The Brexit clock is ticking. As David Allen Green correctly states, Brexit will automatically happen, unless “something exceptional” will prevent it. It is still possible to #StopBrexit, many routes are still open and public opinion is probably shifting, but exceptional things take time to materialise, so it’s time to make a collective effort to bring them into being.
Question is: how? There certainly are many ways, but in my opinion, the best option we have is to “help” Labour to stop being “clever” and listen to its base instead. The reasons are simple: it would be good for the country, good for the party, it would honour Corbyn’s commitments to make his party more democratic, and, above all, pure maths tells us that it could work. This brings about a second question: why on earth it isn’t Labour trying to stop Brexit? The reason, I’m afraid, is that Corbyn and McDonnell are thoroughly Eurosceptic, as their behaviour amply demonstrates.
I have been on record arguing that the supposed “constructive ambiguity” displayed by Labour is a self-inflicted trap, and I’m glad to note that I’m not alone (by Simon Tilford). In here, I will make my argument explicit and suggest lines of action for all my fellow Remainers.
To understand what is going on, I am convinced that we need to discount words (everyone agrees that politicians lie) and look at real deeds instead. All evidence points in one direction. Moreover, a long time ago, I did briefly meet the man himself (he gave a short speech at a rally I helped organising), and my first-hand impression confirms what the facts say. Corbyn is a mainstream social-democrat. What makes him slightly peculiar is that his broadly socialist positions have not changed significantly ever since he started his political career. This is important, because it tells us a few things:
- Corbyn is almost certainly sincere. Unlike most politicians, his opinions don’t follow the polls. He has principles and advocates for them.
- The second side of the same coin is that his principles are fixed. He apparently has discovered the best ideology in his youth and will stick to it until he dies.
This is important, because his principles make him a natural Eurosceptic (if we forget tiny details like international cooperation and peacemaking…), and it is likely that it is impossible to make him change his mind on purely theoretical grounds. What remains to be seen, is if an argument based on the consequences of the current situation can. If, as I believe, the choice is either stopping Brexit or experiencing catastrophic political obliteration, perhaps we can convince him to do the right thing. The evidence that we can come from the referendum himself: he did reluctantly back #Remain, after all.
A legitimate question that needs answering is: why bother? If Corbyn is a staunch Eurosceptic, wouldn’t it be better to replace him? My answer is no, for two reasons.
First, replacing him soon enough is impossible. The PLP tried to remove him multiple times and failed consistently. The unexpected gains of Labour at the last general election sealed the deal. Only a catastrophic electoral result can currently trigger a successful leadership challenge, and that’s one catastrophe that is not desirable, as well as one that won’t happen in time.
Second, Corbyn is the only (semi)successful politician who is openly opposing the failed, but ubiquitous, neo-liberal ideology. We need him to continue doing so. 10 years of austerity have made his point, and he suddenly found himself able to make his (never-changing) case convincingly (or almost convincingly, considering that he did not win the last GE!). In the long run, if we want to stop out-of-control inequality and avoid widespread conflict or ecological suicide, we need to crush the prevailing neo-liberal delusions. Right now, Corbyn is the only credible politician that tries to do so, and does it with reasonable success. The side effect is that it’s almost inevitable that whoever may replace him will be offering something different, i.e., something more like New Labour. We need to promote social democracy, not neo-liberalism-light!
All things considered, we can’t hope to replace Corbyn, and, moreover, we should not wish to. Therefore, our best option is to “help” him to change course and stop Brexit. In my opinion, this is possible specifically because the current path leads to a very predictable disaster. To see why, we need to look ahead.
The grim prospect.
If Labour will not oppose Brexit, many different things may happen, but only two scenarios look likely.
Scenario 1: the EU gets all / most of the blame.
This is obviously what the current government hopes to achieve. It is possible that they will find a way to dilute the (now undeniable) economic downside (of all forms) of Brexit, or that they will somehow manage to negotiate a soft-enough way out. If the following hardships will be somewhat limited or well hidden, it is possible that the Conservatives will manage to claim victory while assigning all the blame to the EU. What this does to international cooperation is ominous, but that’s a different story. In this scenario, Labour will (rightly) take the bigger hit, as most Remainers will see through the government lies and blame Labour for not doing anything about it. We’ll get more Tory governments, more austerity, less human rights, etcetera.
Scenario 2: an unmitigated disaster.
If Brexit will go ahead and be hard enough, discontent will shoot through the roof. The Labour membership and electorate will inevitably blame the current leadership, forcing and winning a leadership challenge. We’ll get a new Labour leader, chosen from the ones that did fight to remain, and most likely, we’ll get offered a re-hashed New Labour-like set of policies. In other words, both major UK parties will again espouse Neo-Liberalism to greater or lesser extent. Within Labour, Corbyn will be blamed and be relegated to a well-deserved state of irrelevance.
Naturally, neither scenario represents what Corbyn hopes to achieve. What he presumably is wishing for is a third option:
Scenario 3: wishful thinking.
In this case people will magically forget that Labour did not oppose the Brexit disaster and will instead turn against the Tory government. How this could even be possible if Labour will continue to vote with the Conservatives on all major Brexit-enabling matters is a total mystery. It is pure pie in the sky, eat and have your cake, pink unicorn kind of delusion. One could have a faint hope to achieve such a result by starting to oppose Brexit, but to do so only when it will be too late. But this can’t be Corbyn’s plan, can it? After all, he *is* a man of principle, and wouldn’t actively deceive the whole nation, right?
Be as it may, I can’t see any other option (please do suggest more likely scenarios, if you see any!), leading me to the expected conclusion.
We need to change Corbyn’s mind.
I’ve tried many times, but I am unable to make sense of the current Labour’s stance on Brexit. A “jobs-first Brexit” is a chimera, it is now undeniable that the UK would be better-off within the EU. Moreover, a supposedly clever long game does not exist: if Corbyn does have a plan, it is failing. Insisting on the current line of (in)action is the best strategy to commit political suicide. It has stop now!
If Labour wants to retain any hope to win a general election in the foreseeable future, and if Corbyn wants to be around when it happens, the only possible strategy is to oppose Brexit. This can be done by forcing the Government’s hand and make their shambolic handling of negotiations untenable. The current government is very obviously the most incompetent and farcical one that the UK has had in living memory. It doesn’t even have a Tory majority. How hard can it be to make them stumble one more decisive time? Giving them a fatal blow may not be the easiest thing to do, but it is not the hardest either. Enough Tory MPs would be happy to stop Brexit, so it’s possible that all that’s required is for Labour to stop voting with the government, it isn’t rocket science – it’s called “opposition”!
If a new general election can be triggered soon enough, and if Labour will fight it on a solidly Remain platform, it is quite possible to win an outright majority, this time. After all, we have to admit that the current government could not be helping much more, not even if they tried…
Alternatively, Labour could take the Solomonic escape route and start campaigning for a second referendum (take the best deal on offer OR remain: a choice between deal or no deal is neither meaningful nor sensible). Having hated the first referendum with all my heart, this isn’t my preferred option (Referendums do promote the venomous “will of the people” rhetoric), but it is still incommensurably better than both likely scenarios.
What to do?
Luckily, you can help, if you found this article vaguely convincing.
You could write to your local Labour MP (and MEP, or candidate, and/or branch) expressing your wish to see a change in Labour’s official policy. All Labour members should get in touch with their local branch and inform them that they will rescind their membership unless Labour will start fighting against Brexit (I would recommend mentioning a cut-off date!). On social media, you can make your position known to Labour MPs, MEPs, Labour sections, as well as journalists, editors and opinion leaders. At the next local elections, you can visibly offer some financial support to any candidate that openly supports #Remain, and then vote for them (vote tactically and make your choice known)! You can (and should) sign the relevant petition, leverage the #FBPE crowd to do the same, etcetera. Once a clear objective is agreed (force Labour to fight against Brexit – properly, this time), there is no limit to what could be achieved.
As for Corbyn, I do hope he can be persuaded: after all, if he does want to make the UK a better place (as I believe), fighting against Brexit is the only promising strategy.
Please feel free to share and republish/repackage this article as widely as possible. My blog is licensed under Creative Commons for a reason!