Extended version of a twitter post.
I’ve potentially been a bit obsessive about Corbyn & Brexit and many have said “why attack him, he’s a decent stick, why not turn the fire on the Tories instead who are actually running Brexit”. It’s a fair comment however the reality is Brexit (certainly hard brexit) as it stands is likely dead unless Labour supports it as there’s not enough pro brexit Tory MPs to get it through the house. That said, although it’s a moveable feast at the moment, economically, Labour policy is also Hard Brexit – namely no Single Market & no Customs Union. There are many sensible voices in Labour who are pushing for a more moderate Brexit and these should be encouraged however, equally, there is a block of Labour MPs who are lining up against free movement of people – this is deeply worrying as it puts parts of Labour (and even Corbyn) within spitting distance of UKIP.
There is also for me personally another angle. If we’re honest Corbyn displayed no great political intelligence over 95% of his political career and if his name hadn’t been added to the ballot “for balance” 3 years ago he would have stayed where he was, an obscure back bencher. His appeal & capabilities (beyond his policies which are understandably popular after 7 years of austerity) come down to 2 things, his ability to campaign & gain support (which is considerable) and his honesty & integrity. He is supposed to be a different kind of politician – honest, straightforward, a different type of leader.
If he doesn’t actually display this integrity, if he doesn’t speak up for what he believes in then all that’s really left is a politician with little actual talent other than an ability to campaign.
In any case, for pro European (or even former pro European) Corbyn supporters, it’s important to assess where he actually stands on our place in Europe.
Historical Attitude – for balance I need to include this article which indicates that Corbyn and his “campaign group” had accepted by and large EU membership back around 2000. This did give me pause and there are some very strong arguments however although he may have accepted EU membership back in 2015 or prior in the same way he accepted capitalism as being just part of the scenery, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t hardened his stance since the referendum. Corbyn does have a historic antipathy towards the EU and would have seen it as a block to the future he wanted for the UK, albeit an immovable object prior to 2015. In practical terms there is a world of difference between a 40-year backbencher who saw the EU as being inevitable and a current party leader who sees an opportunity to implement a socialist vision now that leaving is a strong possibility.
So “acceptance” of EU membership prior to 2015 is probably largely irrelevant.
Remain Campaign – He did have a poor campaign which is understandable given his attitude but should in all honesty be problematic for a Remain supporter (or indeed, anyone who values integrity in their politicians). At the time, there were many apologists who were desperately blaming the media for his lack of visibility but having seen him fight 3 campaigns for himself with gusto it’s clear he just didn’t bring it.
Given that so much of his support base is heavily pro-remain (and young, and therefore most impacted by Brexit) yet believed (and still do) that he really was pro-remain this should be deeply concerning as it goes to the heart of his integrity – if he couldn’t campaign enthusiastically for Remain it is not OK for him to do so in a 50 50 fashion, he should have been honest and simply stepped aside for someone who could match the hopes of his supporters.
This is the integrity dilemma – clearly he can campaign, and campaign effectively even in the face of a hostile media. It’s clear now that he didn’t for Remain. This isn’t to say he’s wholly to blame for the loss, the reasons for Remain losing are far more complex. But it does call into question his integrity if, at best, he simply wasn’t that bothered about a cause many of his supporters cared passionately about but didn’t have the honesty to say so.
In fact no-one could honestly describe Corbyn as straight talking once you watch his dodging & equivocation over Brexit. The position shifts, questions are dodged, and overall the meaningless “tariff free access” mantra is repeated. It’s understandable that he wants to avoid direct questions and fudge the issue but it’s hardly in line with his “straightforward” image.
Article 50 & “Opposition”- It was said that he was “opposing” the government and putting them under pressure when he called for Article 50 to be triggered. There are several problems with this:
- He should have known, as any informed person did, the catastrophic consequences of triggering Article 50 immediately and without preparation. If he didn’t it means he’s incompetent. This pressure was not in the interests of the country
- Brexit was not government policy at the point of the referendum result, it was simply the result. So, the right approach would have been to take stock and understand what the result meant. To immediately put the government under pressure on an approach they had been forced to adopt by the public was not “opposition” but simply a case of putting party before country
- However, when it did come to “opposition” on Brexit, when it counted, Corbyn has utterly failed to do so. He has supported, even with the Whip, every action the government has taken and his Brexit policy is practically identical in economic terms. To say he was “opposing” when he pushed for A 50 trigger when he’s not “opposing” now is problematic
Put simply, he has never effectively opposed when it comes to Brexit & calling for Article 50 Trigger was either incompetence or party before country. Much noise is made but the reality is Labour are fully aligned with the Government on major brexit policy.
Current Status re Brexit for Pro-Europeans – Whatever Corbyn’s attitude pre-referendum all of his actions since have been those of an enthusiastic brexiter. There are many neutral lines he could have taken such as “we cannot support a Brexit that costs jobs” but he hasn’t. He’s actively spoken against the single market and now FoM. There is clearly a battle going on in the Labour party between the moderates and the Corbyn hard Brexit camp & we are also seeing Vote Leave type disinformation on “cake and eat it” deals coming out. I’ve had several conversations with Corbyn supporters who don’t seem to realise they are repeating the exact position of Vote Leave, namely that a bespoke deal without Freedom of Movement is attainable and that the EU will bend to accommodate our demands (mostly because Labour’s attitude is more approachable).
This is doubly concerning because we see many of his key supporters such as Owen Jones transparently re-positioning into a “we must accept Brexit” outlook. Barry Gardiner, someone who clearly stuggled to maintain his moderate (and honest) Brexit line against internal opposition has now moved to a brexit stance arguably even more extreme than the government.
The best and most honest judgement at this point is that Corbyn is a barrier for pro-Europeans. It is perfectly reasonable to choose Corbyn over Europe, and many have, but this should also be problematic for former remainers as they will know his hard Brexit will damage the economy and make his vision undeliverable without huge borrowing and risk. Without the promise of the vision, and without the integrity & honesty, what do you really have?
Therefore, in all conscience you cannot be simultaneously a “remainer” & a Corbyn supporter. The 2 are incompatible.