Commentary by Derek Bateman
The post truth agenda majors on Brexit and Trump of course, but omits one of the crazier aspects of the last wee while…the rise of Corbyn. It is turning into one of the more puzzling conundrums of our times. A mass membership party chooses a leader without leadership skills and gorges itself on a struggle to get rid of him before eventually re-electing him with an increased majority. Meanwhile effective opposition is dissolved in the democratic acid.
Yet curiouser and curiouser…the radical politics Corbyn represents have been muted to the point of a whisper and compromise has blunted any cutting edge. Now we hear that Labour will not oppose Brexit and wants to make it work – just like the Tories and UKIP. They may be giving up on globalised trade as represented by Brussels but are they also surrendering on workers’ rights? With the Tories in the ascendency do Jeremy and John McDonnell really think they will influence decisions on employment and markets?
And they may have truly sold the pass on Europe now because May’s announcement to business leaders that she seeks a transitional arrangement to avoid hard Brexit opens up a soft underbelly ready for a killer thrust.
The Prime Minister is effectively saying she wants the 27 to agree an overlapping period beyond the exit date in which the UK’s right of access to the single market will continue, allowing business to relax and plan longer term. But that is tantamount to saying Britain won’t be leaving at all as market entry is in reality a key part of membership, requires payment of subscriptions to Brussels, compliance with its regulations and standards and, erm, immigration. To any Leave voter in a barren northern city, that is not Brexit.
In any case, her declaration omitted a telling caveat – any transitional arrangement will need the agreement of the 27. In typically British manner, she has assumed she can get whatever she wants without first testing her plan with the only people who can deliver it. No wonder European leaders can sometimes sound hostile. So far all the signs are that Brussels is sticking to a hard line of following Article 50 precisely – that means negotiating a UK exit, not redrawing a new arrangement to stay in. Every official word thus far has made clear there is a process of extrication and disaggregation that must be completed before subsequent talks on any new deal can proceed.
And why should the leaders of the continental project make life easy for a country that has spent the last decades sniffing at every reform and threatening to leave if it doesn’t get its way, then putting Tory Party obsession before solidarity and misjudging its own people so it falls out unintentionally? The UK’s departure destabilises the bloc when it faces the largest existential threat in its history – the rise of the far right. The way to face down the extremists is to unite and celebrate shared values, offering a clear vision of hope to those seduced by fear mongering and bogus claims to take back control. This is already happening as support for the EU climbs in the wake of the British vote and possible European fears of a buccaneering America under Trump. Le Pen must be stopped next year and Merkel re-elected giving a new impetus to the original founding principles of the EU. It is in nobody’s interests in European capitals to allow the Brits to wheedle a soft deal by voting to come out. The opposite is true – showing how much pain life outside the bloc entails is the best corrective. Britain’s imperial bleat that we are somehow essential to the world community and have automatic rights to trade is easily answered: Member states must choose between trading with a market of 50 million or one with 500 million.
So May’s admission that she is seeking a non-exit or at least a heavily compromised one that keeps us in the EU for an unspecified period against the wishes of the voters, is a soft touch for Labour were they in a position to seize it. They are not.
Odd too that McDonnell has backed the spending of hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money on refurbishment of Buckingham Palace. I too favour protecting important buildings and believe public cash should be used but when the inhabitant is as wealthy as the Queen, merely signing off on £350m without any element of personal contribution from those who are allowed to live there is preferential treatment. That’s not how the benefits system works for example.
Someone I know has been out of work for six months so has Jobseekers Allowance stopped because she has a partner who earns. If you have £6000 in savings, it affects how much Housing Benefit you get and if you have £16,000 you get nothing. Want to take your employer to a tribunal? You have to pay £1200 up front. That’s how the state works – you get nothing for nothing. Except if you’re already housed free in castles and country homes from Windsor to Sandringham to, of course, Balmoral which she owns privately. We are preached to about austerity and how it is essential to make the poorest carry the biggest burden but we reverse the whole philosophy when bending the knee to the Royals. Why would Labour support that when it appears to be a slap in the face of working and non-working families?
Now we also hear the Corbyn leadership supports Tory plans to cut the tax bill of higher earners. If you earn £43,000 today you pay the higher rate of 40 per cent and the Tories are increasing the threshold to £50,000. That’s the amount you can earn without paying more tax, so you’ll get to keep another £1300 a year. (Poorer families will lose £2400 from benefit cuts and Brexit fall-out).
This is the same threshold that Nicola Sturgeon was attacked over. When she refused to raise the tax levels she nevertheless said she wouldn’t pass on George Osborne’s raising of the 40 per cent tax for higher earners. Labour scoffed yet here is their own leadership doing the Tories’ job for them by putting more money in higher earners’ pockets through the higher threshold. At the same time Corbyn himself says he would re-introduce a 50 per cent tax rate. Radical, eh?
I thought Jeremy’s election would precipitate a genuine debate about Labour values and aims. It didn’t. Labour has shown it is incapable of such a dialogue. Instead it fell into internecine warring. Now it is stuck with a weak leadership, confused policies and disillusioned voters. That’s before we take account of the Scottish wing. And what has it spawned? Nothing less than the re-emergence of Tony Blair as the centrist avenger, aided by Jim Murphy (with McTernan touting for work).
The People’s Flag is Deepest Red;
From Shame at Where New Labour Led…