Sunday, 15 July 2018

No Labour Exit from Brexit

If you have recently woke during the night to the sound of piercing screams and pleas for mercy, you just might have caught the final agonies of Tory hopes on winning the next general election. As their vote is coming unstuck thanks to their incoherent mess of a Brexit, which at first glance appears to be a soft one, does it mean anything as far as Labour's support is concerned?

As you will have seen in the polls, the marginal Tory lead has vanished. Two points, four points, five points, it's very difficult to see how they could possibly win these voters back with Theresa May still at the helm. And there's room for further movement. Nigel Farage is still doing the Smashie and Nicey on LBC, but should his threat to return to front line politics be made good, Farage's dubious charisma could be relied on to chip off a few more percentage points. To be sure, the Brexit mess is of the Tories' doing and they're being made to own it, but might their fall out impact Labour's own coalition of voters?

It would be marginal at best, because the dynamics of Brexit, its meaning and attachments play out differently among Conservative and Labour supporters. As I've written more times than I can remember, the Tory coalition up until last week was an agglomeration of constituencies in decline. Retirees, Scottish unionists, the know-it-all petit bourgeois Facebook bore, older workers in dying jobs. They are also disproportionately male and white, Are Labour sceptical at best, with many who've never voted Labour and have become habitually anti-Labour, and there are refugees from UKIP's implosion - what centrist politicians used to euphemistically call "real concerns" and "strong and sincerely-held views". This constituency is breaking down because it is literally expiring. Thanks to the realities of working class life of the rising generations, they tend toward social liberalism and are therefore at odds with the callous conservatism of May and her minions, and the conservatising effects of ageing have broken down. Being conditions consciousness, so if you can't accumulate property, you're much less likely to start thinking like a Tory voter. Nevertheless, for those who have invested themselves in May's Tories Brexit is an ideological glue that keeps the coalition together. If you have large numbers of people who feel like strangers in a strange land, they will grasp for symbols and totems of stability, like beloved institutions and national identity. Brexit here is an act of national self-assertion, of taking Britain back to a time when immigrants were few and far between, you could get a job from the school gate, there was no touchy-feely namby-pamby nonsense and, crucially, Britain was fully independent and could make its own way.

The flipside of Brexit, remain, just doesn't work this way in Labour's coalition even though approximately two-thirds of its support did vote to stay in the EU. While it is true, as a number of polls have shown, that a majority of supporters (and members) would either like to remain or at the very least have a referendum on the final deal, it is not a deal breaker. Over the last couple of years the party has been consistent in its view, sensibly in my opinion, that the referendum outcome has to be observed. And despite the best efforts of the Liberal Democrats, a paddling of Jolyons, and His Blairness those voters have kept with Labour while the LibDems remain stuck in the polls. This is because Labour voters are attracted to the party thanks to its policy platform. Forget the idiocies about the cult of personality, Jeremy Corbyn is an attractor. His politics speak to people. It's not rocket science. If you're going to talk about poverty, frustrated aspirations, social justice, investment not cuts, and so on when these were out of bounds as far as official politics were concerned you have the tinder of an insurgency. The point is for Labour remain supporters, on the whole the party and its policies come before their attachment to remain.

It works slightly differently with Labour leave voters, the majority of whom tend to be older workers and retirees. Because Labour has accepted the referendum result, they were open to hearing what the party had to say because they in turn had been listened to. They might be quite sceptical of Corbyn and not be fully on board with the social liberalism of the younger generations, but they can see that the new left Labour Party has reoccupied the sort of political ground familiar to them. Had Labour abandoned Brexit, as some strategic geniuses have suggested it should, the result would not have been an influx of millions of enthusiastic remain voters (where from?) and double-digit point leads over the Tories. It would have been read as dumping on the wishes of Labour leave voters, and our enemies would cast themselves as the custodians of Brexit. In other words, I'd be writing and you'd be reading about the disintegration of the Labour vote instead of chewing popcorn and happily watching the Tories gut themselves.

This isn't to say Labour should carry on as if it's all in the bag. Complacency is counter-revolutionary. We should actively reach out to the relatively small but progressive-minded remain constituency, keep our people on board by hammering the Tories on living standards and public services, and pitch toward disgruntled Tory voters by criticising the messy and unworkable position May has come up with, and opposing it with our emphasis on rebuilding the country after a wasted decade. It's triangulation, but not as Blair knew it.

Let's be clear again, and this point cannot be underlined enough, we are in this position, of Labour having the advantage over the Tories because they've spent the last two years coming up with a pig's ear of a position while we have kept up the pressure and respected the referendum result. It wouldn't have been possible had we, to borrow the hackneyed phrase, opted to exit from Brexit.

17 comments:

Speedy said...

"the know-it-all petit bourgeois Facebook bore"

ha ha. I think you severely underestimate the size of this constituency. I also think you conflate Tories with the right - I very much doubt the right is in decline, every indicator, everywhere, suggests the opposite. Just one example - the highest proportion of voters for the NF in France is the young.

The problem Labour has with Brexit, as do the Tories, is that it is a straight choice - the MUCH CRAPPIER deal being offered by May at the moment, or Armeggedon. That was always the choice, and is the only choice. For the record, I predict May will go soon and be replaced by Gove, who will lead the UK to hard Brexit, which even Mandleson says is better than the current proposal (which won't be agreed by EU anyway).

Anonymous said...

Labour will still have to make some choices, which will have the capacity to chip away at its support, or possibly increase it.
Lets look at 3 possible scenario's.

1) May loses leadership, Govt collapses and a GE is called. Here our Brexit strategy will have to be outlined in detail and be explicitly clear. We wont be able to wing it. We either support remain, or more likely, support a BRINO type deal.
2) May is replaced with a Brexit ultra who accelerates us to a no deal position. Again, we will have to have make a stand somewhere. We couldnt support a no deal solution so will have to go with remain/soft brexit and argue forcibly for it.
3) May hangs on and manages to get a soft brexit deal - which she has been moving to - with the EU. There will be some fudging and some terminology will change but basically the Govt will arrive at BRINO. As thats pretty much what we want, we couldnt oppose and argue for tougher terms or for remain as we've ruled that out. We would have to back the Govt.
Events may turn things on their head over the next few months (or even weeks) but i reckon we're heading for option 3.

Incidentally the latest polling puts Corbyn at 25% as best PM. May stands at 29%. Neither outperforms them at 36%.
And Corbyn is an attractor?

Steve

Boffy said...

"Let's be clear again, and this point cannot be underlined enough, we are in this position, of Labour having the advantage over the Tories because they've spent the last two years coming up with a pig's ear of a position while we have kept up the pressure and respected the referendum result. It wouldn't have been possible had we, to borrow the hackneyed phrased, opted to exit from Brexit."

Hardly. Labour's position has been if anything more contorted and based on "have cake and eat it" than the Tories. Labour benefited because a lot of young voters, Liberal and green voters, and possibly even some Tory voters who are horrified at the prospect of Brexit lent Labour their votes as the only possible avenue for stopping Brexit, or at least stopping a hard Brexit. That is clear in places like Kensington and Chelsea and Canterbury, where otherwise Labour would never win the seat, but it is true across the country, hence the collapse of Green and Liberal votes in places where Labour was the only real chance of beating the Tories.

As John Curtice and the BES showed, even on the basis of the 2015 General Election, the proportion of Labour voters supporting Remain was only marginally lower in Northern and Midlands constituencies than it was in the South. Matched against the 2017 General Election, the proportion of Labour voters backing Remain is around 75%.

Even setting aside the principle that Socialists should oppose reactionary policies - which Brexit is - just purely on the basis of electoralism, Labour's failure to take a clear stand of opposing Brexit risks losing those voters come the next election. Just as the Tory Brextremist vote might - though when it comes to it now I doubt it - go back to UKIP, the closer we come to actual Brexit, the less those Remain voters who have lent us their vote will go back to the Greens, Liberals or apathy.

The Tory Brexit crisis has exposed the Labour Leavers like Mann and Hoey, but Labour's official position is equally untenable, because it is based upon the same delusion that Britain can somehow have the advantages of being in the EU whilst being outside. It can't.

The choice at best would be to become a vassal state of the EU, or a vassal state of the US, as the last week or so has shown. The only sensible course is to oppose Brexit, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with the EU working class and labour movement.

George Carty said...

How likely is it that once we're out of the EU, 3 will become 2 as the ultras knife May in the back and tear up her deal with the EU?

As for Labour, while Corbyn may have saved it from the Pasokification that was laid waste to most centre-left parties on the continent, how does it plan to avoid Syrizafication due to the need to pay huge bribes to vital multinational employers to stop them from leaving the UK?

Ken said...

On Scottish Unionists; you might have seen that Labour Councillors in Aberdeen were proposing to unite with the Tories to outnumber the SNP. (!)
Speaking of democratic decision making, I don’t recall Labour in Scotland ever debating independence. Also I note a recent poll where 47% of CDE s (poll speak for lower white collar and manual workers) were in favour of independence. Unionists in Scotland have to rely on the amnesia of the voters when they were told by “Better Together”, that the only way Scotland could stay in the EU was as part of the UK.
Not to mention being lectured to by the “left” that leaving the U.K. was reactionary as workers should always support the largest form of political organisation. Now, the only chance for Scotland to belong to a larger union is to leave the U.K. I can understand why this issue has slid down the agenda in England, because frankly, unionism’s twists and turns are embarrassing.

Boffy said...

" It's not rocket science. If you're going to talk about poverty, frustrated aspirations, social justice, investment not cuts, and so on when these were out of bounds as far as official politics were concerned you have the tinder of an insurgency. The point is for Labour remain supporters, on the whole the party and its policies come before their attachment to remain."

Well perhaps treating it like rocket science might be an advantage, because the simplistic either or presented here is totally unrealistic. With Brexit, there is absolutely no possibility of a Labour government addressing any of those basic issues. Just look at what is happening already with the NHS. The Tories talk about putting a £360 million a week Brexit bonus into the NHS, but there is no Brexit bonus. The fall in UK GDP already, has cost the UK economy £9 billion. Actual Brexit will cost it a hell of a lot more. Brexit is already resulting in the NHS being unable to recruit the workers it requires.

That is happening across the economy, so with a declining economy, the chance that a Labour government will be able to reverse cuts and so on, is fanciful in the extreme and simply deluding the working-class and setting them up for disappointment. The idea that Britain's declining economy could do any of that outside the EU, is simply a deluded version of Socialism in One Country, except limited to only social democracy in one country.

Opposing Brexit and opposing austerity are not alternative options for Labour but inseparable struggles. UK workers can only move forward alongside EU workers, and that is what Labour should be saying and organising for.

Boffy said...

"They might be quite sceptical of Corbyn and not be fully on board with the social liberalism of the younger generations, but they can see that the new left Labour Party has reoccupied the sort of political ground familiar to them. Had Labour abandoned Brexit, as some strategic geniuses have suggested it should, the result would not have been an influx of millions of enthusiastic remain voters (where from?) and double-digit point leads over the Tories."

Its not a question of proposing an exit from Brexit leading to an influx of millions of enthusiastic remain voters, but that the millions who did flow to Labour in 2017, may well disappear as quickly if the possibility of stopping Brexit, or at least a hard Brexit disappears. Its a question of whether holding to a pro-Brexit line, as that situation approaches loses more Labour Remain votes than it retains Labour Leave votes.

I'd suggest the Labour Leave voters are more likely to stick even if Labour ditches Brexit, because they are core voters, who have voted Labour over decades despite it having socially liberal policies it often does not support, whilst the newly acquired Remain voters are more likely to drift away back to the Greens, Liberals, or single issues.

Either way, whatever is electorally convenient in the short term, as a matter of principle socialists should oppose reactionary policies and ideas such as Brexit and anti-immigrant sentiment. The fact that a majority might support such reactionary policies, for example, support for capital punishment, is no reason that socialists should acquiesce in it. We are supposed to be, after all socialists providing leadership, not populists simply hitching our wagon to whatever might have short term popular support.

We should leave that political approach to very stable geniuses like Donald Trump.

Speedy said...

I would add that given the two options:

Crappier relationship with EU.
Hard Brexit

What is interesting is that the economic arguments have FINALLY come to the fore: it is not about -

Immigration
Sovereignty

What this means is that in the event of another referendum the economy might finally matter, and even without another referendum, Leavers are having to face up to the consequences of what they have done (which is why David and Johnson jumped ship). But there will be no getting away from it.

Boffy said...

"May hangs on and manages to get a soft brexit deal - which she has been moving to - with the EU. There will be some fudging and some terminology will change but basically the Govt will arrive at BRINO. As thats pretty much what we want, we couldnt oppose and argue for tougher terms or for remain as we've ruled that out. We would have to back the Govt.
Events may turn things on their head over the next few months (or even weeks) but i reckon we're heading for option 3."

But, BRINO will simply amount to Britain being a vassal state of the EU. We would have to accept the rules with no right to formulate them. No one will accept that for long, so it simply defers the question of leave or remain.

Suppose the Chequers proposal was somehow accepted, a challenge to May only requires a Brextremist candidate to get into the final two, and then the Tory members get a vote, and we know they would go fo a Ree-Smogg type Brextremist. So, the UK then says it wants to diverge from some part of the common rule book, and that has "consequences". The consequences would be that a Ree-Smogg government would then simply push through the hard Brexit they require.

That is why their more thoughtful strategists like Gove realise that the important thing is to get past March 29th and an official Brexit, because as soon as that happens, its only a matter of time before the Brextremists push through a divergence as the basis for a Hard Brexit, and resort ot WTO.

Anonymous said...

A No Deal Brexit will be catastrophic for all but the uber-wealthy asset strippers. It will mean goodbye to our NHS + any notion of public service, social security/safety net (already depleted by neo-liberal policies).

What if a 'national government' is put in place as the country is in chaos? What if this is actually the plan? Suspend Parliament? Certainly suspend elections.

I agree with other poster who said Gove will likely replace May - his 'support for her' is a sure sign he's about to betray her, with the help of his mate Rupert Murdoch.

And in terms of resisting Brexit, especially a No Deal Brexit, narrative does matter. Labour's absence from much of this debate is depressing and infuriating and I say that as a JC voter/Momentum member.

Recent evidence and revelations concerning the alleged illegality of Vote Leave campaign should be taken up by lawyers Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry. The ref was illegitimate - revoke Article 50, cancel Brexit. That is the only thing to do for the good of the country and the long-term prospects of a socialist government

Speedy said...

I think what you are trying to do Phll is excuse the fact that Corbyn remains pro-Brexit - as do his cabal - and this is the real sticking point, not the vast majority of the PLP. Corbyn is every bit s deluded and ideologically driven as Rees-Mogg, except perhaps considerably more naive.

So the problem - as illustrated in the comments - is not the majority of Labour voters, who support Remain, but the minority of Labour leaders, who are convinced Brexiters.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, "Steve" concern trolling again.

You must be gutted Corbyn/Starmer's strategy is being borne out, eh? Whereas you #FBPE cultists would have led Labour to the same electoral and political oblivion as your beloved LibDems.

The Judoker said...

Good but wrong.

Anonymous said...

Anon,
Do tell us what our strategy is and how it might result in either Brexit being abandoned, or delivered in such a way to minimise the consequences?
I'm pretty up front with my take on Brexit: its utterly insane with no benefits whatsoever for our party and the electorate. Its downsides all the way.
Maybe you think differently?
In any event we will have to make our position pretty clear soon, so fence sitting and making unrealistic claims about what we might be able to do is really no longer an option.

Steve

1729torus said...

Even EEA membership means a decade of 1.6% GDP growth and stagnant incomes on the current trajectory.

Anonymous said...

Cincern troll "Steve":

Labour cannot "stop Brexit" and never have been able to "stop Brexit".

Once this basic fundamental truth is understood, everything else might begin to fall into place.

Anonymous said...

Can we drop all the Soft Brexit = "vassal state" stuff? Words mean things. A vassal state is one that has to provide tribute or military resources to a dominant state. That's actually closer to our current relationship with the EU, (although still a ludicrous comparison, I'm a remainer). Soft Brexit / BRINO would mean regulatory alignment with a trading bloc without having a say on the rules of that trading bloc. That's it. A stupid outcome, but hardly the end of sovereignty as we know it, and hardly killing off the chance of a progressive agenda.

And if, at this late stage, people can't see the difference between Corbyn accepting the referendum result and Corbyn being pro-Brexit, it's probably just not going to be worth the bother. It's a shame for people to marginalise themselves by banging on with this stuff.