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“Those who haven’t changed should just grow up and realise that the world isn’t what they imagined in their theories,” said Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, who spoke to Prospect about the problems faced by the Labour Party today. “They are an impediment to getting the kind of support that we need,” he said.
Kinnock was party leader from 1983 to 1992, a period in which Labour expelled hundreds of Trotskyite Militant activists from its ranks. According to Kinnock, some in the current Labour Party leave him “trying to search for a civilised word.”
“They contradict their own slogans,” said Kinnock. They should be working “to put an appealing Labour Party into power. And they’re not.”
Kinnock, an MP for 25 years, is highly respected within Labour, having dragged it back to the centre-ground after its catastrophic election defeat in 1983, when his predecessor Michael Foot stood on a hard-left platform.
He has not criticised the party’s current leadership in strong terms until now. Commenting on Jeremy Corbyn’s record as Labour leader, Kinnock said: “Leaders have to be judged on performance and progress. I’m certain he knows that.” Asked whether he thought progress was being made under Corbyn’s leadership, Kinnock commented, “The facts tend to contradict that, don’t they?”
“The standing of the party is not what it should be, certainly a first year into opposition without any major historic events like a big strike, or a war, or anything of that dimension to sway overall opinion.”
Kinnock is staunchly in favour of Britain’s membership of the European Union. “I think if people are listening to the rational economic arguments then there will almost certainly be a ‘Remain’ majority… I think that the economic issues, the appalling effects of disruption caused by withdrawal… are being understood.”
“We’ve heard the armchair critics talking about a lack of passion in the ‘Remain’ case. They would, of course, be saying that we were flailing and fulminating if we waved our arms around and started shouting louder. But I feel passionate about the dreadful prospect of upheaval, loss of jobs, withdrawal of investment… I can get extremely passionate about the gigantic size of the risk. Now, you’ve got to translate that into convincing, fact-based argument… I think it’s been right for the ‘Remain’ campaign to give priority to that.”
The pro-Brexit campaign, he said, “is in many ways in complete turmoil itself. They present no rational argument for leaving. And indeed, some [in the ‘Leave’ camp] are arrogant enough to dismiss the need for rational argument. That is going to prove to be their downfall.”
“When [Leavers] are reduced to regurgitating the half-toothed garbage of the last thirty-odd tabloid years, you know they’re truly desperate. And then, when they come to make something remotely like a proposal, they can’t decide whether we should be Norway, or Switzerland, or some buccaneering middle-sized economy. I mean, any of those options would be a huge leap backwards for the United Kingdom.”
Kinnock brought up the suggestion by Michael Gove, Justice Secretary, that Britain could thrive economically post-Brexit by joining up to a European free-trade zone with “Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and Ukraine,” an idea known as the “Albanian model.”
“Gove declaims about a European free trade area stretching from Iceland to Turkey which doesn’t actually exist. I mean, it’s a figment of his imagination. And, the Albanian Prime Minister said it was a bit weird, which I thought was very polite, in the circumstances.”