Labour: more white than red
Its anti-Brexit moves confirm Labour is now the party of reaction.
It’s the centenary of the Russian Revolution, and flicking through the excitable posts of the ‘Marxist’ memesters of Corbynista Twitter, you’d think history was repeating itself. Though Corbyn’s more savvy spokespeople know he’s a garden-variety social democrat, and that talking up his Redness will do him few favours, the idea that Corbyn has put radical politics back on the agenda in Britain is a myth indulged by his social-media cheerleaders and fulminating right-wing foes alike.
Still, this idea that Corbyn’s Labour Party is some sort of 21st-century, parliamentary version of the Red Army, the radical voice of the people, should be put to bed after some of its leading lights’ statements about Brexit over the weekend.
On The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell said he would work with all parties to make an amendment to the embattled EU Withdrawal Bill, ensuring a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final EU negotiation. Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer later told the BBC that Labour would also try to rule out ‘no deal’ via another amendment and would refuse to vote for any negotiation package that crossed any of his Brexit red lines.
This comes alongside various cross-party plots to ensure MPs – the vast majority of whom voted Remain – can have a final say on the deal and render the dreaded No Deal illegal. Meanwhile Remainer Lords – freed up by the inconclusive election to knock back any Brexit bills they please – are once again on manoeuvres, led by tinfoil-hat Labour lord Andrew Adonis, who recently accused the BBC of ‘pro-Brexit bias’.
Why does this all matter? Because beneath all the talk of a ‘cliff-edge’ No Deal Brexit, and the need for pragmatism over the ‘fantasy politics’ of the ‘Brextremists’, Labour’s and parliamentary Remainers’ plans to gunge up the Withdrawal Bill will have one clear effect: making Brexit that little bit less likely. This isn’t a rejection of No Deal; it’s another desperate lunge at No Brexit.
First, a ‘meaningful’ parliamentary vote on Brexit isn’t necessary. We had an infinitely more meaningful vote in June 2016, when more Britons than have ever voted for anything, ever, instructed our political class to get us out of the EU. Yes, parliament should be free to scrutinise the deal and the Brexit process, but amendments for a final vote are being explicitly drummed up as an opportunity for our 650 MPs to overrule the will of 17.4million Leave voters.
Second, ruling out a No Deal is the most suicidal negotiating tactic ever. It’s a glaring incentive for the EU to give us the worst deal possible, in the knowledge that the government will be hamstrung from rejecting it. The same goes for Starmer’s call for ‘as short as possible, as long as necessary’ transitional agreement, which would mean the EU, which takes years to agree on anything, has every incentive to string us along.
No one, a few Tory headbangers aside, thinks a cut-and-run Brexit is a good idea. Every effort should be made to secure a beneficial deal. But we have to realise what we’re up against: an EU oligarchy whose No1 priority isn’t even its own economic interests; it is to hold its bereft, democratically illegitimate union together. If that means punishing Britain, they’ll do it. No deal is better than a bad deal if it means making sure, despite all this, that the democratic will is upheld.
Third, while the Labour frontbench still tries to pretend that it is committed to upholding the Brexit vote, you need only look at Starmer’s Brexit ‘red lines’ to see that this is a big fat lie. The first red line is that Labour will reject any deal that doesn’t maintain the ‘exact same benefits’ as Single Market and Customs Union membership – which even the most hardened Eurosceptic knows is patent fantasy, unless said deal entails staying in the EU.
Granted, Starmer nicked those words from Brexit secretary David Davis, who foolishly uttered that formulation at the despatch box earlier this year. (Since then, the Tories have opted for the purposefully vaguer ‘close and special partnership’.) But in effect this would mean Labour being compelled to keep Britain in the EU unless the government delivers a divorce deal that Starmer himself knows is pie-in-the-sky.
This is why we need to reject this idea that Corbyn’s Labour is heralding a new radical dawn. The real democratic momentum in British politics right now is among the long-ignored masses who voted for Brexit last year, many of them in northern working-class towns that the Islington set leading the Labour Party still pretend to represent. Corbynistas going to the polls in June and delivering a better-than-expected loss for the Labour leader pales in comparison to what Leavers achieved last year: they rejected the entire Europe-wide order, and they revealed how distant and illegitimate our own political class is. That’s where the radical opportunity lies today, and yet every single thing Labour is doing will make enacting the expressed democratic will less and less likely.
Anyone who knows anything about the Labour Party shouldn’t be surprised, of course. Its historic role has been to manage class politics, to keep a lid on revolutionary fervour. And since the 1980s, as Labourites grew more and more distant from their voters, and became convinced unending Tory rule was inevitable, so they grew more fond of Brussels as a way of doing politics without having to deal with the electorate.
But the question remains as to why Corbyn, a lifelong Leaver whose economic platform would be outlawed under EU rules, is going along with all this. It’s not just because he needs to make nice with the Remoaning Parliamentary Labour Party – who he has consistently clashed with during his short premiership over everything from nukes to the national anthem. It’s because he knows where he draws his real support from. It isn’t from the workers – it’s from the metropolitan middle class, the voters who flocked to his party at the last election because they spied in him an opportunity to dilute Brexit.
For all the talk of Corbyn being the antidote to Blairism – the man who puts principle and people’s interests over power – he has now put Brexit, something he’s believed in his entire political life, at threat, just so he can hold on to his position. His willingness to shop his principles has made him the unwitting leader of an anti-Brexit white army out to crush a revolt from below. Corbynism may be having a bit of a moment, but there’s nothing radical about it.
Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
Tom will be speaking at the session, Party politics: realignment or disintegration?, at the Battle of Ideas festival in London on Saturday 28 October. Get tickets here.
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