Opposing Brexit is essential for the left, which should have forged closer links with European social democrats, but Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership seem to believe leaving the EU offers the chance of creating a socialist paradise. It’s absurd, says Kenny MacAskill.
Theresa May’s weaving of her tangled Brexit web continues, as she tries to inveigle Labour into her clutches. Unable to keep her own party united, she’s now seeking to entrap others. Rather than the usual sharp rebuff to opposition approaches, instead she’s showing willing to try and allay Labour fears and sate some of their MPs desires.
But, Labour would do well to avoid falling into her grasp through Tory lies or the prospect of ‘Lexit’. She’ll chew them up and – even if she falls as she will – they’ll have been devoured. The consequences for Labour of assisting a Tory Brexit will be felt long and hard, even in supposed northern English heartlands that voted for it.
Lexit – the left-wing rationale for leaving the EU – is as deluded as Brexit and Labour will be blamed if they simply allow it to happen, as much as if it was supported by them.
Machiavellian efforts by Corbyn to inherit Brexit, without being blamed for it, won’t wash. Whether the party would even remain united in such a scenario is hard to say. The political duplicity would alienate many and the economic crisis to follow would shatter others.
Likewise, Tory pledges are not to be believed. The idea that employment rights could be protected, when it’s been the EU that brought many of them in, is absurd. A UK outwith the EU will see them devastated not advanced, after all that’s part of the vision of a free-market dreamland promoted by those rushing to push us over the cliff edge.
That collective stupidity would be compounded by Labour MPs happy to take some short-term funding for their constituencies or even wider regional areas. A few millions or even tens of millions cannot resolve the havoc already wrecked, never mind much worse to come, as the likes of Nissan and Jaguar Land Rover review their future.
For sure, some short-term baubles could be purchased and displayed and some community facilities preserved or even enhanced. But long term, the prospects would be dire as inward investment drained away and a Government based in the south of England continued northern neglect. To paraphrase one of the heroes of the Brexiteers “never would so much harm be done to so many by so few”.
Of course, the supposed People’s Party hasn’t been helped by their own Dear Leader. Seemingly overlooking the conference policy, Corbyn forgot – according to his aides – to include a final paragraph in his letter to Theresa May about a People’s Vote. All politicians can forget and make mistakes but not of that significance and not when it’s no doubt been through numerous agreed iterations, revisals and even hands.
That’s not just disingenuous but downright duplicitous. It’s also insulting to Keir Starmer who has been a voice of authority and reason in Corbyn’s otherwise lightweight and vacuous shadow Cabinet. But it shows the inner desires of the Labour Leadership who are reluctant remainers or secretly – or openly – wish for a Lexit.
It’s absurd but sadly reflects a mood of British exceptionalism that runs deep within some of the left as it does on the right.
Over the years, Labour has seen those who preferred to stick with the empire or railed against the capitalist conspiracy of the EEC. That reduced in recent times as the empire faded and the EU was born, but still isolationism or Atlanticism has seemed to prevail. Europe was okay for holidays or trade but not for solidarity or political philosophy.
There’s not just been a reluctance but a lack of warmth in embracing Europe despite some honourable exceptions. Labour may be members of the Socialist International but more often they’ve seemed more animated by defending Cuba or Venezuela than forging links with Social Democratic parties on the continent.
That’s really quite incredible and even shameful. The Social Democratic greats of Olaf Palme and Willy Brandt showed a path to follow but it was treated with disdain. True links were not forged and I found it quite incredible that there’s no English translation even of Palme’s biography, which borders on contempt. Yet his Swedish Social Democrats were remarkably successful and worthier surely of emulating than regimes on distant continents.
European socialists were disdained whilst others far less deserving were revered. Even Democratic politicians from the USA were treated with greater reverence than similar European leaders, who were both further to the left and had more in common with our society. Blair and Brown seemed more comfortable with Clinton, Gore or even Jesse Jackson than those who were then still major political figures in Europe. But why engage with Europeans when you’re British?!
European socialism has now gone into a tailspin with a few limited exceptions – out of power in Germany and France, and hanging on by their fingernails in Sweden or just managing to form an administration in Portugal. But, in many ways, it’s a microcosm of the movement more generally. Socialism is on the run and will be for a while to come, until it reassesses and adapts for globalisation.
Which is why cooperation with Europe and opposing Brexit is absolutely essential for the left, as well as for the welfare of the entire country. The idea that Comrade Corbyn can lead us out of the EU and into some socialist paradise is absurd. He’s plummeting and has even less idea how to tackle globalisation and the march of neo-liberalism than the European left. Collectively there may be a solution but certainly there would be mitigation.
It was Trump’s Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who said Brexit was a chance to eat “Britain’s lunch”. Politically the left would be eaten alive.
There’s no easy way back for social democracy but it’s more likely through Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis’ ideas than Corbyn’s ‘momentum’. There’s also a lot wrong with the EU such as its treatment of Greece or failure to protect Catalan politicians and it’s still moving rightwards. But, that’s also a global trend.
Currently, Europe at least provides an alternative to the Chinese and US models. Labour would do well to realise that even a right-wing EU is preferable to where Brexit will take us.