This week, as the Tory leadership election gets underway and a bunch of five ghastly right-wing, anti-immigrant, mostly Islamophobic extremists compete to be the next prime minister, people who are in or more inclined towards the Labour party (even if voting for it isn’t an option, given the lack of effort they make to try and win our constituencies) have been on the edge of our seats waiting for someone to make a move against Jeremy Corbyn, who has the support of the party membership but is regarded with open disdain by most of the Parliamentary party, including a large proportion of his shadow cabinet who resigned last week, mostly citing a lacklustre performance in campaigning to keep Britain in the EU before last week, when his anti-EU sympathies have in fact never been a secret, as well as fears that he is unelectable and accusations that he tolerates or even encourages anti-Semitism. However, the party Right, described as “all plot and no plan”, have not put forward a leader that will be any more effective than Corbyn. (More: Paul Bernal.)
Let’s remember why Corbyn won: there were three other candidates, all of whom he beat comfortably, winning a majority in the first round. They included people who had held ministerial office under Blair or Brown, while Corbyn had never held even a shadow ministerial post and briefly defected to the Liberal Democrats during the Iraq war. The simple reason was that the other three (Burnham and Kendall in particular) were competing for a right-wing vote which had long since deserted the Labour party, talking of opposition as if it were a dirty word and parroting Tory rhetoric about the “work-shy”, “wealth creators” and the “politics of envy”. At the time I called Andy Burnham a “shop-minder”, referring to the Blairite tendency to mind the shop for the Tories while in office. Their mentality has not changed a great deal since Corbyn was elected, something which shows in some of the anti-Corbyn commentary, such as this in today’s Telegraph by former Labour MP, now lobbyist, Tom Harris:
Choosing Ed over his big brother was the first indication we had that Labour members – and, of course, trade unionists – were growing tired of grown up politics, of the inevitable compromises that accompany being in government. We were out of government now – Great God almighty, free at last! – and it was time to let our hair down, to talk about what we wanted to talk abut, campaign on what we wanted to campaign on, and not be subject any more to the selfish whims of the electorate.
So far Angela Eagle, a minister under Blair who voted for the Iraq war and abstained on the Welfare Reform Bill, and deputy leader Tom Watson have been suggested as challengers but have ruled themselves out, at least to initiate the challenge. The rules state that unless Corbyn resigns, he will be on the ballot in any forthcoming leadership contest, so a shop-minder will not win over the Labour membership. There seems to be no evidence that the mostly pro-Remain Labour Right have faced up to the reason why they lost the referendum: because their own voters, often in their safe seats, were given an opportunity to speak and did, and rejected their old politics which relied on attracting middle-class votes in the suburbs and ignoring their base, assuming their support to be in the bag already. To have a chance of winning over the Labour membership and winning an election, they have to put forward radical policies that both address the concerns of working-class Leave voters (meaning: rebuilding industry so as to end under-employment in the North) and middle-class Remain voters. Middle-class Little Englanders are a minority, and will shrink further as the costs of leaving the EU become more and more obvious.
The folly of holding the referendum is becoming more and more apparent, despite the rise in popularity of UKIP at the last general election, even in parts of the country that had long voted for the pro-EU Lib Dems. Some people are saying there should be no more referendums, ever. I disagree. They are useful for deciding constitutional questions such as whether the monarchy should be abolished or whether a part of the UK should have its own parliament, or independence. I am against using them to decide matters of policy, because the Swiss experience is that they are often an outlet for bigotry; the EU is not a constitutional question but a complex policy matter. The complexity of it is only now making itself known to many people; that leaving would have had negative economic consequences was never in doubt, but merely the prospect of our leaving has caused chaos. When the full implications of our leaving become known, there must be a second referendum as I believe most people’s votes would be different if they knew them, and if a viable alternative was on the table. It is up to Labour to provide that alternative as the Tories are saying “we’re all Brexiteers now”. Will they come up with one, or are they too busy sniping at each other?
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