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The popularity, in the General Election, of the UK's first post-EU manifesto

The election result: thoughts on its implications

After the excitement of the night of Thursday 8th June and of the morning of Friday 9th June, there are a number of myths starting to circulate about the election and its meaning. Some, with their own agendas’ of course, are trying to claim that it’s a vote against leaving the EU, especially by ‘the young’. The claim that the result was a vote against leaving the referendum result doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, not least because:

  • The Labour Party are committed to leaving the EU like the Conservative Party (albeit with some nuanced differences in particular around negotiating strategy and process). The principle though was clear in both the Labour and Conservative manifestos’. Therefore, over 80% of the voters voted to confirm the referendum result. This is reflected in the very high proportion of seats in Parliament that are now Labour and Conservative.

  • There appears to have been an unanticipated split in the UKIP vote resulting, in some northern and midlands constituencies, in Labour doing better than expected and the Conservatives worse than anticipated. It seems likely that these voters felt able to return to Labour because they knew that Labour had accepted the referendum result and would take it forward. Therefore, it was considered ‘safe’ to revert back to Labour without fear of backsliding.

Scope for 'Lexit'

What the election result does bring closer is the possibility of a 'Lexit'. A Left-exit from the EU. If, that is, Labour now play their hand well. This is because leaving the EU and its many constitutive structures such as the Single Internal Market (SIM) means that a democratic socialist political economy, which runs counter to the current neo-liberal mode of regulation that the EU promotes and enforces, can be developed and implemented without the EU's supranational constraints.

Before that is possible however, a contradiction in the 2017 Labour manifesto, will need to be resolved. It has not been widely remarked upon, but the manifesto contains two positions which, on the face of it, are contradictory:

  • On the one hand, the Labour manifesto argued for a democratic socialist reform agenda aimed at raising the rate of capital accumulation in the UK through measures such as: nationalisation of key industries, a National Investment Bank (NIB) and other interventionist supply-side policy.

  • While it also suggested that the post-EU-membership arrangement should mimic much of the current SIM and Customs Union set-up.

However, if the latter was pursued the new agreement would inevitably include obligations to maintain the EU’s rules on competition policy, procurement, state aid and the extensive 'liberalisation' agenda associated with the SIM where, for example, large companies can sue Governments for policies that run counter to the neo-liberal economic law of the EU. In particular, any post-membership agreement reproducing SIM conditions would:

  • Make the kinds of nationalisations envisaged in the Labour manifesto very difficult to implement; and

  • Put significant constraints on economic interventions such as the proposed NIB and other ‘state aid’ measures along with the use of procurement rules to boost domestic business etc.

Corbyn and McDonnell now have an opportunity to resolve this apparent contradiction. Not by throwing out their democratic socialist political economy – not least because such policies were what numerous voters seemed quite keen on. Rather, resolving it by realising that recreating aspects of the SIM and the Customs Union in some form of bi-lateral arrangement with the EU after the UK has exited, is inimical to their economic policy plans and consequently not pursuing this approach.

Unintentionally illustrating the possibilities of a ‘post-EU membership’ politics

Given that a significant proportion of the popular economic proposals in the Labour manifesto would not be possible, (at least in the form and on the scale they were envisaged) were the UK not leaving the EU, it is deeply ironic that some on the Left still want to be in the EU, yet strongly supported the commitments in the 2017 manifesto.

In reality, because of this fundamental incompatibilty, the 2017 Labour manifesto was the first post-EU-membership manifesto. It offered a glimpse of what could be done, by the Left, outside the constraints of the EU.

The irony described is added to by the apparent effect the manifesto had on galvanising many 'younger voters' to vote for Labour in numbers not seen for a long time. Younger voters are, supposedly, the most against leaving the EU. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that many such voters were unaware that they enthusiastically endorsed a policy agenda that could only be fully implemented once the UK has ceased to be part of the EU. Nevertheless, they were doing so!

One conclusion that can be drawn from this situation is that, quite unintentionally, many of those pro-EU Labour voters (both young and not-so-young) were showing that leaving the EU:

  • Can be liberating for voters because of the resulting widening of the political choice available to the electorate as certain policies and issues are no longer ‘off the table’ as a result of being tied-up by the Treaties and decided at EU level.

  • Is already invigorating domestic politics, with higher (than recent history) electoral turnouts especially in groups which tend not to vote in large numbers, even before the UK has officially left.

The EU’s dead hand has lain across the UK’s politics for several decades. It has sucked ‘real choice’ out from the political debate through its hegemonic position and consequent 'constitutionalisation' of a wide range of policy positions. The result of its ever-expanding authority over the last forty plus years has been a hollowing out the UK’s political institutions and politics. If for no other reason, the highly creditable performance of the Labour Party last week deserves praise for attempting to seize the ‘leaving moment’, whether knowingly or unwittingly, and for offering a glimpse of what can be done outside the EU.

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