Monday, 27 June 2016

Questions for Jeremy Corbyn, Seumas Milne and Alan Johnson on the Brexit victory

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. But it wasn't Jeremy Corbyn. Or even Labour's Remain front man, Alan Johnson.

So the morning after Great Britain was cut adrift in an ocean of uncertainty by the Brexit vote, the public were finally told the truth by the Leave campaign: there will be no £350mn saving per week going to the NHS; Turkey is not joining the EU; Britain wasn't party to the Schengen agreement anyway so the EU vote will have no effect on immigration except for a possible increase; the British Army was never going to join the fantasy Euro army of Ukip nightmares; expect TTIP on steroids.

However, we will have that recession that's been looming and we will lose Scotland and Northern Ireland. Little England has done more for a united Ireland than any IRA bombs.

And the 75 per cent of young voters who voted Remain feel their futures have been destroyed by older voters. Plus an explosion of far-right race hate is transforming the UK.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove put the prick into Pyrrhic.

Parliament's raison d'etre (sorry to go all European on you) is surely that momentous events are presided over by our democratically elected representatives whose job it is to know what they are talking about. But like the cynical demagogue he is, Gove dismissed not only all the experts as Nazis and cast himself as their persecuted Jewish genius Albert Einstein, but he drew to an end the whole Enlightenment movement's emphasis on reason, provable evidence and facts, stoking up a Dark Ages dependence on blind faith.

The mainstream media will always be hostile to Corbyn. We know that. Which is one reason why our side had to be at its sharpest, most agile, ethical, lively, imaginative and honest. It is dismaying to see the one quality in play — JC's honesty — end up as a pearl cast before swine and trodden underfoot in a skint and lacklustre campaign. So much for "balance", especially from the BBC. (Jeez, even that other JC, Jeremy Clarkson, was to the left of The Management on the EU, stunning us with his Remain stance.)

Corbyn's 30 or so Labour In meetings for the Remain cause around parts of the country, while encouraging and a vital plank for the cause, were largely speaking to the converted and perceived by the wider national audience as too little, too late. A whole lot more was required: a bigger audience reached, a wider bandwidth of communication deployed.

And now vast swathes of Leave voters have woken up with a hangover.

Some questions:
Why did Jeremy Corbyn not share every Remain platform with Cameron, taking advantage of Remain's resources, and have the confidence that his better arguments would outshine the Tory wing of Remain? Some have argued that JC would have been damaged by this in the same way that Ed Miliband was damaged in the Scotland independence referendum. Yet this was such an unusual set of circumstances that, had a powerful narrative been harnessed, that's what would have lasted beyond the dreaded photo of Corbyn holding his nose and standing 10 feet away from a clearly desperate, weak Cameron. He didn't have to be chummy but at least he would have been in the game.

Secondly, they needed a potent Remain vision to inspire voters and fill the void. Leave had Take Control. What did we have instead? How did Corbyn's team aim to cut the legs out from the powerful emotional pillars of Leave's argument? Were they methodical? Did they think that simple facts would win the day when dealing with such deep illogical fears from a working class pummelled and pulverised by Tory austerity and twisted by media collusion for half a decade?

Thirdly, are Jeremy's close Lexit friends [STW] relying on the ensuing chaos, calamity and misery to drive the workers into their arms? Or have they effectively driven them into the predatory arms of the right?

JC did not cause the country to vote Brexit but as leader of the opposition hoping to win power in the next general election he could and should have done much more to weight it in Remain's favour. This was Corbyn's chance to shine, to show everyone what the progressive Remain but Reform side represented, and to have done it with clarity and good conscience for a better future in common with all the other workers of the world who are being stiffed by the bosses.

Yet he went on holiday in the middle of the campaign, 30th May to 8th June. This says much about his sense of urgency and perhaps a residual desire for Brexit based on 1970s circumstances.

Jeremy Corbyn is a great constituency MP with a left conscience. He was as surprised as anyone else when, having given John McDonnell a break to stand as leader of the Labour Party, he actually won. Like thousands of others I joined the LP because of Jeremy. But the victory for Leave, condemning a younger generation to an enfeebled economy for the rest of their lives, is due at least in part to Labour's slothful, uninspiring, ineffectual campaign. For too long Labour voters didn't even know which side the party was on.

Alan Johnson, chair of Labour Remain, was to grasp the campaign by the scruff of the neck and drag it into the public eye. I'd forgotten. That's how much of an impact he made.

Corbyn's strongest suit in the political sphere is that he is honest and straight if a bit dull. That honest, reliable quality should have been promoted to the max flanked by his bruisers — Tom Watson and Alan Johnson in the case of Brexit — doing the heavy lifting. The campaign was lacking in all counts.

There is history to this. The one far left analysis from the late 1990s, one that has stayed with me, was that the working class would grow more bitter with each of Tony Blair's inevitable betrayals and would turn to the right. That's why it was vital to build a left alternative to the Labour Party.

Instead, the far left leadership of bureaucrats (prominent in Lexit — left Brexit — and a key part of Corbyn's Labour leadership campaign) proceeded to stop and start, initiate and then sabotage, the various attempts to create a left pole of attraction. They took an axe to the fledgling Socialist Alliance  just as it began to make an impact. Their dishonourable opportunism around the Birmingham Mosque, PJP and Respect ended with the OFFU cheque debacle. Valuable organising time was frittered away, opportunities wasted, trust destroyed, careers made.

The important job was to make sure there was no vacuum which the right could fill. They failed to do even this. All their bickering and internecine warfare may have secured a top place for certain ambitious lefties but it has left the working class in disarray, clutching at the nearest nationalist straw.

Paul Mason is more forgiving of Corbyn, crediting him with keeping two thirds of Labour supporters on board to vote Remain. He writes:
Our strategic problem is to reconnect not only with the Labour core voters who backed Brexit but with those who have drifted to Ukip. I don’t know whether the present leadership can do that; I do know all the previous leaderships failed to do it so we need to work out a plan and try.

Who is the "we" who are going to work out a plan? The usual far left clique of charmers?

Phil Harris, chair of the Labour In campaign, says that Corbyn's office:
"... consistently attempted to weaken and sabotage the Labour remain campaign, in contravention of the party’s official position. For example, they resisted all polling and focus group evidence on message and tone, raised no campaign finance, failed to engage with the campaign delivery and deliberately weakened and damaged the argument Labour sought to make.

Corbyn made only a smattering of campaign appearances, and they were lacklustre in delivery and critical of the EU in tone resulting in Labour voters not knowing the party’s position or hearing our argument. Corbyn’s infrequent campaign appearances and narrow focus, in turned limited the party’s appeal. He kept saying that the economic shock of Brexit was not real. It is. And it is working people and Labour communities that will pay the price. A price that is being felt right now."
Sabotage is probably too strong a term for the incompetence on display but this certainly felt like going through the motions in every sense. While the reluctance to do the necessary work may not reflect Corbyn's past position of the 1970s, how much of this damage was down to his press supremo Seumas Milne who did share Lexit's desire for Out last time anyone looked?

One left commentator, Sukant Chandan, writes:
"The first thing Corbyn said on the early morning of the Brexit victory was to 1, Capitulate at the feet of the ‪Brexit Fascists‬ by demanding we fast track exiting the EU by invoking article 50! The other thing he said is that immigration is a real issue that needs to be addressed. Since then he has been increasingly positioning himself as someone who is going to 'fight for plucky england/UK against the EU for brexit', this is positioning him increasingly directly with the UK nationalist right who are similarly invested in 'fighting the EU for the UK' which is neatly centred in the UK right and far right project. Corbyn is fast becoming right now (has already become?) the figure head that the Brexit/Lexit camp are attaching themselves to to develop this UK nationalist fight with the EU."

However, faced with the prospect of a Blairite coup, I do not want Corbyn to go. Replacing him with Blairites seizing on this chance to ditch the hope he embodies is to score as big an own goal as working class Leave voters have just done. We do not need more capitulation to austerity, supporting wars without end, appeasing business and taking jobs with the worst offenders (such as former Home Secretary Dr John Reid and G4S, Alan Milburn and privatised health, Tony Blair and his evil empire).

Eleven Labour cabinet members have resigned to oust Corbyn. Yet how many resigned over austerity?

We are reaching an existential stage of the survival of the British working class and the struggle requires all hands on deck.

I've been arguing for improved media relations since I started doing presswork in the left: if we are so overlooked by the mainstream press with only the pro-Brexit Morning Star to plough the socialist furrow, would the TUC use some of its treasure to finance a cable TV station that combined news and arts to give the left a cultural base? It would take time to build but the longest journey begins with the first step. More Yellow Brick Road than Shining Path, we hope.

Sign the Second Referendum petition

Open letter from Women of Colour supporting Remain.

Leave campaign wipe all their pledges off their website.

George Soros predicts break-up of the EU, of the UK and the end of decades of peaceful European unification.

Lee Jasper on Bracist Britain: a Black British perspective.

LSE Blog: Brexit is not the will of the British people – it never has been

Anna Chen started and ran many press operations for the left including Globalise Resistance, Socialist Alliance, various UK Chinese campaigns such as the Foot and Mouth Disease smear 2001 and the Morecambe Bay cocklepickers disaster. She was the press officer who succesfully relaunched Stop The War (STW) with Jeremy Corbyn's first STW meeting in London, September 2001, breaking it into the mainstream media.


Milnrowmart said...

I agree wholeheartedly with a lot of this. A nicely nuanced analysis.

Madam Miaow said...

Thanks, Milnrowmart. Corbyn needs a testudo of competent, principled Labour MPs surrounding him so he can play to his strengths.