The dismal Brexit negotiations have left the British public with a poor appetite for politics. Those that voted remain believe their worst nightmares are only being confirmed by the Cabinet’s incompetent and lacklustre handling of the negotiations. Those who voted leave are left frustrated by the slow process, especially when the government cannot deliver a clear message of what a post-European Union Britain will even look like when we leave.
For the left (namely Labour) this chaos should have provided the perfect ammunition for bringing down the weak and divided government. Their message should have been clear during the referendum: The E.U. is a Capitalist club that undermines the sovereignty of our democratic institutions- at least, this was the message of the late Tony Benn in 1975, on the entry of Britain to the European Community.
The politics of the Labour party has changed much since then. It’s shift towards the Right under Tony Blair’s Third Way set it down a path of support for liberalisation of the economy. Labour has made comfortable friends with Neo-Liberals in the Troika ever since.
Arguably, the EU has changed too. Since the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht (formerly giving its name of the European Union), the directly elected European Parliament began to take on ever more legislative and executive power- even challenging the Commission in 1999 amid allegations of fraud and corruption in the latter.
The unelected Commission still holds a disproportionate amount of executive power compared to most national state systems. And the treaty firmly established monetarist policies as a principle.
This is the context in which Labour has gone into the Brexit debate. The right-wing of the party was adamant that we must remain part of the EU based on faux-internationalism and Progressivism. The reality is it serves the interest of big business. This is also the motivation for the Labour Right to demand we remain in the single market; this at least would maintain the economic status quo in Britain.
Jeremy Corbyn, the most Left-wing leader the party has had since Michael Foot, originally belonged to the Eurosceptic Left of Labour in the past. The Left finally had a rare opportunity to put forward a radical Socialist case for an exit. But the domination of the Right in the Parliamentary Labour Party and in the party bureaucracy clearly forced Corbyn’s position towards remain. That and the young, idealistic membership that views the EU as a bastion of progressive hope from their Conservative government.
Many Labour members were also rightly appalled by the racism of the official Leave campaign, supporting remain as an opposition to the demagoguery and xenophobia of UKIP and the Tory Right.
However, had Labour officially campaigned for a leave vote on an independent, Socialist and anti-racist basis it could have cut across the xenophobia of the official Leave campaign while putting forward a positive political alternative that the working-class of Britain desperately needs.
Indeed, it is precisely the disenfranchisement with the system that has led to people voting for Brexit. The leave vote wasn’t represented by the Leave campaign. Most working-class people voted to leave, not because of reactionary Nationalism, but to punish our national political establishment. After all, the majority of our ‘establishment’ didn’t want Brexit at all. Cameron put the referendum forward under the belief that remain would win. However, they were stunned by the unexpected kickback of a working-class that had long been ignored and neglected.
Corbyn’s relative success in the recent general election could have been much greater had he campaigned to leave. He could have won over the disenfranchised workers that voted for Brexit while appealing to the more middle-class sections of Labour’s voter base with a progressive case for leave. Linking the need to fight austerity, zero-hour contracts and an out-of-control banking system with a Socialist exit.
This, of course, is what Labour is being forced to do anyway. Instead of controlling the course of events, they are simply being swept along by it. Labour’s ambiguous position on the EU following the referendum has not inspired much confidence in the electorate, both remainers and leavers. A typical Milibandesque attempt at trying to appease everyone by avoiding a clear stance.
All is not lost for Labour. The party has finally established its narrative: Brexit outside of the single market. It is now up to Corbyn and his allies to force the rebel M.Ps to accept this narrative.
It is time for Labour to go on the offensive against the Tory government, on a national and local level. For a Labour government could see to a fairer, more prosperous post-EU Britain.