As a non-British Leftist millennial, I was very happy with Corbyn’s election for Labour’s leadership. I was even more excited when he was reelected after the challenge from the majority of his own parliamentary party. Why? Well, for many non-British European Socialists like myself, Tony Blair had moved the party so far to the Right, emulating so many of the tropes brandished by the Conservatives, that it felt like the Left had been dealt a kiss of death in Britain. I mean, no Tory PM would have been more supportive of the American invasion of Iraq than Blair himself.
Corbyn appeared to be a welcome tonic – a sign that the base of the Labour Party wanted to go back to its Socialist core values. His promise to bring about a new kind of politics was also refreshing, in a British political reality so stale and far-removed it felt like an episode of Dad’s Army about a packet of crisps gone off. I was willing to give him time, as such radical change takes time, but how could he possibly fail?
Corbyn’s base seemed energised, the country had been ravaged by years of Tory austerity that had done nothing but widen the gap between the poorest and the richest in society, and with a political civil war splitting the Government and its backbenchers apart because they cannot agree on how damaging they want Brexit to be, Corbyn’s Labour had the road to power wide open.
And yet, despite all this, Corbyn has failed.
Labour is pulling rabbits out of a xenophobic UKIP hat
Anyone with a basic interest in UK politics knows full well what Labour’s position is regarding Brexit: to have no position. Like the multi-armed Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction, Labour has been dancing in a circle of chaos created by the calamitous Brexit referendum result, grasping at political straws as a ring of fire burns all around them. Rather than taking a clear, unapologetic stance, their hope seems to be that by standing for nothing, voters from both sides will flock to them instead of getting swallowed by the Tories greed-is-good typhoon.
In doing so, the Labour Party occasionally throws a biscuit to anyone watching, sometimes from the Left, sometimes from the Right. For example – their wish to put an end to hospital parking charges for NHS staff in England. That is something that most people on the Left will happily support. How unoriginal and sad, however, that such policy is taken directly from the Scottish National Party who have already enacted this in Scotland, except for those hospitals being operated under Labour-negotiated PFIs.
However, what worries me about Labour is not the policies it steals from the SNP or from the Greens, but rather when it starts using UKIP’s xenophobic rhetoric in order to appeal to the anti-immigration sentiment rife in the working-class communities of, particularly, Northern England, where for decades now they have been fed a slow, poisonous drip of lies and immigrant-blaming bile provided to them by the Tories and their friends in the press.
This is all too clear in Barry Gardiner’s (Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade) recent contribution to the BBC’s Politics Live, in which he spread the lie that immigrants have been responsible for undercutting UK wages. Yes, a Labour politician blaming workers for the exploitation they suffer – unfortunately, you can’t make this up because it’s reality. See the clip for yourself:
Recent, independent research has categorically stated that immigration has had a positive fiscal impact in the UK, not to speak to all the other social and cultural benefits that come from the interaction between different people. Barry Gardiner and, by extension, the Labour Party, should be attacking the UK laws that permit the exploitation of workers, rather than attacking those people being exploited. Their struggles should be every Socialist’s struggle – that is what solidarity means.
Corbyn’s Labour is damaging actual labourers
Not only is the Labour Party now using the same party tricks of the Far-Right, in a desperate attempt to gain some voters, but their non-stance on Brexit is allowing Theresa May to put an end to freedom of movement, hence curtailing the rights and freedoms of… workers. The same workers who, no matter where they were born, should be backed by Labour, not stabbed in the back.
By not opposing Brexit effectively, they’re also supporting the impoverishment of the United Kingdom under every predicted post-Brexit scenario, be it soft or hard. Who will suffer most from that stunted growth? Not the Tories and their friends, but the working class of this country, who will have to live with further cuts to vital public services, fewer benefits, and costlier bills at the end of each month.
Corbyn’s presence was as weak as it could be, for the leader of a largely pro-Remain party during the 2016 referendum, leading many to accuse him of being a Brexiteer at heart. I don’t know – I don’t believe in mind readers, so I can only judge Corbyn by what he says and does, and so far I remain unimpressed.
The current case for Lexit is irrelevant
Some ardent Corbynistas have tried to frame Brexit as something good for the Left – Lexit, or Leftist Brexit – a possibility to break with the chains of the EU’s Neo-Liberalism. They would have my sympathy in this, if that was what had been debated during the Brexit referendum, if the public had been shown what a Tory and a Labour Brexit look like and asked to decided on which one they preferred. But Labour and the Conservatives are both leading us down the same type of Brexit: one borne out of xenophobia and British nationalism. (No, not all Brexiteers are xenophobic – but the campaign and much of its rhetoric was.)
Lexit is meaningless when Far-Right authoritarianism is rampant across Europe. That ship has sailed – the arguments for it should’ve have been made on the ashes of the 2008 financial crisis before the Farages, Orbans and Le Penns swooped in to feast upon its rotten devastation. Brexit is only going to strengthen the rhetoric of these autocratic leaders, allowing them to point to the UK and say “Look, even the Brits have had enough of this!”
The true case for Lexit is one that can only be made from within the EU. Rather than setting it on fire and burning to the ground an institution that, although flawed in many ways, brought an unparalleled period of peace in this continent’s bloody history, the aim is for Socialists across the board to come together and find a way to reform it from within. More democratic accountability, less power to the German and French banking magnates, more solidarity and proportionality in providing help for refugees, safer and better working conditions for workers from all nations. These are things that the UK can have a massive role in, if it stays seated at the table – not shouting from the outside.
Labour must sort itself out
Losing the support of the Scottish working classes so drastically should have been a much more serious wake up call for the Labour Party, but they seemed to have done nothing but stick the fingers in their ears and pretend like it never happened. It’s not good enough to childishly attack the SNP on policies that Labour has completely failed to enact in Wales, or when it is running some Scottish councils in coalition with the Tories.
Occupying this political limbo, where Labour is perched on a tree waiting for the Conservative Party to finish tearing itself apart, is doing more harm than good. The polls don’t move, and no one’s fooled by the false promise of kinder politics when Corbyn himself sits in front of the despatch box calling Theresa May a “stupid woman”, or going on TV morning programmes to pretend that he watches Celebrity Big Brother, pulling the exact same tricks that all career politicians do.
I don’t have an easy solution for Labour – nor should I. I’m not a member. I’m an outsider looking in, trying to make sense of a growing political black hole threatening to consume us all.
Despite my firm belief in Scottish Independence, I want an independent England to thrive just as equally, and that can only be done under a true Social Democratic government that stands not for what is easy, but for what is right. They should make the positive case for immigration, and shift the blame of our society’s ills to austerity and an insatiably greedy financial system, not the hard-working Polish hairdresser down the road, the Portuguese dentist, or the Czech accountant.
Labour should be opposing the Tory Brexit like any Opposition worthy of its name – before we’re all taken over a precipice from which it won’t be easy to return.