So, in the last few weeks Jeremy Corbyn has shown his true Euro-Sceptic colours, issuing a three-line whip to order his MPs to vote in favour of the government’s bill to trigger Article 50 (which, of course, he knows a large section of his MPs will simply ignore) while a number of Labour MPs and Labour-associated columnists (most recently Mark Seddon in the Guardian) running scared of the working-class Brexit vote in the North, which in places voted heavily for leaving the EU (he cites Easington, County Durham, which voted 57.5% to leave), which it fears could turn towards UKIP, much as working-class Americans voted for Trump even as their leaders (e.g. union shop stewards) advised them to vote for Hilary Clinton. He puts this down to yet another campaign to undermine and remove Corbyn. I’m not convinced.
For a start, why would anyone want to undermine Corbyn — apart from the fact that he’s the least effective opposition leader in recent history, unable to command a majority of MPs despite his support among ordinary party members, and the fact that being part of the EU was a key plank in the platform that kept Labour in power for 13 years and one that Corbyn always opposed, except during his lukewarm pre-referendum performance? But really, I very much doubt that these MPs want to sabotage Article 50 in order to undermine Corbyn; it is more likely to be the other way round, since they believe passionately in British membership of the EU and what it represents, and believe that leaving will leave Britain isolated, attempting to strike trade deals singly with other major powers, all of them thousands of miles away from British shores, rather than being part of a ready-made bloc of several of the world’s strongest economies which is on our doorstep.
But there is more to the EU than just the economics. Barack Obama was still president of the US when the referendum was held seven months ago and the smart money appeared to be on Hilary Clinton winning the election to succeed him. Today, an incompetent, racist buffoon is in charge and has made protectionist noises, put fascists in key national security positions and has threatened everyone’s security by killing a small girl in the Yemen while targeting the house of someone the US had a grudge against, and sparked a constitutional crisis and possibly the revival of the mostly moribund al-Qa’ida by deliberately barring and harassing legal immigrants from several Muslim countries on completely spurious grounds and then openly defying court orders to desist. Are we going to choose to tag along with this goon, or be a bit-part player in a US-Russian axis, or remain in a bloc with 27 other stable democratic countries? The choice should be obvious; if we leave, our ‘closest ally’ will soon be somewhere that British citizens cannot guarantee being able to do business because of lawlessness and state harassment.
Labour MPs are being asked to disregard their London voters (characterised as students, ethnic minorities and the “loony left”) so as to shore up their votes in the Midlands and North, where there is a substantial anti-EU Labour vote. This is exactly what they did in the 90s, disregard those very people so as to chase after middle-class votes in the Midlands and the Suburbs; now they fear losing their votes to UKIP. For this to happen, however, UKIP would have to put up some credible candidates. It is a sign of their lack of talent that their leader, Paul Nuttall, is being parachuted in from Merseyside to stand in Stoke-on-Trent in the forthcoming by-election where he does not know such facts as which six towns make up Stoke; if they were a well-organised party with a strong working-class base, they could have found someone local in a city that voted 70% to leave the EU. Labour should be countering the threat from UKIP the same way as they countered the BNP: by exposing their lack of any concern or commitment to working-class people, their incompetence, their hypocrisy, not by leading us into a damaging action because “it’s what people want”. Whatever they think they want now, if the Brexiteers’ promises are not met, people’s anger will be channelled towards ‘immigrants’, including ethnic minorities, both in political distractions and in outright violence. Labour has a duty to protect its loyal supporters from this, not just give white working-class voters “what they want”.
Labour must, of course, work out ways of reviving areas of the North that were destroyed by Thatcher, but this cannot be done by poleaxing the entire economy through self-imposed political and economic isolation. If it does this, we might no longer have an immigration ‘problem’, but this would be because there is no reason to immigrate, much as you don’t get people from all over the country moving to places like Middlesbrough. In the past, when people have demanded things of government that are undesirable (such as restoring capital punishment) or impossible (such as removing VAT on domestic fuel or menstrual hygiene products), politicians say “we can’t”. Labour must say this to its base: we cannot jeopardise the British economy, the hard-won peace in Northern Ireland, even the United Kingdom itself, just to honour a referendum held seven months ago when the world was a different place and the campaign for which was based on outright lies, promises that have since been ripped up or which fell apart within days of the referendum, and years of propaganda from the commercial right-wing media (and as a politician has been removed from office in this country on the basis of “undue spiritual influence” over Bangladeshi Muslims, i.e. local imams had supported him, the influence of the gutter press over this referendum should count as a reason to set it aside).
Let us not forget that the result was narrow and that the proportion of people who voted to Remain was higher than that which usually wins elections. UK-wide, it was 48.1%; in England alone, it was 46.6%. Chuka Umunna, a south London Labour MP, has said that Labour cannot cast itself as the party of the 48%, but parties have secured majorities in Parliament on the back of the votes of the 43% (as with Labour after the 1997 landslide) or even less (such as 35.2% in the case of Labour’s last government). If anti-Brexit candidates form an alliance at the next election, particularly if one is called before 2020 as some have suggested it might be, enough MPs could be elected to defeat this reckless proposal even in England (we would not have to form any such alliance in Scotland). Even in the areas of the north which voted in favour of leaving the EU, a large enough Remain minority exists to divide two or three pro-Leave candidates. If the Labour leadership will not defend the greater good, it is time for the rest of us to use divide and rule tactics: leave the Labour party to the Marxist dreamboats and unprincipled, careerist bully-boys. The Daily Mail can throw around accusations of unpatriotism all they like, but a Britain on its own outside the EU in the near future will not be a country worth living in, much less fighting for.
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