DEMOCRACY FOR THE MANY NOT THE FEW

 

MANIFESTO FOR DEMOCRACY

 

England's Standard Advanced

 

“For a New Parliament by the Agreement of the People”

 

A declaration by [Captain] William Thompson and the oppressed people of this nation- 6 May 1649

 

The ‘British Exit’ Election

 

On 18 April 2017 the Prime Minister, Theresa May, stood outside 10 Downing Street and called for a general election. It was, she said, in the “national interest” to “protect the Brexit process from mischievous opposition parties that plan to derail it”. May appealed to voters for a mandate for a ‘hard Brexit’. The Tories threw down the gauntlet of democracy.

 

This is no ordinary election. The Tories are exploiting the EU referendum to grab more power for their class and impose a hard anti-working class Brexit. Theresa May and her strategists have sought to turn an election into a plebiscite on the supreme leader. She is calling for the people to place their trust in her “strong and stable” leadership.

 

In trying to reshape the election as a plebiscite the Tories are appealing to bogus patriotism and populist rhetoric about helping the “just about managing”. It is the kind of authoritarian appeal made in Erdogan’s constitutional referendum in Turkey. He wanted the people give him the power to change the Turkish constitution. He demanded more presidential power to deal with the working class and the Kurds.

 

The UK constitution based on the ‘Crown-In-Parliament’ already hands considerable power to any Prime Minister. An ‘elected dictatorship’ gives Her Majesty’s Government five years to deploy massive state power. The Tories are seeking a fresh mandate, on a vacuous Manifesto, so that May can negotiate a British Exit which safeguards the City and Corporate Britain and divides and weakens the working class.

 

May’s authoritarian populist message, with its racist undertones, makes this the most dangerous election for the future of this country. If May wins a big majority, with the support of the Tory press and the BBC, the country will be shifted further to the right. With a large majority, all opposition will be demonised as unpatriotic and undemocratic. The poorest citizens, the working class, the disabled, our young people, pensioners and migrant workers will pay a heavy price.

 

Mandates for Exit and Remain.

 

The vote to leave the EU is the most significant political event in recent history. It ended Cameron’s government and has now brought about an election two years after the last one. This referendum was won by the right wing of the Tory Party and UKIP. This divided the UK, divided the working class and divided the constituent parts of the UK.

 

The results of the referendum were as follows:

 

England voted to leave 53.4%

Wales voted to leave 52.5%

Scotland voted to remain 62%

Northern Ireland voted to remain 55.8%

 

The people of England and Wales gave a democratic mandate to leave the EU. Scotland and Northern Ireland gave their mandates to remain. Since public opinion in the Irish Republic is committed to the EU, then taken as a whole, a majority of the Irish people want to stay.

 

Forcing Scotland and Northern Ireland to leave the EU is a violation of their democratic mandates and the democratic right of nations to self determination. It is the kind of imposition which the UK’s elected dictatorship can get away with. This is very damaging and divisive. It is one reason why power must be transferred from the Crown to the sovereign peoples of England, Ireland Scotland and Wales.

 

Three elections in one

 

This election follows the contours of UK politics as shaped by the long struggle for democracy in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, and in 2016 on the European Union, provides a measure of the level achieved by that struggle. Different kinds of political issues and parties now confront each other in different parts of the UK.

 

In England and Wales the main contest is between the Tories and Labour led by Jeremy Corbyn. In the post EU referendum millions of UKIP voters are likely to back the Tories. Wales appears to be more closely aligned with England with both nations voting to leave. The national dimension to Welsh politics, given voice by Plaid Cymru, is reflected in Welsh-speaking Wales voting to remain and English-speaking Wales voting to leave.

 

In Northern Ireland the main contest is between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionists in conditions where Good Friday constitutional settlement is now in crisis. Given the vote to remain in the EU, the Irish border has re-emerged, not only in terms of cross border trade, but as a constitutional issue.

 

In Scotland politics is polarised between Unionists and Nationalists. The Labour Party, once Scotland’s main Unionist party, has not recovered its lost credibility. The Tories have seized the banner of militant Unionism making the central issue a second independence referendum. The Scottish Nationalist Party, as the leader of the national democratic movement, has downplayed this and focused its programme on opposing austerity.

 

Democratic vacuum in England

 

The EU referendum highlighted a democratic vacuum in England. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, national democratic movements have changed the political culture. They have brought constitutional demands, such as self government, republicanism and self determination, into working class politics. Significantly such a movement is absent in England.

 

National democratic movements combine demands for political and constitutional change with a redefinition of what it is to be, for example, Irish, Scottish or Kurdish. Such movements draw millions into political activity. They inspire musicians, artists, poets, writers and historians. They give rise to new political parties seeking to lead the national struggle for democracy to victory.

 

This is not the case in England where Labour Party and the trade union movement remain wedded to Anglo-British cultural values and support of the ‘social monarchy’ established after the 1945 general election. Despite thirty years of neo-liberal government, both Tory and Labour, undermining the Elizabethan welfare state, the ‘spirit of 45’ is still the political reference point for the working class movement.

 

England has by far the largest working class in the UK. The EU referendum showed the working class in England was divided roughly in half between Anglo-British and pro-European attitudes and values. There is a strong current of British chauvinism in England which reflects the long history of the UK as a world imperialist power.

 

The desire to ‘make Britain great again’, stand up to foreign interference by the EU, take back ‘our democracy’ and control of borders and become an independent world power again are the values loved by Tory England. They bind sections of the middle and working classes to the upper classes as symbolised and reinforced by the cult of monarchy.

 

The existence of various kinds of parliaments or assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales adopting different policies, has sharpened awareness of the democratic deficit in England. It has produced a democratic vacuum waiting to be filled. The right has tried to occupy the space by encouraging an Anglo-British reaction against Irish, Scottish and Welsh nationalism.

 

In September 2014 Cameron, having won the Scottish referendum, took up the slogan “English votes for English laws”. He used this again in the 2015 general election when the Tories promoted the SNP as a bogeyman to frighten liberal democratic voters in marginal constituencies to switch to the Tories. Since Labour defends a liberal version of Anglo-British values, the Party is vulnerable to the charge of being soft on the nationalist threat to the UK.

 

Socialist vacuum in democracy

 

The socialist movement has failed to address, never mind fill, this democratic vacuum. England needs a democratic movement not simply to ‘catch up’ with Ireland, Scotland or Wales but to go beyond it. Democracy has to fully embrace republicanism, popular sovereignty and self determination. The vacuum cannot be filled without a radical democratic programme and a party fighting for it.

 

Social democratic politics in England is ‘backward’ or ‘underdeveloped’. It fails to address the desire amongst working class people for a democracy that actually works. UKIP has mobilised this for reactionary ends. Millions are dissatisfied and disillusioned with Westminster ‘democracy’ and it’s corruption by corporate interests. But leaving the EU to get ‘our democracy’ back is a fairy story.

 

Social democracy should be the best expression of the democratic aims of the working class. This is not the case in England. The Labour Party supports the institutions and laws of the British Union and the ‘Crown-In-Parliament’. As a party, Labour is focused on social reform not changing the democratic balance of power.

 

Labour’s constitutional conservatism is part of the problem not the solution. The radical left outside the Labour Party is no better. There is some support for proportional representation but nobody takes this seriously or actively campaigns for it. A democratic programme is much more than a single demand. One demand leads to a campaign. A full and consistent set of democratic demands leads to a party.

 

The radical left is unable to fill the vacuum in England’s democracy. This goes someway to explaining why there is no republican (i.e. left populist) party in England. It is not simply the absence of a coherent democratic programme but the very concept of “England”. “Another England is not possible” unless we can grapple with England’s past, present and future.

 

The radical left has a conservative attitude to England. England is viewed through the prism of Anglo-British chauvinism as the most aggressive and racist part of the British nation. England is therefore a taboo subject that can only be discussed indirectly through a cosmopolitan version of Anglo-Britishness opposed to democratic nationalism. What is missing from the democratic vacuum is English internationalism.

 

Democracy is at the heart of this election even if on the surface it is absent from any debate. It is the elephant in the room. It is the vacuum that cannot be filled. So how do the Tories and Labour address the democratic deficit in England, the broken Westminster parliament and the relations with the people of Ireland, Scotland and Wales in the post Brexit world?

 

Our Precious Union

 

The 2017 Tory Manifesto concentrates on “Our Precious Union”. It says “We are a United Kingdom, one nation made of four”. It goes on “This unity between our nations and peoples gives us the strength to change things for the better, for everyone, with a scale of ambition we simply could not possess alone”.

 

It is no accident that defending the British Union is at the heart the Tory manifesto and their view of ‘democracy’. The Tories have been shaken by an existential threat to their power. They are very alive to the prospect of democratic revolution heralded by Scotland’s independence campaign (2012-14). They are determined to ensure it will never be repeated.

 

Defending the British Union is essential to guarantee the Tory grip on the ‘magic money tree’. It gives them the strength to impose their austerity policies on people from John O’Groats to Land’s End. It ensures that the Crown is ‘strong and stable’ so that Her Majesty’s governments can make things worse for the many and better for the few.

 

The Tories say “The United Kingdom Government has in the past tended to ‘devolve and forget’. This Conservative government will put that right. We want the UK Government to be a force for good across the whole country”. Westminster has been forced by the national democratic movements to “devolve” power. In leaving the EU the Tories see an opportunity to reverse the process.

 

“We will be an active government, in every part of the UK. We are ambitious for everyone in Britain and will leave no-one behind in our efforts to spread opportunity and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom”. Even this diplomatic language cannot conceal the image of ‘Greeks’ bearing gifts to all parts of the UK. If May wins a mandate in England and Scotland they plan to impose greater centralisation.

 

Constitutional Convention

 

The 2017 Labour Manifesto is at pains to declare their support for the British Union and reassure the City that the ‘magic money tree’ is safe in their hands. “Labour opposes a second Scottish independence referendum. It is unwanted and unnecessary, and we will campaign tirelessly to ensure Scotland remains part of the UK”.

 

Here Labour is taking a hard Unionist line against self determination. But the general approach is to try to revive liberal Unionist ‘Devolution’ now rebranded as an ill-defined ‘federalism’. That fell into disrepute when Gordon Brown made empty promises of more devolution as he backed Cameron in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

 

Labour says “As we change our constitutional relationship with Europe, we must also adjust our own arrangements. Just as many felt that power was too centralised and unaccountable in Brussels, so many feel that about Westminster”. This is the opposite conclusion to the Tories. The outcome of the EU referendum has fuelled May’s authoritarian tendencies into a reactionary Unionism. The Tories wants to tighten the prisoner’s chains which Labour promises to slacken.

 

Labour’s proposal for a Constitutional Convention is their means of doing this. “A Labour government will establish a Constitutional Convention to examine and advise on reforming of the way Britain works at a fundamental level. We will consult on its form and terms of reference and invite recommendations on extending democracy”.

 

Labour aims at “extending democracy locally, regionally and nationally, considering the option of a more federalised country”. The party believes “the Second Chamber should be democratically elected..... as part of a wider package of constitutional reform to address the growing democratic deficit across Britain”.

 

Labour does recognise the thorny issue of the democratic vacuum in England and set out to address it. “Labour will create a role for a Minister for England, who will sit under the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government”. This proposal for a new Whitehall bureaucracy headed by a Minister of the Crown on a fat salary highlights the “socialist vacuum in democracy”

 

A parliament for England is the elephant in this room not least when Labour talks about “a more federalised country” which requires such a parliament. Cameron opposed an English parliament immediately after the Scottish referendum with the slogan “English votes for English laws”. It was a great sound bite which meant nothing. But it sounds more democratic than Her Majesty’s Minister for England.

 

Manifesto for Democracy

 

A general election is time of increased political activity and discussion between citizens and social classes about the future of the country. In end it comes down to which party to vote for. This ‘Manifesto for Democracy’ is being circulated to address the future direction of the country after the election. It is a question to be answered regardless of who forms the next government.

 

This does not mean that who forms the next government is irrelevant - far from it. The outcome will have a major impact on working people and their families. It will shift the future direction in a more democratic or more authoritarian direction. The case here is that the UK must go beyond the narrow confines of the current broken, discredited and corrupted Westminster ‘democracy’.

 

Jeremy Corbyn had proposed a set of policies for the many not the few. He may win the election and then he may be able to carry out the Labour programme. The problem goes much deeper than that. The present Westminster ‘democracy’ is not a real democracy at all. Once the election is over Whitehall, the Treasury, Bank of England and the City of London that will decide what happens to Labour’s Manifesto.

 

Government by the ‘Crown-in-Parliament’ is a fig leaf for the financial oligarchy. In the name of the Crown we have government by a few for the few at the expense of the many. We cannot make change the world through a political system set up against us. This is not going to change until the majority decide to act. This is not going to happen soon. The newly elected government will enjoy a honeymoon. But it will not be too long before the ‘Brexit crisis’ comes to a head.

 

• Democratic Exit from the EU

 

 

The starting point for the reboot of the democratic revolution must be building popular opposition to an All-British exit which violates the democratic mandates given by the people of Northern Ireland and Scotland (and Gibraltar). We totally oppose this, not only on democratic grounds, but because a hard anti-working class and pro-City deal is being planned behind closed doors.

 

A British Exit is imposing the votes from England and Wales on Scotland and Ireland. It expresses the ‘One Nation’ ideology of Unionism. Northern Ireland and Scotland must be allowed to remain in the EU. England and Wales should leave. This should be the openly declared democratic negotiating objective.

 

In the latter case England and Wales should remain in the single market and hence maintain the existing open borders with Ireland and Scotland. We support all existing EU democratic rights, workers rights, and all environmental laws and protections.

 

We support the right of all citizens and workers to move freely across the EU whether to live, work, study or visit. We totally reject any attempt to blame freedom of movement for the failure of government to plan and direct national resources to meet local needs or scapegoat migrant workers and students for government failure.

 

The negotiated settlement with the EU must be put to the people in a ratification referendum. The people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales must exercise their sovereignty. Any deal cooked up between the German, French and British imperialists may be ratified by the Crown or by Parliament or by the people. The people must decide.

 

• Repeal the 1707 Act of Union

 

The fight against an All British Exit can be advanced by ending the Union between England and Scotland. A simple Bill before parliament to repeal the Act of Union will at a stroke give the Scottish people and their elected government their sovereignty and their right to negotiate their own relations with the EU. The same principles of self determination must apply to Wales and Ireland.

 

The fight against an All British Exit leads to a united Ireland. The reunification of Ireland will enable the non-border guaranteed by the European Union to continue. This is the only democratic and progressive outcome to the mandate given by the Irish people north and south to remain in the European Union. The Good Friday agreement will have to be replaced by a new Irish constitutional settlement.

 

• A Parliament for England

 

The Northern Irish, Scottish, Welsh people have dual representation in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh and in the British parliament at Westminster. England is the only part of the UK without a national parliament. This must be rectified. A parliament elected by the people of England should be established in the Midlands.

 

This new parliament must be founded on the principle of popular sovereignty. It must adopt the most democratic practices, including annual elections by proportional representation. All MPs must be elected, accountable, subject to recall and paid at the wage of the average citizens. As a multi-faith country, England must adopt secular values.

 

• Peoples Assemblies

 

Whilst Westminster is undemocratic and corrupted by financial and corporate interests, local councils are bureaucratised and remote. Local community organisations, campaigns and trade unions are alive and well. Local democracy has roots from which to grow and become a force for change.

 

England’s new democracy must come ‘from below’ on a solid base of local and regional democracy. People’s assemblies must be built in every locality. These have a vital role in organising active citizens, debating politics, developing local policies, monitoring MPs and making them accountable to the people.

 

• The Agreement of the People

 

The people of England must debate and decide a new written constitution. A Constitutional Convention can begin immediately whoever wins this election. However this will be little more than a talking shop until the old constitution is abolished and a provisional government put in place.

 

One of the first actions of any provisional republican government is to organise elections to constituent assembly. This democratic body is tasked to producing a new democratic constitution through open public dialogue and consultation. Any new constitution must be put to a referendum for the agreement of the people.

 

• The Commonwealth of England

 

Transforming England into a democratic secular republic would have international implications. It could end the dependence on and subordination to the United States of America, which the Anglo-British laughingly call the ‘special relationship’. It could bring better closer relations with Ireland, Scotland and Wales and the European Union.

 

Our aim is not to create a neo-liberal republic, like a modern version of the American republic. Working people need a social republic or ‘Commonwealth’ - a society whose purpose is the welfare of the people and whose wealth created by society can be shared in ‘common’ - a common treasury for all not for the private benefit of the few.

 

The Commonwealth needs constitutional laws which include social rights such as housing, health, pensions and employment. This places the rights of people first and above any rights to private property. A social republic extends and values a public sector and places public service above private profit.

 

The National Health Service is a practical living, if imperfect, example of a commonwealth. All citizens contribute their taxes to the NHS and all are free to use the service if or when we need it. We are safe in the knowledge that health workers are not making decisions on our health for personal profit. The NHS is a very popular institution, despite being starved of funds, and subject to unnecessary bureaucratic restructurings and ‘cherry picking’ privatisation.

 

There is already an unofficial or unrecognised ‘commonwealth’ of citizens already defending the NHS. This is shown in many actions by health workers and campaigns to defend our hospitals. This action and organisation provides the possibility for the democratisation of the NHS. More democracy provides better means for defending the NHS and extending its values.

 

The Commonwealth goes beyond the present bureaucratic management of the NHS. There has to be a democratic revolution in managing our health services. All health workers and representatives of the patients must be involved. Nurses, doctors, porters, cleaners, technicians, ambulance workers and catering staff etc must have the democratic means to manage our hospitals.

 

Critical support for Corbyn’s Labour and opposition to Unionism

 

This Westminster election, under the rules of the UK constitution, is not a single national vote as with proportional representation. There are six hundred and fifty separate elections with different national issues, parties and programmes across the UK. Sinn Fein, Plaid Cymru and the SNP are not, for example, UK wide parties.

 

In an ideal world, republican socialists would support the party of European democratic revolution. There is no such party standing in this election campaign. So how should working class people vote in this election? We are not going to recommend who to vote for in particular constituencies. A general approach consistent is to support candidates and parties who are opposed to austerity and support a radical extension of democracy.

 

Austerity is the policy of the few imposed on the many. It cannot be sustained in a democratic political system in which people hold power. Imposing poverty, cutting wages and public services and extending means testing, strengthens bureaucracy and the state. Any effective resistance has to challenge the idea that austerity is a legitimate expression of democracy and the will of the people. Campaigning for a republic and opposing the Crown’s austerity go together.

 

Most obviously, nobody should give any support whatsoever to Theresa May and the Tories. We reject the Tories attempt to turn this election into a plebiscite on ‘strong and stable leadership’. Neither is British Exit the main issue. The Tory ‘Manifesto of Deceit’ is designed to conceal their real intentions behind a smokescreen of confidential negotiations over British Exit.

 

The Tories intend to continue their neo liberal policies by imposing more cuts and austerity on the working class. Their manifesto was designed to avoid the details and costs of their policies. These will continue redistributing the burden of tax from the rich to the poor, not least in their ill judged and discredited dementia tax.

 

In this election the anti-austerity and pro-democracy parties include Labour, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein and the Green Party. All these parties accept or support capitalism to greater or lesser extent. We must have no illusions in any of them. However the main contest is between the Tories and the Labour Party. The next Prime Minister will be Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party as an anti-austerity candidate. In this election he is opposing Tory austerity with a manifesto which recognises the ‘democratic deficit’ and calls for a constitutional convention. In England and Wales people should vote for Labour candidates whilst taking account of the record of existing Labour MP seeking re-election.

 

Jeremy Corbyn has been subject to unprecedented hostility by the BBC and the billionaire Tory and liberal press. He has been continuously undermined by the enemies of working class in the parliamentary Labour Party. He has been subject to a campaign of denigration, votes of no confidence, an anti-democratic coup, and false allegations about anti-semitism.

 

It is difficult if not impossible for a divided Labour Party to win a general election. The right wing of the Labour Party prefers a Tory victory because for them the defeat of Corbyn is a price worth paying to get back their control of the Labour Party. No votes and no support should be given to those identifiable saboteurs.

 

In Scotland and Northern Ireland a different battle is being fought out over the future of the constitution binding Ireland and Scotland to the rest of the UK. This is the battle ground in the struggle for democracy and self determination. In Scotland the Tories have combined austerity with hard Brexit and militant opposition to self determination and possible referenda on independence. We must oppose all Unionist candidates.

 

After the election

 

At the time of writing, opinion polls point to May winning a majority. It is almost certain that she will be Prime Minister on 9 June as she was on 18 April. But it will be a pyrrhic victory if the Tory majority is not much bigger than at present. Her credibility will be seriously damaged.

 

It would be a minor miracle if Corbyn became prime minister. But he could emerge as the real winner even if Labour has no parliamentary majority. He has been fighting an effective campaign and the gap in the opinion polls is narrowing. Putting up a good fight is encouraging all working class people.

 

Whether the next government is led by May or Jeremy Corbyn, the battle over democracy is set to escalate. It may be delayed but cannot be avoided. The Westminster system is broken. It is now a real and present danger of more authoritarian rule, not least after the deadly terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. More urgently than ever, the country needs democracy.

 

Towards a European democratic revolution

 

The EU is neither a united nor democratic state. It has been constructed from above by the ruling classes of Germany, France, Britain and the rest of the EU. It has become a battlefield between those who want greater democracy and unity, and reactionary nationalism that wants the EU to disintegrate.

 

Europe is unstable. It may break up into rival competing nations which led to a European war in 1914. It may become a fully integrated European republic. The real problem is that the ruling classes of Germany, France, Italy and Spain are incapable of uniting Europe because they fear more democracy may strengthen the working class and bring a popular democratic revolution.

 

European unity needs a popular democratic revolution in which power is taken by the people and embedded in a new European constitution. The working class across Europe is the only class with an interest in bringing about a democratic, secular and social federal republic. Closer unity requires all European nations, including Scotland, Wales, Catalonia and the Basques, to have the right to self determination.

 

Back to England

 

A democratic revolution in the UK, regardless whether it begins in England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales, will not stop at the English Channel. England is a European country whether we are in or out of the EU. Tory England has been the biggest blockage to European unity and democratic revolution. Leaving the EU breaks one of the chains which hold Europe back.

 

Neither a Republic nor a Commonwealth can be created ‘from above’ by the state, by Westminster, or by a party acting on behalf of the people. It must come from a mass democratic movement on our streets and in our workplaces. Popular assemblies have to arise in every city, town and village. People power can only come from the people organising themselves.

 

Let us return to 1649 and England’s first democratic and republican revolution. Hear the words of a brave soldier trying with his comrades to defend a true Commonwealth of England. Faced with Cromwell’s suppression of the Levellers, William Thompson wrote an appeal in England’s Standard Advanced. He points out how their hopes of freedom have been dashed and they have been deceived. He calls on the “oppressed people of this nation” to rise up “For a New Parliament by the Agreement of the People”. It was dated on 6 May 1649. It is a call to action which speaks to us today.

 

3rd June 2017

 

 

 

 

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