Euan McColm: Corbyn’s £3 radicals should demand a refund

Corbyn appears to have absented himself from the debate, leaving it to Nicola Sturgeon to challenge the strategy of Theresa May's government. Picture: 'Ian Forsyth/Getty
Corbyn appears to have absented himself from the debate, leaving it to Nicola Sturgeon to challenge the strategy of Theresa May's government. Picture: 'Ian Forsyth/Getty
0
Have your say

Whether it’s calculation or incompetence, the opposition’s failure to lay a finger on the Brexit cabal will be disastrous for us all, says Euan McColm

When Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership in 2015, those campaigners who swept him to victory celebrated a return to their party’s radical roots.

The triple-election-winning New Labour project was dead and anyone who mourned its passing should go and join the Conservatives; under Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, we were going to see real opposition to the worst excesses of Tory Government.

The triple-election-winning New Labour project was dead and anyone who mourned its passing should go and join the Conservatives; under Corbyn and his shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, we were going to see real opposition to the worst excesses of Tory Government.

Sceptics – among whom I count myself – believed that Corbyn was an election loser (and we remain, for now, correct in that assessment). What’s more, non-believers reckoned that by dragging Labour to the left, he would encourage the right.

What we didn’t realise was that, for all his history of supporting revolutionary causes and for all his Durham-miners-gala-rhetoric, Corbyn would turn out to be the least radical political leader in living memory.

The United Kingdom is, right now, being held to ransom by a few dozen right-wing Tory ideologues whose obsession with Europe is all-consuming. Figureheads of this wing-nut cabal, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, are precisely the sort of unreconstructed right-wingers I had imagined Corbyn and his allies lived to bring down.

But Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries and all the other extremists currently forcing Theresa May’s hopeless government towards a deal-free hard Brexit go about their business unmolested by the leader of the opposition.

When Brexit minister, Steve Baker, was caught misleading the House of Commons with the entirely false allegation that Treasury officials were deliberately trying to influence policy in favour of staying in the EU’s customs union, the opposition should have scented blood and gone in for the political kill.

Surely bringing down lying right-wing Tories like Baker is precisely the sort of thing a radical, socialist Labour opposition should be doing? If it’s not, then I’m not entirely sure what purpose it serves.

In Corbyn’s meek, diminished Labour Party, MPs sit and watch as the Conservative right has its way with the UK.

I suppose Labour activists must have enough on their plates, what with all those meetings where they reassure themselves they’re not anti-Semites – and then there’s the energy they must expend on denouncing Tony Blair – to have much time to hold the government to account.

The suspicion – fuelled by decades of the things he has said – lingers that Corbyn was in favour of Brexit. This would certainly explain the Labour Party’s continued failure to be anything like an opposition to a course of action that’s looking increasingly self-destructive.

If this does not explain Labour’s moral cowardice, then we can only assume that – with an eye to winning back the support of former voters who switched their votes to Ukip – Corbyn’s party is guilty of precisely the sort of cynical triangulation that the new guard so despised in the Blair era.

Labour’s willingness to let the Tory right drag the UK into a bleak Little Englander future is made all the more bewildering by the fact that the Brexiteers’ case grows weaker by the day. Arguments about a bright new economic dawn outside Europe have fallen apart quicker than a getaway car in a black and white farce.

Rees-Mogg, his terribly amusing pet hamster Steve Baker, and others now agitating for the hardest possible Brexit claim conspiracy and plot whenever their assertions are called into question. The Tory right is not a proud liberating force but a shower of frauds who cry foul when their bullshit is called out.

Even the supposed sensible faces of Brexit – for example, God help us, Secretary of State for the whole damned mess, David Davis – offer nothing but blithe dismissal in the face of evidence that the UK’s departure from the EU will be economically damaging.

But then, these ideologues don’t care about the implications of their obsession. They worship at the Church of Euroscepticism and their faith in their project is blind.

While Labour effectively absents itself from the biggest debate – and potentially the biggest crisis – facing the nation in decades, the SNP continues to act like a proper opposition, relentlessly questioning the sense of departing the customs union and the single market.

The nationalists should not be fighting this fight alone.

In little more than a year, the UK will depart the EU and what damage is done will not easily be repaired. How, I wonder, does Labour imagine it will capitalise on this miserable state of affairs? Do Corbyn and McDonnell imagine that, having enabled the Tory right during this process, they will hold much appeal as potential saviours of a nation in crisis?

When hundreds of thousands of people joined the Labour Party in 2015 in order to elect Corbyn as leader, didn’t they believe they were part of an invigorated, radical force? Didn’t they think their mission was to drive the Tories from power and to stand up for the most vulnerable, to build a fairer society?

Because if that’s what they thought, then they should demand their three quid back. The Labour membership – still starry-eyed over Corbyn’s “authenticity” – is without leadership or direction. Members are, for now, meekly accepting of their status.

The Conservative MP Anna Soubry, who last week called on the Prime Minister to rid their party of the cell of Eurosceptic extremists now directing operations, has more radical spirit in her little finger than any member of the shadow cabinet.

She and other, often derided, centrists, such as Labour’s Chuka Umunna are lonely voices at a time when almost half of the UK wants a choir.

When Corbyn became Labour leader, he promised a fairer, more equal Britain. It seems more equal is to include everyone being worse off after Brexit.

If you’re a member of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour and you think you’re part of something radical, you’re kidding yourself.