The result of Brecon and Radnorshire by-election in Britain shows two things. First, that despite the massive media campaign, there has been no swing to Remain.
Quite the reverse. Those voting on Thursday moved in the opposite direction. Second, that Labour needs to restate the policies that almost won the last general election.
The Liberal Democrats’ 43 per cent vote was secured in an alliance with the two other Remain parties, the Greens and Plaid Cymru, created to maximise the anti-Brexit vote. In the EU referendum Brecon voted 49 per cent Remain.
On Thursday the pro-Leave parties, Conservative, Brexit and Ukip, won over 50 per cent. They did so despite a very weak Conservative candidate, who has just lost a recall ballot, and a reluctance by many to vote for pro-Leave candidates supporting very right-wing positions. Ten-thousand of the 2017 voters, a quarter of the total, stayed away.
What happened to the Labour vote? There is little evidence that it defected to the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrat vote almost exactly matched the combined Plaid and Liberal Democrat vote in 2017.
Labour’s 5 per cent seems to have been the result of Labour supporters not voting — unsurprisingly given the relentless press campaign and open sabotage by Labour’s right wing. This is why it is so essential for Labour to return to its confident socialist message of 2017.
It is now crystal clear that only a bold programme of public ownership can rescue our economy. It is equally clear that EU membership will not allow this and that Boris Johnson’s plans to make Britain a neoliberal Singapore of the North will only deliver dust and ashes for working people.
Quite correctly Jeremy Corbyn continues to argue that Britain should retain a strong relationship with the EU’s single market on issues of environmental and health standards and labour rights.
But at the same time he is clear that a resurgent progressive Britain cannot accept the EU’s neoliberal competition rules. This is because these competition rules prevent full public ownership and any form of democratic control over the economy.
These EU rules do not of course stop state ownership of single companies but they do ban comprehensive control — essential if public ownership is to be both economically viable and a tool for social justice.
It is also essential if utilities such as transport and energy are to become, as they must, the vanguard for combating climate change. The same competition rules also ban state aid for industry except in the case of very small firms that do not threaten “competition” to the interests of the big monopolies. And the same goes for a state investment bank and the active use of public procurement.
Why is this so important? It is because our economy is teetering on the edge of crisis. We currently have virtually no business investment. Corporate debt is at unprecedented levels.
Our remaining industrial firms are under the control of competing investment management companies whose sole concern is to maximise short-term profit extraction.
If our productive economy is to survive, democratic public-sector intervention is essential. This is why the 2017 Labour programme remains so important.
The next three months will witness high drama. The left needs to remain focused. Labour cannot be sacrificed to corporate lobbyists representing the City of London and the EU.
A new labour movement campaign must be launched to rewin a left case for a progressive but independent relationship to the EU and ensure that Labour has a clear public-sector, pro-worker and democratic alternative — ready for when Boris is found out.
Ben Chacko is a freelance journalist. Views are personal.