Jeremy Corbyn steered Labour into unconditionally supporting Brexit. In so doing he stained progressive politics and sunk the Left.
When Jeremy Corbyn was elected to the Labour leadership in 2015, my hopes were rekindled that for the first time in decades a progressive force had emerged in British politics. But Corbyn’s decision to whip the PLP into voting unconditionally for the May Government’s hard Brexit finally dashed any such optimism. There are some mistakes in politics which are survivable, and some which are not. Corbyn’s Brexit stance, I believe, falls into the latter category.
Let us add up the damage.
1. Corbyn aligned Labour alongside the xenophobia which is the cause and effect of Brexit. Many right-wing Labour MPs are seemingly happy to accommodate themselves to the wave of anti-liberal, foreigner-hating nationalism now sweeping England, but the tragedy for the progressive left is that Corbyn joined them. His commitment to Freedom of Movement is dead, even if he continues to plead the case of the three million or so non-British EU nationals resident in the UK.
2. Seventy percent of Labour voters, and an even larger majority of Labour members, voted for Remain. The vast bulk of the young left that joined to support Corbyn’s leadership campaigns saw Britain’s future in the EU. Many will now be seeking new political homes, or abandoning politics altogether. The future for the left in the party without them is bleak.
3. Corbyn threw away the chance of building any kind of progressive alliance with other centre and left-leaning parties: the Liberal Democrats, SNP and the Greens. A key element of any working arrangement would have been opposing Brexit and the consequences of Brexit. The official Labour position, namely, that it will win the 2020 General Election single handed is highly improbable.
4. Brexit will impede trade and drive away investment. And, as the economic negatives become apparent, Labour will lack any credibility in blaming Theresa May’s hard Brexit on the Tories. Corbyn led Labour through the Tory lobbies and thus willed the consequences.
Following the House of Commons vote to endorse a hard Brexit backed by Corbyn, the Labour leader tweeted,"Real fight starts now. Over next two years Labour will use every opportunity to ensure Brexit protects jobs, living standards & the economy." This must rank among the most pathetic utterances in modern political history, as he vouched to fight the consequences of his own actions. Corbyn hopelessly mis-analysed the situation, lost friends without finding new ones, damaged the left, and stained Labour as a progressive movement.
It is hard not to agree with Martin Kettle writing in The Guardian (02-March-2017), "There is nothing socialist about this, nothing social democratic, nothing liberal, nothing progressive, nothing moral, nothing with any optimism or imagination.”