The Political Report and Discussion on 16 June dealt with the immediate political consequences of a vote to leave on 23 June – a prospect that seemed likely following an opinion poll earlier that day indicating a 6% lead over stay. The meeting was not fully briefed on the report that an MP (Jo Cox MP, Labour) had been murdered in her Yorkshire constituency earlier that day but expressed its sympathy with her family.
It was agreed that, if the referendum was won by leave, the pressure in Parliament on the present Tory government led by Cameron would be immense. The Tory majority was only 12, and it was difficult to see how, after all the animosities stirred up within their ranks during the campaign, the Tories could come together to form a government. Cameron would not be credible leader of a government required to negotiate with the EU the terms under which we leave; and having threatened to make workers pay for voting leave with more austerity, Osborne would not be a credible Chancellor.
Few at the meeting thought the Tories in Parliament would unite around Boris Johnson. A coalition government ‘in the national interest’ would be the typical response at times of ‘crisis’, but where would they find allies this time? The Lib Dems had paid the price for propping up the previous Tory administration and now had only 8 MPs. Regrettably, the most likely candidates to prop up a coalition government would be the large number of disaffected Labour MPs. Would they be capable of such treachery? The meeting sadly concluded many would.
The meeting also discussed the possibility of a snap general election. The Acting Secretary reminded the meeting that, under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, a two thirds majority of MPs have to pass a motion calling for an early general election or pass a motion of no confidence and no alternative government was formed within 14 days. The meeting agreed that these were not insuperable obstacles, but could be used to enable a patched up government to cling on.
The meeting agreed that the outcome of a snap general election would be unpredictable. While the meeting felt that Corbyn would now make an attractive candidate for Prime Minister (the result of the Tooting by-election was unknown, but the signs were good [subsequently confirmed – big win for Labour] but he could be damaged by being on the losing side in the EU referendum debate and his own Parliamentary Labour Party might try to remove him before or after an election. He would, in any event, face a hostile media, who would stress the need for a ”safe pair of hands” at such a “critical time”. Strengthening the rights of trade unions had been the appropriate response to concerns about immigration, but having remained silent on the anti-union implications of the European Court of Justice verdicts on the Laval and Viking cases , it would be harder for Corbyn and the Labour Party to argue for stronger trade unions following a decision to leave.
The implications of an emboldened extreme right following a Leave vote was discussed, together with the possibility of the ultimate establishment response to any ‘crisis’ which threatened capitalism: the curtailment or suspension of parliamentary democracy and the imposition of military rule. While this might seem far-fetched, the frequency with which it had been resorted to in South America stood as a warning. The other possibility that the meeting was disinclined to dismiss was the imposition of a second referendum to reverse a first decision unacceptable to capital. It was noted that this had already happened on three occasions in the EU (by Denmark and Ireland twice) following the ‘wrong’ decision first time.
Other matters dealt with at the meeting included notice of the Croydon TUC public meeting on education on 28 June at Ruskin House and the forthcoming industrial action by the NUT.