The queen’s speech last week made clear the government’s strategy. It is to move right and savage the working class in an attempt to recapture votes that have leeched to Ukip.
David Cameron can manage basic arithmetic even if George Osborne can’t. Add together the Tory score in the polls and the Ukip score and it is generally more than Labour’s figure.
So the laws proposed by the government included another try at wresting healthcare, housing and benefits from immigrants, and another assault on health and safety laws and employment rights. They also proposed more scope to cut teachers’ pay.
None of this will end the Tories’ problems. Cameron thought offering a referendum on the EU would stop Ukip. Instead the concession just made Ukip leader Nigel Farage seem more credible and effective.
This week Cameron offered a referendum bill. It hasn’t helped.
Following Cameron’s lead, top figures in the cabinet have now started hurling lumps of red meat to the Ukip wolves.
Defence secretary Philip Hammond joined education secretary Michael Gove over the weekend in saying he would back a British exit if there was an immediate referendum.
Either Gove and the others are so stupid that they don’t realise this will make Ukip even stronger, or they don’t care.
How should the left respond?
Our first duty is to stand firm against the stampede rightwards over immigration—to defend workers’ rights and keep up the battle against austerity.
But what about the EU? In the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) we’re against that as well. It’s a bosses’ organisation designed to ease the exploitation of workers and sharpen the capacity of European capitalists to beat other capitalists.
We don’t believe the EU will ever be a positive assistance to workers’ struggles.
So is it possible to be against the EU but not fall into line behind the Tory xenophobes and Ukip?
Certainly it’s not always easy given that the only criticism of the EU heard in the mainstream press comes from the right.
And leading Labour and trade union figures have previously centred their opposition to the EU on nationalist arguments dangerously close to “British jobs for British workers”.
But because it’s sometimes difficult, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible for the left to put forward an independent anti-EU position. That’s what the SWP in Ireland did, alongside others on the left, in the referendum on the EU constitution last year.
It’s crucial that workers who see the EU acting as the agent of austerity have a left wing focus for their anger rather than just right wing ones.
So we demarcate our anti-EU attitude from the right’s. When Ukip demands a referendum over the EU now, it would be playing into its hands only to say “yes, we’re for that too”.So here are my five tests for how the left should oppose the EU.
- Internationalist. We don’t hate the EU because it involves foreigners, but because it is a driver of neoliberalism, the big bosses and capitalism. It does this together with the International Monetary Fund, the EU and the European Central Bank. These form the Troika which imposes austerity across the continent. Every piece of propaganda against the EU should stress unity with workers in Greece and Spain and Portugal—and for that matter in South Africa and Bangladesh.
- Anti-imperialist. We are against the bullying military and economic power of the British state, the US and the EU.
- Anti-capitalist. The campaign should draw its inspiration from the general strikes in Greece, the Indignados movement, mass strikes and anti-eviction movement in the Spanish state, the Portuguese revolt and so on. No joint campaigns against the EU alongside capitalists and bosses.
- For the rights of refugees and immigrants. We say blame the bosses and the bankers, not immigrants. Tear down all the racist immigration laws, whether drawn up by the EU or national governments.
- For workers’ rights and protesters’ rights. The European institutions offer spurious rights. But we are for genuine trade union and workers’ freedoms and the abolition of all the anti-democratic measures that restrict our right to organise.
Not much overlap with Ukip there I reckon.