own humanity. A genuinely decent man, his instinct is to avoid conflict.”
I do not dispute that Corbyn is decent man. But further on, Phil acknowledges the problem, when he concludes this section:
“we needed someone to stick the boot in. Corbyn was not emotionally suited to be that person.”
So this was supposed to be a leader. He should have led, or quit early enough that an alternative ‘booter’ could have done it.
iv) Electoral Analysis
“Over 10 million people voted for Labour. This was the second highest number of votes for Labour in any of the last 5 elections…. Nearly 14 million people voted for the Tories”.
Phil is saying that largely the Labour electorate did come out (notwithstanding the earlier remark about stay-at-home voters).
So electoral analysis here largely supports Phil’s view. Notwithstanding one’s opinion about Lord Ashcroft and his speculative ways, the Ashcroft polls are a useful data source to inform electoral behavior.
Because it does seem that tactical voting played a major role in the vote moving away from Labour.
“Just over a quarter (26%) of all voters said they were trying to stop the party they liked least from winning, including 43% of those who voted Lib Dem and 31% of Labour voters. One in three Remain voters said they were voting to stop their least preferred party compared to 18% of Leave voters.”
By some other estimates, it seems that some “39 seats won by Tories could have been denied to them by tactical voting, almost completely wiping out their majority (80 seats).” (Private communication).
And a generational divide shows up once more, as in other recent elections:
“Labour won more than half the vote among those turning out aged 18-24 (57%) and 25-34 (55%), with the Conservatives second in both groups. The Conservatives were ahead among those aged 45-54 (with 43%), 55-64 (with 49%) and 65+ (with 62%).” (Ashcroft Poll; Ibid).
So there – as always is hope – but these young people who will bring us closer to socialism, need a party vehicle, other than the Labour Party.
As implied by Phil, in Scotland – the flag bearer of progressive causes is undoubtedly now the Scottish national Party. And moves towards a United Ireland seem to be taking hold. But within the rest of the “United” Kingdom… ?
I do not think the Labour Party merits that position. It has been downhill since the glory days of Aneurin Bevan. That name is not just tossed in, as a major fault line will be the legacy of Bevan – the NHS. It is very likely that this is being carved up as we speak, a wing here for the American health care insurers, a leg here for the pharma companies, a very generous slice here for American style management corporations.
All this has happened already in fact, in a steady march since the days of Barbara Castle. A very good short clip of Dr John Puntis (Chairman of “Keep the NHS Public”, speaking on Bradford radio on the matter is illuminating. (Bradford radio – Bradford Community Broadcasting; look for Drive Time, Monday 16th December 5-6pm; Interview runs from 44.15 minutes to 53.00 minutes on the clock,).
In fact the issue of the NHS helps us segue into the major portion of where the discussion needs to go now. Why did the British ruling class get so divided amongst itself? Because the NHS matter leads directly into trading relations with the USA./
v) Profound internal problems within the ruling class of the United Kingdom
Gramsci said: “The modern crisis . . . is related to what is called the “crisis of authority.” If the ruling class has lost its consensus, i.e., is no longer “leading” but only “dominant,” exercising coercive force alone, this means precisely that the great masses have become detached from their traditional ideologies, and no longer believe what they used to believe previously, etc. The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old way is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”(Antonio Gramsci (1973, 275–276); Cited by William I Robinson: “Global Capitalist Crisis and Twenty-First Century Fascism: Beyond the Trump Hype”; Science & Society, Vol. 83, No. 2, April 2019, 481–509 ).
I believe we are in such a nodal point nowadays.
We see all sorts of manner of: ”morbid symptoms”. And in fact the UK ruling class was itself sorely divided about which direction to go. That is why there was such a tensions for such a long time between the industrial sector ruling class (declining) and the trading and speculative financial sector ruling class (dominant). Despite the fact that the UK was in Tony Norfield’s Index of Power – in second place world wide (Tony Norfield’s blogsite; 12 February 2018; at: ) – there has long remained a central problem. After the economic crisis of 2007, the UK never really recovered. Michael Roberts’ data from various sources is compelling in showing a fall in productivity of the UK (at: Michael Roberts,” The productivity puzzle again”; ‘Michael Roberts Blog’ 29 June 2018; ):
If one doubts that the ruling class was divided about what to do, consider the extraordinary spectacle of the fights within the financial sector of British ruling classes. Hence the current Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney was attacked by an ex-Governor Mervyn King. (Richard Partington and Phillip Inman; “Mark Carney backs Theresa May’s Brexit deal”; The Guardian; 20 November 2018; and: Richard Partington; “UK should leave EU with no deal, says former Bank of England governor”; The Guardian; 29 March 2019).
As far as industrial capital was concerned the vast majority wanted to remain (Joe Sommerland and Ben Chapman, ‘‘Which companies are leaving UK, downsizing or cutting jobs ahead of Brexit?’ Dozens of companies have cut jobs, beefed up their European operations or issued warnings on the impact of the UK’s departure from the EU’; 26 February 2019, The Independent ; and; John Rees; ‘Marxism and the Brexit crisis’; Counter-Fire; February 5, 2019.
It is in these tortuous debates that the USA made its moves over recent years. President Trump’s trade agenda is quite clear now to all. His erst-while emissary John Bolton made matters clear as to who the USA viewed the UK:
“John Bolton… has three main aims. The first is… the UK’s withdrawal from the hard-won, US-trashed 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and the abandonment of fellow signatories France and Germany… Bolton’s second aim is to drive a wedge between the UK and Europe… to disrupt, subvert and weaken the EU, whose very existence offends him… If the UK, ever more beholden to the US for its daily bread, can be used to foil Emmanuel Macron’s ideas about integrated European defence, or undermine EU regulations covering digital multinationals, so much the better… The third Bolton aim: (is) to enlist a radically repurposed and realigned UK in pursuit of his singular vision of American global hegemony, of the truly exceptional nation whose power and dominion know no limits..” (Simon Tisdall; John Bolton doesn’t want a trade deal with the UK – he wants to colonise us”; Guardian; 13 August 2019.)
The Conservative Party was hijacked by the section of the ruling class whose mandate is to tie the apron strings of the UK back onto the USA. A significant part of the Labour Party hierarchy seems to have bought into this. Simply put – for the capitalist class the dilemma of a falling rate of profit is very real, and they have no alternative solution.
Let me simply echo here, Phil Butland’s channeling of Joe Hill:
“Don’t mourn, organize!”

British Elections – what just happened?

Phil Butland, joint speaker of the Berlin LINKE Internationals, tries to make sense of Boris Johnson’s landslide victory


The Conservative win in this week’s British election was not surprizing, but the margin of victory certainly was. On the day of the elections, I was confidently saying that it was too close to call between three possible results – a slight Labour-SNP victory, more hung parliament chaos or Johnson’s Conservatives limping in, depending on the support of the DUP and possibly the duplicitous LibDems.

These predictions were in line with pretty much every commentator and poll. Sure, the Tories were slightly ahead in the polls, but Labour were closing the gap, and we remembered that in 2017 the polls predicted that Theresa May would win the largest Tory majority ever [1]. So, we weren’t confident, but we also weren’t prepared for this.

In the end, the Tories increased their vote by 300,000, something almost unprecedented for a sitting government, particularly one that has presided over 9 years of austerity. I have yet to see an analysis that has fully explained the extent of Johnson’s victory, but here are a few thoughts from me that may contribute to us developing an understanding.

1. Brexit mattered

Whether we wanted it or not (and I did not), it was a Brexit election. Since 2015, the Brexit discussion has paralysed British politics. Just as the Labour Party elected a leader who promised real social change and a Green New Deal financed by taxing the rich, political discussion was diverted to what had started as a private discussion inside the Conservative party.

In the media discussion, the people allowed to make the case for Leave were swivel-eyed racists like Nigel Farage. At the same time, the case for Remain was generally accompanied by a smug assumption that EU membership had benefited “us” – an assumption that was derided by people struggling in the post-industrial wastelands in Northern England and elsewhere.

For a significant number of people, a vote for Brexit was a protest against the politicians who had systematically ignored them for decades. This meant that any attempt to impose a second referendum was seen as more of the same from career politicians. In such a situation, the old Etonian Boris Johnson was able to position himself as the anti-establishment candidate. [2]

This put Labour and Corbyn in an almost impossible situation. Support a second referendum, and you would be regarded as part of the old establishment. Push through Brexit and you would alienate your core support which has a justified fear of rising racism, which was being instrumentalized by Farage and full blown Nazis like Tommy Robinson (who has, incidentally, just joined the Conservative party [3]).

In the end, Labour found a compromise of acting as an honest broker, renegotiating Brexit then offering a second referendum on the new negotiated terms. At the time, it felt to many, including myself, as the least bad option. From discussions in the pub on election night to reading post-election discussions, this attempt to appeal to the 99% and not the 48% or the 52% did not convince enough people.

I’m not going to say more about this here, as I think that we genuinely lack enough analysis of exactly what happened and why. But any serious and honest post mortem needs to address this question.

2. The Tories didn’t win the election, Labour lost it

No direct criticism of Corbyn and the Labour campaign is implied in this statement. But it is simply not the case that millions of Labour voters went over to the Tories. The problem was that many Labour voters stayed at home.

What was noticeable in the first results was that the swings in the Labour votes were almost all between 10% and 15%. These losses were not transferred into similar rises in support for the other parties. For whatever reason, people who were prepared to vote Labour and Corbyn as recently as two years ago did not turn out to vote this time.

Perhaps we need one caveat here. For historical reasons, partly to do with the high percentage of “traditional Labour voters”, most of the first constituencies to declare are in North East England, where there is legitimate frustration about being ignored by London-based media and politicians. As other results came in, the swing against Labour was not quite so high, but is was still significant. [4]

This produced some peculiar results. Over 10 million people voted for Labour. This was the second highest number of votes for Labour in any of the last 5 elections (the highest was 2017, when the candidate was, er, Jeremy Corbyn). Nearly 14 million people voted for the Tories, but you didn’t get the feeling that most did so with any great enthusiasm.

3. The media onslaught against Corbyn had some impact

The personal attacks from all sections of the media in this campaign is, I think, unprecedented. This extends way beyond the right-wing Murdoch press. Every since Corbyn was elected, the supposedly liberal Guardian has been running a deeply personal campaign against him, spearheaded by the obnoxious Jonathan Freedland [5].

It was only in the last few days of the campaign, when the Guardian editors seemed to realise that the alternative was a neo-liberal Johnson government that their vilifications temporarily died down, but this was too little, too late. [6]

A month before the election, I was chatting to my father, who’s been in the Labour party for decades. Like many, he liked the manifesto but repeatedly said “well, Corbyn’s his own worst enemy”. When I pushed him, he couldn’t exactly explain what he meant – I’m not sure that he knew himself. He just thought there was “something” about Corbyn.

I think this is the main impact of the constant sniping. The Tories ran a big social media campaign, painting Corbyn as a terrorist sympathiser, a Communist, and of course an antisemite. I don’t think that too many people believe the insinuations that Corbyn is as bad as Hitler, but I did sense a general feeling, even from my dad, that there’s no smoke without fire, and there must be something sinister about him.

4. Accusations of Antisemitism

And then there is the antisemitism question. Shortly before the election, the Simon Wiesenthal centre erroneously claimed that “’No one has done more to mainstream antisemitism into the political and social life of a democracy than the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party … Members and staff who have dared to speak out against the hate were purged, but not those who declared ‘Heil Hitler’ and ‘F*** the Jews.’” [7]

Similarly, as the Jewish Voice for Labour reports of the BBC “In more discursive formats such as the Today programme or Newsnight, presenters have consistently adopted a negative, attacking stance towards anyone who questions the basis of the allegations. In complete contrast, those making the allegations, usually based on hearsay rather than personal experience, are supplied with leading questions and softball follow-up.” [8]

These are just two from endless (and usually baseless) accusations of Labour antisemitism. Of course, there were a few isolated cases, but these were depicted as a symptom of something called “Labour antisemitism”, which was seen as being something greater and more pernicious than normal antisemitism [9], It was also insinuated that Corbyn himself was either antisemitic or at the very least soft on antisemitism. [10]

The drip-drip-drip effect of these attacks had an impact. When pollsters asked the British public what share of Labour members faced complaints of antisemitism, the average guess was 34 percent — over three hundred times the real total. [11]

Yet, even John Bercow, the Jewish former Conservative MP and Speaker of the House of Commons, said “I myself have never experienced anti-Semitism from a member of the Labour Party … I don’t believe Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic. I’ve known him for the 22 years I’ve been in parliament. Even, actually, when I was a right-winger we got on pretty well.” [12]

Of course the Labour party contains antisemites as it exists in a society that tolerates antisemitism. However, the idea that “Labour antisemitism” is a specific and particularly dangerous phenomenon is a malicious and erroneous argument put forward by our political enemies, which trivialises much more horrific instances of modern antisemitism.

As Jewish socialist David Rosenburg commented: “The populist right and far right in Poland, and other countries central and eastern Europe, have been drawing support from right wingers in Western Europe including Britain’s Tory Party. Those elements in Britain that are leading the false charge against Jeremy Corbyn, as if he were some sort of threat to Jews in Britain, need to stop playing dangerous factional political games and face up to where the threats are really coming from.” [13]

The response from many in Labour was to repeatedly apologise, thus giving credibility to the idea that “Labour antisemitism” was a thing. Any response would have led to a backlash by the right, but the constant timidity ended up giving credence to the thought that there may be some substance in the claims, thus adding to the “no smoke without fire” argument.

5. Where Corbyn was responsible and where he wasn’t

It has become a commonplace argument to say that Jeremy Corbyn was responsible for Labour’s defeat. Many reports say that doorstep campaigners were met with potential voters criticizing Corbyn [14], saying that he was a terrorist sympathiser, unpatriotic and not statesmanlike. With the personalised media onslaught against him how could it have been otherwise?

Yet we should distinguish between three different types of argument used against Corbyn’s leadership. First, and most despicable, are the MPs who refused to accept that the party had changed and longed for the Blairite days of an imperialist neoliberal Labour party. On election night they were wheeled onto the media to say that it was all Corbyn’s fault [15] although they had spent the past 3 years undermining the party. They do not deserve to be taken seriously.

A second belief says that the manifesto was fine, but there was something about Corbyn’s personality that made the party unelectable. This belief owes a lot to the “no smoke without fire” argument, and says that maybe with a different leader, Labour could have won.

Let’s be clear about this. Any leader supporting a socialist platform would have received the same level of abuse endured by Corbyn. And few would have been less vulnerable. Corbyn was widely understood to be a politician with integrity, the man whose expense claims were the lowest amongst all MPs. [16]

Just contrast Corbyn’s treatment at the hands of the press (including the Guardian) to the free ride given to the racist, élitist Johnson and you can see that this was not about Corbyn’s personal failings. Even the decidedly non-threatening Ed Miliband was torn apart by the press when he stood in the election with a much less radical manifesto than Corbyn’s. [17]

And yet there was one sense in which Corbyn was a victim of his own humanity. A genuinely decent man, his instinct is to avoid conflict. Yet as the press was neglecting to point out Johnson’s many feelings, we needed someone to stick the boot in. Corbyn was not emotionally suited to be that person.

Similarly on Brexit. With his party as divided as the electorate, Corbyn made a valiant attempt to appeal to everyone. This was, in principle, a good idea. He needed the support of both people who voted Remain against racism and those who voted Leave in attempt to get out of their desperate conditions.

And yet the perception on many doorsteps was that Corbyn was weak and that his position on Brexit was unclear. This meant that he failed to command support from either Remain or Leave supporters, both of whom accused him of secretly supporting the other side.

Compare and contrast with Boris Johnson, who ruthlessly kicked out many of his anti-Brexit MPs. [18] At the time, Johnson’s act was seen by many as being suicidal, but it somehow gave the impression that he was a strong leader who would “get Brexit done”.

As voters begged for easy solutions, however crazy, Corbyn’s position was seen as being the continuation of Tony Blair’s unprincipled triangulation. [19] In the end Corbyn was unable to avoid conflict, instead his opponents were allowed to set the political agenda.

6. The Dogs that didn’t bark – the LibDems and the Brexit party

There has been very little coverage of the things that the media got spectacularly wrong, most noticeably the idea that two-party politics was dead. For quite a while, the egregious LibDem leader Jo Swinson was posing as a prime minister in waiting [20], and there were Cassandra calls that Nigel Farage’s Brexit party would receive massive support. [21]

In the end, the LibDems got 11 votes, 1 fewer than last time, with Swinson losing her seat. [22] The Brexit party got none at all. For all that this was a Brexit election, it was not a Remain election, partly because enough people who were worried about the sell off of the NHS remembered the 2010 LibDem support for the Tories [23] (when they were, incidentally, under far more left wing leadership than in 2019).

The pre-election period saw a proliferation of “tactical voting” websites, which often advocated LibDem votes in constituencies where the Labour Candidate was the only viable alternative to the Tories. [24] The main effect of this – and the candidatures of MPs who had left the Labour Party – was to split the anti-Tory vote. None of the former Labour MPs won their seat. [25]

Similarly, the results of the Brexit party were well below the expectations at the start of the campaign. This was partly – but only partly – to do with Nigel Farage’s decision not to put up candidates against Tory MPs, thus increasing the chance of a Johnson victory. [26] Added to this, many racist Brexit Party voters, including 4 of its MEPs [27], recognised that Johnson was one of them.

The truth is, though, that in most constituencies, the votes won by the LibDems and Brexit candidates were not significant enough to affect the result. Any electoral challenge to Johnson in the near future is going to come from Labour.

7. Scotland and the North of Ireland

The analysis so far has concentrated itself on England and Wales. Scotland and Ireland experienced quite different results. I think that some people overestimate the inevitability of independence referenda following these results, but it is clear that in Scotland and Ireland the balance of power has changed in a quite different way.

With 48 MPs, the SNP is the clear winner in Scotland. The main reason is the different way in which the Brexit discussion panned out in Scotland. There is still a large degree of naiveté about the real nature of the EU, but the Scottish debate was much less tainted by the self-entitled xenophobia that predominated South of the border.

This meant that the SNP was able to reach out to the people who felt left out of society. Even the strength of Corbyn’s programme was unable to compensate for decades of arrogant Blairite Unionism by Labour Scotland. [28]

I also found Corbyn’s response to Scottish independence inadequate. He quite rightly said that a Labour Britain would benefit people both sides of the border, but was too weak on accepting the right of Scottish people to decide whether they want to be part of this. [29]

Now that Johnson is in charge, the drive for independence will be even stronger. There is a vague possibility that Johnson could see an independent Scotland as an opportunity to deepen the Tory majority in England, yet his instinct will probably be to preserve the imperial union. [30]

In these circumstances, the demand for Scottish Independence is progressive. It would be absolutely wrong for people in England to insist that Scottish people suffer under a Tory government for which they didn’t vote. But we should be wary of thinking that the SNP or the EU offer any real hope to Scotland, or even that an independent Scotland would be accepted into the EU. [31]

Similarly in Ireland, which for the first time ever has more Nationalist (generally speaking Catholic, leftist) MPs than Unionist (Protestant, reactionary). [32] Real worries about the Irish border after Brexit may just have created the conditions for a vote on a united Ireland and a further break up of the imperial Union. [33] Again, this is something to be desired.

8. The support for Johnson is broad but not deep

Following facebook discussions on the pages of old school friends is an imprecise science, but it does take you out of the old leftie bubble. Here I met people who genuinely thought that Johnson was on the left of the Conservative Party, an anti-racist, and that the reports of his intended sell off of the NHS was fake news.

Equally, “get Brexit done” does not mean the same thing to everyone. It is clear that for many it is a banality like “Make America Great Again” intended to shore up white supremacy. But here’s the thing about white supremacy – for all their prejudice, poor white people are not materially better off. If you take away their health service, you risk losing their support.

Also, to some people “get Brexit done” had less to do with racism than a desire to make this whole thing stop. And when it looked increasingly unlikely that Labour was going to win a majority, even with the backing of the SNP, some people may have been tempted to vote Tory to make it all go away. Such people may be disabused of this belief very soon.

Remember as well that Johnson ran a terrible campaign. From avoiding interviews [34] to hiding in a fridge when confronted [35], he did not win much personal support. Whenever he visited schools and hospitals he was jeered [36], and cancelled many personal appearances for fear of protest. [37]

At best, people fell behind the image of the lovable buffoon [38] who has been indulged too long by a media which has been largely unwilling to take on his insidious racism, sexism and class privilege. [39] His mistakes have been excused as “gaffes” or as “Boris being Boris”. [40] Now he has to deliver.

Many people voted for a vision of a Britain that Johnson is unable to realise. It is possible that he will still be able to push through a massive shift of wealth from the poor to the rich, but resistance is also possible. Two years ago, Benoit Hamon’s Socialist Party won just over 6% of the votes in France. [41] Now, the agenda is being set by the Yellow Vests and a mass strike. [42]

Resistance depends on what happens inside and outside the Labour Party. If the Blairites regain control of the Labour leadership, this could demoralise the hundreds of thousands who joined Labour because of Corbyn and let them sink into passivity. I am already having conversations of friends who are asking whether they should give up on politics. [43]

And yet the sheer fact of Corbynism – inside and outside the Labour Party, means that the victory of the right is not inevitable. The massive rallies really happened. The mass climate movement is still a thing. And loyalty to the NHS and our public services is such that any attacks will meet resistance.

The election results were terrible, and we should not pretend anything else. But the potential to stop Johnson still exists. This means not waiting 5 years till the next election but getting involved in politics now. If you live in Berlin, the LINKE Berlin Internationals would love to meet you. [44] Elsewhere I’m sure you can find other like minded people and work with them to change the world.

Don’t mourn, organize.




2 For more on the original Brexit vote, see


4 In the end, Labour received 10,269,076, a drop of 7.9% since 2017. The Conservatives, received 13,966,451, a rise of only 1.2%. Full results at

5 For a selection of Freedland’s contributions, see From 2014-2016, Freedland was the executive editor of the Guardian’s opinion section, with significant influence on which articles were published.

6 See for example After the election, the Guardian reverted to type with a series of invectives against Corbyn such as the following:,,



9 See, for example,

10 See, for example,




14 See, for example,

15 For example,




19 “Triangulation”, developed by Blair and Peter Mandelson and adopted by Bill Clinton, among others; was the idea that if you appeal to the “political centre” you can win new voters while maintaining your radical voters who have nowhere else to go. This strategy has since been largely discredited, See for example









28 See, for example


30 Since I wrote the first draft of this article, both Johnson and Michael Gove have indeed ruled out another referendum in Scotland

31 This is part of a longer discussion, which includes the Spanish state’s fear of an independent Catalonia and deserves a separate article.


33 See, for example,









42, For more information about the protests in France, follow the regular reports from Paris by John Mullen on the LINKE Berlin Internationals Website

43 You know who you are 🙂

44 Contact us or join our mailing list by sending an a-meil to

Victory to the French strikers

Update from Paris


The strike explosion in France is still going strong. 85% of trains are not running Monday, and 9 of the Paris metro lines are completely closed. There were 631 kilometres of traffic jams around Paris on Monday morning: this is an all-time record and a sharp symbol of the power of organized workers. And unions have called for generalized strikes again Tuesday 10th December. Teachers and town hall workers, nurses and other public sector employees will be on strike again, and there is a chance that large numbers of private sector workers will join in. Several universities have already been closed by their presidents for fear of student occupations, and more student mobilization is expected this week.

Last Thursday half the schools were closed, and over a million people joined demonstrations in over 200 towns. In Paris fire fighters on strike and in uniform went in front of the demonstrators and made the riot police retreat and abandon their plans to kettle the protest.

The government is shaken and immediately began making minor concessions, hoping to divide and rule. First they are hinting that the new system will only apply to people born after 1973 (it was to have been 1963). But there’s this thing called class consciousness: workers over 45 are thinking about their younger workmates and about their children and are not going to be bribed. Then some minister has been promising substantial wage rises for teachers (among the most mobilized) in 2021. But teachers don’t even believe the promises any more.

Not having a really coherent party used to dealing with such crises, Macron cannot get his ministers to agree on a strategy. The meeting of his cabinet which was planned for Monday lunchtime has been postponed till Tuesday night, so that they can see just how scared they need to be.

For the moment, national leaders of two of the three biggest union federations are calling for the strikes to continue. These are professional negotiators who are hoping that their negotiating position will be improved by the movement, but do not want an explosive all-or-nothing protest. It is exceptional that they should call for a second day of generalized strike action only 5 days after the previous one, and a sign that pressure from below is overwhelming. And mass meetings of train and metro workers have already voted to continue for several days.

This level of blockage of the economy has not been seen since 1995. Public support is so high that mainstream TV channels are now feeling obliged to screen long interviews with strikers, alongside the usual anti strike propaganda. A poll taken Friday found 53% had a positive opinion of the strike movement.

Both reformist and revolutionary left activists are building the strike on the ground, and on prime time TV the MPs of the left reformist France Insoumise are calling for the maximum of people to get involved. The Communist party is organizing a major public meeting on the 11th to defend their “alternative proposal” on pensions.

A new embarrassment for the government hit the newspapers Monday – Jean-Paul Delevoye, author of the influential report which recommended this reform of pensions, had hidden the fact that he is a director of an important training institute for private insurance companies! These companies are hoping to make millions from the weakening of the state pension system!

Macron thought up this scheme when he was feeling strong, just after his election. But the Yellow Vest movement has weakened him. It is very difficult to know what will happen next, but when a major TV channel headlines “Has the government played its last cards?”, there must be some chance of stopping this attack. More sectors need to be persuaded to strike, and far more strikers persuaded that this is not just a strike to protest a principle – we can actually win.

Prince Andrew: parasite and pariah

The exposure of Prince Andrew as an unapologetic ally of sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein should serve as a reminder that the royals and their establishment friends treat people as commodities


Prince Andrew’s spectacular fall from “playboy prince” to international pariah means that all his hideous, arrogant bullying has been exposed. Skeletons are being pulled daily from his stuffed closet.

Andrew was not Jeffrey Epstein’s friend despite sexual abuse: their friendship was built on the sexual exploitation of others. Epstein never hid his systematic abuse of underage girls: it was his unique selling point and he advertised it. His private jet was called the Lolita Express.

For more than two decades, Prince Andrew partied with Epstein and Ghislane Maxwell at a string of luxurious locations, including the prince’s opulent ski chalet, Windsor Castle, Balmoral and Donald Trump’s pad in Palm Beach. Prince Andrew attended naked pool parties and was treated to numerous foot massages by a “harem” of adolescent girls, according to sworn testimony by a former Epstein employee. Epstein gave Sarah Ferguson, Prince Andrew’s ex-wife, at least £15,000 to settle her debts.

Men like the prince monetise friendships and family relationships and use them to advance their own interests. They debase every human relationship and exploit them to cement deals and alliances. That is why both Epstein and Harvey Weinstein were guests at the lavish birthday party of Andrew’s daughter. Epstein was arrested nine days later, and Weinstein’s sexual abuses sparked the #metoo movement.

Boorish, snobbish Andrew — who liked to drop rubbish on the floor and make his servants pick it up — was wanted only because he was royal. Epstein was wanted while he had access to money and contacts. As Marx observed, the ruling class are alienated, but they see in this alienation a confirmation of their own power. Men like Andrew, Epstein and Trump see behaviour that would disgust most people as an affirmation of their power and right to dominate others.

Andrew is not the naughty boy of the royal family: he is merely too arrogant to bother with the mask of public duty that other royals hide behind. Royalists blather on about charity work and tradition. Andrew’s role with the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children now looks even more ironic than the Duke of Edinburgh’s job with the World Wildlife Fund. The royals certainly have a long tradition — of using the “lure” of their royal breeding to relieve the gullible rich of their wealth.

The royals were happy to hobnob with Epstein when they thought he might bring them some advantage. Epstein was a guest at a party hosted by the queen at Windsor Castle in 2000. After Epstein was released from prison and rumours began to swirl, the queen invested Andrew with the insignia of a King Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order — the highest honour she could give him. The palace repeatedly denied that Andrew had done anything wrong.

The royal family represent the worst of all worlds. They depend on outdated notions of respect and duty but pursue personal gain as ruthlessly as any Dragon’s Den entrepreneur. After exploiting his royal status to play soldiers during the early 1980s, Prince Andrew became a British Trade Ambassador. There is no record of him benefitting British trade, but he certainly benefited Andrew PLC by cultivating associations with a host of vicious, violent and venal dictators.

Andrew dined out on his royal connections, using Buckingham Palace to impress the billionaire son-in-law of deposed Tunisian dictator Ben Ali. “Air Miles Andy” flew to Egypt with David “Spotty” Rowland (a controversial businessman who gave Sarah Ferguson £50,000) to dine with the corrupt president of Kazakhstan. The president’s son-in-law bought Andrew’s unwanted mansion for £15 million, a cool £3 million more than the asking price.

Andrew represents the sense of entitlement of the Droit de Seigneur — the right of feudal lords to force peasant women to have sex with them on their wedding night — compounded with the industrial-scale commodification of women perfected by capitalism. Capitalism turns every feeling, every relationship, every desire into a commodity to be exchanged for personal profit. The abuse of women oils the wheels of the Bullingdon Clubs and old boys’ networks that leak a particularly nasty sexist poison into wider society.

Abuse is systematic in ruling class institutions and has echoed painfully through all organisations dependent on the power of a minority over a marginalised and subjugated majority. The voices of sexually exploited women and children have been silenced by the monarchy, judiciary, police, church, CEOs and politicians and this complicity has enabled the perpetration of abuse.

The press that once jeered at women for “asking for it” now wring their hands over the victims. But Andrew and Epstein were not exposed by journalists, friends or family members or law enforcement agencies. They were only brought down because the women involved refused to be intimidated into silence any longer.

As Leveller John Lilburne put it in 1646, “Unnatural, irrational, sinful, wicked, unjust, devilish, and tyrannical it is for any man whatsoever to appropriate and assume unto himself a power, authority and jurisdiction to rule, govern, or reign over any sort of people in the world without their free consent.”

This article first appeared in Socialist Review magazine. Reproduced with the author’s permission

France explodes into anger over Macron’s attack on pensions

What is at stake?


Over the last twenty years, France has maintained a relatively high level of class struggle. Between 2000 and 2017, for each thousand workers, there were, on average, 124 strike days per year in France, as against 84 in Belgium and only 24 in the UK. This combativity has considerably slowed the advance of neoliberal barbarism, and is the reason that pensioner poverty in France is less than half that in Germany and less than a third that in the UK. December is going to be explosive and Macron is in for major headaches. Starting Thursday 5th December, mass strikes are announced in the Rail, Metro and buses, among lorry drivers, airline staff, local government employees, energy workers and dockers, and in the courts as well as among teachers. At least a third of schools will be closed. Only ten percent of trains will run, and eleven of the Paris metro lines will be completely shut down. The national railway company is no longer selling train tickets for 5-8 December, while in private industry dozens of companies will also be on strike.

Many sectors in France have a choice of unions which one can join, depending on how left-wing one is, and this division is an obvious weakness, but even some of the least combative union federations, such as the CFDT, are calling their members to join in in some industries. Meanwhile, Left political parties are booking coaches by the dozen to take people to the demonstration in Paris on Thursday 5th, and rallies have been called in 245 towns across the country.

The immediate cause of the strikes is Macron’s flagship attack on pensions, transforming the way they are calculated and effectively abolishing the final salary based pensions which are common in the public sector. This follows on from the raising of the pension age by President Sarkozy despite a huge fightback in 2010, and the increase in levels of worker contributions necessary for a full pension under President Hollande in 2013.

Students, who have already been mobilizing since a 22-year-old set himself on fire in Lyon last month in protest against student poverty, will be joining the fray. Diverse spokespeople from the Yellow Vest movement, which has been blockading, rallying and sometimes rioting for a year now, have called for all-out support for the strikes, and the national Yellow Vest delegate meeting in Montpellier in November issued a call to action. Nurses, who have been striking en masse against understaffing and low pay for weeks, will be present, too. This week, a firefighters’ protest is occupying Republic Square in the centre of Paris day and night, while popular recent mobilizations against violence against women, and for action on climate change have  helped build a combative atmosphere in the country. The major centre-left magazine Le Nouvel Observateur headlined last week: “Half Way through Macron’s Presidency: The Fear of Insurrection”.

Neoliberal governments have for decades been working at rolling back welfare state provision, and installing full spectrum Thatcherism, and workers have seen a number of defeats, though they have been able to protect provisions in several cases too. Sadly, important victories for workers over pensions in 1995 (after trains and metros were blocked for a month), and against a Youth Employment Contract in 2006 are fading from memories. 2016 saw a major defeat on labour contract laws, and a new victory is now sorely needed to restore some confidence.

War of position

There is a war of position going on in every sector of the economy. In education, short staffing, a harsh lack of capital investment and a sharp increase in temporary contracts have been pushed through. But in 2009, months of lecturer strikes buried the government’s plan for neoliberal personnel management in universities, and resistance has ensured that for the moment collegiate leadership and fixed national wage scales and promotion decisions, in both universities and schools, is the norm. Meanwhile, tuition fees for universities have stayed around three hundred euros: governments have not dared to raise them much.

Support for local government services from national funds has been cut sharply, using the excuse of lowering local taxation, though social housing is still being built at a far higher rate than in comparable countries. In Health, staff cuts and ward closures have been hitting hard, and the percentage of health costs which are not paid by public funds has been rising gradually.

What is Macron doing to pensions?

The new pension bill has been carefully written, with plenty of blanks “which we will fill in later after negotiations”, and the government is refusing to say which generation will be the first affected. The reform masquerades as a rationalization of the present patchwork system, but few are fooled, though the government argument that pension costs must be reduced does find an echo at times. In fact, there is plenty of money available, as can be seen by the huge tax cuts for the richest which Macron has pushed through, the largest for decades.

Previous governments, having failed, because of resistance, to convert the present system, where the employed pay into a fund which pays the pensioners, into an individualistic “save for your own pension” system, Macron is trying a new angle, linking pensions to total lifetime salary. The result, if he gets it through, will be particularly harsh on teachers and other public employees, who have low wages but who have a pension based on their final salary, which is considerably higher than their average lifetime salary. Teachers, for example, will likely lose between 20 and 40 per cent of pension entitlement.

“We are fully determined. We have a mandate for this” declared Macron’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe a few days before the strikes were set to happen. The Education minister, Blanquer claimed that people were striking “because they do not understand the reform”. Macron has been preparing for a real fight, in particular by ramping up police violence against Yellow Vest mobilizations (dozens of demonstrators have lost eyes or hands to police ammunition). Many hesitate to demonstrate because of this, but this week’s dynamic should bring out large numbers nevertheless.

Macron himself already managed to face down major rolling rail strikes in 2018, which were protesting against partial privatization of the rail and attacks on working conditions. Although the strikes caused considerable disruption, they petered out after three months. Employer federations, who would normally be up in arms, were very patient with Macron. He is in some ways their last card. In their bid to impose full spectrum Thatcherism on France, they made some headway with the right-wing presidency of Sarkozy (2007-2012), and some more under the Socialist Party presidency of Hollande (2012-2017). But many neoliberal attacks had to be shelved after mass resistance, and the traditional parties of the Right (“Les Républicains”) and of the Left (Parti socialiste) were shattered by the anger produced by their respective reigns. Macron, who gerrybuilt a new party (La Republique en Marche) from chunks of the old right and from previously Left politicians easy to buy, was their next hope.

The 5th December will be a huge stoppage, involving far more people than those who are members of trade unions. But the key to winning is for the strike to last longer. According to the traditions of the French Labour movement, strikers vote in regular (often daily) mass meetings on whether to go back to work or not. The advantage of this is it can limit the power of top union leaders to call off a strike as soon as some tiny concession is made. There is nevertheless a real danger that national union leaders will try to call off the mobilization in return for institutional concessions, like a seat for union representatives on the commissions which will fill in the blanks in the law, and decide levels of pensions and the rhythm of the reform.

The newspapers are full of articles on how to get by without public transport or public services, but given the high level of support they also have to write articles about how to get to the demonstrations! Polls say that at least 62% of French citizens support the strike, and support is higher still among the working class (82% of manual workers support, for example). But it is well known that public opinion does not in itself win strikes. Only if millions can find the confidence to strike themselves will victory be possible. 71% of those polled believe it will be a long strike, and all the signs are that this will be the most powerful fightback for a number of years. If workers can defeat this attack, neoliberalism will be reeling.