Kenny MacAskill: Corbyn’s Brexit rhetoric is stirring up xenophobia

When Corbyn's not 'missing in action', he's being shown up by Conservative MP Anna Soubry (Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty)
When Corbyn's not 'missing in action', he's being shown up by Conservative MP Anna Soubry (Picture: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty)
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As the chances of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit increase, Brexiteers’ responses have become increasingly bellicose. References are made to surviving two world wars and showing the Dunkirk spirit, along with other martial comments. It may not be war but the language, especially when directed towards Europeans, is unhealthy to say the least.

It’s almost certainly going to wreak social and economic havoc upon our society the likes of which hasn’t been experienced for generations. Yet, the phrase that best describes the leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition amidst all this military rhetoric is missing in action. With Westminster about to go into recess, it’s hard to say if we’ll notice any difference. Jeremy Corbyn could already have been lying on the beach, or wherever he’s heading, for all the use he’s been as the Tory Government has imploded.

What was billed as a big speech on Brexit was instead utterly vacuous, containing platitudes and references to a world that’s long since passed us by through globalisation. “Jobs-based Brexit” or “a customs partnership” were as delusional as the “guff” spouted by the Tory Government. Many of his suggested actions are already available, just never implemented by a UK Government of any political hue, and he revealed himself as a re-tread from the failed Labourism of the 70s, not the new socialist Messiah.

Yet, on he marches in step with the Tories, if just a few strides to the left. This isn’t Clement Attlee giving full support to Churchill, establishing a war economy in a fight to the finish against fascism and using it as a basis to create a welfare state. It’s absurd nonsense that’s unleashing xenophobia, empowering the hard-right, and will see the dismantling of the welfare state and the impoverishment of the working people he claims to represent. That a Tory like Anna Soubry can bravely call out the Brexiteers for what they are, yet he remains not just silent but complicit, says it all.

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I was prepared to give Corbyn a fair wind when he was elected and said so. In many ways, he was refreshing and I thought he conducted himself with immense dignity when subjected to undeserved vitriol. Others clearly thought so too as the election surge was as much down to him as the failings of Theresa May. However, I never quite bought into the cult of Corbyn, knowing too many people who had worked with him in the past and who shared not just doubts but some unflattering stories. A man of the people he most certainly wasn’t, even if he did excel, and the PM fail miserably, after the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

But Brexit is the issue of our time and on that he must be judged and he’s failing miserably. With resignations a-plenty amongst the Cabinet and deep divisions, if not simmering civil war, within the Tory Party, it should be the perfect time for an opposition leader. But rather than rise to any challenge, Corbyn has flunked it, explaining why despite the most hapless Government in living memory the Tories still lead or barely lag behind Labour in the polls.

It has given credence to suggestions that he was always a closet Brexiteer and simply went through the motions during the Brexit vote. Of course, he wasn’t alone in that and May was far from the frontline, defending David Cameron.

Many, myself included, harboured doubts about the EU with its failure to properly emphasise a social union at the expense of an economic one and that was compounded by the EU’s actions towards Greece at the height of its economic crisis and elsewhere.

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But the risks attached to leaving the EU far outweigh any notional benefits or lingering doubts. Besides which, I believe that Europe can still offer a third way between China and the USA, not just membership of the world’s largest market. That means supporting the likes of Angela Merkel in tackling the refugee crisis and working inside the EU along with other progressive leaders. Socialism and social democracy may be on the ropes in the EU, but it can return and it’s better to be there with allies, than outside and at the mercy of Trump, Putin or other despots.

Far from invigorating Labour, Corbyn has simply turned the party in on itself as it convulses over anti-semitism and the Momentum group battles to take control. In Scotland, his prodigy Richard Leonard has failed to make a mark and the Shadow Scottish Secretary appears almost totally oblivious.

Federalism seems to have been abandoned, not used to re-engage, confirming as with Brexit his closet metropolitan tendencies and a failure to see north of London let alone the Border. Instead there’s pandering to some unions and continuing to play on fears. Whilst the Scottish Government may have been insipid, condemnation over an alleged failure to nationalise ScotRail is both gross hypocrisy and not the first call on limited resources. Meanwhile, the demand to enshrine the concessionary bus pass in legislation is an absurdity and political posturing of the worst sort. A big picture of a new society there is none.

When a backbencher, Corbyn bravely spoke out about the need to engage with Sinn Fein at the height of the Troubles, now as party leader he empowers the DUP and threatens the Good Friday Agreement, how absurd is that? There are challenges for Labour in the North of England but stealing UKIP’s clothes isn’t the way to address them. An alternative has to be offered as neo-liberalism has failed so many, but handing them over to the far-right isn’t the solution.

Attlee backed Churchill because there was no other option, it was the right thing to do and he could see the world that there would be if fascism won out. Now, there’s an alternative to the Tory Government’s absurdity, there are allies within the EU and the world to be faced if we leave is frightening.

Corbyn can’t change but there are good people in Labour and now’s the time for them to come to the aid of the party.