Labour’s leader is at loggerheads with the party because of Europe. Britain’s denial of an effective opposition will continue.
Nearly two weeks on, anyone expecting a respite from the impact of Brexit on British politics will be disappointed. While the Tories gear themselves up for a leadership contest, and the Lib Dems capitalise on the anger felt by the 48% who backed remain (gaining 15,000 members in the process), Labour chose this time to oust their leader, Jeremy Corbyn. A string of resignations hit his shadow cabinet. Then members he appointed to the the second one began to resign. Still, Mr Corbyn has dug himself in, telling the people of his party that if they have an issue they should challenge him openly to a leadership election. The coup against Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, is citing his lacklustre performance as reason they failed to gain a remain victory.
They might have a point. His lukewarm attitude to the EU is well known. He voted against joining the European Community in the 1970s, and voted against the Lisbon treaty in 2008. His voting record towards the EU in general is a negative one. He slammed the EU at hustlings during the leadership bid. Of course, he’s free to change his mind, but the threat of brexit was never taken seriously by Mr Corbyn and co. The Economist reports that a Labour economic briefing on June 6th put the risk of brexit at 16th on its list. A Treasury report on the consequences of brexit was dismissed by Corbyn as “myth-making”. Even when Labour MPs were feeding back that their voters were backing leave en-masse, the sirens weren’t sounded. If allegations about Corbyn allies gutting remain speeches of a positive case for the EU, and avoiding events prove true, it would be a damning act of sabotage. The defense given that Corbyn’s pitch of a broken EU, but on balance it is better to remain inside it to fix it than bail from the organisation is more in step with a lot of people is a fair one; the EU does have its flaws. But its hardly a vote winner. Compare that to Leave continually saying that the EU is broken, and Britain would be better if freed from its shackles.
Further, running his own campaign (Labour In) as oppose to working with the official remain campaign Stronger In, for fear of dirtying their hands working with Tories (doesn’t that speak volumes about willingness to cooperate in government?) denied Corbyn airtime on any major debates or TV. Loughborough University’s Centre for Research Communication and Culture, which looked at media coverage for both remain and leave, found Corbyn never featured prominently in the coverage. A June 6th report by the research centre found Labour was almost invisible because Mr Corbyn turned his nose at working with Tories. Not because of a media blind eye. Doubly problematic, private polling found it would have helped the remain cause. It was only by the 19th of June, 4 days before the vote, that Corbyn picked up prominent coverage. Too little too late? His first pro-EU intervention was in mid April, a whole 2 months after the referendum was called. Labour sources say he only did 10 rallies between May 6th and referendum day. Most of these weren’t in their neglected heartlands, speaking to the 64% of socially deprived individuals who voted to leave, but on University campuses, or places where remain always had a solid lead. No wonder Labour areas didn’t turn out for Corbyn.
Labour’s invisible nature in the referendum might explain why the percentage of Labour voters backing remain didn’t budge over the course of the campaign. Polling guru John Curtice notes that Labour was never going to get more than 63% of its voters to back remain, and thus the blame lies on Tory voters, yet the lacklustre nature of Labour was always a concern for the remain camp. A leaked memo found half of Labour voters didn’t know their position 3 weeks shy of the referendum. Comparing the YouGov poll linked above with Lord Ashcroft’s polling suggests more or less all on the fence Labour voters picked leave over remain.
This, for many, compounds the issue of Corbyn losing seats in local elections and allowing Labour to slip to third in Scotland. Worse, the team in charge piled up votes in a small coalition of University students while completely neglecting election critical marginal seats, according to The Guardian. The ‘small-c’ social conservative working class who would vote for Labour don’t want to associate with the party because of immigration, according to a report by John Cruddas. In opinion polls, Corbyn hasn’t moved from Ed Miliband’s 2015 result. He isn’t electable. A particularly egregious post on the Canary about how Corbyn won 18 elections in a landslide sounds impressive, until you realise it was Regional boards and Young Labour’s national committee who were hosting the elections (Labour voters vote Labour. Who knew?)
Even that support is waning. A YouGov poll found the party members equally split on how well Corbyn is doing as leader in light of Brexit. Ditto his performance on the remain campaign. 52% thought he’d done a bad job. At time of writing, if Corbyn were to pop up on the ballot paper, 36% would definitely vote for him (down from 50% in May) and 36% definitely wouldn’t vote for him (up from 22%). A resounding four to one vote of no confidence cannot be written off as a Blairite coup, especially when most Labour MPs fell into the positive or neutral (non-hostile) part of the Labour party. Note that core positive group outnumbers the core negative group, and that only 10 more MPs viewed Mr Corbyn negatively than positively. This is not a careerist coup. It’s an outright failure by Mr Corbyn to win the support of his party and the voters. Case in point: David Winnick, left wing MP for Walsall North who was loyal to Mr Corbyn, wrote that the party could not be governed by the left.
Jeremy Corbyn clearly cares for the poor and downtrodden. He’s been a champion of LGBT rights and those of the working man. He’s rightly shon a spotlight on the damages of austerity to those who feel it most. But the harsh truth of his electoral capability has to be acknowledged. He failed to win councils, and his lacklustre campaign for Europe hurt the remain camp. The working class have turned their backs on him, and the honeymoon period with the membership is fading. This ineffectualness will have dire consequences for Britain. Under Ed Miliband, despite raising Labour’s national share of the vote, the party hemorrhaged votes all over the place. UKIP came 2nd in 120 Labour seats, and many Labour MPs only held onto their seats by a few thousand votes. Now, with a vote for leave, UKIP is well placed to pull an SNP and sweep Labour out of its old heartlands. Britain needs a strong opposition to keep these destructive forces in check. Mr Corbyn will not provide it.