Jeremy Corbyn has made a fresh demand for a general election, in a speech today that sought to unite Leave and Remain voters against Theresa May’s austerity and racism.
The speech was a step closer to a strategy that could bring down the Tory government if May cannot get her Brexit deal through parliament in a vote next Tuesday.
And it frustrates efforts by right wing Labour MPs to force him into backing a second referendum and remaining in the racist, neoliberal European Union (EU).
Corbyn used his speech to hit out at the poverty and inequality caused by years of austerity under a Tory government.
Years of Tory failure have left our society more divided than ever,” he said. “Many of the most pressing problems facing people in their daily lives have been ignored or relegated to the back of the queue by a Conservative Party consumed by its own internal battles over Brexit."
He also condemned Tory attempts to scapegoat refugees trying to enter Britain as a way to prop up their government.
“Whatever circumstances people are living in, whether in tents or camps or trying to survive on dangerous dinghies, everyone is a human being and we must reach out the hand of humanity in all circumstances,” he said.
And he hammered at the crisis-ridden Tories’ divisions insisting, “If the government cannot pass its most important legislation then there must be a general election at the earliest opportunity.
“A government that cannot get its businesses through the House of Commons is no government at all.”
He repeated Labour’s policy, agreed at its conference last September. This is that Labour would try to defeat May’s Brexit deal in parliament, and then push for a general election. If this fails, Labour would then “support all options remaining on the table including a public vote”.
His call defied those MPs who would prefer Labour to focus on demanding a second referendum, and campaigning to remain in the EU instead.
Many Labour Party members also see remaining in the EU as the best way to oppose the Tories’ right wing vision for Brexit. The LabourList website reported this week that some 200 Constituency Labour Parties are set to debate an anti-Brexit motion.
People across the country, whether they voted Leave or Remain know that the system isn’t working for themJeremy Corbyn
The motion calls for Labour to demand a referendum with the option to remain, and to contact the pro-EU Another Europe is Possible for “materials and assistance in campaigning.”
In his speech Corbyn said he recognised “people are genuinely scared of the prospect of no deal.”
But he also said, “Any political leader who wants to bring people together cannot wish away the votes of 17 million people who wanted to leave any more than they cannot ignore the concerns of the 16 million who voted to remain.”
The most important part of his speech came towards the end. “People across the country, whether they voted Leave or Remain know that the system isn’t working for them,” he said.
“Some see the EU as a defence against insecurity and hostility. Others see the EU as part of an establishment that plunged them into insecurity and hostility in the first place.
“But it’s the failed system rigged against the many to protect the interests of the few that is the real cause of inequality and insecurity.”
He added, “The real solution is to transform Britain to work in the interests of the vast majority by challenging the entrenched power of a privileged elite.”
The best way Labour can do that is by campaigning for a Brexit linked to defending the NHS and public services, and rejecting austerity and racism.
Corbyn’s speech didn’t go that far. And it leaves the question open of how to force a general election.
He asked for support from MPs in other parties to support a vote of no confidence in May’s government tabled “at the moment we judge it to have the best chance of success.”
This means keeping the fight against the Tories stuck on the terrain of parliamentary manoeuvres. It would prolong the paralysis and leave Corbyn more vulnerable to pressure from the right.
Crucially, it risks allowing the Tory government to stagger on.
The best way to force a general election is through a mass movement, mobilised around the issues Corbyn highlighted in his speech.
A good start is the demonstration in central London called by the People’s Assembly this Saturday.