Friday, 28 July 2017

To those who voted for Labour as a pro-Remain party: you’ve been suckered

The madness that is British politics in 2017 this week continued apace. While Tories continued to flounder in their Brexit negotiations and, Trump-like, blame the media for their self-inflicted disasters, we finally arrived at the point of disarray where the half-bonkers Jacob Rees-Mogg, a throwback, cartoon Tory backbencher, is considered 2nd favourite to be the next Tory leader, when Theresa May is finally defenestrated.

Even so, Labour aimed to outdo them in the madness stakes. The man who was, in theory, the most senior opposition politician campaigning against Brexit, finally admitted that he was not, if he ever had been, anti-Brexit at all. In fact, the Labour leader was now in favour of the hardest of Brexits. Britain would unequivocally leave the Single Market.

Furthermore, it seems that Corbyn does not actually understand the phenomenon of the European Economic Area; he believes that you have to be in the EU to be part of the Single Market (you don’t, as Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland will attest).

His pro-European supporters on the left, such as the redoubtable Guardian columnist Owen Jones, scrambled to find a simultaneously pro-Corbyn and pro-European position which did not involve Houdini-like logical contortions. They failed.

All in a party where the vast majority of the membership, most supporting unions and the majority of the PLP resisted Brexit in the referendum. The party’s Brexit policy, between Corbyn, McDonnell, Keir Starmer and Barry Gardiner is now a jumble of contradictions which shifts daily.

What of those supporters who attempt to defend their leader? The three excuses given by for Jeremy Corbyn’s behaviour on Europe are as follows:

One. The argument used to defend virtually any questionable Corbyn quote from the past: he used to think that way, but people’s views can change, can’t they? Ok. But if his views have changed, why is he now arguing, not just for Brexit, but for the hardest of Brexits?

Two. He is pro-Brexit, but the PLP will act as ballast against him. They will never let him go the whole hog. Wrong. They have so far not done anything to stop him. Furthermore, bear in mind that, for most of the last two years, Corbyn has been unable to make significant changes to party policy.

This is for two reasons: one, because the PLP was in constant revolt and threatened to unseat him; and two, because the early election called by Theresa May in the spring did not give any time to put together a proper manifesto, with at least the veneer of consensus between party, PLP and leadership. That will mostly not be the case for the next five years, during which large numbers of moderate MPs will either be deselected or leave of their own accord, attracted by less thankless jobs outside Parliament. The balance is likely to tilt more in Corbyn’s favour, not less.

Three. He’s never been pro-Brexit. This is clearly not true. Thanks to the magic of Google, you can find a plethora of anti-EU quotes from Corbyn spanning decades. As with many other opinions of his, the only time he has equivocated on EU membership is during the two years since he has been leader, because he knew it was unpalatable to most Labour supporters.

The obvious conclusion to all this is that he has spent two years dissimulating, trying to say as little as possible (especially during the referendum campaign) and hoping no-one would pick him up on it. The minute the vote was won, he was calling for immediate implementation of Article 50, where even the most die-hard Tory Brexiteers could see that that was not practical.

The truth is that Corbyn’s resistance to the EU is born of a deep, small “c” conservatism, that has led him to keep the same views on, well, pretty much everything during his thirty-four years as an MP. Where some MPs evolved from Trotskyites to New Labour, or from backwoods Tories to Tory Reform Group members, he stayed the same. No moving with the times for Corbyn; a fixed point in a changing world.

Worse, even if you forget the obvious bonfire of controls on workers’ rights and other areas dear to Labour supporters’ hearts, his is not even a vision with the plus of a dynamic, free-trade Britain. It is of an isolationist, statist paradise, where intervention in everything is allowed.

It is a return to the sclerotic 1970s, without any of the compensating benefits of that era’s generous public sector spending, which we will be unlikely to be able to afford; a myopic and regressive lose-lose.

Whether or not you agree that Britain has a bright future outside the EU – at best a highly debatable point – it is clear that Corbyn’s vision is as bad, if not worse, than the Tory right’s, of a free-market Switzerland-on-drugs.

More than anything it is now clear, to those who voted for Labour as the party to soften, or even try to reverse, Brexit: you’ve been suckered. It is impossible for Labour return to being a pro-Europe party while Corbyn is still leader.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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