Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t even seem to understand how utterly he has betrayed the alliance between the old left and younger progressives.
I am angry. Not post-2015 election angry; that was red-hot.
“It will take years to come back from this,” I thought last May, “why have people put such colossal obstacles in their own way?”
This is different. This is ice cold. I love Europe. No one said this during the campaign but I think it is a beautiful, forward-looking beacon of hope. It is at least as democratic as the UK’s own archaic parliamentary system and it emerged as a shining light from the terrible darkness of what came before it. Nigel Farage and Rupert Murdoch have won. Not just this time but seemingly forever. Reason and compassion have lost. We don’t like to admit it but many of us can see where Britain might very well be heading now because it’s happened before during the last century in other countries not so far away. I don’t even know if I’m brave enough to stay here and fight it. In the small hours of Friday morning, the modern, tolerant, open-minded future we thought we’d finally secured in the nineties appeared, quite simply, to die.
Having voted to remain and having spent some time attempting to convince others to do the same, I am nonetheless partly responsible for what happened on Thursday. In a different, smaller election less than a year ago I behaved almost as recklessly as the Brexit voters behaved in this one. I voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election because I was angry and dissatisfied about the way the country was going and the things he said made me feel better about it. I believed, and still believe, that his ideas and policies would solve many of the country’s problems if they were implemented. But they aren’t going to be implemented. Take one look at the electorate that turned up on Thursday and that is apparent. Just shouting louder and louder that the voters should stop reading the Sun and agree with me will not make it so. More importantly, it will do nothing whatsoever to tackle racism, sexism, poverty, inequality, cuts or privatisation.
This realisation has come slowly, just as I fear the folly of their actions will slowly dawn on many “leave” voters in the coming weeks and months as our economy and society unravels. I was ready to acknowledge my error just before the recent set of local elections but the results themselves changed my mind. Seeing Labour take or retain control of councils in precisely the sorts of places that tend to decide elections convinced me that Jeremy Corbyn should have been given a chance. During the EU referendum campaign, from my point of view, he blew that chance and I now represent one less person who would vote for him again in the event of a leadership challenge. I’d prefer he did the right thing before that moment comes.
Yes, Cameron was the arsonist; he lit the fire and had no plan to put it out. But Corbyn was standing by with a fire extinguisher which he failed to use. If he had led a fierce pro-European campaign, he could almost certainly have secured the 600,000 or so switches from leave to remain required to secure our future within the EU. He didn’t; he went on TV and gave lukewarm answers about the EU as though he were musing about the matter with his mates in the pub. It was honest and it was real, his supporters say, isn’t that what we want? No, it bloody isn’t. What I want is to not live in a fascist state and, as we’ve clearly seen in the last 48 hours, honesty of that sort is not what wins votes.
Vote Leave won with the slogan “take back control.” There was nothing honest or real about it. Since before Margaret Thatcher, the response of the affluent metropolitan left to the areas of the country struggling with the effects of industrial decline, poverty and then austerity has basically been to say: “vote for nicer rich people like us and we’ll share some of our stuff with you. Vote for those other guys who look and talk just like us and they won’t.” It’s true but it’s also bizarre and immensely patronising. If you think I’ve got that wrong, feel free, but first read this.
75% of 18-24-year-olds voted to remain on Thursday along with 62% of 25-34-year-olds and 52% of 35-44-year-olds. The mood among many (not all) young people in many (not all) places is very different from the mood among many (not all) older people in many other (not all) places. Jeremy Corbyn has made the plight of most young people an essential pillar of his message: on housing, employment, training and skills. Great. But it seems it’s only because he happens to agree on those issues too. Young people care about internationalism; about being part of something greater than little England. We’ve always had EU passports and the thought of having them ripped from our hands is incredibly sinister. If Corbyn wants to take us younger voters (I’m 33; I’m no Abby Tomlinson) with him then he has to do more than say what he thinks and trust that we’ll agree; he has to listen and show some passion for the things that matter to us. Being a leader sometimes, if not always, means representing the people you lead.
Scottish Nationalists now have their own escape plan and I envy them enormously. One-nation Tories, Labour supporters, Liberal Democrats and Greens have no choice but to make common cause in a new and darker age. With Boris or Gove likely to inherit the Tory leadership, the only way to do that will be under the banner of Labour’s rose. The right of the Tory party and UKIP are using the same tools fascists have used throughout history to win good people to their cause. We cannot demonise those people and we cannot divide among ourselves. This isn’t a battle between left-wing ideals and Thatcherism anymore; that ship has sailed. It’s a battle between the very idea of a rights-based, democratic post-war society and fascism. Labour needs a leader who can reach out and offer our country’s most ignored communities something that inspires them as much as that “take back control” message but in a form that actually means something. Boris, Gove and Farage won’t give these people the control and the means to stand on their own two feet that they rightly crave but we can.
With a bit of unity now behind a centrist, pro-European leader, we may be able to achieve more than currently seems possible. Who knows, maybe we could even get to a no confidence vote before article 50 can be triggered and a general election to offer the public a range of options regarding what should be done with their previous instruction. Yeah, you heard.
To counter the dark forces at work in this country after the Brexit vote, we’re going to need to rethink everything. We may need electoral pacts with old enemies, we will need to cooperate and we will need to listen. The last time the UK faced a national crisis on this scale, the Conservative Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Labour leader Clement Attlee formed a national coalition. What is perhaps needed now is a national opposition. Boris and Gove are going to be caught with their trousers down after the outrageous promises they’ve made to the British public during this campaign which they know they can’t keep. Their government won’t survive for long and, once enough people see what’s happened, they will lose. There could be two beneficiaries: UKIP or what’s left of the current political establishment. The stakes are that high: victory or Farage.
Jeremy Corbyn is not equipped for this fight personally or politically. He’s a good man and I agree with almost all his principles but saving the UK from the flames that erupted on Thursday is going to take levels of compromise and responsiveness of which he has proven himself incapable.
David Cameron called a referendum as a political gamble and he lost. He ran a dull, fear-based campaign (like the ones that worked to better effect in the 2015 General Election and the Scottish independence referendum) without expressing any passion or pride about Britain’s place in Europe. Jeremy Corbyn could have ridden to the rescue. If he had campaigned hard on a positive, optimistic vision of a united Europe, the younger people who were increasingly putting so much faith in him would probably have seen their vision of Britain’s future saved from bigotry and hatred at the eleventh hour. But it wasn’t of enough personal interest to him so he campaigned half-heartedly and supposedly “honestly” about an issue that required a hard-headed strategy.
It isn’t forgivable and I’m frustrated by the (now mostly older) left-wing voices still defending him as though nothing has changed. Perhaps many older people even on the left don’t understand how much our European identity matters to those of us who only ever remember carrying red passports with “European Union” emblazoned at the top. If they think this is just an “oh, well” moment they’re dead wrong. Many of them don’t seem to understand that the coalition their “old left” briefly formed with a younger generation hungry for progressive change is now over. This just isn’t ok and we will not stand for it.
After the local elections in May I said we should give Corbyn a chance. – and this was that chance. He’s betrayed the very younger generation he claimed to be fighting for. Either one of the big parties could have delivered a remain vote if they’d campaigned more-or-less united around a pro-European leader. The Tories couldn’t do that but, with a small number of exceptions with no big names among them, the Parliamentary Labour Party could have. It wasn’t what they’d call the “Blairite” MPs the old left like to castigate that failed us this time; it was their man Corbyn himself.
To grasp the scale of what has just happened is to understand that Cameron and Corbyn must both go and a new Labour leader must emerge who can save not just the party but the country itself.