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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Corbyn’s Brexit - We Have To Talk

If last month’s General Election taught us one thing, it was never to write off Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Although the local election results earlier this year were appalling for Labour, a combination of an excellent personal campaign by Jezza, along with the realisation that the suicide note the press had talked about was actually in the Tories’ manifesto (and that Theresa May was a crap candidate) turned it all around.
So when it comes to the great challenges facing the country, I’m not going to say that Jezza and his pals can’t do it. But that does not totally assuage my concerns, nor I suspect many millions of others’, over how Labour is going to square its Brexit circle. Thus far, the policy appears to be to support the view that the UK will leave the EU. But how will Labour deliver the benefits it talks about after leaving?

How can access to the Single Market be achieved without being part of it, or indeed, part of the Customs Union? How can Britain regain the confidence of all those financial institutions looking to relocate their head offices out of the country? How will the car manufacturers be persuaded not to pack up their factories and take them across the channel (investment in that sector has declined significantly of late)?
Owen Jones - the insider's view

Regrettably, the response of those most vocal and active Corbyn supporters does not inspire confidence that those questions are being adequately addressed, let alone answered - something which, one might expect, Labour would have in hand in case of another of those snap General Elections. Once again, I remind all concerned of J K Galbraith’s observations on leadership.

All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common; it was their willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership”.

The major anxiety for British voters, and increasingly so, is their economic well-being - which may be significantly and potentially adversely affected by departure from the EU. Decisions are about to be made - look for the process to accelerate by September this year - on future investment. Those decisions, should they indicate businesses and jobs moving out of the UK, will only serve to increase that anxiety.
With that in mind, let us consider the stance of leading Labour loyalist, pundit, author and activist Owen Jones. No-one can doubt his commitment. Nor is his stance in any way equivocal. But facets of that stance appear less than totally thought through. Also, assumptions are made on the public mood which may turn out not to prove true.

Here is his recently expressed reasoning: “I don't like Brexit but I also think the wishes of the British people must be honoured because I'm a democrat”. This would be easier to understand if we knew what the wishes of the British people were, either at the time of the referendum, or now. But it is an otherwise sound start.
However, under questioning by David Allen Green, a fatal flaw emerges: “Why are you comparing inherently transient parliamentary elections whose transience define our democracy with referendums?” This is an ostensibly coherent response, until it is realised that both the 2016 and 1975 referenda were the result of transient political expediency.

Consider the circumstances of both: Harold Wilson claimed that the 1975 vote was the result of his having “renegotiated” the terms of Britain’s accession to the Treaty of Rome. The amount of “renegotiation” was so minimal as to make no difference to those terms. The real reason Wilson chose to put the membership of the then EEC to a referendum vote was, above all, to hold his own party together. Labour was, at the time, deeply split on the issue of Europe.
The 2016 referendum was also the result of transient expediency: David Cameron was also faced with potential splits in his own party: he would offer a referendum to paper these over, and at the same time see off the Kippers. What he failed to take on board was the thought that, having inflicted six years of needless austerity on the electorate, enough of them might blame the EU for it to turn the vote.

So when Jones tells “A referendum sold by the official Remain side as settling an issue and an election yielding an explicitly temporary result are not the same” he is already batting on a sticky track. Moreover, if we must consider what the Remain side were selling, the same is true for the Leave side, whose offer in response was deeply dishonest.
That much is to sow some doubt; what comes later only darkens the mood. “We held a referendum on a single issue, both main parties said we were bound by the result, a majority voted one way. There's no comparison”. The referendum was not binding, whatever those who Robin Day memorably and rightly called “Here today and gone tomorrow politicians” said to the contrary.

Jones then veers worryingly off course: “And quite frankly *the majority of Remainers* have my position, unlike the poll tax which had huge public opposition”. Has he taken a poll? May we see the results? Public opinion is never, ever carved in stone. It can be as unstable as the shifting quicksands in a broad tidal estuary.
And then comes something beyond worrying: “And quite frankly if your fellow travellers keep behaving like they have on my timeline they'll do nothing but repel people”. At a time when we need level heads and reasoned debate, this, I’m afraid, will not do, something I take no pleasure in writing, as I generally find Owen Jones the soundest of pundits.

Fellow travellers”, once the preserve of the Thatcher boot boys, transformed into a term of deprecation from the left: how times change. But the problem for politicians when confronted with anything Europe related remains very much the same: to take the divisions that will shape this country’s future for generations to come, against a backdrop always shaped by the momentary interest of a day-to-day domestic agenda.

Yet Owen Jones is as close as any commentator to the beating heart of the Labour Party. So he cannot be dismissed as merely another grandstanding pundit; he has clout, he has reach, and he has inside knowledge of the leadership. And if the leadership is equally unyielding on its drive towards the EU exit door, that has to be a concern to many, not least to younger voters who are overwhelmingly pro-EU.
I’ll go further: the suggestion from the Labour leadership that Britain could achieve seamless, or frictionless, access to the Single Market and not be part of it is a non-starter. We know this as Michel Barnier, heading up the Brexit negotiations for the EU side, has said so unequivocally. Labour can’t have that, so they should not pretend otherwise.

There may be more flaws in the party’s stance; that most glaring is given in example. Also on display is the concern of those voices who might be expected to at least be sympathetic to Labour, if not totally on board with Jezza and the rest of the leadership.

Take Tony Robinson, clearly concerned that the party he supports shows no sign of having a cunning plan: “Immigration, trade, EU membership?- I'm concerned Labour is on the path to becoming a right wing party spouting left wing rhetoric”. He was not alone.
Observing a Comment Is Free piece from Barry Gardiner, that most reliable of Labour talking heads during the election campaign, Jonathan Freedland mused “It means Labour's position on Brexit is now the same as Liam Fox's … It means Philip Hammond's Brexit stance is milder than that of the official opposition”.

Rafael Behr had also seen the Gardiner piece: “In which Barry Gardiner interprets ‘shadowing’ Liam Fox literally as matching his every move”. So had John Harris: “This is the shadow trade secretary. You know, Barry Gardiner. By definition, this is a Hard Brexit position”. They - and Polly Toynbee, who has added her concerns this morning - are all at the Guardian, a paper which backed Labour last month.
It must also be borne in mind that public opinion is likely to have shifted significantly by the time the Article 50 process has completed. Take that thought, add to it the concerns of all those younger voters, and round off with the memory that Corbyn gave the electorate one thing his opponents could not - hope. Hope for easing austerity. Hope of better pay and conditions. Hope for a brighter and more optimistic future.

But, as I said at the beginning, Jezza managed to pull a General Election result out of the fire, so who knows what he might have in store on this issue? That is for him and his party to decide, and then declare. But what I will offer in conclusion is one suggestion.

We are being constantly bombarded by those considering that last year’s vote settles all arguments with the phrase “will of the people”. So let the will of the people prevail on whatever deal comes out of the Brexit negotiations. Demonstrate Labour’s commitment to, and faith in, the democratic process. And commit to put that deal to a vote.

The electorate would be offered the deal - warts and all, properly and honestly presented - with the alternative of remaining in the EU. And in the meantime, work to persuade M. Barnier and his team to allow the British rebate on EU budget contributions to be retained, should the vote then be to Remain.

Otherwise, Labour is doing no more than following the Tories over the cliff edge, with no more than blind faith in either suspension of the laws of gravity, or the cliff being very small indeed. Hope, Jezza. Give us hope. That is all that is being asked.


DarrenG said...

The problem is that Labour are chasing after their voters who switched to UKIP or what is seen as their traditional core voter base ( because lets be honest it has suited Labour to be anti immigrant when it needed to be )

I do not believe they are going to get those voters back, as they are too bought into Brexit, and by chasing them he is ignoring the vast majority of new voters in the last election that are pro EU.

He only has to look back at the Lib Dems to see how their voters deserted them over two elections now because of how the tories managed to shift the blame for student fees onto the Lib Dems and what happened to Nick Clegg.

If Labour caries on with the Tory hard Brexit then I think a lot of people who voted for them at the last election will stop voting for him, and will have another Hard Right Anti Europe Tory party again for 5 more years.

However as what has been coming out about the great US trade deal, some of their voter base who are in the farming industry and are going to be affected
by losing their jobs may swing back. But I doubt it, i expect they will continue to vote Tory/UKIP and continue with the lie that its all theEU's fault

SimonB said...

I was dismayed when I read Gardiner's article. With other noises from Corbyn it looks like they really do support Brexit. I can't campaign for any policy along those lines.

Nobody voted to be worse off. Nobody wants to see the NHS damaged further or our industry decimated. I haven't seen how these things will be avoided under a Corbyn Brexit. He may be able to take industries back into public ownership, but so what, if our economy is wrecked? Ask a North Korean how useful their sovereignty is.

I suspect it's now likely that we will see a split in the main parties, with Chuka Umunna, Anna Soubry and others doing what the SDP did in the 80s. The result, of course, was a split opposition and a succession of Tory governments.

mirandola said...

I'd doubt if Owen Jones has much insight into or access to the thoughts and intentions of the inner Labour leadership since he was strongly opposed to Corbyn right up until 10 o'clock on election night. Most of the other commentators you quote are likewise from The Graun and have pro-Europe views and are strongly anti-Corbyn.

On the UKIP vote I think at the laat election a unexpectedly high percentage returned to their Labour roots rather than voting Tory, which held the Labour vote up especially in the NW. In fact, the latest shennanigans over the simultaneous ending of the TransPennine and other provincial electrifications while Crossrail2 sails ahead in London will probably get even more northern UKIPers returning.

Perhaps it comes down to whether a new general election or the Article 50 culmination comes first. With May's government seemingly retreating into an instinctive Home Counties seige mentality, most working class Kippers are likely to plump for Labour jobs over Conservative leaving Europe. Indeed, Corbyn's policy of "masterly inactivity" over Europe seems both wise and effective.If he pulls it off its likely a Norway II deal will be quietly worked out with the Europeans.

Ed said...

Barnier would refuse to discuss the rebate, or anything not within his negotiating guidelines. A future UK-EU relationship is still beyond what he's mandated to talk about.

Gulliver said...

Labour have 3 options as I see it, play the long game and say as little as they can reasonably get away with. Allow the forthcoming economic catastrophe to unfold, where upon the blame will be squarely laid at the feet of those who created it.

Alternatively, accept that the referendum was a binary choice between 2 simplistic options but explain that you can honour the result while staying in the single market through other existing mechanisms (EFTA/EEA) and thus avoid worst of the economic pitfalls.

Third, press for a second referendum on whatever deal, or no deal, the Tory's recommend. Be seen as the party that gave voters the choice based upon the reality of what Brexit actually means.

The pitfalls of the first option are that they may be seen as not doing enough to avoid the economic Armageddon. The downside of the second option is that they run the risk of alienating some of their core support. The issue with the third option is, there is no way of knowing if TEU 50 is reversible. After 2 years of negotiating the EU27 may simply say go to hell (or words to that effect).

rob said...

******Stealers at the Till******

I've gotta feelin' that somethin' ain't right
And the left too are giving us fright

There's two parties with flags over there
Don't wanna know how we're goin' to fare

Clowns to left of us jokers to the right
Stuck in the middle with ?

Sam Best said...

Jones is so wrong on this and disappointingly so. The sheer dishonesty of the Brexit campaign meant no-one was told the real truth of what may occur and in many cases, they were presented with outright blatant lies as fact (that NHS bus was just one of many obvious fabrications)
If the referendum was conducted on lies it is not legitimate and to treat it so demeans not just the idea of referendums but the whole political process.
Some of the comments above are spot on.

Anonymous said...

I'm no Brexiteer but Tim and the commenters above are, in their own way, just as delusional as Liam Fox and David Davis. We are going off the cliff and there is nothing we can do about it. Not a thing. Sabine Weyand, Barnier's number two, tweeted a link to this piece earlier today: http://www.epc.eu/pub_details.php?cat_id=4&pub_id=7865

Read that and tell me how we can get away from a one-and-for-all hard Brexit with no turning back.

Time to work up a taste for GM soya and chlorine flavoured chicken. Or emigrate.

Simon said...

I am about as pro Remain as they come (pro us remaining, not pro EU- two slightly different things) and this is partly why I didn't vote Labour. However much I may broadly support their policies, they did at the end of the day vote for Article 50.