Yesterday I came across a discussion on Radio 4 between a former advisor to Jeremy Corbyn and a Liberal Democrat MP, centred mainly on their Parties’ prospects in a general election. The advisor seemed shocked at the radical nature of the suggestion that Article 50 be revoked, although many of then millions against Brexit might approve. He argued that putting the two options in a referendum of a credible Brexit deal (negotiated by Labour) and Remain would appeal to both Leavers and Remainers.
If they could bottle such stupidity Hollywood would make a film starring Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise ,whose mission – should they choose to accept it – would be to prevent the bottle being broken by terrorists, so releasing the deadly stupidity virus among the whole population.
A majority of leavers want to leave with no deal, so either have no idea or don’t care about the damage that Brexit will do. Most Leavers just want it over with and certainly don’t want any further delay. They aren’t going to vote for Labour and another referendum, as far as they’re concerned they’ve already voted and they don’t see the need to do it again.
On the other side of the fence there aren’t millions of Remainers hoping that Corbyn will negotiate his own Brexit deal. They don’t want any sort of Brexit deal, ‘credible’ or not. Many Labour voters who support Remain, who are the vast majority of Labour voters, have tried repeatedly to tell Corbyn that the Party should oppose Brexit, not come up with its own version. Many of them voted Liberal Democrat and Green in the European elections in May, and in a recent opinion poll in early September almost one in five who voted Labour in the 2017 general election said they will still vote Liberal Democrat in the next one.
They no longer trust Corbyn, who spent weeks trying to see if Theresa May’s deal could be supported, and it doesn’t matter from the point of view of honesty if this was sincere or not. The party bureaucracy prevented debate on Brexit by the members at one party conference and at the next disingenuously had a motion put together that appeared to move to an anti-Brexit stance but allowed him to continue to propose a Labour Brexit, while the sound of silence hung over whether the Party would then support it.
Even after the drubbings in the European and local elections and the shift he seemed to make in an anti-Brexit direction, the speech by Corbyn to the TUC conference this week makes plain that a Labour negotiated Brexit deal is still central. And no one can be sure he wouldn’t do the entirely logical thing and support any Brexit deal he had just negotiated. He still thinks that there is a good ‘jobs’ Brexit out there so why wouldn’t he? And why then would Remainers see this as a possible way forward except out of sheer desperation?
The proposal to put a ‘credible’ Brexit and Remain option to a referendum will not attract Leavers and Remainers but will raise the hackles of both and particularly of many previous loyal Labour voters. There isn’t a shortage of reasons to oppose this Corbyn policy even without its awful electoral implications.
There is no such thing as a good Brexit, either left or right. The thinking behind a left one is that the British state, unencumbered by EU rules, will build a strong and prosperous social democratic society. But this forgets that the foundation of any society is a strong productive base and this base will be dramatically weakened by Brexit, as trade is disrupted and reduced, and investment flows out of Britain and away from it as a possible destination.
The Stalinist inspiration for this in the form of ‘socialism in one country’ is obvious, personified by some of Corbyn’s advisors, but the inspiration from some so-called Trotskyists arises from their belief that advances by the working class, telescoped into the idea of near term political revolution, will arise from capitalist crisis, which shall compel workers to adopt their crisis programme. It’s the advanced country version of ‘year zero’ in which it doesn’t really matter the state of society the revolutionary party on top of the new state takes over, all the ideas of Marx about the primacy of the productive forces and relations is just so much theory, to be discussed academically by the academics who lead some of these organisations. Internationalism is a word, a long word that appears to hover a long way from practical politics and is simply a moral value free from the capitalist society from which it must spring.
What this means for Corbyn’s credible Brexit alternative is that it isn’t at all credible. His previous idea of all the benefits of membership of the Single Market and customs union, while having a say in these without EU membership; plus making independent trade deals and exclusion from free movement are delusional. The EU could not possibly agree to these proposals, which means his ‘credible’ alternative is completely uncredible.
The idea that he would negotiate a Brexit that could only be worse for workers and a Remain option as two valid choices has invited justified incredulity. Why would the Labour Party invite workers to choose between their Brexit deal and Remain if it didn’t think its Brexit was any good? In such circumstances it could only mean Labour support for Brexit.
The idea that you could get this policy adopted could only be entertained when you rely on the membership not being able to stop you, and this means betraying the promise of democratising the Party. For Corbyn and his advisors, it appears that the Party will shift left through left control of the apparatus and decision making from above, as the Stalinist school of socialism inspires wider application.
This plus all the strangulation about Labour’s Brexit policy means that Corbyn himself more and more lacks credibility, itself a consequence of setting himself up as a politician particularly defined by his honesty, demonstrated by his history of principled stands for ‘unpopular’ causes. He is now rated less trustworthy than the well-known liar Johnson, blowing up the idea that Brexit policy could be quarantined from other economic policy.
In the words of the Scots poet Rabbie Burns –
“O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!”
In the Radio 4 interview the recent Labour advisor stated that Labour would not be looking for EU membership should Britain leave, with no qualification that I could hear. Why would Remain Labour supporters sign up to that?
Now it is argued that Corbyn is right to allow the party to take a ‘neutral’ position, just as Harold Wilson did during the 1975 referendum.
Apart from Wilson hardly being a left-wing hero of the Labour Party, this ignores the fact that we have already had the referendum and the time for any sort of neutrality is long gone. Just like Wilson’s ‘renegotiation’ of the terms of membership, Corbyn’s proposed renegotiation of Brexit is a cover for support for whatever come out of the negotiation – there is no point otherwise.
Expecting Corbyn to see the light is therefore a forlorn hope. If getting less than 15% in a national vote doesn’t get the message through it’s difficult to see what would. Only the membership in the Party conference can change policy for the next election and that is what it must do.