So, where’s your inspiring leader?

A white woman with wavy hair wearing a green jumper with a pink scarf round her neck, holding a home-made banner saying "No goodbyes based on lies", with a hand-drawn EU flag.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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  • M Risbrook

    “There seems to be no evidence that the mostly pro-Remain Labour Right have faced up to the reason why they lost the referendum”

    The challenge that Labour faces is not whether their leader should be on the left or the right, or Jeremy Corbyn or somebody else, but whether the party should be run in the interests of the Guardian reading Metropolitan Elite or run in the interests of the common folk from ‘proper’ England. The Metropolitan Elite may have overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU but the common folk from ‘proper’ England have overwhelmingly voted to leave the EU. On top of that the majority of voters in Scotland voted to remain in the EU.

    The issue of whether Britain remains a member of the EU or leaves the EU is binary. Either we are in or we are out. The party needs to reach consensus on this issue quickly. It cannot afford to teeter on the edge or remain ambiguous.

    Labour needs to decide whether they are a social democratic party for the common folk or a ‘safe space’ liberal party working for fringe rights and pandering to the interests of (largely undeserving) minorities. For the past 20 or so years Labour stubbornly refused to accept that their core white English working class voters had a huge problem with mass immigration, and the resultant problems it caused for them such as housing, schools, access to public services, and the change in culture in their neighbourhoods. Labour got punished for this in the last two general elections and it’s traditional support base overwhelmingly decided to vote against official party policy in the referendum. Despite these huge setbacks the Labour party still refuses to accept why but instead retreats further into their ‘safe space’.

  • George Carty

    Didn’t over 60% of Labour voters vote Remain in the referendum? IIRC it was working-class conservatives (both UKIP and Tory) that were the backbone of the Leave vote.

  • M Risbrook

    Working class Conservatives are strange creatures but they are not always anti-EU. You are just as likely to find one who thinks that Ken Clarke is a hero as you will if you are looking for an opponent of the EU.

    In rock solid Old Labour areas where over 60% of people voted to leave the EU then it is almost impossible that such figures can be achieved unless around 60% of people who normally vote Labour also voted to leave the EU.

  • George Carty

    Unless a lot of people who didn’t vote at all in General Elections turned out to vote Leave.

  • Yes, that’s exactly what’s thought to have happened; turnout for this was much higher than for any recent general election.

  • George Carty

    And General Election non-voters were presumably people with little interest in politics normally (and therefore especially easy for the tabloids to sway).

  • George Carty

    No, even in Labour Leave areas only a minority of Labour voters voted Leave. Here is an estimate of how Sunderland’s EU referendum votes lined up with its 2015 General Election votes.

  • M Risbrook

    I’m not so sure about the validity of the estimate but what is undeniable is that Labour is a party split and divided over the issue of EU membership. This will plague Labour for another 10 years if not more.