Coalition, collaboration and tactical voting: that’s how to halt hard Brexit | Paul Mason

19 Apr

Theresa May is about to find out that turkeys do not vote for Christmas. More precisely, when confronted with someone in a butcher’s apron and a sharpened knife, turkeys are not apt to give a mandate for that person to organise an “unspecified meal-type experience”.

As the news of snap general election swirled around College Green, I was surrounded by mainstream journalists congratulating their contacts in the May administration over their success at keeping everybody in the dark. But that’s easy when you have no idea what you’re doing.

May has been forced to call this election through a mixture of panic and incompetence. Panic not, of course, in the face of the polls – after months of inner party sabotage and dissent, Labour’s poll rating is low.

The panic arises from the realisation that she has triggered article 50 with no plan, no agreed negotiating position and a deteriorating economy. With inflation outstripping pay again, we are facing – for at least 12 out of the 18 months of the Brexit talks – falling real wages.

Banks, insurers and car manufacturers are voting with their feet against May’s policy of hard Brexit. Their action is logical in the face of a government whose negotiating position includes exiting the EU with no deal.

May has no position to seek a mandate on – and insiders are saying she does not intend to put one in the manifesto. So all the major questions: what replaces free movement; what our trade relationship to Europe will be; how much of European law gets ported into British law – will still remain unanswered.

Even as we troop into the polling stations, May’s Conservatives will be saying, simply, “Trust us.” It is a massive gamble – but the next 72 hours will decide whether the opposition parties have the stomach to seize the opportunity to inflict a historic defeat.

The progressive half of British politics is split over Brexit. The Lib Dems and Greens want to reverse it; so do the Blairites in the Labour party. It’s an honourable and logical position provided it is done through constitutional means. I have always thought that should mean: put the final Brexit deal to a vote in parliament with the option of reverting to the status quo if it is rejected. Anybody who tells you this is impossible – in Brussels or Westminster – is lying.

The SNP wants an assurance that Scotland can remain connected to the single market after Brexit, and a second referendum to secure independence because May refused to guarantee this. That too is a logical and honourable position.

The majority of Labour voters, meanwhile, want what the leadership wants: a soft Brexit, with substantial access to the single market or even better – with changes to the migration rules to mitigate the impact of the free movement regime on wages, conditions and social cohesion.


‘I welcome the opportunity’: Jeremy Corbyn on 8 June general election

All these aims are congruent with defeating May – and with each other: that is, if the parties at Westminster are prepared to be brave and act fast.

There is no time to form a formal “progressive alliance”. There is, however, ample opportunity to signal to the wider electorate and each other the appetite to govern in coalition, or with supply and confidence. On that basis, grassroots members of the opposition parties should come together to ensure a tactical vote for the best-placed anti-Tory candidate.

Our aim should not be a narrow majority: it should be to wipe out hard Brexit Toryism for a generation and reset Britain’s relationship with the EU as “half-out but heavily engaged”.

Labour’s strategy should be to make this a one issue election: Brexit with social justice, or Brexit in the hands of an uncontrollable nationalist clique – followed swiftly by the breakup of the UK and economic collapse.

The Tories are already having to impose a pay cap on millions of public servants, amid falling real wages in the private sector. Targets are scrapped one by one as they are missed. Elderly care is on the brink of chaos, as providers flee the sector. More than 1 million people have been forced on to zero-hours contracts. And, crucially, the housing market has turned – even before the Bank is obliged to hike interest rates.

But all this precedes the massive attack on workplace rights, human rights and the welfare system that the Conservatives will unleash under the hard-Brexit scenario.

Whatever the polls show, it is still clear there is a progressive majority in Britain. The reactionary minority of nationalists, xenophobes and privateers can be defeated.

Labour does not need to start breast-beating about a majority government. It should instead promise to lead a coalition at Westminster to halt hard Brexit, promote accountability and reset the political process – with a “normal” election in spring 2019 to ratify any deal the incoming government does.

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