If I’m a member of a Jeremy Corbyn cult, I haven’t got the hang of this cult thing. I disagree with him on a lot of things, but I’m still over the moon that he’s Labour leader, and am proud of what he’s achieved, expressing 100% solidarity with him in the face of a smear campaign by the British Establishment, including all five broadcast networks and over 80% of his own MPs.
I am nobody’s yes-man. And I know Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t want such people flattering him, telling him he’s right when they secretly think he’s wrong. We’re all helped by sharing ideas. Critical feedback isn’t being cruel to be kind. It’s us helping others sharpen their ideas and/or giving them an opportunity to help us improve our own. It’s mutually beneficial. Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters thrive on this polemical to and fro. We are more than the sum of our parts if that’s what we strive to be. And that’s why I want to offer Jeremy Corbyn some critical feedback on the issues surrounding Brexit.
Before elaborating a few relatively important differences with Jeremy Corbyn, I want to set the scene. Context matters here. To begin with, Owen Smith was seriously out of order when he repeatedly, during the Glasgow Labour Hustings, cast doubt on how Jeremy Corbyn voted on Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn was right to dignify the question with an answer. Owen Smith ought to have just moved on. But he refused to give up until he got an answer. Thanks to Owen Smith’s vile behavior, BBC News Channel and SKY News are now insisting that Jeremy Corbyn was trying to avoid the question because he didn’t want to lie. So Owen Smith has succeeded in helping Tory editors paint the Labour Party’s choice for Prime Minister as a liar. Owen Smith must be feeling really proud of himself.
Paul Mason said it was a calumny when Jo Coburn cast doubt on how Jeremy Corbyn voted. And that’s how Labour members should respond. It’s disgusting that Smith is still doing this. Seriously nauseating.
Secondly, Jeremy Corbyn has nothing to be ashamed of about his role during the EU referendum. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Paul Mason found a way to persuade me to call for a vote against Brexit. This wasn’t easy, but they found a way to do it. My preference had been to abstain, until Corbyn found a formula that worked for the left, one that I believe Tony Benn would have come round to had he been round to cast his vote.
However, for every success Jeremy Corbyn had in winning people like me on the left over, Sadiq Khan, Alan Johnson, Harriet Harman, Angela Eagle, Jacqui Smith, Emma Reynolds, Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, Rachel Reeves etc pushed me back towards abstention, or would have had I not kept in mind what Corbyn said. Furthermore, while I was never going to be convinced to actually vote for Brexit, it was clear why many on the left – including some close political friends – did contemplate that. Will Straw’s official campaign ended up destroying the case against Brexit for the left, and if I do have criticisms of CCorbyn during the campaign it was for not finding a way to rein these people in, giving the enormous damage they were doing; whether he could have stopped them destroying the left’s case though is another matter. But at least Will Straw did succeed receive a big reward from David Cameron for reducing most Labour MPs to nothing more than a megaphone for MI5, the CBI and Dodgy Dave’s 24% Tory dictatorship.
Thank God for Faisal Islam. He is one of Britain’s best broadcasters on any network. And he recognized that Jeremy Corbyn could reach the parts other politicians couldn’t reach. Faisal retweets a lot of abuse he gets on Twitter, and his responses tend to be extremely funny: his sense of humour is one of the things that contributes to his being sucha good broadcaster. While I like Faisal, some of the criticism of him is understandable, but still twisted by some extremely unpleasant right-wing trolls.
Faisal Islam is criticised for being biased against Brexit, despite the fact that his interview with David Cameron was, I believe, the thing that turned the tide, and if he agrees with me on that, it’s something he may wish he’d handled differently. Faisal is a great broadcaster not just for his entertainment value; he is good because he knows that being fair requires him to do his best to test the ideas of every politician, making the best case he can for the prosecution, even if he secretly agrees with the politician in question, at least on that particular point.
In his interview with David Cameron, Faisal played devils’s advocate. And he totally wrecked the Prime Minister. But, despite that interview, his biases revealed themselves more often than not. He clearly didn’t want Brexit. And he, unlike pretty much every other broadcaster, realized that Labour’s voters needed the special kinds of arguments that Jeremy Corbyn had honed to win people like me over.
Corbyn did well every chance he got, as members of The SNP accept, MPs like Alex Salond for instance. Alas, as Corbyn’s arguments only went down well with the left whose votes were key to stopping Brexit, Faisal Islam’s experiment was rarely, if ever, repeated. That wasn’t Corbyn’s fault. It was Alan Johnson, Sadiq Khan’s Will Straw’s That’s why David Cameron lost. It’s why we all lost. There was too much the anti-Corbyn wing of Labour did that turned the EU referendum into a populist anti-Cameron referendum. It didn’t have to be that way, but it was – thanks to Sadiq Khan and everyone else who ended up as nothing more than David Cameron glove puppet.
Where do we go from here?
What do we do now? This is where I have anxieties. I am not going to spell out a prescription for getting everything right. We live in interesting times. A week used to be a long time in politics. Now seven minutes can change everything. We need to play it by ear. We can’t see too far ahead. And that’s why I don’t want Jeremy Corbyn to box himself into a corner unnecessarily. Stealing other people’s ideas isn’t necessarily a bad idea if they’re good ideas. And if we have to adapt them to changed circumstances, then so much the better; undermines the charges of straightforward plagiarism.
Is Owen Smith right on Brexit. Up until the referendum, he got everything wrong, just like the rest of the anti-Corbyn MPs got everything wrong. However, we are in a very complicated situation now. And we need to keep the big picture in mind. Owen Smith is boxing himself into a different corner from the one Corbyn is in danger of occupying. In theory that could win him a few left wing votes, but these are votes he won’t deserve.
Jeremy Corbyn is 100% right in exposing the anti-democratic credentials of anyone who says voters should be ignored until they vote the way the politicians want them to. Jeremy Corbyn understands this fact of life. Expressing contempt for the electorate will exacerbate the contempt many core Labour voters feel for their old party, pushing them further into the arms of UKIP.
When we lose votes, we need to accept defeat – unless we chose to boycott, due to the process being deemed somehow illegitimate. To be frank, the EU referendum wasn’t conducted fairly. However, those who broke the rules can hardly complain when they still were defeated. And David Cameron’s rigging the referendum was supported 100% by the anti-Corbyn MPs like Owen Smith. Voters will hold Labour in contempt if it does what Owen Smith tells it to do. However, that doesn’t mean we need to surrender to the xenophobes whose anti-immigrant prejudice often crosses into outright racism, or prejudice of ethnic groups that threatens to degenerate into violent forms of action. The Brexit brigand should not be helped and nor should that zero percent dictator – AKA, Theresa May.
Jeremy Corbyn should never forget just how weak the Tories are at the moment. The left can exploit their weakness if we only stop wasting our time listening to the deluded megaphones at BBC, SKY News, Channel4 News. In exploiting the Tories weaknesses, it is possible for some common purpose to be found between Jeremy Corbyn’s voters, inside and outside the Labour Party and most of the 172 MPs who have tried so hard to topple him. This could be mutually beneficial to every anti-Tory including the parts of the left who ended up voting for Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters have so many good cards to play here.
Theresa May won’t be able to get MPs to sanction the triggering of Article 50. The anti-Corbyn MPs, for the most part, are happy about this. To be frank, so am I. Jeremy Corbyn has implied he takes a different attitude, but I believe this is a case of him not having thought everything through. Take time and ask if Theresa May has any mandate to set the ball rolling when she, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and David Davis will determine what will happen next. Surely Jeremy Corbyn will agree with me that these are not politicians to be trusted with protecting the red lines of the labour and trade union movement. Scotland wants input. So do the other nations in the United Kingdom. And so do England’s regions. This is a wondeful opportunity for the entire democratic left to get our act together. Please don’t throw this away.
The pro-Brexit left may cry foul, but they should be debated with, without allowing them to lay down any veto about what the rest of us do. We need a united strategy, and it’s time for all the left to start talking to each other again about what we did, and what we did not get right during the EU referendum.
‘Brexit means Brexit’ is tautological gibberish. People voted for very different things. Faisal Islam’s excellent documentary proved this if people didn’t already know it. Disillusion hasn’t taken hold just yet, but it will do. The left has to prepare the ground now, and not help Theresa May do what the hells she wants with neither Members of Parliament nor voters having any say in the matter. This is a golden opportunity for Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs to inflict a body blow against Theresa May, doing so alongside The SNP, and most of the other parties – as well as a very substantial wing of the Tory Party in the House of Commons. We will also find that most of the capitalist class is opposed to Theresa May triggering Article 50 without any game plan whatsoever, purely to save her political skin, and that’s her sole motivation here. A game plan is something that Theresa May and her Brexit ministers don’t have today. And isn’t likely to fall into their laps out of the sky any time soon.
Delaying the triggering of Article 50 is frustrating for many. But unless the left can secure guarantees that ethnic minorities won’t pay the price, then we have every right to deny powers to Theresa May that she doesn’t already possess. If we believe that Theresa May will have a bonfire of workplace regulations to boost profits at the expense of health and safty wages, other employment rights, etc, then why on earth would we want to let an unelected Prime Minister obtain such powers?
Tories will split on these issues at Westminster. Those drawn to UKIP will want to savagely cut immigration. However, that’s the last thing the capitalists want. They need an ever growing supply of cheap labour from parts of the EU, as that does, inevitably, push up labour costs; and that is a fact that Sadiq Khan and Owen Smith refused to address. Profits will decline under Brexit for almost every capitalist, and they’re not keen to let that happen. Some capitalists will find niches. But they’ll be the minority. If they can drag the process out for a while, that’s what they’ll do. And they’ll find more than enough Tory MPs to give them voice – and votes – at Wesminster. Theresa May will be living precariously if she thwarts the will of the majority of MPs. Her government can easily be toppled over this. And that gives Jeremy Corbyn a great deal of power.
Theresa May could face the end of her government if she triggers Article 50 without parliament’s approval, but getting the snap election she might want won’t be a piece of cake. It is true that anti-Corbyn MPs have been begging her to call such an election in order, they hope, to destroy the Labour Party because, they reason, that’s now their only hope of knocking Jeremy Corbyn off his perch. However, they’d find it frightfully hard to justify an early election on such a basis to Labour voters/members. None of these anti-Corbyn MPs would be selected as the official Labour candidate with such a pitch. They’d have to stand as unofficial candidates who only called the election in order to help Theresa May win a landslide victory for another five years in which to ride roughshod over all working class people and most of the middle classes. As an electoral strategy, that one’s got quite a few holes in it.
Furthermore, we’d be entering an election in which half Tory MPs would demand an approach to Brexit that Theresa May rejects. Under first-past-the-post, this would be an appalling strategy for Tories to take. UKIP might persuade half the Tory MPs to stand under a joint ticket, at least unofficially, agreed at a constituency level. Theresa May wouln’t be happy with that. And nor would the CBI fund MPs who called an election in such circumstances. They’d be far happier funding the Blairites instead, or the Lib Dems, or a new parliamentary group cobbled together from the Lib Dems, 80% of the PLP, and about half the Tory MPs. But can these politicians agree to any of this within the next few months? Why would they risk calling such an election? Far too big a gamble, surely.
Jeremy Corbyn shouldn’t rule out a second referendum after the next general election. That may or may not be a good idea. Since it’s supposed to be four years away, there’s no rush in dotting all the Is and crossing all the Ts. If there’s an general early election, then Labour members at the time could decide on whether a second referendum would be a good idea. They shouldn’t rule it out as another party may put that to voters, and win a majority government on that basis. Maybe, for all sorts of reasons, a second referendum could make sense. Just don’t rule anything out at this stage.
If Theresa May calls an early election, she’d need the support of the anti-Corbyn MPs. And if she got that expressly to help her win a landslide, then Labour would not let those same MPs be selected as the official candidates. Labour could win a victory, and win it easily – just with an entirely new set of MPs, a much better PLP, one in the image of the half million party membership. Such MPs/candidates may or may not have put a second EU referendum into their manifesto. There are good arguments both ways. The decision doesn’t have to be taken right now. And it should not be taken in circumstances where such an early election could only happen if Blairites joined Theresa May in calling such an election in order to help Tories win a landslide victory. That’s not something Owen Smith is going to be boasting about this side of conference.
There is a second reason why Blairites will feel too intimidated to help Theresa May get an early election: the capitalist class doesn’t want one at this stage. They have no desire to gamble with getting a Brexit majority in parliament when there isn’t one at the moment. The political makeup of the next parliament could be much worse from the point of view of the employers. They know that society is polarizing at an alarming rate from their point of view. This is clearly happening in Britain as it is all across the world. Blairites could be wiped out in an early election. And there could be a split to the right from the Tory Party that that wanted policies the bosses don’t want: UKIP’s policies. The bosses are conservative with a small ‘c’. Never forget that.
Labour has enough time left before the next election. We should use that time wisely. Handing the trigger for Article 50 to Theresa May would not be using our time wisely. On that much at least, I’m more than happy to admit, “I agree with Owen.”