The tragedy of Labour and Europe

This embrace of Remain will sever the connection to many of our heartlands.

Brendan Chilton

Topics Brexit Politics UK

The Labour Party has consistently been on the wrong side of history when the great question of European integration has been debated. Over the past 70 years, the party has often been bitterly divided along fierce ideological battle lines on the matter. But it has never really been in line with the majority view of the British people, and the same can be said now.

After the Second World War, the Labour government kept Britain out of the European Coal and Steel Community, at a time when it could have been beneficial to be a member – influencing it from the start. Labour cabinets and shadow cabinets were regularly split on the matter, as the country progressed towards supporting our membership. In 1962, Hugh Gaitksell, to the anger of many in the party, gave his famous speech at the Labour conference opposing Common Market membership.

Even when Labour figures were absolutely in the right on European integration, they failed to bring the country with them. In the 1975 referendum on our membership of the European Economic Community, Labour figures led the No campaign, but the country voted Yes. In 1983, Labour supported unilateral withdrawal from the EEC, and the country endorsed the pro-market Thatcher government with a huge majority.

In the 1990s, as the country became more Eurosceptic, the Labour Party became more Europhile. And during the 2016 EU referendum the Labour Party campaigned to remain. Despite promises made, no special conference was held for members to debate the issue. We had in Jeremy Corbyn the most Eurosceptic Labour leader since Michael Foot. Yet on the fundamental issue of the day that lifelong Eurosceptic campaigned, albeit half-heartedly, to remain in the EU. The Labour machine devoted itself to campaigning to remain. Ninety per cent of Labour MPs supported remain. Despite the fact it was perfectly obvious that the Labour vote would not fully unite behind one position, Labour went ahead without consultation or engagement with the diverse and delicate coalition that comprises our base. Debate was not permitted, and there was an almost total denial that any Labour member or voter would countenance supporting Leave.

In the 2016 referendum, 70 per cent of Labour constituencies voted to leave the European Union. Estimates suggest somewhere between four and five million 2017 Labour voters support Brexit. Yet since the referendum the party has abandoned its Leave voters in pursuit of the satisfaction of the Parliamentary Labour Party, who by majority would prefer to remain in the EU. Millions of working-class voters are now, devastatingly, looking towards the Conservative Party and the Brexit Party over their own natural home, Labour. It is precisely for that reason that we are consistently behind in the opinion polls.

Labour has, however, tapped into the social and economic pain the country is feeling. For the first time in many years a majority of voters now favour a government that would increase taxes to pay for public services. A majority of the public favour a more active state, protecting industry in the interests of people and not profit. Voters have had enough of austerity and they want to see public services restored to their rightful place. They want a government that is more interventionist, offering preferential treatment to British firms over foreign competitors. But as we have learned, sentimental and emotional arguments trump economic arguments. While Labour may be in tune with the public on the economy, it falls short by a country mile on patriotism, national identity and support for Brexit. If the people do not feel Labour identifies with their sense of national place, then the people will not return a Labour government.

This, then, is the great tragedy for Labour. Whether deliberate or by accident of history, Labour has consistently been on the wrong side when it comes to Europe. My advice to Labour, for the duration of the Brexit process and in the future, is: whatever you are thinking of doing on Europe, do the opposite.

Brendan Chilton is director of Labour Future and co-author of 30 Truths About Leaving on WTO Terms.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.


Puddy Cat

24th October 2019 at 11:40 am

Mr Corbyn’s idea of singularity is to forever be on the other side of the argument whatever the issue. This is not policy it merely represents opposition in its most tainted and grotesque depiction. The sort of characteristic that greets any proposition with ‘no’ and then goes on to find some way to develop an argument in support of the rejection. It bears great comparison with teenagers of our mutual acquaintance, surly, grumpy and not yet read.

Modern Money

23rd October 2019 at 11:22 pm

Paul Krugman finally admits he was wrong.

MMT economists saw the financial crash coming years before anyone else. MMT economists told everyone what was wrong with the Eurozone years before anyone else.

Simon Wren Lewis will never admit he was wrong but should follow in Krugman’s footsteps.

steve moxon

23rd October 2019 at 11:03 pm

Liebore is NOT in line with the people on the economy, any more than it’s in line with the people on anything. The people instinctively don’t spend way beyond their means, especially when they’re already deep in debt, and especially when the spending in some ways would be wasteful.
Liebore hates the people.
Liebore is ‘identity politics’ totalitarian (‘PC’-fascist): the backlash against ‘the workers’ for not abiding by the Marxist script.

Jim Lawrie

23rd October 2019 at 6:11 pm

How shallow must Corbyn’s convictions be that from a supposedly life long position on The EU disappears under pressure, with no ability to form a political argument to back up this stance. That oaf McDonenel is so smug and sure that he is playing the electorate to his tune. They all seek solace in the opinion polls, letting the pollsters set the questions.

James Knight

23rd October 2019 at 5:41 pm

Corybn has become the useful idiot of big business when it comes to the EU.

After betraying millions of labour voters he will be seen as no longer useful to the establishment, just an idiot.

Hugh Bryant

23rd October 2019 at 4:20 pm

The battle in Labour is between professionals in the public sector, many of whom are extremely wealthy, and poorer public sector workers. It hasn’t had anything to say to the self-employed or people in small businesses for many years. Certainly the PLP doesn’t contain anyone with that sort of background and probably no-one who even knows such a person. This explains the strange alliance between the Labour left and the CBI and the Wall Street banks that run the EU.

Jerry Owen

23rd October 2019 at 8:15 pm

You make some very good points indeed.
I run a business myself and can say that labour has nothing for me. It doesn’t address me in anyway. It doesn’t even talk about me.
This country is full of small business owners yet labour still cling to a myth of ‘ the workers ‘.
Totally meaningless these days .
‘ Public sector elites ‘ is more like it.

Jerry Owen

23rd October 2019 at 3:55 pm

The irony of the Labour Party home of socialism having it’s most radical socialist leader making it virtually unelectable. Where do they go from here.. dear oh dear ! Still.. never mind.

Mondeo man and white van man probably helped seal the coffin.

Danielle Boyle

23rd October 2019 at 3:29 pm

I think that Brexit is a load of rubbish it’s too upsetting and unfair I’m surporting the liberal democrat party Miss Jo Swindon s party they have promised to stop Brexit for good

Jerry Owen

23rd October 2019 at 3:51 pm

D Boyle
Boo Hoo , cry me a river !

T Zazoo

24th October 2019 at 1:34 am

If it were the Guardian I’d ponder that she is for real. But here, I think she is pulling your leg.

Mike Ellwood

25th October 2019 at 11:40 am

“Miss Jo Swindon” – 🙂 Nice one. I call her Jo Swindle, leader of the Illiberal Autocrats.

Mike Ellwood

25th October 2019 at 11:46 am

BTW, “Danielle”, I think you are Titania McGrath, and I claim my 5 Euros.

Modern Money

23rd October 2019 at 3:03 pm

They knew all of this year’s ago and today they all lie about it.

Taxes For Revenue Are Obsolete, written in 1946 by Beardsley Ruml, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and published in a periodical named American Affairs. While Ruml was writing about the merits of corporate taxes, it is his discussion about how the function of taxes changed after the nation exited the gold standard.

Andrew Best

23rd October 2019 at 3:03 pm

To little
To late
My labour mp, sir Keir starmer
How can this man represent the poor working classes
He cant

Jim Lawrie

23rd October 2019 at 3:02 pm

Mr Chilton, including Employer’s NI, the higher band tax rate is 52%. What do you propose to raise that to, and will your rise increase tax revenue or investment?

Modern Money

23rd October 2019 at 3:01 pm

If there are enough skills and real resources to absorb the extra government spending then what is the problem ?

See Trump for details. Smashed all US government spending records and slashed taxes still no hyperinflation.

Although skill shortages are starting to appear. Skills and real resources are the ONLY constraint on government spending and bank lending.

You can use taxes to move the skills into the parts of the economy were they are needed. Use taxes to stop bad practices and promote good practices but they fund nothing.

Andrew Best

23rd October 2019 at 3:06 pm

But when our governments for 20 years refuse to train our young what do that expect
It’s not difficult
Train our young to be tradesmen and less university degrees

Dominic Straiton

23rd October 2019 at 4:59 pm

Governments dont train people. Other trained people train people. Government get in the way or allow mass uncontrolled immigration to make training pointless. If I was Boris Id abolish VAT.

Noggin The nog

23rd October 2019 at 5:00 pm

Absolutely agree. Yet this advice will never be discussed in the MSM.

Modern Money

23rd October 2019 at 2:54 pm

” For the first time in many years a majority of voters now favour a government that would increase taxes to pay for public services ”

Increasing taxes does not pay for public services. We are no longer in the gold standard.

Dominic Straiton

23rd October 2019 at 2:25 pm

Labour or Tory are outdated constructs. Either you want to live in a democratic, sovereign state or you dont.

Brandy Cluster

23rd October 2019 at 9:41 pm

Bravo. Absolutely correct.

Winston Stanley

23rd October 2019 at 1:34 pm

So, the ides of Labour suggest that we will get Brexit after all. Nice one Corby, you stick with remain, titter

Andrew Leonard

23rd October 2019 at 1:22 pm

“For the first time in many years a majority of voters now favour a government that would increase taxes to pay for public services. A majority of the public favour a more active state, protecting industry in the interests of people and not profit. Voters have had enough of austerity and they want to see public services restored to their rightful place.”

Here is OECD government spending data, for a few years back.
The UK is around average, at about 42% of GDP.
Australia is sitting on about 36%, and Korea about 32%.
In contrast, the old Soviet Union states spent around 60% of GDP.

Would increases or cuts in spending and taxing, be most likely to reduce austerity?

Jim Lawrie

23rd October 2019 at 2:57 pm

It should read “a majority of voters now favour a government that would increase taxes on other people”.

Brandy Cluster

23rd October 2019 at 9:42 pm

What I call “the new millennial legacy” where everybody is expected to pay and none of them is ever expected to put at risk a single cent of their own money. Pfft!

Tim Wheeler

23rd October 2019 at 12:44 pm

Yup I voted Labour for 40 years but not now. I remember when Gordon Brown said ‘British Jobs For British Workers’ and then recanted within hours. I’d been appalled at Tony Blair and had hope Brown would be better. Brown’s instant reversal told me he was a globalist and counted citizenship and localism very cheaply. Corbyn’s 180 degree U-Turn immediately prior to the referendum ended my support for Labour. I now see Labour as the dupe of the E.U. Commission and Global banks and corporation that control it. Local democratic push-back is anathema to them and their purpose is to neuter and stifle it. Labour appear to be onside for that project as they don’t like being accountable to voters.

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