‘Bread & butter issues’ are crucial, but we also need more socialism – Diane Abbott exclusive


“At home & abroad, what we need is more socialism.”

Diane Abbott

By Diane Abbott MP

Thank you very much for inviting me here today.

The theme of the meeting is socialist solutions to the crisis.  

I want to focus on one part of the struggle for socialism, which is the struggle for an integrated socialist approach to domestic policy and international policy.

I had a recent article in The Morning Star referring to the Tory government it is titled out of step and out of touch.  It is an examination of the very pernicious role this government is playing and I hope some of you get a chance to read it.

The reason I mention it is not solely to boost the readership figures of Britain’s only socialist daily newspaper.  But it is because it develops a theme that I think is important to any socialist project. More than that, it is an essential ingredient and we will be lost without it.

This ingredient is the understanding that there is an essential link in the relationship between domestic and international politics. We need to make that link a socialist one.

Take the negative case, the role of Boris Johnson at the G7. He clearly shows the reactionary, the authoritarian and the English nationalist connection between domestic and international politics.

Look at the recent record of the Tories.

We should welcome the global tax deal agreed by G7 finance ministers. If it is properly implemented it means just a little more of the burden of the crisis is borne by big business rather than by ordinary people.  But we have learnt that at every stage the role of the British government was a reactionary one.  They got the proposes twenty-one percent tax rate watered down to fifteen per cent.  And now they are trying to get big banks exempted entirely, to protect their friends and donors in the City of London.

Or take a look at what the WHO calls the ‘moral catastrophe’ of the rich Western counties, ie the G7 to provide vaccines to the rest of the world. Joe Biden says he will provide five hundred million vaccine doses. Boris Johnson says he will provide one hundred million does. We shall see.  But he also says he will lead on ‘vaccinating the world’.  The world population is considerably bigger than all the G7 together is likely to pledge. How many they actually provide, while people are dying in huge numbers, will probably be a smaller figure.

But, at the same time, who has been blocking the waiver of vaccine patents at the World Trade Organisation? The waiver is vital in allowing global, large-scale production of unbranded vaccines.  Biden initially vetoed the waiver, but is now running scared of others ‘vaccine diplomacy.  But it is the government in this country and other rich G7 countries who are hoarding vaccines and blocking the patent waiver.  Many, many people are already dying as a result.

Disastrously, as host of both the G7 and COP26, Britain is also playing a pernicious role on climate change.  Yes, if North Sea oil is running down and you have continued Britain’s long-term deindustrialisation it can appear that you are making great strides in reducing emissions.  But those factors are diminishing and now is the time for decisive action.  It is long overdue.  But we learnt recently that there is no plan at all behind the UK’s ambitious targets to reduce emissions.  There needs to one, and fast.

Now I want to turn to an international issue close to home, and the Northern Ireland Protocol.  This is part of the Brexit Treaty and has the force of international law as a result.  But because the English nationalists of this government don’t like the Treaty they signed, they are inciting Loyalists to violence against it. Who says so? Joe Biden. His Ambassador has formally rebuked the British government for ‘inflaming tensions’ in Ireland and with no regard to the effect it will have on peace, or the Good Friday Agreement. When Lord Frost went to Belfast recently the only political forces he met were the Loyalist Communities Council. And now the EU is threatening a trade war over the same issue, the UK government’s unwillingness to accept the realities of the Brexit they fought for. The Tory efforts to rip up the Protocol trample over the will of the people of Ireland, North and South who opposed Brexit and who support the Protocol.  Johnson is allying with the most reactionary groupings in Ireland.

Johnson’s government is to the right even of Biden.  Even on public spending, Biden is giving an enormous boost to household incomes.  Johnson is freezing pay in the public sector, encouraging fire and rehire and has raised income tax on ordinary people.  Of course, our Party leadership should be calling them out on all this.  But I am not holding my breath.

These all show that international politics are completely bound up with national politics.  It is a mistake for some on the left, even some colleagues, to suggest we should stick to ‘bread and butter issues’.  If we only ever stuck to ‘bread and butter issues’ there would be no Good Friday Agreement, there would be no Climate Change Act, there would be campaign around Windrush.  There would be no universal suffrage, something the Tories are now trying to row back on.

Our socialist project cannot be even more bread, even more butter.  They are important. But alone, they do not win hearts and minds, or elections. Instead, we should offer something else as well.  At home and abroad, what we need is more socialism.

  • This is the text of Diane’s speech at the recent Socialist Solutions to the Crisis event. You can watch the full event here.

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