The House of Commons vote on the Queen’s Speech offered an obvious opportunity for the right of the Labour Party to make their peace with Jeremy Corbyn and play a constructive role in the left’s transformative project. But it was snubbed, says VINCE MILLS
The 49 right-wing Labour MPs who voted for the backbench motion, calling for the UK to stay in the single market and customs union might argue that they are motivated by a desire to save jobs but in reality they were pushing a line that is disastrous for the left manifesto developed by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party leadership.
Why is this potentially catastrophic for Corbyn’s manifesto?
The answer is that remaining in the single market as the right of the party is now demanding, means that we have to stick to the so-called four freedoms of movement, of capital, people, goods and services — part of which means compliance with the competition rules that among other things severely limit public ownership and outlaw state aid to industry.
Let us take four key popular areas from the Labour Party manifesto.
The Corbyn manifesto says: “Labour will prioritise public service over private profit. And we will start by bringing our railways back into public ownership, as franchises expire or, in other cases, with franchise reviews or break clauses.”
What will happen to that commitment if we remain in the single market and therefore have to conform to the fourth railway package?
The EU has clearly learned from Britain’s radical privatisation experience because this package, which is to be in place by 2020, includes opening up domestic passenger services to on-rail competition in all member states — exactly as we now have in Britain except it will be right across the EU.
Or what about Labour’s manifesto pledge to “Regain control of energy supply networks through the alteration of operator license conditions, and transition to a publicly owned, decentralised energy system,” and “Reverse the privatisation of Royal Mail at the earliest opportunity.”
According to Professor Danny Nicol of Westminster University: “Under article 106, the EU prohibits public monopolies exercising exclusive rights where this violates EU competition rules. The EU’s Court of Justice has interpreted article 106 as giving private companies the right to argue before the national courts that services should continue to be open to private-sector competition.”
Or what about state aid to industry? The manifesto promises: “…We are committed to a procurement process that supports the British steel industry and defence manufacturing industry, which in turn provide good jobs throughout the supply chain…”
Article 87 (1) of the EC Treaty tells us: “Any aid granted by a member state or through state resources in any form whatsoever which distorts or threatens to distort competition by favouring certain undertakings … Therefore, procurement … may be prohibited if they qualify as state aid.”
And finally what about the manifesto’s plans for a fair immigration system, a system which unlike that operated by the Tories does not discriminate against people applying from the Indian subcontinent or Africa.
The manifesto said: “Working together we will institute a new system which is based on our economic needs, balancing controls and existing entitlements. This may include employer sponsorship, work permits, visa regulations or a tailored mix of all these which works for the many, not the few…”
What Labour was aiming to do by managing immigration was in the words of the manifesto to “…crack down on unscrupulous employers” and “stop overseas-only recruitment practices…”
It will be much more difficult to do this if freedom of movement is agreed and it would have to be, as part of our membership of the single market.
Freedom of movement means any EU citizen can move to and remain in another EU country for up to three months. Of course groups of unemployed or poorly paid workers in parts of the EU are vulnerable to promises about the alleged benefits of Britain and as we know the ECJ has ruled that local trade unions may not take industrial action to insist that British wages are paid. So, if we remain in the single market, Corbyn’s manifesto commitment to stop European bosses creating a flow of cheap labour to wherever European bosses want them, will be impossible.
If Remain had won in the EU referendum no doubt the right of the Labour Party would have insisted that the Labour manifesto was compliant with EU directives and therefore shorn of its radical edge. Then and now they are taking a position that is almost indistinguishable from the Tories.
The Tories are arguing that even if we are not part of the single market, British negotiators will argue that the Repeal Bill will guarantee all areas of law apart from immigration — Britain will match the legislation that underpins the single market and therefore British banks and businesses should gain existing access to the EU market.
It is therefore quite possible that the Labour rebels will yet make common cause with their Tory friends.
I understand that the economist Paul Mason has responded to the right’s agenda by suggesting to Progress members at their conference that “if it’s really important to you to have a pro-Remain party that’s in favour of illegal war, in favour of privatisation, form your own party and get on with it.”
I agree with that. I think Progress should find a nice corner of a tax haven somewhere and sit and triangulate to its heart’s content.
There was obviously an opportunity for the right of the Labour Party, indeed, there remains an opportunity for the right to make their peace with Corbyn and play a constructive role in the left’s transformative project.
There is no space, however, for those whose only objective is to obstruct and undermine the socialist project.
Defending the Corbyn manifesto means an absolute victory over this right-wing insurgency and it is I believe the primary objective of the Labour left at this historic moment in Labour’s history.
Vince Mills is chair of the Campaign for Socialism.