Existential /ˌɛɡzɪˈstɛnʃ(ə)l/ adjective – relating to or dealing with existence (especially with human existence)
Labour catch a break
Labour breathed a sigh of relief last Thursday. And although the Tories may also have felt some relief at Nigel Farage’s early departure from the count centre when the writing of Labour’s victory was on the wall, the bold Boris Johnson will be left arguing that only he can now see of the Brexit Party (BXP) challenge by taking on Europe and pushing for a crash-out Brexit. As of the weekend each of the Tory party candidates for the leadership is now vying to outdo each other in the abruptness and absoluteness of the UK exit in October. When questioned about re-opening negotiations that have finished or dealing with the Irish back stop it is all bluster and noise.
The biggest loser on the night was perhaps the Labour right-wing arguing for a so-called People’s Vote, because whilst Labour may have lost a few votes to the Greens and Lib Dems, they won Peterborough based on the current strategy of the leadership (and what Paul Mason calls Corbyn’s ‘Stalinist advisors’) which is to campaign on anything except Brexit and to focus on core socialist issues, the threats to the National Health Service (NHS), austerity, precariousness and inequality. Let’s not forget, Peterborough backed Leave by 61% to 39% in the 2016 referendum and according to all the pundits this should have been a BXP victory and a similar situation faces Labour across the vast majority of marginal seats in England and Wales which voted Leave in significant numbers.
For Labour the victory is a vindication, less of their delicate position in trying to maintain unity in a party whose voters are split between leave and remain, but rather of their local campaigning machine, their activists and their energy. In speaking to activists present in Peterborough, Momentum played a significant role as did trade unionists from across the country. Seen in this light, rather than through the distorted lens of the single issue EU elections, the Peterborough victory might suggest that Labour have an ability to hold enough of their own Remain vote using their radical message and local organising to win a general election.
The Tories continue to break
This word ‘existential’ is often over used but in terms of the future of the Conservative party it is not an exaggeration. Why? Because the BXT party failure to win a seat in Peterborough doesn’t really matter; what matters is its continued existence and capacity to steal enough Tory votes to hand over marginal seats to the Labour Party in any general election.
The whining from centrists and liberals about the BXP having no policies or manifesto completely misses the point. In 2014 UKIP won 16% of the European vote and thirteen seats. That vote has simply shifted to BXP. In addition, one overlooked finding from the post-EU election Ashcroft poll was that, among all those voting, 50% said they had voted Remain in the referendum and 45% voted Leave; now, 50% said they support Leave and 46% said they were in favour of Remain. Despite the best efforts of ultra-Remainers, under the most propitious of conditions and with vast resources, half of the British electorate are unmoved in their commitment to leave the EU.
As Costas Lapavitsas commented pithily at a recent panel discussion in Belfast, Brexit is the manifestation of a deepening political split within the British ruling class, a split that ‘has magnified itself to the extent that it has paralysed the Tory Party’ and the continued fracturing of the party of the ruling class is marvellous news. Long may it continue. The key now is for Labour to build on the Peterborough result and unite people around a radical, socialist alternative. There appears, thankfully, to be no alternative.
by Seán Byers & Stiofán Ó Nualláin
Originally published on 12 June 2019 at brexitblog-rosalux.eu as part of the In historical thunder and lightning series which examined the Impact of Brexit.