The tragedy of Jeremy Corbyn

He has betrayed left Euroscepticism. And for Remainers it’s still not enough.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Deputy Editor

Topics Brexit Politics UK

Jeremy Corbyn was handed a lifeline last night, when the Labour Party conference backed his position on Brexit. With Labour having already backed a second Brexit referendum, yesterday was about what position it would take in that referendum. Corbyn’s approach was to put off the decision until after the coming General Election. A rival motion, ‘Composite 13’, called for an unequivocal Remain stance. By show of hands, Corbyn’s motion carried, and the other fell.

It was a win, but a controversial one. When Composite 13 was voted on, the chair, Wendy Nichols, at first said it had carried. Then Jennie Formby, Corbyn ally and Labour general secretary, sat to Nichols’ right, insisted it hadn’t. Nichols went along with it. There were calls for a formal ‘card vote’, but they were denied. Disquiet among the more Remainy delegates was drowned out by a chorus of ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’. While it seems like it was, in the end, the right call, the way it was handled inflamed tensions.

Labour’s battles over Brexit are far from over, and differences of opinion are there for all to see. While Corbyn has said he will personally remain neutral in a future referendum, members of his shadow cabinet – including Keir Starmer, Emily Thornberry and John McDonnell – have made clear they will back Remain. The membership is strongly pro-Remain, albeit still loyal to Corbyn. (His team deftly presented the votes yesterday as a matter of confidence in him.)

But for all the controversy, this is, in a way, dancing on the head of a pin. If Labour wins the next election, it will hold a second referendum. The choice would be between staying in the EU and ‘leaving’ via a tweaked version of Theresa May’s withdrawal deal – that is, between Remain and Remain By Another Name. Whoever wins that rigged referendum, Brexit would lose. This internal spat is over which flavour of betrayal to recommend to the electorate, and when might be best to announce that preference.

Corbyn is likely making an electoral calculation here. As Lancaster University’s Richard Johnson has argued, Labour’s path to election victory is through Leave-voting marginals. But at the same time, the now pro-revoke Liberal Democrats are also snapping at Corbyn’s heels, eating into his Remoaner support. He is clearly hoping that constructive ambiguity on Brexit, and a campaign fought on domestic policy, might allow him to squeak through the middle and into No10.

But I dare say there’s something personal about this, too. Corbyn is a lifelong left Brexiteer. He learned at the feet of Tony Benn. Friends say he would have voted Leave in 2016 had he not been leader. Jeremy Corbyn leading a pro-second referendum Labour Party is like Ken Clarke leading a pro-No Deal Tory Party. And Corbyn’s prevarication over his and his party’s stance in that second referendum looks increasingly like a limp, tragic holdout against the final betrayal of his principles.

He knows that holding a second referendum is wrong. In 2009, he backed a No vote in Ireland’s second referendum on the EU’s Lisbon Treaty (the first No vote was ignored). There’s a clip of him joking at a meeting that, if No campaigners win again, they should refrain from recycling their posters, because they’ll need them for the third go. Arguably, the second referendum Corbyn is backing now would be even worse than that re-run, given Leave would effectively be left off the ballot paper.

He also knows that the EU is a brutal technocratic order that battered the Greek working class; that pays North African militias to lock up would-be migrants; that is so dismissive of democratic politics that it wouldn’t even allow him to implement his rather milquetoast 2017 manifesto. Corbyn knows all of this. And yet on he goes, scuppering our one shot at leaving this thing, to the dappled applause of Blairites, hipsters and the Financial Times.

Corbyn has debased himself over Brexit. That there are those in his party demanding he go further feels almost sadistic. He has been forced to say things he doesn’t believe and support things he knows to be wrong, and it’s still not enough. But he deserves little sympathy. This alleged man of principle realised long ago that betraying left Euroscepticism was the price he had to pay for holding on to the Labour leadership. He made his judgement. And history will make its own of him.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty

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Martin Bishop

26th September 2019 at 8:56 am

Like him or loath him, the bloke was never going to win either way. From the viewpoint of other tribes it was always going to be the label of dictator or sellout.

Jerry Owen

25th September 2019 at 8:58 am

Corbyn is after power by any means possible .. except by General Election.
He is a dangerous man, don’t mistake him for a fool or a naive person.
He is rotten and evil to the core.

John Millson

25th September 2019 at 8:33 am

Corbyn has always been EU-sceptic, never a ‘Brexiteer’, i.e. a precipitous child-like ‘no-dealer’.
But for the poisnous ERG and the ‘Loyalist’ cavemen, the UK would have started exiting ‘on time’ and all the squealing from the Farage Spiv Mob would just be echoic memories.
The ‘people’ wouldn’t feel betrayed; they would just be getting on with their lives, untroubled because the elected governing party were honourable and knew what they were doing.

Janet Mozelewski

28th September 2019 at 4:27 pm

And what ‘deal’ would you suggest? From what I have seen the only deal the EU have ever offered is one which entirely subjugates our country (hell they even JOKE about it…what have you been missing here?) . What more would you have us do? Throw in the Isle of Wight?
No deal is ALWAYS better than a bad deal.

John Millson

30th September 2019 at 9:48 am

I have in mind an arrangement which puts the UK in a transition phase, not perpetual ‘subjugation’. No doubt Johnson would have done a better job than May and the UK would be on its way out.
This is about ending a economic/political relationship not ending a conflict. We are not negotiating a ‘peace treaty’. The EU is not our ‘enemy’.

Marvin Jones

29th September 2019 at 3:07 pm

So it seems that you don’t know the difference between “Brexit” and “Brino”. One is a con by a gutless woman who lied a deceived us from the first speech to keep us enslaved to that corrupt cabal. Her deal/treaty was as treacherous as they get.

John Millson

30th September 2019 at 9:59 am

The UK was happy to be part of the ‘corrupt cabal’. The UK’s hands are no cleaner than anyone elses.
To me, leaving the EU with a negotiated agreement in place is a Brexit, ie a British exit of the EU. I think most leave voters would have accepted that; got on with their lives and not gone around all day feeling the big, bad, nasty EU still had in them chains.
‘enslave’, ‘treacherous’…… honestly get some perspective.

H McLean

24th September 2019 at 11:58 pm

I’m a bit late to the conversation on this one, but Labour don’t have the support to win an election, surely, making all this conjecture irrelevant.

Marvin Jones

24th September 2019 at 3:03 pm

The biggest British coward to be on the possible verge of becoming the PM of this once great country. He can’t even state if he is a remain or a leave supporter. Neutral he says, re-check the Cajones and he may get a shock. “BO**O**S TO BREXIT!” let’s have a GE now you gutless freak!

Jane 70

24th September 2019 at 1:05 pm

What price democracy ,the one person one vote and universal franchise? Ask Gina Miller, she’s running the show.

“Money makes the world go around
The world go around
The world go around
Money makes the world go around
It makes the world go ’round.”

Jane 70

24th September 2019 at 1:43 pm

Mike Ellwood

25th September 2019 at 1:29 am

I don’t think a written constitution is the answer. Then you need constitutional courts to interpret it. More government by judges. We’ve had enough of that.

Marvin Jones

24th September 2019 at 3:05 pm

Everyone has a banana skin etched with their name. Hope hers is soon and vast.

Jane 70

24th September 2019 at 3:56 pm

I wonder if she’ll stand for election now, in a suitably woke constituency?

Forlorn Dream

24th September 2019 at 1:04 pm

Am I missing something here? Labour will give another referendum with the option to remain in the EU after they win the next GE. The next GE is provisionally set for 5th May 2022. Surely that date is significantly later than 31st October 2019? How can we choose to remain within something we have already left?
Hmm, seems strange to me.

James Knight

24th September 2019 at 6:15 pm

Because the UK will not have left. The vast majority of the British establishment was always against it. And even though people like Corbyn said they would respect the result of the referendum they were lying through the back of their teeth from day one.

Tim Wheeler

24th September 2019 at 12:24 pm

Yes – I’m convinced that Corby was presented by and ultimatum from the PLP (who’d just tried to unseat him) “support Remain/Global Corporate Rule and you’ll get peace and the possibility of Number 10” … or “Well give you Full-On War and No Chance to be P.M.” He caved pre-Referendum and said (effectivity) – “I’ll sacrifice any meaning or power for ordinary Citizens’ votes if you guys let me stay on as leader and have a shot a becoming P.M.” As Tom says: Corbyn has sacrificed EVERYTHING and got NO peace in return. He’s been a beaten, hollow man (spending much time in hiding) for the last 3 years.


24th September 2019 at 12:03 pm

Jeremy is hoping in becoming a Lenin for the UK. Remainers are good fighters, no doubt with the media, money, courts and politics. However Lenin “socialism” in Russia 1917 led to a vicious bloodshed of the royalists. The Stalin’s communist revolution afterward caused misery for many. In the UK, we were warned about this bunch of bloodthirsty political movements seeking our downfall. They could be plotting to abolish the present Monarchy and have EU representatives at the House of Parliament. This will probably lead to another chaotic Parliamentary civil war unless the Monarch intervenes.

Ven Oods

24th September 2019 at 12:02 pm

Corbyn looks truly tired. I don’t think the remorseless spotlight is his favourite place. And all the juggling to placate opposed strands of his party can’t be much fun for a man who’d rather spend more time with his allotment.
Strange that he’s stuck it out for this long, really. He seems to have the flip-side of Major’s ‘bastards’ problem. If I cared more, I’d probably have to stop laughing.

Mike Ellwood

25th September 2019 at 1:24 am

That’s a good way of putting it. Except that his “bastards” are absolute ******g ***ts.

Jane 70

24th September 2019 at 11:54 am

I’m going ‘off message’, but: the Supreme Court has just ruled against the government .
Biased Bercow must now reconvene the HOC.
It seems that Gina Miller now governs the UK by proxy, while John Major must be celebrating his legally sanctioned double standards.
We truly are stuck in the Hotel Remainia: checked out , but can never Leave.
3 years wasted.

Michael Lynch

24th September 2019 at 12:35 pm

Truly shocking, isn’t it? I’m so angry watching Soubry, Curry, Bercow etc. all crowing with glee. I’ve had to turn the Telly off. The anger of people on Northern Streets must be so palpable, but with no GE for the foreseeable future what can they do? They are been totally ignored and now they have been totally locked out. It’s devastating.

Jane 70

24th September 2019 at 12:59 pm

It’s the beginning of the end, I fear: the wealthy and well connected will now do whatever it takes to put the lid on the wrong decisions and silencethe irksome plebs for good.
Liberal dictatorship might seem a tad OTT, but it’s not entirely without foundation.
No GE, biased parliament, openly partisan speaker, and the gruesome gleeful cabal: Blackford, Lucas, Soubry, Cherry, Swinson, Grieve…..

Janet Mozelewski

26th September 2019 at 2:59 pm

They will do what they are doing in France and elsewhere in Europe. They will take to the streets and start setting fire to things. Its coming. I see it France all the time (though the BBC and MSM studiously turn a blind eye) and it is getting worse. They are creating the very thing they say they hope to avoid….the rise of the Right.
Its a funny thing. People can quite happily be in a room for a long time..until they realize the door is locked. Then they will do everything they can to get out.

Mike Ellwood

25th September 2019 at 1:32 am

Well put Jane.

Chris Peacock

24th September 2019 at 11:08 am

If I were Corbyn I would be questioning ‘is the leadership worth it’, if you can’t be honest and follow your beliefs, then what is the point, he has to remain ambiguous on Brexit because of the members? what would happen if he came out in favour of Brexit? surely he would already be in power by now, and the membership would have changed dynamics? I just don’t understand what Jeremy is getting out of all of this.

Ramsay macdonald

24th September 2019 at 11:03 am

Yep, in football terms, Corby’s ‘bottled it.’ No principles, no guts. And the damage to democracy will now be permanent now that elections/referendums can be declared invalid, for no particular reason, other than the losing side didn’t like the result. Parliamentary democracy has become a farce. Who’s for voting in the next farce?

Michael Lynch

24th September 2019 at 9:16 am

Labour can’t win with him, but they also can’t win with their Remain stance. Most of the Party is now intent on going after a small hard core of Remain voters. In essence, they are chasing the same demographic as the Lib Dems. Boris is now appealing to that large slice of voters either side of the line. It was interesting to watch Ed Davey’s (Lib Dems) insane stance on Question Time and then switch over to watch the shambles of the Labour Conference. Both parties seem to be imploding as they choke on their own duplicity. Boris is going to mop up here if he simply keeps on message. If the Supreme Court finds against Boris this morning then it’s only going to make him stronger. The general population wants Brexit done, there is no appetite for more drawn out delays that Labour and the Lib Dems wish to procure.

Jim Lawrie

24th September 2019 at 11:05 am

I think the political haranguing of the judges by Aidan O’Neill in court was designed to discredit their judgement a that of upper class, old boy network, racist, anti-diversity should they find against him. So out of touch is the upper crust of the legal profession that they think such a rallying call will win them public support.
If Boris resigns today, the abandonment of party conferences and the stampede for his job without an election will reveal the contenders for what they are. Article 50 will be revoked. Boris and many other Conservatives might resign their seats to force hundreds of by-elections. Unless Parliament legislates against that.

Jim Lawrie

24th September 2019 at 11:21 am

Parliament might choose to nominate new MP’s to replace the resignees.

Michael Lynch

24th September 2019 at 11:49 am

You are spot on, the Public will no longer have any say in deciding on who they want to represent them. I’m still reeling from the shock of the unanimous court decision. Brexit is now dead as Government policy will now be directed by Brussels via the Speaker. There will be no general election now and they will steer the country to Remain via revocation of Article 50 over the next few months. The massive paradox here, of course, is that this decision actually makes a mockery of Parliamentary Sovereignty. Simply because Parliament will be faced by no end of future litigation by rich citizens when they don’t like a certain law or policy. Miller has also been allowed to buy herself 17.4 million votes. I heard the case cost around a million so that’s about 17.5 pence per vote by my reckoning; got herself a bargain, didn’t she? How utterly soul destroying this all is; the will of the people is now dead as a concept in Europe.

Jim Lawrie

24th September 2019 at 12:15 pm

Michael Lynch I posted that before I knew the court decision.

The lawyers, via the courts, are now in charge of law making, and will do so unchecked.

They are not, however, in charge of the country. That is up for grabs.

We are now beyond Brexit.

I am fearful for our safety.

Marvin Jones

24th September 2019 at 3:16 pm

I don’t think he could achieve that without Farage’s support. Nigel says that he wants nothing out of it, but Boris is in the china shop waiting to implode. On the other point, I believe that if we did have a GE, the country will be in for a mighty shock like the 2016 referendum. I believe that there are many millions of people like me who are sick to the back teeth of being treated with total disregard and too thick to know what we are doing, trampled and insulted like peasants, but we await with great patience for our turn.

In Negative

24th September 2019 at 9:01 am

Not hearing very much about his anti-semitism of late neither. Funny how these things go isn’t it?

Mike Ellwood

25th September 2019 at 1:37 am

Maybe someone did a deal with Mossad.

Warren Alexander

24th September 2019 at 8:26 am

Gosh! Jeremy Corbyn is a scheming, devious, power hungry politician without any principles. Who would have thought it?

Michael Lynch

24th September 2019 at 9:17 am

Power always corrupts. It’s as old as time.

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