Opportunism is by definition to seek short term gain while sacrificing long term principle. The short term gain often doesn’t arise and the long term loss is long term. I thought of this when I read an article in ‘The Guardian’ about Labour Party views on how to approach the Brexit deal just agreed with the EU by Theresa May. I know you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the newspapers but unfortunately it is consistent with what we have seen, so I decided to write.
Small points are instructive. Apparently those opposing Brexit are jokingly referred to as ‘Remonia’, which would include the majority of Labour voters and the vast majority of its members. We are obviously still some way off from a membership led party.
Aside from this dismissal of its support, this reference has to ignore the damaging impact Brexit will have to working class interests and the potential undermining of the whole Corbyn social-democratic project. In the world of electoralism however the most loyal support is often taken for granted in a chase for the floating voter.
The article says that “Labour strategists believe they cannot get to the 45% or so of the vote they would need to win the next election if they are seen to represent only what they jokingly refer to as “Remoania”.
Whatever happened to convincing people of the truth of your politics, of changing their minds, of anticipating the effect of future events on their consciousness so that longer-term they can begin to see that what you are saying is correct? There wouldn’t be a Labour Party in the first place if this approach hadn’t been taken!
Of Labour strategists, the article says that “some hold out the hope that Labour could pick up many of the leave-backing voters who feel sold out by the prime minister’s deal. They’re available to us provided we don’t sound like remainers.”
Unfortunately, such an approach comes easily to the devotees of the idea of progressive politics in one country, which now cripples the Labour Party’s approach to Brexit, as it has crippled socialist politics for decades.
And what are Remain voters supposed to think when the Party sounds like Brexiteers instead? Or are all these working class Labour voters and members assumed to be terminally stupid? Are they to be treated the same way as the Scottish Labour support was, assumed away until Scottish nationalism bit into them and reduced the party to third place?
Another small point. The article say that “In Corbyn’s inner circle, the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, has told friends she is on a “vigil” against any move that could alienate Labour supporters in staunchly remain seats such as her constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington.”
But then we are told that “Abbott is among those shadow cabinet members who have publicly expressed concern about the risks of a second referendum. She told the BBC’s Nick Robinson last week: “People should be careful what they wish for, because my view is that if we had a second referendum tomorrow leave would win again and not only would leave win again but leave voters would say what didn’t you understand about leave winning the first time?”
When you think about this, it is really a rather big point. The article quotes an opinion poll which says “that Internal research is telling the party that 42% of voters think the deal negotiated by the prime minister will be worse than staying in the EU; against only 21% who believe it will be better. Voters have also told Labour’s pollsters – by a two to one margin – that they support MPs’ right to vote it down if they think it is damaging for the country.”
So why does a strong ‘Remainer’ think a second vote would be lost?
Of course the Labour Party position is to get a general election rather than a second referendum. But this doesn’t answer the question so much as ask it.
The article approaches this problem, but only in so far as it touches on the fortunes of the party itself. Like all Brexit coverage from the mainstream media, everything is seen through the lens of UK domestic politics and the fortunes of individual prominent politicians. The issue of Brexit itself is often dismissed, as is the view of the EU itself, and the population told by those paid to inform them that they are fed up hearing about it. As the article in the Guardian puts it – “the majority of the public . . . say they want Brexit to be over and done with.”
If all I had to go on was this mass media I would be fed up with it as well. But such views are from people who haven’t really thought about it enough and want other people to make their decisions for them, so that when they suffer from them they can then have someone to blame. Exactly the opposite of what socialism requires, which is a population eager to take the reins away from the bumbling ruling class that has shown itself incompetent at the political level and complacent at the economic.
The article reports that Jeremy Corbyn has said that “this is a bad deal for the country . . . It is the result of a miserable failure of negotiation that leaves us with the worst of all worlds. It gives us less say over our future, and puts jobs and living standards at risk. “That is why Labour will oppose this deal in parliament. We will work with others to block a no-deal outcome, and ensure that Labour’s alternative plan for a sensible deal to bring the country together is on the table.”
And this is the problem.
May’s deal is a capitulation that appears to postpone its application, even though this is only partially true. It is essentially a recognition that no deal would be a disaster and admission that all her ‘red lines’ were so much hot air. Her ‘people’s letter’ is either a letter to Santa or simply one lie after another. The EU has strengthened its position through the transitional period and will impose its view on the new trading arrangements once this period ends.
The EU has also had enough warnings on the danger of a Britain outside the EU seeking to undermine it and its further development. The only perspective for Britain outside the EU is to act as a rival in such a way, most likely to the benefit of other powers.
This explains the re-emergence of the EEA/ EFTA as an option to be pursued during and after the transition. But the ‘Norway’ option is woefully inadequate to Britain’s needs as it still leaves it with a lack of decision making powers in its arrangements with the EU and requires numerous individual agreements to complete these arrangements. A temporary membership of EFTA, as put forward by some, might smooth the exit but would leave the essential future relationships unresolved, with Britain still alone at the end and exposed to the influence of stronger powers, including the EU.
Norway would be foolish to accept such membership. It would be akin to some desperate sleaze-ball coming up to you on the dance floor at the end of the night, asking for a shag, but saying he’s only asking you out because he fancies your mate.
In other words the options open to May are those open to Corbyn and May is right that the EU has no reason to give the Labour Party a better deal. It has been remarked upon by many people beside myself that Corbyn’s idea of a good Brexit is even more delusional than Theresa May’s, or that of the other Tory ultra-Brexiteers.
Having made herself look stupid and pathetic so that, to quote the Guardian article again, only 21% of the population believe her deal will be better than staying in the EU, Corbyn’s strategy appears to be to repeat the failure. If anything would open the door to a potential recapture of the Labour Party by its right wing, this is it.
The Guardian states that “a general election would risk exposing the bitter tensions within the party about Brexit. The leadership is clear it would want to go into an election promising to press ahead with leaving the EU, but strike a less economically damaging deal.”
So the Labour Party would go into an election on a platform that would alienate the mass of its membership and the majority of its voters; damage the economy and weaken the basis for its policies of growth and redistribution; and repeat the same failed strategy of the opposition while hoping for a different result – the clichéd definition of insanity.
And all this is based on the hope that Brexit voters will seek to punish Theresa May for her failure to deliver on her promises of a hard Brexit, while preventing them from going to UKIP.
Rather than expose the increasingly apparent illusions justifying Brexit and those who support it, and point out its complete failure, demonstrated again and again through the Brexiteers themselves avoiding responsibility for implementation of the referendum result, but ready to blame anyone who tries and fails; the Labour Party may now seek to present itself as the next bunch of suckers seeking to do the impossible on behalf of the delusional to the benefit of the totally deranged.
However the standard reason why someone like Corbyn has been along time ‘sceptical’ has got to do with the intrinsic nature of the EU and the Treaties that define the laws member States are supposed to follow. Recently we have watched the Greek government and the Italian government decide to breach the Treaties concerning State expenditure and been threatened with financial sanction for doing so. Both governments have then backed off. In short the intrinsic nature of the EU is by Treaty Law opposed to some of the things a Corbyn government may wish to do like nationalise certain industries like the railways for example. It is widely said in the press that Labour’s current position is a compromise between Corbyn’s own more sceptical viewpoint and that of the supporters of a Tony Blair like faction articulated in the media by Lord Adonis and A.Campbell. Both party leaders are doing roughly the same thing, trying to keep up the appearance of Party unity by supposedly finding a middle way with repect to their own party. This finding a middle way is the stock and trade of political management.Yet on some issues a middle way cannot be found and ordinary politicians get stumped good and proper. One issue that has always been hard to find a middle way on has been over national self determination and independence. The Brexit politicians more and more remind me of anti-colonial fighters for national self determination and independence, at least bi their use of political rhetoric.
The question facing the socialist left of today in respect of EU membership reminds me of the dispute between the ideological followers of Stalin and Trotsky over the question of working class Internationalism. The followers of Stalin said that Internationalism could not come about in an interrupted single process of continuous international revolution, it could only come about State by State over time, starting with Russia. The followers of Trotsky said that socialism could not come about State by State starting with Russia for capitalism was already international and had the power to surround and isolate a single socialist State including Russia with too strong a hostile capitalist enemy.
Of course the above is only an analogy and the facts we are dealing with are very different but the principles of the old ideological war are still discernible. So if the socialist camp agree that the EU in intrinsically free market and capitalist by legal Treaty then should they try to break it down State by State by declaring their right to national self determination or break it down by
acting as one class of internationalists?
Clearly the latter.
You have expressed very well all the contortions and contradictions of British labour. Well done!