Thoughts on Corbyn and Brexit

Saturday 12 January 2019 19:56

Thoughts on Corbyn and Brexit

William Wall

I’m just an interested observer of British politics. To be honest, it would be a passing interest but for the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and the fact that I have family in the UK. I see in Corbyn the possibility of a return to a form of Social Democracy which, while it falls short of what I would ideally wish for, is nevertheless a step in the right direction. My hope is that Corbyn and his left-leaning Labour Party will come to power in the UK and that his programme of nationalisation and rebalancing of workers’ and minority rights will prove to be successful and a flagship for how other countries in the EU might return from the shambles of neoliberalism. It might also turn out to be a counterbalance to the nascent fascism of so many EU states (and not just in the EU). We need someone to show us how it can be done and that it can actually be done, that TINA (there is no alternative) is dead.. You might say, another beginning to history after Fukuyama proclaimed its premature demise.

However, sometimes an outside observer, a well-meaning interested outsider, can see things with some clarity because he is not directly involved in the day to day agony of high-risk politics. I hope so, and from that hope these remarks spring.

It seems too me (and all of the following remarks come with numerous caveats, one of which is that I don’t live in the UK and another is that I think Corbyn is not at all a radical socialist but essentially a rather moderate social democrat) that the first priority of Labour party members at present is to oust the Tories. That means to oust the party that has gutted public services, encouraged racism and xenophobia, begun the privatisation of the NHS, undermined workers rights, instituted the brutal so-called ‘Universal Credit’ social welfare system which leaves people without welfare payments for six weeks and more and which deprives the disabled of the means to survive, crippled British citizens with record personal debt including extraordinary interest rates on exorbitant student loans, and lined the pockets of Tory Party funders, the elite 1%. 

It’s worth quoting the Report of the UN Rapporteur’s visit to the UK in relation to the achievements of this far-right party. The report is scathing. It begins by remarking on the UK’s vast wealth as the world’s fifth largest economy and then comes this paragraph:

The results? 14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one.

Those who place Brexit as a higher priority than ousting the Tories should give consideration to that child poverty rate of 40% in the world’s fifth largest economy. That is Tory Party policy, and the future of England unless Labour wins.

So for Labour that priority of ousting the Tories is indeed the ‘national interest’. If Labour were to falter now, the Tories could conceivably be in power for generations, especially if the SNP continues to hold Scotland, traditionally the balance to Tory power in the UK. Ten or twenty more years of Tory government will see it’s plans realised, including the destruction of the NHS and the installation of a USA style private healthcare system, already signalled by the presence of American (by which I mean from the USA) health insurers, but also an increase in child poverty, increased use of foodbanks, increased levels of precarious or casual labour, increased wealth for the 1% and reduced workers rights.

It has to be stopped.

I understand the frustration of Labour voters (many of my friends are in this category) who want Corbyn to come out for a second referendum or to reject Brexit and position the party where the Lib Dems are in terms of the EU. But a recent Survation poll suggests that Labour would again lose to the Conservatives if it were to call for a second referendum. I can’t believe that Corbyn and McDonnell don't already know that - every party carries out internal polling on major issues. They must know that many of their supporters are Leavers. (I’m not even going to mention that the Lib Dem position on Brexit has done them no good in the polls.) It is fine to argue that there is a slim majority of Labour voters in favour of a new referendum and Remain, but no party can do without the 40%+ of voters who would defect or lose interest in such an eventuality. Corbyn is faced with a dilemma, and as far as I can see, he is trying to balance the two sides of the party. Probably no other Labour leader could hope to do it because Corbyn has a long record of objecting to the neoliberalisation of Europe but also a wide range of contacts on the left in Europe and a stated commitment to Remain.

The position adopted at the Labour Party Conference was that Labour’s top priority was to achieve a general election and win it. Just imagine that happens. The EU leaders are certain to extend the negotiation period for an election. Corbyn in power can then go to the EU with the kind of mandate that May does not have and argue for any number of scenarios. One of those scenarios could be remaining but with the EU agreeing to change its rules on nationalisation (which seems to be the biggest worry facing Corbyn and McDonnell) and which currently limit a government’s right to nationalise an industry under the ‘distortion of competition’ rules.

In passing it is worth reminding ourselves of the bitter irony that when Corbyn was elected leader he was accused of being more interested in opposition than power. Now that it’s quite clear he wants power, he is being accused of putting power before the national interest as defined by a Tory-leaning media.

Of course, the scenario I’ve just outlined contains a hefty portion of wishful thinking from someone who wants the EU to abandon neoliberalism and who wishes the UK to remain, for personal, familial and political reasons. I have a stake in this issue.

There are many other possible scenarios including the so-called Norway+ option, and any number of negotiated settlements that keep the UK much closer to the EU than May’s deal, not to mention the wet-dreams of Reese Mogg and Boris Johnson. (By the way, does anybody know where Michael Gove has gone to ground?). 

However, I have good reason to think that Corbyn’s preference is to remain within the EU but with increased powers of nationalisation. My reason is this: he has said he voted remain and would vote remain again in a second referendum and that his preference was to remain within the EU, and unlike his detractors both within and outside Labour and the British media in almost united chorus, I take Corbyn at his word for the very simple reason that he has stood by his principles all his life when the only thing that was in it for him was to be heaped with scorn and jeered at by his Blairite colleagues and the British press in general. Indeed this is one of the problems the Blairite grandees have: that the little boy they bullied in the playground and  jeered at in class is now, by sheer magic, their headmaster. 

Which other British politician would you trust to say what he means?

Most of my friends who reject Corbyn take their news from places like The Guardian, which for reason best known to its editor, has been consistently hostile to him from the start. The Guardian  has even published factually incorrect or misleading articles on his statement. A recent study by Bart Cammaerts, Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, and his team found that 75% (yes 75%) of press coverage misrepresents Corbyn. Yet people continue to take their cue from the British media representation of what Murdoch regards as a raging communist. It surprises me that well-educated people who are conscious of the power of the media are still led by such a dishonest press. In order to counteract the effect on my own thinking I have signed up for several alternative media sites which are avowedly pro-Corbyn. The two most useful are The Skwawkbox and The Canary. They make no apologies for their pro-Corbyn stance. I make no apologies for reading them. Another useful source of thoughtful commentary (not always favourable is the London Review Of Books blog called ‘What is Corbyn Thinking.’ Of course I also read The Guardian and sometimes the London Independent as well as other news and comment sources - it’s what anyone who wishes to inform herself/himself about politics should be doing. But I refuse to be led or even triggered by Guardian headlines. I once was a Guardian subscriber. I have written to them several times explaining why I no longer am. I await a reply.

In the meantime, let me say, if I lived in the UK I would have voted remain, rejoined The Labour Party (I would have left under Blair), voted for Corbyn and would support his present attempt to follow party policy and provoke a general election. Afterwards I would have been among those attempting to steer policy towards a remain position but under certain conditions, the principal of which would be the right of the Corbyn government to renationalise the railways, the water system, the electricity generating system and public transport in general as well as making university education free again. Those conditions already exist in many other EU countries and it’s not rocket-science to see that it works.

I’m happy to accept that I may be wrong about any of this. In particular there is no certainty that Labour would win the next election, or indeed that Corbyn would follow my wishful thinking strategy. 

Comments: I don’t allow comments on this blog but anyone who wishes to may message me on Twitter @williamwallbook or by finding me on Facebook.