By Mike Phipps
Should voters boycott the upcoming elections to the European Parliament? A recent Morning Star editorial suggests just that:
“There is a strong case — rooted in a respect for the people’s democratic instincts — for an active boycott of this unnecessary, irrelevant vanity parade.”
Let’s be clear. The Morning Star is not suggesting Labour refuse to participate in these elections. It is floating an active boycott of the elections, even though there will be full Labour slates running in all areas. This is irrespective of the precise manifesto on which the candidates may be running – yet to be decided.
On one level, it’s ironic. Politicians of the extreme centre frequently tell us that Brexit is a bigger issue than mere party politics. Now the Morning Star seems to echo this trope, irrespective of the wider picture.
Imagine for a moment that the Morning Star had more support than it currently enjoys. Imagine it still enjoyed significant influence in the trade unions and the broader socialist movement. Its suggestion of a boycott could carry considerable weight with sections of the working class. It would be Labour voters who would be encouraged not to vote in these elections. Farage and co, the Tories and other parties would be under no such pressure.
In fact, a boycott of Labour candidates – already selected and running against these enemies – would allow the right to go unchallenged. Large sums of money are already pouring into the coffers of the authoritarian right – a recent study found that so-called ‘Tommy Robinson’ was the best funded politician in the UK, despite an almost total absence of public support. In these conditions, it is imperative that the right be defeated on every front, including electoral.
Worse, proposals for a boycott strike a blow at the Corbyn project itself. A poor result for Labour will inevitably be blamed on the leadership, intensifying anew the pressure from recalcitrant forces in the Party, who have never accepted his election in 2015 and 2016, mounted against Corbyn to stand down or change course. Everything that has been achieved over the last three and a half years could be thrown into jeopardy by such a gesture.
People who want Corbyn to win should therefore be unconditionally for the highest Labour vote possible. We do not make our support conditional on which candidates head the lists, or on what the proposed manifesto might be. That said, there is a strong case for Labour candidates to put forward a platform of reforms to tackle the democratic deficit and skewed economic and ideological priorities of the EU. It is, after all, an EU institution for which candidates are running. That need not contradict what the Corbyn leadership is trying to deliver at national level, namely a solution that puts the interests of working people at the forefront.
In a recent New Statesman article, Paul Mason goes further: Labour should walk out of the talks with the government, which are in any case going nowhere because of May’s intransigent position. We can differentiate ourselves as a Party from all the Brexiters by adopting – in these elections at least – a clear position of radical reform. He writes: “Labour, as a member party of the Party of European Socialists (PES), is bound to stand on that group’s manifesto. Corbyn was even at the meeting that agreed it. And its main slogan – Europe for the many not the few – is a straight copy of Corbynism.”
This is controversial of course, as is his suggestion that Labour should commit to a second referendum. Few would relish a re-run of the divisive, misleading campaign of 2016. But he makes a telling point about what most Party members want – not just rightwing opponents of Corbyn, but grassroots members, most of whom support him: “Every election is a test of the relationship between a party and its electoral base. In the EU elections, where turnout is traditionally low, Labour could wipe the floor with the other parties if it simply mobilised its core voters. The only way to do that is campaigning on what they believe in, not triangulating with what other people think.”