The Labour Leader has punched his own party in the faceby John McTernan / February 26, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Jeremy Corbyn can lead the Labour party back to power
Saturday 27th February is a big campaign day for the Labour Party. Every activist will be out campaigning for the UK to stay in the European Union. It is a huge political issue. One that is existential for the country and which will determine the kind of country we live in. It is about fairness, prosperity and the future. Open against closed. The very emblem of progressive politics against conservative ideology. This is Labour’s moment, and on top of everything else the Tories are divided—the one thing the public hate more than anything else in a political party—while Labour are united.
So, how does Jeremy Corbyn intend to press home the Labour advantage? By changing the subject completely. He is going on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) march against the renewal of the Trident submarines. Politics is famously a contact sport and the art is often in just punching—repeatedly—on a bruise. As usual, Corbyn has ripped up the play book: he has decided to punch Labour in the face instead. Defence, as much as the economy, is a traditional Labour weakness in the eyes of swing voters. Unilateralism, or as the electorate understand it: “giving up your nuclear weapons while others still have them”—is not merely the emblem of a party weak on defence, it is a sign of a party who are not interested in power.
The worst thing about Corbyn attending and speaking at this CND rally while Labour’s message of the day is that Britain should stay in the EU is that this is not the worst thing he has done to undermine the case for staying in it. Lyndon B Johnson was often asked why he tried never to talk about the Vietnam War. His typically pithy response was “If your mother in law had one eye and that one eye was in the middle of her forehead you wouldn’t have her at your cocktail parties.” Don’t, in other words, draw attention to your weaknesses. As previously observed, Corbyn loves to reverse conventional wisdom. And this is precisely what he has done. When Cameron brought the EU deal back from Brussels the considered response from Corbyn was:
“The Prime Minister has been negotiating for the wrong goals in the wrong way for the wrong reasons.”
That’s clear—it was a bad deal. But wait:
“Labour will campaign for Britain to stay in Europe in the referendum that the Prime Minister has called for in June, regardless of Cameron’s overblown tinkering.”
Not the greatest of lines: “Vote to stay in the EU—because it’s a bad deal.” Could it get any worse? Of course it could, this is Corbyn’s Labour Party. A poor message has to be accompanied by a completely unpopular policy. And sure enough the Labour leader goes straight for another huge Labour vulnerability—welfare. In words that could come straight from a “Leave” campaign press release, Corbyn says:
“The evidence suggests that Cameron’s much-heralded “emergency brake” on in-work migrants’s benefits will do nothing to cut inward migration to Britain.”
That one eyed mother-in-law? She is at the cocktail party handing out the canapés.
Jeremy Corbyn is utterly unable to make a persuasive case for Britain staying in the European Union because his vision for what the EU should be is not just fantastical, it is deeply unpopular. He is OK with a European superstate, which British voters don’t want, just so long as it’s a worker’s state—which no-one has wanted since the fall of the Berlin Wall. For Corbyn, Europe—like every other question—is Manichaean. There is good: the unions and all their demands, and there is bad: businesses and markets.
The battle about capital is over; we are all capitalists now. The issue is how to free up markets so that British businesses and British workers win. Sure, the deal that Cameron brought back was ludicrous, but that does not matter. There are no conceivable circumstances in which it is in Britain’s interest to leave the EU. Labour’s best strategic option was to be unified and to fight for Britain’s national interest. Not to open a new front by campaigning for an unpopular and unattainable socialist European Union.
Read more: Twelve things you need to know about Brexit