UK Election Results: Labour’s Agenda and the British Left
The final results of the UK general election confirm that the Tories don’t have a majority to form a single party government. Theresa May has indicated that she will form a new government with the help of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a reactionary party with historical links with Loyalist paramilitary groups.
Despite May’s perseverance, it will be a weak cabinet at a time when the contradictions of Brexit will come to the fore as the negotiations with the EU take off.
The possibility of another election in the next year or so is increasingly likely. A progressive alliance with Labour, SNP, Greens, Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru has a strong chance to unseat the Tories.
Whatever the next months will bring, the Conservative retreat is great news and weakens the advance of Trumpism in the West.
There’s much to be said for the spectacular come back of Corbyn. It’s great that nationalisation and a crackdown on tax havens are firmly on the agenda, but less hopeful is how they got there: by dropping free movement, committing to closed borders and pushing an ambivalent security agenda (“more police on the streets and against terror”).
Much more convincing than the anti-austerity arguments around police cuts was Corbyn’s claim that foreign intervention increases terrorism at home. A Labour government would stop British military aggression and reduce instability in the Middle East and North Africa.
Unfortunately Labour has only got where it is by bringing in the mix reactionary measures inspired by the far right, and these contradictions won’t be resolved anytime soon. Those, including myself, who thought that a left that panders to the far right will not make electoral gains are proven wrong — for now. That doesn’t make Labour’s nationalist overtures any more desirable or acceptable.
The British left — and their Euro-American counterparts — will have to face up to their colonial legacy and come to terms with the new wave of decolonisation that is growing across the world. The Labour Manifesto is primarily concerned with the redistribution of the spoils of British capital to British people.
But it might produce positive effects by legitimising calls for resource nationalism in Africa and elsewhere, de facto pushing Western capital out of the continent, and the British model of “socialism in one nation” towards a more sustainable and less exploitative system, where British privileges will be gradually lost towards a more humane system where everybody has more, and those who have too much have less.
Either way, until the British left sticks to the national route to socialism as the preferred path, they won’t find much international sympathy. They will be asked over and over again: what about colonial crimes and current neocolonial exploitation? Are you going to pay reparations? What are you going to do to avoid a situation where your national redistribution programme relies on imported raw materials and fossil fuels extracted through highly exploitative labour systems and wars?
At the moment the Labour Manifesto doesn’t offer satisfactory answers. It repeats the usual platitudes about “responsible” multinational investment and trade. While there is a clear commitment to stop wars abroad, the call for “responsible arms trade” also underlines an unwillingness to abandon profitable industries like arms manufacturing — and that is ultimately in contradiction with Corbyn’s anti-war credentials.
Cracking down on tax havens is probably the most important measure that Labour plans to pursue, and will have positive effects on renegotiating North-South relations, but it’s only one part of the problem.
Despite the closed borders policy and the security discourse, Labour leadership’s rhetoric and principles will hopefully help to rein in the worst of the epidemic of racist hate crimes enabled by the Brexit referendum.
It is much better in any case to have a government led by British left nationalists with some anti-war credentials and some principles to call them to account, than militant racist Islamophobe ultra-capitalist pro-austerity Tories. Theresa May’s party is intent on consolidating a surveillance state at home, enabling hate crimes against people of colour and migrants, waging wars and pillaging the wealth of Southern countries with no restraints.
As elsewhere in the West, the absolute priority is to stop the fascists. In the UK, a progressive alliance led by Labour is the most viable short-term option.