Labour cannot ride the Brexit wave to socialism, it must fight the nationalist right


Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gives a speech in Hastings on 17 January 2019.

The party will never win a genuine mandate for a progressive programme without unambiguously challenging the anti-immigrant narrative of the Daily Mail and the Sun.

Has the pro-Corbyn movement lost a sense of energy and direction over the past year or so? Yes, of course — to an extent. Brexit is fundamentally not an issue that most Labour members want to be forced to campaign on, one way or another, and yet it is at present the defining issue in UK politics. So it was rather inevitable that Labour would lose some momentum at this point. But it is also true that the Labour leadership has been pursuing a strategy that, while wholly understandable and credible on its own terms, has been unpopular with, and uninspiring for, party members.

So what should happen, and what should Labour’s strategy be?

The free movement problem

The most popular answer to this question among prominent Corbyn supporters is still that Labour should pursue the “Norway-plus”, or Norwayish, strategy of promising to execute Brexit while remaining in the single market and a customs union with the EU. Although this proposal continues to provoke scepticism in many quarters, I don’t think that it can be ruled out. There has always been a strong case that this was the most obvious expression of the actual referendum result: a very narrow vote for Brexit. From Labour’s perspective, Norway-plus/minus is an attractive option because much of the Remain-voting portion of its electoral coalition (and membership) would see this as an acceptable alternative to any harder form of Brexit, while it would enable Labour to claim that it had honoured the referendum result.

However, the problem with the Norway model is that it would require a commitment to free movement of people. And, as Theresa May keeps saying, it is clear that the principal thing that the electorate thought they were voting for when they voted Leave, was an end to free movement. Labour’s ultimate position on free movement is still vague, still apparently deferred to some unspecified moment in the future when we will have negotiated a deal with the EU that executes Brexit, keeps us in a customs union but also “takes back control” of national immigration policy.

Nobody really believes such a deal is possible. I think that many Labour strategists have more or less assumed that eventually we will have to give up on free movement, and that most of our members and supporters would accept this as the price of a Labour government.

But there are two major problems with this. One is that it is absolutely clear that we will not get single market membership and a customs union without free movement; and the political costs of failing to do so will be high. The other is that the ideological commitment of Labour’s membership — and of the metropolitan section of its voter coalition — to free movement is much stronger than many commentators realised. It is a …read more

Source:: New Statesman

      

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