I’ve not done much since last Friday morning but stock-up on tinned food and pesticides in anticipation of the swarms of locusts, oceans of blood and the legendary quartet of horsemen we’re supposed to be seeing around now. Well, that, and feverishly check Twitter every few seconds for news of more resignations, economic calamity and memes featuring the word ‘fucked’. Post Brexit Britain already feels a bit end of days.
I was a solid ‘remain’ and shocked and depressed when the country voted ‘leave’. I’m even more shocked and depressed at the political fallout. Not content with the economic and political whirlwind unleashed by the result, an alarming number of the shadow cabinet feel that this – of all times – is the moment to launch a vicious coup against Jeremy Corbyn. All this proves in spectacular style the old adage that for every one Conservative Member of Parliament giving Labour a kicking, you can always rely on at least another Labour MP who wants to do the job for them (okay, so it may not be an ‘old adage’, but I’m marking that one for posterity).
The reason for all this? He was supposedly a bit lacklustre in the EU referendum campaign. I’ve got to say I think this is a bit lame, as excuses go (and it is an excuse – as Diane Abbot pointed out on Question Time, this has been in the offing for some time). Notwithstanding that it’s mostly based on gossip and hearsay (I mean, really – Chris Bryant speculating that Jeremy actually voted ‘leave’ despite all evidence to the contrary is just, well, silly), there are a few reasons why it’s daft.
Firstly, the “lacklustre” performance delivered at least 63% of the Labour vote. Other polls put it at 70%. If this is lacklustre, what would success have actually looked like? As Dawn Foster points out, not a single coup plotter has answered that question by putting a number to it.
Secondly, Corbyn would have looked utterly ridiculous if he’d come out as a bullish Europhile. His record clearly demonstrates that he – rightly – has misgivings about the EU institutions’ commitment to austerity (just look at how they treated Greece) and its democratic deficit. The call to stay in Europe and reform makes sense. Moreover, of all the party leaders, it’s the pro-European position that most reflected the national mood. Corbyn’s plain-speaking, pro-EU position was a strength, not a weakness and that’s why the remain campaign were so keen to have him on board.
Thirdly, remain lost by 1.2 million votes. Are the plotters seriously suggesting that had Corbyn given the EU a 10/10 on a comedy programme, 1.2 million people would have changed their mind? As several friends of mine have pointed out, if Corbyn is such a powerful, persuasive figure then he should definitely stay.
Corbyn delivered the vast majority of Labour supporters to the ‘remain’ camp, so the ‘lacklustre’ line just doesn’t wash. The idea that getting rid of him is somehow good for the future of the ‘remain’ cause is also confused. It’s all very well saying Corbyn gave a tepid defence of the EU and that we’re ‘stronger in’, but why are we stronger in?
I voted to remain for two reasons. The first was that a leave vote would unleash a wave of racism and a race to the bottom on anti-immigrant rhetoric. The second was that the EU invests millions into the British economy (not least my own sector – Higher Education). It’s highly unlikely that a Tory government committed to massive cuts in investment would offset this in the event that we leave.
Both of those things have come to pass. We’ve seen a spike in racist hate crimes since the vote and already Brexiters are back-pedalling on their commitment to invest that mythological £350 million into the NHS. Assurances are being sought that the government will make up for the short falls in regional investment – assurances that aren’t at all being met. A Brexit vote has meant more racism and austerity (not less, as the “Lexiters” rather foolishly suggested).
Any leader that replaces Jeremy will lurch to the right on immigration. Remember that the same forces conspiring now only last year produced a red and white mug with the slogan ‘controlling immigration’ (Controlling. Immigration. Taking back control. Of immigration… let that sink in). The briefings are already there on how Labour needs to “take voters’ legitimate concerns seriously” – language that is really all about prettifying an accommodation to anti-immigrant racism. If you want a voice defending the rights of migrants without making any concessions to racism, Jeremy is your candidate.
And any leader that replaces Jeremy will almost certainly move to the right on the economy, serving up the same confused porridge of not-too-hot-not-too-cold economic policy that constituted our offer in the last election. If you want someone who will provide a coherent, response to economic stagnation – a policy that defends the living standards of the majority of people at the same time as it grows the economy through investment, not cuts – then Jeremy is your candidate.
The problem for the coup plotters is that whilst they blow hot and heavy on the ‘in’ vote, they’re commitment to the progressive reasons for staying in is pretty fast and loose. My prediction is that if it does come to a leadership election, the Corbyn challenger will repeat the accusation ad nauseam that Jeremy isn’t committed to the EU and that this showed a failure of leadership.
And they’ll talk about nothing else. Because, fundamentally, they’ve nothing else to say (or nothing that will win them any votes, anyway). They might well win the leadership election by doing this – we’ll see – but at what cost? A return to business as usual on economic policy and a more reactionary position on immigration? That’s the strategy that will lead the Labour Party into the wilderness, not Jeremy’s.