Among the more interesting storylines to emerge after the Brexit vote was how Labour blew it. Despite having a leadership far more Europhilic and in favor of transnational statist government than even Tory insiders, Labour’s support of Remain was markedly tepid, starting right at the top with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn:
Less than a month before the historic EU referendum, the team assembled by Cameron to keep Britain in the European Union was worried about wavering Labour voters and frustrated by the opposition leader’s lukewarm support. Remain campaign operatives floated a plan to convince Corbyn to make a public gesture of cross-party unity by appearing in public with the prime minister. Polling showed this would be the “number one” play to reach Labour voters.
Senior staff from the campaign “begged” Corbyn to do a rally with the prime minister, according to a senior source who was close to the Remain campaign. Corbyn wanted nothing to do with the Tory leader, no matter what was at stake. Gordon Brown, the Labour prime minister whom Cameron vanquished in 2010, was sent to plead with Corbyn to change his mind. Corbyn wouldn’t. Senior figures in the Remain camp, who included Cameron’s trusted communications chief Craig Oliver and Jim Messina, President Obama’s campaign guru, were furious.
So to Corbyn, a vote many in Labour leadership regarded as the most important in their lifetime took a backseat to his bitter hatred of even appearing with the Tories. “An old school socialist, the Labour leader had in the past attacked the EU as an undemocratic, corporatist conspiracy that threatened workers’ rights. He never looked the part to save Cameron in a referendum the Conservative leader brought on himself.”
From the same piece:
Hardened by close-run contests in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and last year’s general election, the strategists running Stronger In decided to follow the playbook that worked in those campaigns, particularly the 2015 Conservative sweep, and focus mainly on economic security.
It failed spectacularly. The depth of public anger over the influx of workers from other EU countries, and more broadly the rejection of political and business elites, was more significant than they had anticipated.
Internal polling found just weeks before June 23 one in five Labour voters did not know the party’s position in the referendum. As party aides canvassed voters around the country, they discovered a deep well of concern about immigration.
Labour leadership no doubt found it quite shocking that so many traditional Labour strongholds voted in favor of Brexit. There were also a small but notable number of Labour MPs who supported Brexit. Some hail from those same hinterland locales that voted for Brexit, and thus could be said to actually represent the wishes of their constituents (try to contain your shock).
But Labour MP Kate Hoey represents a constituency smack dab against the south bank of the Themes in central London, an area that voted heavily to Remain. Yet Hoey was an early and notable voice for Brexit:
I’m tired of people thinking that only those on the right of politics are Eurosceptic. This is far from true.
The reputation of the EU has fallen sharply among many on the Left. The sight of the EU establishment imposing unprecedented levels of austerity on Greece was a real wake-up call. This was not a benign political institution guaranteeing social protection and international solidarity, but an unaccountable force bringing crippling pain on a people who cannot hope to repay the loans that are recapitalising their banks.
Meanwhile, the EU is willing to require ever-greater sacrifice to living standards in order to keep the Euro and the wider European “Project” moving forwards. Ever closer Union is what is on the tin – and even if the words are removed to satisfy the Prime Minister, the contents will still be the same.
The Labour Party has traditionally had a sceptical view of the European institutions. From Attlee to Foot, and until the late 1980s, Labour was predominantly Eurosceptic – but then, following three Thatcher victories, many on the Left looked desperately to Europe to block her policies. Wise Labour voices like Peter Shore and Tony Benn, however, argued that democratic faith in the wisdom of the public was a better guarantor than the benevolence of transitory political elites. They have been proved right as the EU is no longer motivated by Jacques Delors’ ‘Social Europe’, but is increasingly out of touch with the needs of its people.
Familiar voices try to scare us into believing that leaving the EU would ruin the UK, but these are the same people who told us that we had to join the Euro or face disaster. We stayed out of the Euro and have therefore been spared much of the chaos of that unsustainable currency – but we still give £7.3 billion net a year of our money to the EU.
How can we protect civil liberties when the EU forces on us unaccountable extraditions through the European Arrest Warrant? How can we ensure the jobs and growth that we need when vital contracts for work go to preferred bidders on the continent and not to British firms? How can we preserve and improve our public services when the Services Directives help force the privatisation of the Royal Mail and EU rules against state aid will make it almost impossible to renationalise the railways? TTIP is a gift to the multi-national corporations. I don’t trust the EU to negotiate on our behalf, and I certainly don’t trust it to be on the side of small businesses or Trade Unions.
The Labour Party is looking at radical policies to tackle the problems in our country. We need to take back real control from the unelected and unaccountable European Commission if we are to have a chance of implementing any of these.
My politics are very far indeed from those of Hoey, but she’s not wrong. Greece’s government may have brought upon the crisis by spending radically more money than they took in even after it became apparent they were going broke, but the EU responded in exactly the way described. It was born as an undemocratic organization, a fact the Euro crisis finally made apparent even to the those on the left, with the decisions of democratically elected officials overruled by unelected bureaucratic elites. And the self-serving agendas of those elites tend to be at odds with the goals of both left and right.
The question isn’t why Hoey supported Brexit, but why so many Labour MPs didn’t.
Other Brexit News:
The inability of those elites to grapple with the rich world’s populist moment was in full display on social media last night. Journalists and academics seemed to feel that they had not made it sufficiently clear that people who oppose open borders are a bunch of racist rubes who couldn’t count to 20 with their shoes on, and hence will believe any daft thing they’re told. Given how badly this strategy had just failed, this seemed a strange time to be doubling down. But perhaps, like the fellow I once saw lose a packet by betting on 17 for 20 straight turns of the roulette wheel, they reasoned that the recent loss actually makes a subsequent victory more likely, since the number has to come up sometime.
Or perhaps they were just unable to grasp what I noted in a column last week: that nationalism and place still matter, and that elites forget this at their peril. A lot people do not view their country the way some elites do: as though the nation were something like a rental apartment — a nice place to live, but if there are problems, or you just fancy a change, you’ll happily swap it for a new one.
In many ways, members of the global professional class have started to identify more with each other than they have with the fellow residents of their own countries. Witness the emotional meltdown many American journalists have been having over Brexit….
A lot of my professional colleagues seemed to, and the dominant tone framed this as a blow against the enlightened “us” and the beautiful world we are building, struck by a plague of morlocks who had crawled out of their hellish subterranean world to attack our impending utopia.
I’m always up for a good Morlock reference. And if you haven’t read H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine (which you should, because it’s a great novel), that analogy is more apt than you know. In Wells’ novel, the Morlocks were the underground race that actually ran things, the ones that maintain the machinery the Eloi depended on to live. Just like those inbred redneck freaks from JesusLand (or, to use a UK analogy, those Northern monkeys), the Morlocks are the essential population that keep things running, not the beautiful, useless Eloi.