Labour is no Longer a Serious Party
Labour is a party that loves its traditions so it was no surprise that its conference in Brighton started off with the traditional singing of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”. Labour Conference 2017 will be a celebration of humiliation deferred and future victory. There is no doubt the whole week will be one whose underlying message is that the party is closer to government than it has been since it lost the 2010 election.
They are right. And that is frightening because Labour is no longer a serious political party. There are a husk; Corbynistas merely dilettantes.
This week by the seaside, Labour will merely give Brexit the briefest of mentions. Banquo received a warmer welcome when he turned up for dinner at Macbeth’s.
On Sunday, the party announced the results of the ballot on contemporary motions. Of the thirteen topics put forward by constituency members, Brexit was rated as the fifth most important. Yet of the eight topics to be debated and voted upon, Brexit will be absent.
In his pre-conference interview, Corbyn promised to listen to the membership on the Single Market, then he denied them a vote.
Had a vote on the Single Market been brought to the floor, Corbyn would probably have lost. Labour members overwhelming favour staying in both the Customs Union and the Single Market. Therefore trade union leaders and Momentum worked to keep Brexit off the list of debates.
All politicians need a certain amount of wiggle room in policy to attract and keep support. However, Brexit is not ordinary politics
It is ridiculous to suggest this is anything other than a stitch-up by the leadership. Momentum stands in relation to Corbyn as Gollum to Sauron: its higher echelons are at the command of the precious. The fix demonstrates how the left’s belief in” party democracy” is merely convenient, and their past scorn for Blairite control hypocritical.
The Labour leader has shown his contempt for “party democracy” over Trident and he shows it now. Since the election, he has carefully - or perhaps carelessly - kept members guessing as to Labour’s ultimate Brexit destination. He has ruled out Single Market membership, then hinted that it might be on the cards after all. Poor Corbynistas enthusiastically retweet each pro-Single Market hint with what can only be described as endearing faith. The slackers are usually absent from social media when he becomes more critical.
It is rather prissy to complain about Corbyn’s political creative ambiguity. Previous Labour leaders have reacted tactically to Tory woes on Europe. John Smith and Gordon Brown destroyed John Major’s government in debate over Britain’s exit from the ERM despite having supported entry two years before; Smith then ran the government ragged as he opposed in parliament the Maastricht Treaty that he supported in public.
The difference was Smith was an unambiguous pro-European. Nobody could doubt any government led by him would have striven to be at Europe’s centre.
Corbyn - who opposed everything European until he assumed the leadership - has allowed voters to project their views on him by facing both ways on Brexit.
All politicians need a certain amount of wiggle room in policy to attract and keep support. However, Brexit is not ordinary politics. It is the consuming issue of our lifetime. It is one that any thoughtful political movement would debate and would want to debate.
Our public services are important. But our economic stability relies on getting our future relationship with the European Union right. Talking about housing, nationalisation or equality is not radical when you ignore the practical. It is just dreaming. It is the politics of the unserious and should be left behind at Students’ Unions.
Labour are facing a government without a majority whose leader ekes out a hand-to-mouth political future. The months since the election have seen how perilous it is to go into negotiations unprepared.
Corbyn supporters love to protest that they are not a cult. Then they should stop acting like it
Labour might soon find itself in government. Yet on the fundamental issue of the day, it has no coherent policy and is trying not to have one. Worse, its official position points to the same policy as the government’s: Hard Brexit. They are formulating policy by headline. Just because a policy tweak is heralded by The Guardian as soft Brexit does not mean it is. Brexit will dominate any future Labour government. They will find it very hard to bring utopia any closer if the country is falling off a Hard Brexit cliff.
These Bennite Brexiters have given their party a Tory-lite position and refused to bow to party democracy on the matter. Members should be outraged - not singing - not merely at the irony but at their leadership’s complicity.
Were John McDonnell to take to the podium and publically tattoo HARD BREXIT on the leader's forehead, they could not make his sympathies more clearly understood. By creating an official policy that is a fudge, they are potentially ensuring that a Labour government will put the country through the same humiliation the Tories currently are. A Labour government will need a mandate for its position to get any policy through the Commons and the Lords. Its Janus-like stance, Labour is making a future government harder.
From the top down they are behaving in a grossly irresponsible way. It is bad enough that they betray their voters. They are also betraying the country and the poorest who will suffer most from any Brexit crash.
Corbyn supporters protest that they are not a cult. Then they should stop acting like it. They are propping up a leadership not fit for its purpose. These are times for serious thinking, not for banal political iconography. They are either allowing themselves to be played like fools or they are fools. They display the same seriousness their idol lacks.
About the author
Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).
A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.
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