Brexit and anti-semitism have been both named as the main reason for the splits. But these issues are linked by a broader, key foreign policy outlookby Andrew Gamble / March 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
Do the Labour MPs who resigned the whip to enlist in the Independent Group (TIG) stand for anything? We know what they are against—Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, or lack of it, over Brexit and anti-semitism. They also have disagreements with the Labour leader on economic policy: they don’t like proposals for nationalisation or the abolition of university fees. But those issues are not the real cause of the split, which has seen the former Labour MPs join forces with a handful of former Tories. The 2017 Labour manifesto promised little that anyone in the party could disagree with. It was an extension of Ed Miliband’s 2015 manifesto, and contained fewer frightening tax increases than previous efforts such as Neil Kinnock’s in 1992 or Harold Wilson’s in 1974.
But there is another issue which explains the split, and links Brexit and anti-semitism. Corbyn presents himself as building on Clement Attlee’s domestic legacy. But in foreign policy he certainly isn’t following Attlee. After 1945 Labour was one of the architects of Nato and the post-war, rules-based international order. Support for the western alliance, and in particular the alliance with the US, was a priority for every subsequent Labour government. Only twice has Labour seriously questioned that priority—in the early 1980s and now. Both times it led to a split. Disagreements on economic policy can often be fudged. Disagreements on foreign policy are harder to resolve because they are rooted in different conceptions of Britain’s place in the world, which touch on profound aspects of identity.
Three foreign policy issues have propelled the split. The first is Brexit. Corbyn is a lifelong Eurosceptic who, even if less zealous than his mentor Tony Benn, voted against every European treaty he could and has described the EU as an empire from which Europeans should liberate themselves. Many of his closest advisers and allies want Britain out. A large majority of Labour voters, members and MPs want a second referendum, but Corbyn dragged his feet, unenthusiastically endorsing one only after TIG MPs left, in part because of his reluctance to give a lead. He has now, perhaps, moved just enough to keep the bulk of his party from open rebellion, but fighting Brexit is still a very low priority for him.…