Corbyn’s destructive ambiguity on Brexit has failed | William Keegan

The consensus around Labour’s Euroscepticism is collapsing. The party must change its stance radically, and urgently

I am told that, shortly before the elections for the European parliament, Jeremy Corbyn was flirting with the idea of being less hostile towards the Remain campaign. Even he could read the opinion polls. However, according to my informant, he was immediately sat upon by his spin doctor, Seumas Milne, and other members of the politburo of what passes for the modern Labour party.

The policy of so-called “constructive ambiguity” remained in place, with all too predictable results at the polls. This approach was tested to destruction, thereby proving what had been obvious for some time: that it was, in truth, a policy of destructive ambiguity.

So what do Milne and his close colleagues do? They terminate the party membership of the previously influential Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell, for admitting – perhaps even boasting – that, as a staunch Remainer, he had, like many of us, voted Lib Dem.

Things have come to a pretty pass when that prominent supporter of much that Labour wishes to achieve, the journalist and broadcaster Paul Mason, calls for the removal of Corbyn’s inner politburo, who have fomented their leader’s worst Eurosceptical instincts, and achieved such an electoral disaster. Apart from anything else, with the present Conservative government an international laughing stock, it is a remarkable achievement to have become such a self-destructive opposition.

I could hardly agree more with Mason’s call for Labour to “scrap Brexit and rebuild Britain instead”. In which context, people who have been asking me “where is Gordon Brown?” should be pleased to hear that he is now playing a prominent role in the counterattack on that notorious snake-oil salesman, the egregious Nigel Farage.

Brown takes Farage seriously. He speaks of “a new battle for Britain”: “This is a battle against intolerance, prejudice, xenophobia and the manufacture of distrust and disunity.” Incidentally, while cynically continuing to draw an income from the European parliament, Farage, with a characteristic mixture of ignorance and prejudice, proposes to ban university courses in European studies.

Like Corbyn’s disappointed disciple Mason, Brown recognises that, while trying to disabuse the “left behind” of the fantasy that Brexit would mysteriously improve their lot, Labour must address “the fears surrounding immigration, sovereignty, the state of our towns … and Britain’s now rampant poverty and inequality”.

Now, the good news about the British EU election result – the counterpart of the Labour party’s humiliation – was that the combined vote of all the Remain parties easily outshone the Brexit vote. Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, and Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, have been espousing the cause of another referendum for some time, and have now been joined by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry.

But, according to the Labour party’s chair, Ian Lavery – another member of the politburo – those of us who believe the country should have another look at the prospect of Brexit are “leftwing intellectuals” sneering at “ordinary people”.

Oh dear. I wonder if Lavery is aware that, in his contempt for intellectuals, he is sneering at the memory of, among many others, such great Labour figures of the past as Sir Stafford Cripps, Hugh Dalton, Hugh Gaitskell, Tony Crosland, Michael Foot, Denis Healey – I could go on. Moreover, the Stalinists and Trotskyists who are said to be such influences on Corbyn’s politburo liked to think of themselves as intellectuals.

Meanwhile, we have a Conservative party in power whose candidates for the succession to Theresa May are, with honourable exceptions such as Philip Hammond, making fools of themselves in competing to out-Farage Farage by championing the cause of any kind of Brexit – to the extent, in some cases, of being prepared to leave the EU on 31 October “without a deal”.

Such an outcome – involving the termination of decades of regulatory agreements and contracts, and chaos at the docks and airports – would almost certainly bring the economy close to a halt, and threaten goodness knows what in the streets.

Ministers talk of “delivering Brexit” as if it were as simple as delivering groceries. If they delivered a so-called “hard Brexit”, they would foul up the delivery of many staple requirements. As the French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy recently told a British audience: “Please don’t go. Brexit will be a disaster for the UK. Stay!”

Contributor

William Keegan

The GuardianTramp

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