Corbyn has put Labour on the same side of history as Farage, Le Pen and Trump

screen-shot-2016-06-24-at-08-08-18-440x286I’ve always had a huge amount of affection for Jeremy Corbyn. I’ve heard him speak eloquently and forcefully on countless occasions in support of excellent but underpublicised causes. I supported him in the first Labour leader ballot and I urged everyone I knew to do the same. Like most people who care about such things I was furious that the other candidates hadn’t even had the integrity to oppose the Government’s Welfare Bill. When he says that Theresa May is on the wrong side of history in inviting Trump for a state visit, I’m in full agreement with him (although that particular phrase has been overused beyond repair).

However, I didn’t vote for him last November in the second ballot because there were signs that he and his team didn’t have the leadership and communication skills to face the challenge. They seemed unaware of how to research, design, test and transmit compelling slogans and images in order to influence political debate. (Here is an excellent example of what they could have done.) What’s more, there was abundant evidence from former shadow cabinet members who were by no stretch of the imagination Blairites of a lack of basic coordination, so that policies which did emerge were often contradicted or cancelled out by unplanned and haphazard leadership statements.

However, the main reason I didn’t vote for Corbyn against Smith wasn’t his incompetence or the weakness of the opposing candidate. It was his betrayal over Brexit. Although by no means everyone who voted for the UK to leave the EU was a supporter of the far-right, the EU referendum was a nationalist trap which the then PM Cameron, motivated by a mixture of short-term desperation and monumental complacency, fell right into. 

Corbyn’s efforts during the referendum campaign were lacklustre, even after one of his own MPs was shot dead by an activist of a terrorist group closely connected to Ukip. His immediate call for implementation of Article 50 was an indication of his lack of political judgment and a betrayal of those who elected him leader. That he should, in this week’s parliamentary vote, exploit the most important issue in recent British history in the attempt to establish himself as a firm leader shows that he and his team have no understanding of what’s at stake and seem to have taken seriously Tory press propaganda that the UK has a future outside the EU. All expert advice before and after the referendum makes it absolutely clear that it doesn’t.

By obliging Labour MPs to vote in favour of whatever Tory plans for Brexit turn out to be, we can only hope that Corbyn has placed himself on the losing side of history. Where he could and should have mobilised Labour’s extensive campaigning machinery and put his very strong core of dedicated supporters to work arguing that the whole Brexit project is a reactionary folly and that the referendum was a farce, he’s divested himself of moral authority and his leadership has ultimately come to serve the socially regressive, racist and climate-lying agenda of the international far-right. The future of parliamentary opposition now lies in a progressive coalition led by people like Caroline Lucas, Mhairi Black, Nicola Sturgeon and, why not (since Nick Clegg’s career is hopefully still dead and buried) Tim Farron. Anti-Brexit Labour MPs, i.e. those who had the integrity to vote against the Government and against their party leadership this week clearly have a role to play. They represented the majority of Labour voters. But as of now the leadership of the Labour Party is, for all Corbyn’s personal decency, at best irrelevant and at worst an obstruction in the way of building something better.

7 thoughts on “Corbyn has put Labour on the same side of history as Farage, Le Pen and Trump

  1. It seems striking to me that so much hyperbolic criticism was levelled at Corbyn’s leadership rivals about being ‘red Tories’, and now we end up with Corbyn not simply apathetically ignoring the Tories lurching over to the right, but actually supporting them.

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  2. Nonsense the EU has always been an issue that cut across left and right and across parties. Tony Benn was anti-EU, so were many other Labour MPs for decades.

    Two thirds of Labour held constituencies had a majority of people voting in them voting Leave. A majority of voters in the country as a whole voted Leave. And if Corbyn had done anything except direct Labour MPs to vote for Article 50 it would have been a huge gift to May, to the tories and to the right wing tabloids who would all have shrieked “Labour are trying to reverse the referendum result” from now till the next election.

    And the result was always likely to be Leave anyway. Decades of tabloid propaganda against the EU, immigrants and refugees – and conflating the three issues – have had their effect. For the worse certainly. But the idea that Corbyn being more pro-EU during the referendum campaign could have swung it is far-fetched.

    Try putting the blame where it lies – with the tabloids, with the tories and with Labour MPs like Gisela Stuart who joined and spoke on behalf of the Leave campaign. And with the arrogance of certain EU officials and heads of EU member state governments who, by e.g imposing pointless austerity on Greece that makes tory austerity look mild by comparison, turned more left wingers against the EU and increased the Leave vote.

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    1. Gisela Stuart is certainly a treacherous piece of work. Wrt the EU no-one voted on the basis it was a perfect institution. Voting to stay was a defensive vote in the context of the dynamics of UK politics. The far-right had seized on the EU as a particularly juicy scab to pick. Voting against the EU was like voting against Trump. Of course the tabloids and the Tories are to blame but we elected Corbyn on the basis that he’d oppose their agenda. He’s been singularly ineffective in doing so and voting for Brexit in parliament is evidence of a profound misreading of British politics and what Labour’s role could and should be. They should have campaigned to stay in a reformed EU, with a separate message from the Tory campaign. He and his team don’t have the political expertise to carry off such a thing. I thought he understood that political leaders can argue against the tide, reframing events in a way that opens up new possibilities, but he apparently doesn’t.

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  3. A Labour MP killed by a “terrorist group closely linked to UKIP”? Seems a bit of an exaggeration. I hate Britain First and they’re neo-nazis – but no evidence they’re involved in terrorism. And evidence linking Thomas Mair to the BNP is pretty thin.

    And while UKIP undoubtedly has picked up a lot of former BNP voters – and they and UKIP were both part of the Leave campaign, doesn’t really make them “linked to” Britain First, any more than Labour and Britain First/ BNP campaigning for a No vote in the Scottish independence referendum makes Labour and the BNP “linked”, unless you reduce “linked” to such a vague term as to be almost meaningless.

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  4. I agree leaving the EU is probably not wise anyway and may be a big mistake, but the reality is it’s going to happen – and Labour trying to block it would do nothing but lose Labour a lot of votes. In the long run maybe we can rejoin the Single Market or EU, but won’t be until voters have suffered enough to realise their mistake. Until then there is a majority for it.

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    1. That majority can be turned round by principled and thoughtful campaigning. That’s what being a party leader should be all about. Tragically Corbyn was thinking of the EU debate in terms of the 1970s and not the 2010s. This is the route that the British far-right has identified towards tbe achievement of its long-term goals and in this context opposing Brexit is a way of saying no pasarán. As for accepting the vote, if a friend says he’s going to kill himself do you say fair enough or do everything you can to dissuade him?

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