Sadly, I find myself agreeing with every word of John Harris’s article (Brexit is a class betrayal. So why is Labour colluding in it?, 19 November). The Labour leadership’s position on Brexit is embarrassing, shaming and daft. Jeremy Corbyn wants an election in which Labour would presumably spell out a soft Brexit option which would leave Britain worse off, but in any case would be unacceptable to Europe. And who, in that election, would Labour expect to do its pavement-bashing and envelope-filling? Not me, I’m afraid. Not any of my former activist friends either.
We are heartily sick of Corbyn’s equivocation and lousy leadership. No doubt at all, Corbyn is a very good man. He is also a lousy leader, and at a time when Britain needs a leader of presence, courage, intellect and vision. As John Harris says, the resolution of the current crisis can only be found through a second referendum. If the Labour leadership could summon up the energy to argue coherently and passionately for one, there would be a good chance that Britain would remain in Europe, Europe would reform its less attractive features and the world would benefit from a stronger voice for reason.
Solihull, West Midlands
• As John Harris says, the “misery and resentment” caused by deindustrialisation in the 1980s and by recent Tory austerity policies were important reasons for people voting to leave the EU, which makes it difficult to fathom the absence of anger from the Labour leader, and indeed from the “big unions”, about the economic problems Brexit will inevitably cause.
Jeremy Corbyn needs to be reminded of what he said in 2016 after decisively defeating Owen Smith for the Labour leadership: the “huge membership” of the party “had to be given a greater say”, and “be reflected much more in decision-making”, not least because they are “the people who raise the money, knock on doors, deliver the leaflets, do the campaigning work”. It would only take days to organise a membership vote on whether there was satisfaction with current policy on Brexit, or a need to support a people’s vote. Increasing democracy in the party goes hand in hand with Corbyn’s leadership, or this is what members were led to believe. Could there ever be a more opportune moment to put it into practice?
• Brilliant, John Harris. In his collusion-through-inaction with the right over Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn is in the process of betraying those multitudes of young people who subscribed to his refreshing model of doing politics differently. He has also left it to the likes of John Major to point out that leaving the EU, and the travesty of democracy that was the referendum, will damage most the lives and the futures of precisely those working people that the Labour movement represents. The 2016 referendum result was indeed the outcome of a class society increasingly riven by inequality.
But it is still not too late – in fact, it is a crucial moment – for Corbyn, McDonnell, Thornberry, Starmer et al to endorse our future affiliation with Europe as the basis for peace, and for the development of cultural, intellectual and economic prosperity for all in the UK. Do they have the courage and the vision to do this now?
• John Harris is too kind to the Labour leadership. Its failure to voice anger at the hard right reeks of the same disingenuousness that Corbyn showed with his weak pro-remain speeches at the time of the referendum. It’s hard not to feel that he and John McDonnell do indeed seek socialism-out-of-disaster as Harris implies, but are too convinced of the correctness of their beliefs to actually argue for them. Yet power both is and should be won only by engaging with and persuading people, not through arrogant strategic silence.
• I have a lot of sympathy for those who call desperately for a people’s vote. It seems blindingly obvious that Labour should lead the way. The issues are not so simple. We cannot go back to what we had. Polling and continuing debate indicate that those who voted to leave have not changed their minds, nor abated their wrath against the remainers who object. If a new vote changed the outcome of the last one, it would not put to sleep the issue of the relationship between the UK and the EU. The frustration and anger of leavers may well spill over into riots. Certainly, the very deep division right through the fabric of our society would not heal.
I am quite sure that Corbyn and his team appreciate the gravity of the situation very well. It is not because of apathy or opposition to the EU that they are reluctant to get behind a people’s vote. The contradictions are clearer by the day; the disadvantages likewise; the Tory party is in meltdown, and at the receiving end of an excoriating UN report on poverty. It makes sense to wait and see.
Leadership is not just about charging in regardless. Corbyn has to think about how to make the best out of the situation we are in and how to reconcile irreconcilable demands and expectations: to be a statesman, not a demagogue.
• Significant and growing inequalities of income and wealth have now openly surfaced across all of the world’s market economies, generating wealthy rightwing businesspeople and thinktanks able to invest in successfully influencing politics and the law in favour of free-market models. Academic Nancy MacLean recently exposed precisely this phenomenon in the US, in her book Democracy in Chains.
Here, however, 40-year-old Bennite analyses, formed in a different era when the UK itself remained a strong manufacturing centre, still shape the rigid opinion of some influential Labour leftwingers that the EU is a uniquely capitalist structure, as “confirmed” by some of its market-leaning laws, and mysteriously incapable of progressive reform. John Harris is more up to date – Brexit is indeed a “class issue” and Labour should challenge it by supporting a people’s vote.
• John Harris’s use of the word “colluding” seems ill-judged, not in its use but in its scope. It’s not just Corbyn and his fellow travellers who are in the dock; we’ve all colluded with Brexit. The UK has voted consistently for parties that have furthered the ends of global capital at the expense of community – virtually unchallenged by the mainstream. The UK (certainly in England) has sucked up years of anti-EU propaganda pumped out by rightwing press barons – again, largely unopposed. Worst of all, the very working communities he champions have fallen hook, line and sinker for the austerity lie and its outriders, the demonisation of welfare and immigration in the face of the facts. So before we all embrace the idea of victimhood, a reminder: democracy is there to be participated in continually, not just on a whim, ill-informed and resentful. If you can devote time and effort to researching and planning a holiday, a cinema visit or a trip out to a restaurant, surely you can spend time researching the stuff that will affect your future – and the real motivations of those who would advocate such a vote.
If you did your homework and believed a vote for self-imposed economic hardship to be worth it, fair enough, your choice. If, however, it was all too much effort and, subsequently, it hasn’t gone as you thought, sorry, but you get the outcomes you deserve.
• I agree with John Harris that in the most neglected parts of Britain a huge chunk of the people who voted for Brexit (cutting off their noses to spite their faces) did so because they hadn’t been listened to for decades. But it was not just a failure of the Conservatives to listen, it was Labour as well, in power from 1997 to 2010. He is also right that Jeremy Corbyn, the invisible man of politics, is barely interested in halting the damage Brexit will wreak on these downtrodden communities (which a mainly middle class membership does not represent) by calling for a people’s vote, because he is a thinly disguised closet Brexiter. But I disagree that Brexit is a class issue. Both Labour and Conservatives have shown equal contempt for those left behind by globalisation and the freedom of movement at the core of the EU. Nigel Farage – the most important catalyst for Brexit – saw this paradox and ruthlessly exploited it through Ukip and the referendum campaign.
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