Reform or Bust
There has been a flurry of activity within the Labour party in the wake of the referendum. Paul Mason, as the results of the referendum came in, warned ‘Blairites’ against staging a coup against Corbyn in his article Brexit Wins. An Illusion Dies. That no-confidence motion has now been submitted and it is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the party’s agenda.
New commentary is appearing by the hour as everyone from Polly Toynbee to Dianne Abbott weighs in on one theme or another: what portion of the blame Corbyn should receive for his lacklustre role in the Remain campaign; where Labour needs to go next; and what its policies should be now we’re in turbulent times.
News and commentary is being generated so quickly it’s hard to keep up. But in one broad sweep I can summarise the essential flaw of most of these articles: they have missed the point of this referendum.
Tories are making the same mistake. Even David Cameron, in his resignation speech:
I was absolutely clear about my belief that Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside the European Union, and I made clear the referendum was about this and this alone — not the future of any single politician, including myself.
Leave fought its whole campaign on misinformation and bolshie defiance: ‘We have had enough of experts’. How many references to unaccountable bureaucrats? Or political elites?
What emotional string is ‘Take control’ supposed to pull on?
The dispossessed Dianne Abbott refers to are not only dispossessed of their economic position. They are also dispossessed of their position politically. The referendum, as many on the left and right have noted, was a kick-back against a certain kind of England and Wales.
In 2015 UKIP took 12% of the popular vote and one seat in parliament. The SNP took 4.7% and somehow managed to confiscate 56 seats from the other parties. The Tories ended up with a full majority on only 36.9% of votes (which allowed them to instigate this whole debacle).
Labour’s draw in its traditional heartlands has declined. The SNP have already captured Scotland. Wales and the North both voted Leave: combined with the draw UKIP had in those regions in 2015 it looks like Labour has to be able to mobilise the metropolitan-liberal suburbs of London and the socially conservative working class of the rest of the country.
The last Labour leader to do this successfully was Tony Blair. As this referendum has demonstrated, Corbyn hasn’t managed it. Robert Colvile writes:
Focus groups were clear that voters had picked up on Corbyn’s ambivalence towards the EU, and that his pro-Remain speeches sounded more like hostage videos than rallying calls. Of course, it turned out that Labour’s voters were equally skeptical — but thanks to Corbyn’s ambivalence, the party’s Europhile MPs and activists could not persuade them otherwise. The argument that Brexit was a right-wing conspiracy was just waiting to be made. Instead voters got the impression the party was divided, or just didn’t care very much.
I think this alone is enough reason for Corbyn to resign. He certainly shouldn’t be spared a vote of no confidence. Labour’s members ought not to re-elect him.
Voters have grabbed the opportunity of a fair, democratic contest to defy the desire of political elites to remain in the European Union, including those in the Labour party.
Labour is one half of our political elite and it is no good to hide behind the word ‘progressive’. Just because Labour may have the interests of the working class at its heart, it does not entitle Labour to a monopoly on their vote or their constituencies. Over the election and this referendum, the voters have made that clear.
Paul Mason, Poly Toynbee, Dianne Abbott, and all of the others interested in Labour’s success who have written and are writing so many articles recommending Labour do this or that to win back these disaffected and carry on the good fight on their behalf: give it up.
The mistake you’re making is the same mistake Cameron made. Party before country.
Reform of our electoral system is the only way to give these voters back the control they deserve. Once votes matter, politics will matter. No more protest votes; no more subversive referendums. No more obligation to pull together traditionalists and cosmopolitans. Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Blair can have their own parties.
The people without a voice are demanding one: it is not up to Labour to appoint itself as their guardian and then do its best to improvise the role. Every citizen deserves the right to select their own champion.
Dump Corbyn. He isn’t delivering on his ability to turn out traditional constituencies and hasn’t provided a compelling platform on which to fight the next election, which may be mere months from now. Fight that election on a promise of monumental change: England and Wales are in the mood for it.