Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Labouring the point

There is some debate amongst the politically minded as to whether Labour would have a strong lead in the polls if they backed remaining in the EU. There is counter evidence to suggest that it wouldn't make much difference. Personally, I don't give a toss. Brexit is now an issue of principle. Leaving the EU threatens the standing of the nation and the livelihoods of millions of the people that Labour was founded to protect. This is a great existential test. If Labour, a pro-European party with an overwhelmingly pro-European membership, and a voter base that voted by more than 60% to remain, cannot speak firmly and unequivocally in favour of our place in Europe who will?

At the moment no objection is coming from the Party's leadership about Brexit itself, they merely attack the way it is being done. They have plenty to go on, especially this morning when the government has legislated against itself. But their vague promises of a better "jobs first Brexit" are meaningless and impossible. It is time to start telling the electorate the truth. Brexit is a fantasy. It is unachievable and undesirable. Britain faced reality in the 1970s. It explicitly and openly recognised that its economic and international decline was linked to its loss of a world role and its inability to be an independent superpower. It chose a European future. This was both a pragmatic decision, recognising that it was in Britain's interest to be a member, and an idealistic one, committing Britain to the idea of developing European integration and cooperation. Britain chose wisely. It is still the right choice.

There were always opponents, political obsessives on the right and left, who were perfect illustrations of what William Davies calls "radical incompetence," the triumph of sentiment over the actual practicalities of governing. Brexit is a slogan without a strategy. Over time it became the hobby of people mainly on the right of politics. Its advocates were wealthy individuals insulated from the consequences of their actions, whose indignations were bolstered by fictions, and who were comforted by  the certainty that they would never succeed and have to face the reality of what leaving the EU actually meant. However, they were joined by others who did know what they were doing, the proto-fascists of the alt-right. They understood that their political goals, and those of their overseas allies, could only be achieved through disruption and the dismantling of the post-war order. They are ruthless. And it is this alliance that has led to the official leave campaign, the one containing cabinet ministers, to be referred to the police.

The government is on a unique path. As Fintan O'Toole noted, Britain has "gone into international treaty negotiations hoping to emerge with a status greatly inferior to the one it already enjoys." As the government blunders, the risks of no deal are rising - read this to understand the consequences. It's late, but surely now a party of the democratic left must stand up for its foundational principles. It's time for it to vehemently oppose the charlatans and fantasists of the right of the Conservative party. It has to call out the sinister far-right anti-democrats. It has to stand for internationalism. It has to protect the living standards, jobs, and rights of the ordinary people of this country. And with the latest opinion polls showing 80% of those under 24 favouring Remain, it should speak to the future, a European future.

The quality of the political class is risible. It isn't just their lack of competence, nobody could implement Brexit without making a huge mess, it's more to do with their cowardice and mental dishonesty. Faced with facts, they bluster. When business and trade unions alike tell them what the difficulties are they are ignored or insulted. Objectors are told to "believe in Britain," as if reality can be overcome by faith. The history of this disastrous episode will be written one day. I hope that I will be around to read it. Future historians will not be kind. If Labour stands on principle and fights Brexit, it may shed some support, it may even lose, but at least historians will not include the Labour Party and its leadership amongst their list of "Guilty Men." And if the record shows that Labour stood and fought on the right side of history, British democratic socialism will have a future. I fear for it otherwise.

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