Speaking to a packed meeting at Ruskin House on Tuesday, John McDonnell defended Labour’s decision to campaign on a remain/second referendum ticket at the general election. It was necessitated, he argued, both by the Labour Party Conference decision in 2019 and evidence the leadership had gathered on voters’ intentions. A firm leave line would, he argued, have resulted in an even worse outcome. The important thing now, John McDonnell said, was for the Labour Party to rally behind the new leader, whoever he or she was, and campaign vigorously outside parliament for the next four years. His assumption was that, regardless of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the Tories would call the next general election at a time of their choosing, not at the end of the fixed five year term.
While taking full responsibility of the electoral defeat, there was, understandably, a measure of denial and excuse in McDonnell’s speech and in his answers to the questions that followed. As Tariq Ali argues in the current edition of the London Review of Books (1), one of the few progressive voices left in the UK’s printed media (the other shining example being, of course, the Morning Star), if Labour had stated clearly that the referendum and the chaos that ensued were the result of a Tory split and if Labour had then let them get on with it, Theresa May’s deal with the EU might have gone through and the general election scheduled for April 2020 could have been fought on the NHS, education and other public services.
On one point made by McDonnell there can be no dispute: his warning that any Labour leader who threatened the capitalist status quo would be subject to the same level of vitriolic abuse as that directed at Jeremy Corbyn. One of numerous examples of this was the absurd question relating to nuclear buttons put to Jeremy Corbyn and are now directed at his potential successors (2).
As Tariq Ali observed, the question would be more meaningful if expressed as “Are there any circumstances in which you would refuse US orders to fire the missiles?” However, as we have pointed out previously on this website, our nuclear missile technology is supplied by the USA. Does anyone seriously doubt that the Americans would not have installed a disabling switch in the Pentagon? A more worrying question is whether they have installed another switch enabling the US President to launch “our” missiles regardless of the wishes of a future UK Prime Minister.
(1) Short Cuts, Tariq Ali, London Review of Books, Volume 42 Number 2, 23 January 2020
(2) With depressingly successful results. Unlike Corbyn, they all appear willing to declare themselves potential war criminals.