Let me begin by saying where I come from. I’m a Socialist, my parents were Socialists, my Grandparents were founder members of the Labour Party in Birmingham. My grandfather’s brother threw the first chair at the 1934 Birmingham anti-fascist riot. In short, I come from a long line of awkward buggers. I’ve been a member of the Labout Party on and off since 1982, and I consider myself to be on the Left of the party. I’ve never been a member of any other party, except in a moment of idiocy, and to my eternal shame, I was a founder member of Left Unity. (In my defence I left very quickly when it dawned on me what kind of monster I had helped create.) One of my ‘off’ periods from party membership was the 23 years I spent living in Amsterdam. I had always loved Europe and the concept of being a European, so it was no surprise I moved there when things didn’t go my way in the U.K. Being able to shop for clothes in Dusseldorf one day, eat chips and chocolate in Antwerpen the next, before coming back to the city I had grown to love, made me a passionate European.
In many ways the European Union (E.U.) has become the greatest force for good in the World today. The E.U. forced governments to adopt democratic norms if they wanted to trade with the E.U. members or be considered for eventual membership. So while America was attempting to spread democracy by dropping bombs on people, the E.U. was doing a better job simply by threatening not to talk to them.
I last rejoined Labour on May 8th 2015, the day after Miliband’s depressing election defeat, only to be immediately faced with an equally depressing shortlist of potential Ed replacements.. (Chuka Umunna, anybody?). But hope was soon at hand, an M.P. I had only vaguely heard of, one Jeremy Corbyn, appeared to be saying he wasn’t ready to surrender to the ugly twin sisters of austerity and neo-liberal economics just yet. No chance he could win of course but I voted from him anyway. He won.
Since then Corbyn has achieved some remarkable things. Not the least of which is growing the Labour Party to the largest political organisation in Western Europe, and saving the party from electoral irrelevance. Europe-wide the just-about-left-of-centre parties have been wiped out, or at best seen their support halved. PASOK in Greece, PvdA in Nederland, S.P. in France, SDP in Germany, PSOE in Spain, the list goes on and on. By taking Labour back to being a leftist, box-standard European social democratic party he has made Labour and its 500,000 members politically relevant. What’s most remarkable about that, is that Corbyn is clearly an inept day-in day-out politician. He’s what my wife would describe as “a broad brush kind of a guy”, he can see the big picture, but sometimes he can’t see the wood for the trees.
This brings us to his stance on Brexit. I would argue Brexit is not necessarily the most important issue facing the U.K. today, but it is certainly the most divisive. I used to say, rather glibly, that Britain was a state – but not a nation. Now it’s hard to argue that even England is a cohesive nation. We are more divided now than we have been since the Blackshirts marched. I would like to to lay out Corbyn’s view on Brexit and carefully review it, but I cannot, because truth be told it’s complete gobbledegook – utter incomprehensible nonsense. There is (for instance) no point trying to find meaning in phrases such as “In a customs union, but not THE customs union.”
- Here’s a direct quote…
Two things stand out here.
1. Why on Earth would the E.U. agree to such a “Cake and eat it’ deal? “We want you to negotiate a new customs union for us which is the same as the old customs union, but y’know, different so we don’t have to pay you any money.” How did anyone get it into their heads that the E.U. would accept such a deal?
2, This deal would absolutely not avoid the need for a hard border in Ireland, because such issues as animal welfare and food hygiene are not covered by the customs union.
- Then there’s this.
“So we don’t want to be in the European Union but want a say in future trade negotiations anyway. Just because we say so!” Again, a classic cake-and-eat-it strategy. What kind of nonsense is this?
There isn’t even a left wing economic case for Corbyn’s stance, as the respected Marxist economist Michael Roberts has elegantly pointed out. (Though to be fair, Roberts thinks the negative economic impact of leaving the E.U. will be dwarfed by those of the second great economic collapse due later this decade.)
Even the most optimistic economic forecast I have yet seen for a post Brexit UK (a 1.6% reduction in G.D.P.) would make Corbyn’s economic plans untenable. Yet he seems intent on squaring the circle, I don’t get it, and I guess I never will.
So what to do?
I don’t know. I love my party but I cannot face canvassing on doorsteps any year soon.
Voter; “Oh you’re from the Labour Part are you? Would you mind explaining the Party’s stance on Brexit to me?”
Me; “ummmmm, errrrrrr. I’ll just leave this leaflet here, have a nice day. Nice puppy by the way.”
Removal of Corbyn is an option, perhaps it would be wise to pat him on the back for a job well done and put him out to graze. But who would replace him? (Chuka Umunna, anybody?). Who could we rely on to prevent a drift back to the centre in a post Corbyn world?. David Lammy would be the romantic’s preferred option, though rumour has it the next Labour leader has to be a woman.
I have a horrible feeling that accepting the next Labour leadership job might just be a poison chalice, I think we might well be on the road to becoming a failed state. I’ll explain why, next time.