25 October 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: Trident, Scotland and the Greens

Jeremy Corbyn faces concerted opposition from the right-wing PLP, but there are three issues he could have dealt with differently to strengthen the left: Trident, Scotland and the Greens.

We are in the strange position today where the leader of the Labour Party is a socialist, yet all but a handful of the Parliamentary Labour Party stand well to his right and differ among themselves only in how to contain or get rid of him. Stranger still is that since the New Labour era in the Party determining policy is de facto in the hands of the Leader alone. Yet in practice the PLP constrains Jeremy by the never uttered, but very real, threat of mass defection to form a new Party, which would return Corbyn to the back benches and split Labour in the country. So where could Jeremy have taken decisive action at the top to strengthen his hand, win allies and neutralise the right?

Calling for a referendum on the renewal of Trident. Jeremy is right: Trident is immoral and useless for any realistic defence purpose. It serves today only as a national status symbol of prowess, and as a huge subsidy to the US arms industry. The Labour Right, who dominate the PLP and shadow cabinet are wedded to the Britain-as-superpower narrative. Labour says it will have a review, but Jeremy says he would never push the button. Irrespective of whether you are for or against nuclear weapons, the current position is ridiculous. But there is a way out the mire which would help the left: call for a referendum on the issue. A referendum could be initiated either by the current Tory government (unlikely) or by a future Labour-led government. Letting the people speak would shut up the the Labour Right. The issue would be: should we spend the billions on bombs or the health service? Let the people decide whether during a Labour-led government there should be nuclear weapons which Corbyn won’t use - or whether the people want the money freed up for health and education.

Let Scotland do its own thing. The momentum is towards independence, and why should socialists worry about that and get into unnecessary conflict with a currently centre-left leaning SNP? Scottish Labour today, led by the Labour Right, has been reduced to a single Scottish Labour MP, partly because the Scottish Party was treated as a branch office of UK Labour. The solution is simple: bestow independence on the Scottish Labour Party and let them do whatever they want, but hoping of course for a left turn. The next Labour government - supposing there is one and Scottish independence has not been achieved by then - would be a coalition between the the Scottish Labour Party, the Labour Party of England and Wales, hopefully the Greens, and even possibly the SNP and Plaid.

Work with the Greens. If in the 2020 General Election Corbyn were short of a majority by say five seats and the Greens had say ten, would anyone be against a Corbyn-Green coalition? Of course not. In fact, most would positively welcome it. So if a coalition is OK in government, then why not in opposition? One step Jeremy could have taken was to call for a coalition in Parliament and in the country with the Greens and, if she were willing, appoint Caroline Lucas to the environmental portfolio in the Shadow Cabinet. Outside Parliament Corbyn and the Greens have a common interest in working together for a government which would end austerity, get rid of Trident, and protect the environment within which we all live.

Jeremy Corbyn’s problem is not that he is too left-wing, but that he is trapped into a Labour tribalist Westminster mindset. He should be bolder.

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