Do Young Momentum Enthusiasts Know That Jeremy Corbyn Really Wants Brexit?

In the New Statesman of 30 June Stephen Bush tells us that the position of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is of less relevance than (in Stephen’s view) the fact that most Labour MPs are pro-Brexit.   To my mind this confuses perceptions about how many Labour, and especially working class, voters have come to see and blame the European Union as an obstacle to their best interests, and the realities which most centre / left, even some Tory, MPs quietly understand but are, sadly, afraid to articulate.

Now, immediately, is the time to challenge Corbyn on his (and his close colleagues’) hostility to, and anachronistic view of, the EU.   We must insist, before the damage is irrevocable, that he comes clean about his perennial antipathy to Remain.   Most importantly, this task must be accomplished by Corbyn’s greatest admirers, the young people who have flocked to Momentum and who, along with many other Labour voters, believe Jeremy Corbyn will deliver them from Brexit….

In his 30 June article Stephen Bush tells us that

“(Corbyn) … is a Eurosceptic of long vintage, who voted against every European treaty to come before the House of Commons in his tenure as an MP. Membership of the European Union and the single market both mean that the United Kingdom would be subject to the rules of the European Court of Justice, which limits the freedom of a radical left-wing government, at least as far as the leader’s office is concerned….
As I wrote this morning, Corbyn’s personal view on the EU is a bit of a red herring as far as Brexit goes – ultimately, under the British system, parliament is sovereign…”

Bush adds that the Euroscepticism of Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, is also a ‘red herring’ because

.”…(w)hat really matters is not that Corbyn wants a drastic exit from the European Union, but that, at present, the bulk of Labour MPs agree with him.”

Is this true?  And, if it is, why were almost all Labour MPs pro-Remain before the EU referendum?

Leaving aside many important decisions which should have been challenged from the outset around who was allowed to vote (16 and 17 year olds, whose futures are most at risk, were excluded), and why, incredibly, there was no requirement for a super-majority before such a hugely important matter as Brexit could be implemented, my answer to these Corbyn-related questions is that

  1. someone somewhere (perhaps including the leadership of the Labour Party?; I think it’s important to ask who) permitted the EU referendum official Government leaflet for Remain to include the assertion that ”This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide” – as though the Referendum result was non-negotiable, whereas in fact it was simply Advisory; and
  2. Corbyn and his confidants nurtured a false analysis of the EU vote when it first came about – that working class people would switch to UKIP is we didn’t ‘respect’ Brexit (a claim which was later largely debunked by voting patterns in the 2017 General Election).

So what do Remainers need to do, to avert truly horrendous leap over the Brexit cliff? Here are some ideas:

The zeitgeist
At present, according to YouGov survey on 15 June 2017, 70% (including a significant group of pro-Remainers) think the EU Referendum means we must continue with Brexit – though post-GE2017 we’re told 60% also want to keep their EU passports – but many have doubts about what will actually happen. That odd disparity is surely, as above, because many Remainers still believe what the mainstream media tell them, that a sensible (‘soft’) Brexit is possible.  Hence some Remainers’ enthusiasm for messages at the regional / local level which challenge that misperception [see PS below for practical suggestions about delivering such EU-positive messages].  People are resigned or passive because they haven’t yet grasped the consequences of Brexit and they see no other way forward.

The mood in the UK at the moment already has a lot of anger for very understandable reasons.  Perhaps we shouldn’t in the tragic context of recent developments be adding to that.  But I do believe it would be constructive to say to the ‘decent’ Brexiteers,

Look, you don’t need in any way to feel remorseful or to apologise, no-one expects that, but please feel free to express your deep disappointment that leading politicians lied to you that Brexit would ‘save’ money and be easily deliverable.  They seemed convincing to many, but now they have been shown to be self-serving and duplicitous.  You are entitled to hold your head high and to feel betrayed and upset about that.  Let’s sort it now, together…

Checking out Corbyn – a task for Momentum
Many of us will have an opinion on Jeremy Corbyn.  Mine is quite simple: it is understandable that no-one expected him to have any success on GE2017 because his performance during the EUref was so underwhelming – in stark contrast with the outcome when the vote in GE2017 was for him rather than for Remain.

Even putting aside questions around Corbyn’s good faith and ‘principle’ in regard to the EU referendum, is it any wonder that even the modest achievements for Labour a couple of weeks ago were not anticipated? When are more commentators going to start saying this?  (John Harris in the Guardian offers an in-passing reference to this notion.)

So has anyone sought to influence Jeremy Corbyn’s personal perspectives on the EU? And do they know the positions of two of his leading advisors, John McDonnell and Jon Trickett, both long-time Brexiteers?  And do we really want to align with the wealthy elite (read Paul Mason’s piece on Brexit being hijacked by right-wing Tories) and the unarticulated but deeply unprogressive way of looking at the world of many Brexiteers?

Campaigning for a revision of the UK take on Europe is critical to the futures of younger Britons, as well as to the concepts of equality and fairness. There are substantial numbers of Labour MPs who have refused to support Article50, despite Jeremy Corbyn’s 3-line whips.  They need our support. We certainly don’t want them to feel obliged in the post GE2017 ‘euphoria’ to backslide…

And then there’s Sir Keir Starmer, Brexit Shadow Secretary,, a fine human rights lawyer and firm pro-Remainer who is now obliged to square the impossible Brexit circle. His current position, that ‘the will of the people’ requires Brexit, is at best puzzling. Knowing as he surely does that this notion, the will of the people, has very authoritarian overtones, and knowing also that the vote was both seriously compromised by ‘mis-statements’, and advisory, there are some very difficult issues to address.  The balance of legal-rational and the political judgements, despite the GE2017, surely has to shift as people become more aware of Labour’s Brexit stance.

Sir Keir has already stated there are six criteria by which to evaluate Brexit proposals, so at what point might he declare impossible the task of achieving a acceptable (if such exists?) Brexit?  What would be the bottom line which to his mind requires the advice that Remain is the only responsible option?

Labour Party policy: Young people – be the (real) change
At present the EUref policy of Labour’s Annual Conference 2016, and that of the Manifesto 2017, are at odds.  We know that Corbyn, McDonnell and Trickett would like the Manifesto 2017 to become embedded.  We have only a month or two to influence thinking before policies for debate at Annual Conference 2017 are fixed.

Now is the time for all those young enthusiasts for Jeremy Corbyn to get active. The age profile for Labour support is massively aligned with that for support of Remain: young people especially want both.

And it’s young people who can most influence Momentum, an organisation initiated some while ago by Jon Lansman and associated also with other older white, male politicans, left-wingers with an apparently very different agenda from many of their Europhile new followers.

John Curtis has been proved right in his voter analysis of earlier in 2017.

The evidence (and observations on Twitter, where young people and quite a lot of LibDems have been busy) suggests that many voters chose to support Corbyn at least in part because they still hope he will deliver us from Brexit.

If the Labour leadership’s position on Brexit doesn’t change, history will not be kind. Just look what happened to Nick Clegg when he ‘betrayed’ his student electorate on fees….

Jeremy Corbyn will also find soon enough too that young people (and many LibDem and Green Remainers who in June 2017 gifted Labour their vote for that cause) will not forgive, if he betrays them on Remain; and their understandable cyncism, like Brexit itself, would not by any measure be a force for good in the body politic.

Time then, for questions to be asked of the leader of the Labour Party:

Does Jeremy Corbyn in truth want a tough (and in the view of many very probably irrevocably disastrous) Brexit;  or does he, as numerous of his followers believe, want to deliver us safely back into the European Union? 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

PS Getting out the message
[the practicals, just as important as the big political questions above…]
On an informational level, not only should there be immediate access for journalists etc to the real facts of the matter re Brexit and Remain, but also this material needs to be available on a (sub?)regional scale to citizen-Remainers who want to continue to make the case against Brexit.  With some level of  resourcing this info might include eg an email briefing every so often (or as required by circumstance) which helps local people to write to their local media, politicians, community leaders etc, reminding them of what is at stake and what has emerged in terms of developments.

I suspect most Remainers, especially in allegedly Leave areas, feel quite isolated.  I know there are at last the beginnings of some local groups now, but physically meeting up is not possible for everyone.  There have to be other ways to connect and to show we will not tolerate the destruction of Brexit.  As yet the elctorate is passive; the phoenix of hope for Europe has not awakened. But as the harsh realities of Brexit begin to hit home, that bird will surely fly.

Different people connect via different avenues; how much do we know about the practical demography of Remainers in specific locations?  In some places social media are much less important than the old ‘letters to the editor’ / ‘phone your local radio station’…   Likewise, the best way to engage the attention of MPs and Council Leaders etc is not a one-size-fits-all matter.  People (all sorts of people) need to know both what the facts actually are in their own patch, and also how to present them to whom.  They need to know who will back them up if they speak out. Ideally they also need to know what response others who lobby in their patch have had.

And they need to know how to get together to proclain their support for the Euroepan Union, as the March 2017 Unite for Europe event in London demonstrated very well.

So who is going to attend to these very practical matters?  To date the greatest outreach has probably been via the New European, with other organisations  which also now seem to be stirring.

About Hilary Burrage

Hilary Burrage is the author of two books on female genital mutilation: ERADICATING FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION: A UK Perspective, and FEMALE MUTILATION: The truth behind the horrifying global practice of female genital mutilation (book details: www.hilaryburrage.com ). Hilary is also a consultant sociologist, speaker and journalist.
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