The Brexit Party will benefit from Jeremy Corbyn’s switch to the Remain camp, particularly in the north of England, writes Bill Jamieson.
Flip-flop, flippity flop: it might seem churlish to criticise Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour for its latest stance on Brexit. According to this, in the event of a second EU referendum, it will campaign for ... er, Remain.
Remain! What happened to all his earnest declarations that the 2016 referendum result would be “respected”? How many times was this mantra trotted out by MPs who went on to oppose Brexit at every turn? And how will this go down with the phalanx of ‘left behind’ northern and midlands Labour constituencies that voted to leave?
If you wanted an example of how and why there is a growing distrust and anger over politics in Britain today, look no further. “Respect” is the last quality being shown to millions of Labour voters.
In flying in the face of the result of the biggest poll in UK history, the Labour leadership has shown them the finger. It has chosen to side with the professional bien pensants in the metropolis who have come to view northern Leave voters as ignorant, or people who didn’t know the facts, or didn’t know what they were voting for, or were ill-informed, or deluded by populists – and with a hardcore that was racist, or fascist or xenophobic. What condescension and contempt has been shown to the party heartlands. These ghastly people, the “village idiots” as one prominent Remainer called them, in their smelly towns with their giant TVs, fatty food and chip-pan fires, bedecked in Primark throwaways and repellent opinions: the misshapen vegetables of the electorate! How Labour inside the M25 beltway now views them!
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To the SNP, which complains of being insulted and ignored by Westminster, is now joined many in the Leave-voting north of England: Sunderland and Teesside, Hartlepool and Burnley, Bolton and Barrow-in-Furness, Bury and Great Yarmouth, Easington and Scunthorpe and dozens more. All told, seven in ten Labour-held constituencies voted Leave.
Instead, southern Labour’s motley coalition of luvvies, BBC opinionators, global progressives and catastrophists has now set the party on the Remain go-backwards course of status quo ante. In supporting both a second “People’s Vote” (the first presumably now redesignated Soviet-style, as ‘Former People’) and to urge 17.4 million voters to reverse their previous decision, the party leadership is convinced that applying to the EU for permission to remain after all is the right choice.
How much more convenient it would have been for them, how much tidier and better all round, had there been no referendum, no disobliging vote at all and its high policy determined, European Commission style, by appointed officials and closed-door deliberation!
All settled? Up to a point. For this new policy clarification, emerging after months of confusion and double-speak, may not apply in the event of a general election. For here the party’s position on Brexit may not, in fact, be for ‘Remain’ but some yet-to-be-revealed Labour Withdrawal Agreement acceptable to the European Commission but not at all to be confused with the thrice-failed version pursued by Theresa May: Red Brexit good! Blue Brexit bad!
Confused? It’s far too early yet to level the charge of inconsistency. There are still 114 days to go until the next Brexit deadline of Halloween. The possibilities of this Corbyn Kama Sutra have yet to be exhausted. It leaves plenty of time for the leadership to further ‘clarify’ its position and pull off a reverse double somersault contortion – and still leave us guessing as to what it really believes.
After all, Corbyn has gone from a long-held, outright anti-EU position to garbled Remain supporter, to ‘respect’ for the Brexit vote and now to outright ‘Remain’. Is his heart really in it? What settled conviction is there here to trust?
And all the while, a gap is opening up where Labour once stood. It is likely to be filled by Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party. In speaking for the left-behinds and those utterly disillusioned by conventional two-party politics, it all but swept the board in the Euro elections and is averaging 22 per cent in the Westminster polls, threatening to usurp Labour.
It is mounting a strong regional appeal with plans to commit more than £200 billion of investment to regions outside London, improve transport links and broadband across the country and scrap business rates for new firms outside the capital. It is casting itself, as one observer noted, “as the party of the regions, pitted against an over-dominant capital” – a further sign of how the divide between the “metropole and the periphery” is rapidly being politicised.
As Labour has swung behind the Remain establishment, what was once fertile ground for the party is now being left for others to reap.