The evidence is very clear: it is not currently possible to be both pro-Labour and pro-EU.
This article will have a quick look at the relevant evidence (which shows that logically, Labour should be viewed as the Tory's collaborator on Brexit) and will then consider what actions by citizens could help to save the UK from her politicians.
Vague words and party politics
Labour members apparently voted to adopt the following Brexit policy at their party conference and Pro EU Labour supporters offer it as proof that Labour are sensible regarding Brexit.
"Unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable, then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained. The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election or a referendum".
It's reassuring that the members are trying to acknowledge that remaining is an option (their leadership have been saying it is not an option). However, it is not clear what "acceptable" is. Against what criteria will Brexit be measured?
The Brexit logic gap makes it virtually impossible to agree appropriate measures of Brexit success (the conundrum: in return for no benefit, how much pain would you voluntarily accept? The logical answer is always none, i.e. no Brexit) but their absence means that this policy simply proposes that one of the named executive bodies be given the right to decide.
And taking the proposed executive bodies in reverse order we find concerns with each one:
Why just "potentially" a referendum? No politician knows what the UK population thinks about single market membership, or the customs union, because they never asked them, so a referendum is an absolute requirement especially for all parties that have been claiming to be guided by 'the will of the people' (that is, Labour and the Tories).
The policy also suggests an election could be an acceptable way of deciding on the final settlement: that's just perpetuating the problem though - the entwining of Brexit with both Labour and Tory ideologies is largely to blame for those parties managing to transform a mess into a disaster so the members should be pushing hard to extricate the pustulence of Brexit from their party's politics as the poison is already affecting their party.
As to the policy's first suggestion of letting Parliament decide Brexit (with no mention of a free vote) the fact that the labour leadership keep on whipping their MPs into voting for extreme socialist interpretations of the referendum result means that the policy effectively means "on Brexit, the party and the nation should do what ever the labour leadership say".
Its just party political verbiage in other words and no use to anyone who wishes for the future of the UK's relationship with the EU to be decided on evidence based measures of what's actually best for the UK.
Why can't we just trust in Corbyn and relax?
Starmer said (March 2017) that the UK must have the "exact same benefits" after leaving the EU as she currently has; but Corbyn has repeatedly said the UK must leave the Single Market and the Customs Union. There's no way Starmer's aims (which caused remain voters to swap to labour) could be delivered using Corbyn's approach (if you could have all the benefits without membership, the EU wouldn't be needed in the first place).
For remain voters, desperate for some sane leadership on Brexit, seductive utterances sometimes suggest that the Labour leader is changing his mind (Bloomberg recently reported he's said that the UK should retain an option on the customs union) but gossamer thin hints of reformation do not supersede either the numerous conflicting Labour positions (as above) or the actual evidence of Corbyn's anti-EU alignment.
He voted to leave the common market in 1975.
He campaigned for remain (2016) with minimal impact (research shows he was quoted in only 3% of media articles sampled during the campaign, that is to say that the *opposition leader* scored well below the impact of minor figures like IDS and Priti Patel).
The day after the referendum the Labour leader demanded action ("Article 50 has to be invoked now"). That's a hardcore Brexiteer stance which he immediately adopted whilst most remain voters were in a depressed haze. He was one of the first to say the UK should disenfranchise half the population as soon as possible with no rational planning or preparation, hence giving momentum - ironically- to the entire Brexit debacle (which every day stacks cost upon cost, with no compensating benefits).
The Labour leadership also whipped MPs to support Article 50 legislation, effectively removing any chance of Parliament actually taking a sensible approach to Brexit (any Tory rebellion was rendered pointless).
The labour leadership could have stopped the 2017 'Brexit' general election from happening (under the fixed term parliaments Act 2011). The failure to do so is remarkable for the following reasons:
- Theresa May was clear; she called the election to increase her majority to make Brexit easier to deliver. Delivering Brexit, was the whole point of it. And Corbyn's Labour supported it.
- Every expectation - this was before the Tory's disastrous election campaign - was that the Tories would indeed increase their majority. And Corbyn's Labour supported it.
- That means that the most likely outcome was an increased Tory majority followed by five years of them delivering Brexit and reshaping the UK into their most extreme neoliberal fantasy involving deregulation and privatisation, and expected to reduce human, consumer, animal, worker and climate protections.
- Corbyn effectively had a veto (2/3 majority required to perform an early election) but his leadership instead supported the Tories???!!
This seems significant. In the same way that the Tories are comprehensively sacrificing the perception that they are the party of economic competence to deliver Brexit, Labour risked relinquishing the perception that they are the party who will look after the people, apparently, in order to secure Brexit (as all the experts said, no bespoke deal could have been done by the planned election date of 2020 ( evidenced by May recently agreeing to a transition period), so the manifest Brexit chaos by then would likely have meant no major party could stand on a pro-Brexit ticket and hence an undelivered Brexit, would have been dropped).
There's a lot of reasons that could feasibly explain the recurring dereliction of the opposition's duty, but the fundamental one that would support them all is that Corbyn is as keen on Brexit as May is.
By supporting Brexit, unlike May, Corbyn is actually going against the wishes of most of his MPs, members, and voters.
The Guardian (2017) reports that 66% of labour members think that the UK should stay in the single market (along with 63% in favour of remaining in the customs union)
Labour MPs (2016) were massively in favour of remaining
And whilst individual polls throw up a variety of results, the overall trend shows the nation as a whole is in ever increasing favour of remaining in the EU
Pro EU-Corbynistas tell us that Corbyn has a cunning plan to defeat Brexit, which will be unveiled when the time is right, and that labour are opposed to a 'hard Brexit', but the only Brexit they clearly oppose is an absolutely mental one (crashing out with no deal), and labour has had various opportunities to stop Brexit which they failed to take.
In reality therefore, Labour has demonstrably been part of the Brexit problem and it is not enough to say they've been enabling the Tory's half baked, witless and dishonest approach to grind on and on. It is more accurate to say that fundamentally, Labour have been supporting it.
As previously mentioned, if we seek to understand contemporary Brexit developments then Labour's actions seem best described as "collaboration with the Tories to ensure that Brexit is delivered".
Why is delivering Brexit such a bad idea?
To start with an illustrative anecdote, I talked to a clearly competent and motivated doctor recently who had the look in their eye of someone who has been working in a challenging job without rest for far too long, frazzled, still trying, but unable to perform their duties efficiently because every downstream resource (diagnosis, prescription, treatment) is crippled by impossible financial constraints.It was a reminder that the UK is currently on its knees.
Austerity has made the NHS one of the worst funded in the EU
The standard of living in the UK is low compared to other European countries
UK Standards of literacy are amongst the lowest in developed nations
UK workers work more but produce less than other major EU countries
The UN found that the UK government was guilty of 'grave or systematic violations' of the human rights of disabled people
Child poverty affects 1 in 4 UK children
and we could go on, but the point is that Brexit is the opposite direction to fixing the above, adding increases in national debt, more austerity, lowered GDP, jobs and businesses leaving the UK, lowered foreign investment, exodus of high skilled and low skilled EU workers, higher food prices, etc.
This highlights a common sense anti-Brexit argument (in a rational world where both main parties were not powering a false Brexit narrative, 'anti-Brexit' would equate to 'Pro-UK' ) that would resonate broadly with voters:
when you have a lot of serious problems, you shouldn't deliberately add a lot more serious problems.
Even if they wanted to, the government could hardly have made that argument ("whoops, we're really bad and have been so for ages"). It was, and is, down to the opposition to do so.
But the opposition is not making that very easy, honest, evidenced and persuasive argument: instead they strive to secure Brexit apparently because it will let them implement more state control which effectively imposes yet another layer of problems (more business and economic uncertainty, more chaos, more debt) on top of the new layer of Brexit problems which rests on the pre-existing layer of problems.
Perfectly sensible people might argue that increased borrowing (something labour are happy to do) will combat some of the pre-existing problems but that borrowing could be done on equal or more advantageous terms from inside the EU (the UK's credit rating has diminished due to Brexit) which is one of many indications that fixing the current problems is not Labour's primary goal; instead they have aligned with the Tories on Brexit in order to pursue ideology at the expense of the people.
To achieve their extreme goals both labour and Tory have, for example:
- Completely dismissed the views of half the electorate ("the people have spoken" they cry (again, and again), when they should be saying "some of the people have spoken and some of those who did speak, think we should leave")
- Twisted the views of the other half of the population to support the politician's own desires and denied the public any further say (because, we assume, they know that their 'will of the people' is no such thing but don't want that to be publicly proven by vote)
- Taken massive, reckless risks with the fabric of the country, inflicting substantial unnecessary damage on the current and probably, next generations
- Contributed substantially to making a Brexit narrative so confusing - because the pro-Brexit politicians can't tell the truth; they would lose any veneer of support from the people - that many people simply don't understand what is going on. (again, deeply anti-democratic).
Would the extreme ideological changes make UK life better?
The real problem is that both Labour and Tory are pursuing extremes which have various negative consequences including:
Extremes do not last for a reason: they are unstable.
It would be wasteful, dangerous for the population and bad for the economy and businesses to have the UK swinging at each election from one extreme to another.
UK democracy is very bad at limiting the ability of media influencers, think tanks, lobbyists, and disordered politicians from gaining access to the UK's steering wheel. Eventually, a really bad apple (not the case with current Tory or Labour leaders) will gain too much influence and that is when controls on extremism, and adherence to standards of governance shared with half a billion people, become really valuable.
The UK is losing one of the most under valued benefits of EU membership: the wisdom of the crowds protects UK citizens from all of the above.
And for most of the population there's no need to leave the EU for ideological reasons; the UK can run whatever ideology she wants whilst a member.
It's just the dangerous extremes that become difficult to achieve as an EU member and we can assume that most of the population prioritise food on the table, a working health service and an effective education system much more than a chance to experience the impacts of extreme political ideas (if you didn't vote leave for state monopolies in the referendum, or for massive de-regulation, then Labour and the Tories have completely twisted your vote )
Brexit: brilliant for extreme politicians but really bad for the population.
So how will we know if the Tories or Labour start putting duty before ideology?
Basically they will start doing the opposite of everything described above.They will begin taking an evidenced based approach to Brexit rather than an ideological one. This single change would straight away commence erosion of the poisonous Brexit narrative which has propelled the UK population so far down the road to self immolation.
They will remove party politics from Brexit (so if they are relying on parliament to have a final say, they will promise in writing, a free vote)
They will also need to admit that they do not know the will of the people on issues like the single market and the customs union - if the people are the sovereign force on Brexit (as both Labour and Tory have been claiming) then the people must have their say on these issues.
And that means a third referendum on the terms of any deal must be offered, a referendum designed by academics (objective experts) rather than extreme politicians and it must include the option to remain
- The best deal for the overwhelming majority of the UK population, whoever is running the country, includes full EU membership: life in the UK is thereby safer, more stable, more predictable and those qualities are good for business, families and communities.
- The UK must strive to have Brexit separated from party politics; this will stop politicians hijacking it for their own ends. Free votes in Parliament would be progress but for a myriad of undeniable reasons, a third referendum is absolutely required and all parties need to sign up to that.
- Any party who refuses to separate Brexit from party politics should be separated, by UK voters, from any chance to govern.
- Logically, Tory and Labour have combined to disenfranchise nearly everyone, and if the people continue to vote for them without first requiring the above mentioned corrections to their approach, then the UK effectively relinquishes all claim to be a democracy.
- The way to get Labour and Tory to start behaving as if they were part of a democratic system is to generate conditions that make it clear they won't get the chance to implement any of their ideology. At that point they will relinquish their more extreme aims, and hence be more responsive to the necessity of a 3rd referendum.
- Having Brexit mixed up with a first-past-the-post electoral system makes the prospect of voting at the next general election very difficult. More than half the country now wish to remain but co-ordinated voting would be required to guarantee a non-Brexit party took power.
- Therefore, especially if as expected the main parties do not promise a referendum, a really strong alliance of progressive parties, with principles for joint government defined, an outstanding media/communications strategy, and single candidates for each seat, would seem to be a good idea. If not already being done, the need to evaluate this approach is pressing.
- Some UK citizens are being disadvantaged in Brexit debate through having insufficient access to alternative perspectives (particularly people with no Internet access) so it is important to develop a strategy for including them in open debate.
- Any Pro-EU (aka Pro-UK) citizens who are planning to vote Labour or Tory should not be hoping that their party sees sense, they should instead be striving to make sure it does.
- A suggestion for the future as well: if the UK gets another chance to grab Proportional Representation, Brexit has proved that she should do so. 'hold your nose' voting is demoralising; individuals feeling represented would be much better.
Labour and the Tory party aren't villains. They simply seem to have got badly lost in the cobwebbed corridors of Westminster and have got into a mess whilst trying to apply old ideologies to a changing world. It is clear how much peril they have caused to the UK though, and the degree to which they have broken the UK's Parliamentary democracy. We all make mistakes, but there is now no acceptable excuse for them to fail to reform their approach to Brexit.
Labour and Tory have abdicated their duties to the nation and their constituents in favour of their party and in doing so they risk destroying democracy. If it weren't for the many thousands of UK and EU citizens who've been fighting this dereliction, the UK would already be on a much worse path and from that fight, and from responses to the UK's traumatic experience, seeds of positive change are likely to grow.