His speech sounded like a compromise. That's a strength, but eurosceptic left-wingers won't like itby Alex Dean / April 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
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“You can’t build a better world unless you engage with the world.” So argued Jeremy Corbyn today at Senate House, London, in a speech in which he laid out his case for Britain remaining a member of the European Union. The speech wasn’t terrible, but will it convince left-wing Eurosceptics? Probably not. The type of arguments that Corbyn made—pragmatic ones—may well just not get through.
We should be grateful that Corbyn gave the speech at all: it is a huge improvement on his previous lukewarm support for the Union. A recent poll showed 40 per cent of voters didn’t know whether he supported Britain remaining a member of it.
Alan Johnson, Head of the “Labour In For Britain” campaign, spoke before Corbyn today. Until this morning he had been far more vocal in his support for the EU than the Labour leader—it was as though Corbyn had been left behind altogether. Indeed, many Labour MPs have been passionate in their support of the EU over recent months—some of them in Prospect. It is absurd that while for them the issue is a matter of urgency, Corbyn has waited until now to make his case.
He will now at least have generated headlines that state his pro-EU position. And the speech started unequivocally: “The Labour party is overwhelmingly for staying in—because we believe the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment, and offers the best chance of meeting the challenges we face in the 21st century.”
He then issued a warning: “It wouldn’t be a Labour government negotiating a better settlement for working people with the EU. It would be a Tory government, quite possibly led by Boris Johnson and backed by Nigel Farage, that would negotiate the worst of all worlds: a free market free-for-all shorn of rights and protections.” There would be a “bonfire” of workers’ rights, he claimed.
The question is: will this convince anyone? One might argue that he has the power of the convert. He voted against European Economic Community membership in the 1975 referendum, the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. He’s previously said the European Union’s policies are “crazy”—not “moral.”
But what groups are out there to be persuaded? Right-wing eurosceptics will not be persuaded by a hard-left Labourite, and most Labour party supporters already think we should remain in the EU—recent Prospect polling shows they comprise 47 per cent of pro-EU voters.
That leaves those who object to the EU on left-wing grounds. But will this group respond to the cold pragmatic case put forward today? I would argue not. There is surely significant overlap between this group and the hard-left Labour membership who only seven months ago elected Corbyn Labour leader. I can’t shake the suspicion that if you’re looking to make an argument based on compromise, the worst group to try and convince is that one.
Corbyn will probably never win a general election and have the chance to implement his policy proposals, but thousands of people voted for him because they could not stomach voting for someone they did not completely agree with. He now makes a begrudging case for the EU. He argues its problems are a price worth paying in exchange for a shot at international cooperation on certain issues.
If there is substantial overlap between Labour members and eurosceptic left-wingers, then there’s a clear problem here. A man is pitching compromise to a group notoriously resistant to it. So today’s speech may do nothing to change the minds of eurosceptic left-wingers. A shame: they’re the only group he had a shot at convincing.
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