Thursday, 6 February 2020

Labour, co-owner of #brexitshambles

Image result for corbyn mcdonnell imagesWe are out. That’s it, the fat lady has sung.

But of course we are not out at all, not in any meaningful sense. This is just the start of a tortuous, eleven-month scramble to try and get some kind of a sensible result in place by the end of the year.

Remainers have to admit that they – we – lost the argument, at least for now. Leavers have got what they wanted and, ultimately, that’s democracy.

But, Leaver or Remainer, we have had in many ways the worst of all possible worlds. Leavers have not really got what many wanted, at least, not yet. If we leave aside the semi-suicidal, macho contingent who are happy to have the hardest of hard Brexits, moderate Leavers will now see that we now have eleven months to get somewhere on the sliding scale between what one former PM has rightly called the “pointless Brexit” and the “painful Brexit”.

If we end at the “pointless Brexit”, people on both sides will rightly say, we might as well have stayed in. Most of the benefits but without a seat at the table.

If we end at the “painful Brexit”, for example, with few and/or poor-outcome trade deals in place, the economic jolt to come will be memorable. And, it must be said, we have both precious little time to get those deals in place and the poor bargaining power of the supplicant. But we are where we are.

And somewhere in the middle? A bit of both of the above or, perhaps, not even really possible. Perhaps it will quickly converge down to just that binary choice of one or the other: who knows.

As a man of scant firm views Johnson is, of course, capable of pushing for either, depending on what he sees as most expedient. The Tories, egged on by Farage and his allies, have built this edifice up from nothing and must now go through with it.

But it is probably also the right time to just review Labour’s hand in all this. Imagine, if you will, a half-competent leader in charge of the party the last four years. Holding May and then Johnson effectively to account.

Whether Leaver or Remainer, you have to admit that an effective Opposition would have helped get a better deal on the table sooner. Instead we had a Labour leader vacillating between the Remain position his members largely wanted, and the Leave position he had himself openly held his whole adult life, until the moment he became leader in 2015.

In short, Labour has been wildly gesticulating, Janus-like, in both directions. For four years.

The resulting gridlock in Parliament did not help Britain make up its mind. It made the wounds of a divided country fester and left us in the hands of the populists, who had nobody’s best interests at heart, save their own.

When the history books of this time are written, they will surely write that Corbyn’s leadership was asleep at the wheel, when the country needed Labour. It will take us some time to recover from that conclusion, let alone still-growing anti-Semitism or the party’s worst election since 1935.

That heady cocktail would be enough to shame most people. Corbyn, on the other hand, is unrepentant and continues to cling to that position only by avoiding all journalists who might question him on his starring role in the defeat.

But we should also be fair: Corbyn’s team, and their union backers, should not take all the blame.

Labour’s MPs – almost all of them against him, at least at the beginning – had four years to stage a successful coup. The far left is awful, but it knows how to organise. Whereas the party’s moderates, stunned to find themselves suddenly on the back foot, failed palpably to organise. The Grand Old Duke of Watson, who marched them up the hill to stay in the party, and then back down it again as he headed for the exit door last December – handily accompanied by a recommendation for a peerage – did not help.

There are notable exceptions, of course, some of whom have stayed honourably and some of whom left honourably. But any PLP member with an ounce of self-awareness must admit that a collective opportunity was missed; not to mention the indescribably foolish MPs who lent Corbyn their nominations to get him onto the leader shortlist in the first place. And now, of course, the PLP is a very significantly different group from that of 2016. The new intake does not share the blame but they will now have to grow up politically, and fast.

So yes: Farage, Cameron, May and Johnson have been the co-parents of a most dismal Brexit outcome for both Leavers and Remainers, with little resolved and precious little time left to fix things. But Labour has been the midwife.

We can only hope that the current leadership election can draw a line under the whole sorry affair; to start the long, slow grind of cleaning up the toxic sections of the party which led us to its 110-year historical nadir.

Because if it cannot, quite simply, the party cannot survive as a party of government. The stakes could not be higher.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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