Message to Jeremy Corbyn: You Represent Hope Not Just Because You Oppose Austerity, But Because You Must Save Us From Brexit

13.7.17

Jeremy Corbyn campaigning for the UK to stay in the EU prior to last June's EU referendum.Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist and commentator.

 

It’s over a month since the General Election, which destroyed Theresa May as any sort of credible leader. Having called an election, despite repeatedly promising not to, she then showed a startling inability to meet ordinary people and to connect with them, in complete contrast to Jeremy Corbyn, and ended up losing her majority, instead of increasingly it massively, as was forecast, forcing her into a humiliating deal with the backwards religious fundamentalists of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party just to keep her government in power.

Corbyn, meanwhile, thrived on the campaign trail. Finally freed from the liberal media’s shameful negative portrayal of him (which had been pretty relentless for two years), because of the liberal establishment’s accepted need for something more closely resembling objectivity on the campaign trail, he was revealed as a leader with the common touch, able to connect with and empathise with ordinary people effortlessly. His supporters always knew this about him, but it had been suppressed by the media — and by Labour rebels — since his election as leader two years ago.

Some of Corbyn’s success came about because of Theresa May’s uselessness. She scored a huge own goal by refusing to debate with him on live TV, and she made colossal errors of her own beyond her woodenness and her apparently very real fear of actually meeting people: the so-called “dementia tax”, for example, an effort to address the costs of care for elderly people that was immediately seized upon — by Conservative voters and the right-wing media, as well as almost everyone else — as a classic “nasty party” attack on the security, savings and assets of the elderly.

That may have sunk it for her, but as Corbyn zoomed around the country, addressing huge crowds, it was also apparent that he was connecting to more and more people on the basis of his genuine and heartfelt opposition to austerity and its ruinous effects on the lives of the poorer members of British society. Formerly the permanent backbench outsider — along with his best friend John McDonnell, now the shadow chancellor — Corbyn has a clear history of genuinely supporting and empathising with anyone suffering at the hands of the rich and powerful, and this came across clearly when he was finally allowed to show it.

I know it from his support for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (see here, here and here, for example), I know it from the former refugee from his constituency, interviewed standing with Corbyn on the day of his election as leader, telling a reporter that she wouldn’t be here in the UK without his support, and I know it from the #Grime4Corbyn movement, when London’s grime artists — black and working class — came out in support of Corbyn in last month’s election because they had all been able to research his record, and to establish that, for example, he had always been a ferocious opponent of the unforgivable injustice of apartheid.

As North London rapper Awate explained just after the election:

I first saw Jeremy Corbyn’s face in a picture frame that sat in my living room. My parents were in the photo with him. I’m from Maiden Lane Estate in Camden. It’s not in Corbyn’s Islington North constituency, but around here a lot of people can tell you stories of how Jeremy helped them – as he helped with my various problems with police harassment and malicious prosecution.

The reason why so many of us organised and mobilised others – through social media, knocking on doors or organising events – was because we knew the strength of his character; that he wouldn’t renege on promises, unlike Nick Clegg, whose party went from losing four-fifths of their MPs to him losing his own seat. Corbyn answers questions with thoughtfulness and without contempt for those who are suffering and want answers.

Jeremy Corbyn’s success was well worth applauding — increasing Labour’s share of the vote by 10%, and, since the election, becoming a clear leader in opinion polls – and, as a result, it is appropriate to say that his old-school Keynesian position on revitalising the economy through government investment has considerable support not just from the public, who, in increasing numbers, are throughly sick of the counter-productive damage inflicted on the economy and on people’s lives by the Tories’ cynical “age of austerity”, but also by a wide range of experts.

For a detailed explanation, check out How Conservative Austerity Cost the UK Billions by Raoul Martinez, an excerpt from his recently published book, Creating Freedom.

Martinez pointed out that the Tory-led coalition government’s “austerity narrative blamed the rising deficit on Labour’s spending, but much of the rise could be explained by the global recession itself, not the unremarkable spending of the previous government.” He added, “The recession was a global phenomenon, far beyond the control of the Labour government. Despite this fact, a banking crisis that had its origins in the irresponsible and illegal behaviour of the private sector was repackaged as a crisis of government finance.”

Martinez also noted that “[c]utting spending in a recession has been tried many times and – without exception – failed,” and cited US economist Paul Krugman’s observation that, “since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity.” As Martinez also noted, Osborne’s economic plan “increased the national debt by 80 per cent in just five years,” and he “borrowed more in five years than his predecessor did during a whole decade.”

The following passages are also illuminating:

Even if we accept that reducing the government deficit was an immediate priority, there was more than one way to do it. Osborne opted for a strategy that harmed the most vulnerable, creating a cost-of-living crisis in the world’s seventh richest country. He forced a million people to rely on food banks, stripped disabled people of essential financial support and cut benefits to the low-paid and unemployed. Many people have died because of these policies. One study looked at the impact of the newly introduced Work Capability Assessment, designed to reassess the eligibility of disabled people for out-of-work benefits with the stated aim of getting more people ‘back to work’ so as to reduce the welfare bill. This programme, which declared many sick and severely disabled people ‘fit for work’, was associated with a significant increase in suicides, mental health problems and the prescription of anti-depressant drugs. In 2011, Mervyn King, then Governor of the Bank of England, summed the situation up when he said ‘The price of this financial crisis is being borne by people who absolutely did not cause it’ and ‘I’m surprised that the degree of public anger has not been greater than it has.’

The deficit could have been reduced by placing the burden on the wealthiest instead of the poorest. Rather than cuts to public services, the British government could have raised taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations; introduced a financial transaction tax (the so-called Robin Hood tax); eliminated tax loopholes that benefit the top earners; and ensured that corporations paid the full value for using national resources. ‘These revenue raisers would not only make for a more efficient economy’ writes Joseph Stiglitz, they would ‘substantially reduce the deficit [and] also inequality.’ But the rich did not bear the burden of reducing the deficit. Instead, the Conservatives cut the top rate of tax – a policy so unpopular that even the majority of their own voters were against it.

If austerity is bad economics, why did business leaders and politicians support it? The simple answer is ideology. It is an article of faith for neoliberals that the state must shrink, welfare and social security must be cut, and everything from healthcare to prisons must be privatised. The focus on deficit reduction provided a convenient cover to lay waste to the welfare state. Speaking candidly at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in 2013, David Cameron revealed that spending cuts were ultimately about ‘building a leaner, more efficient state … Not just now, but permanently.’

Brexit: the elephant in the room

However, while the above explains why Jeremy Corbyn was correct to focus his campaigning on ending austerity (a bolder move than could have been expected from the compromised Blairites in his own party), it is also apparent that all his plans to revive the economy through government investment cannot even be contemplated if the UK maintains its suicidal obsession with leaving the EU.

As I watched people treating Jeremy Corbyn like some sort of saviour on the campaign trail — and afterwards at events like his appearance at the Glastonbury Festival — I became more and more worried that this was dangerous projection and wishful thinking on the part of far too many of his supporters, because it by no means clear that either Jeremy Corbyn, or the Labour Party leadership, is prepared to take the only sensible course of action available to us if we want to save our economy from the single greatest act of economic suicide imaginable, and that is to work out how to make sure that we don’t leave the EU at all.

On the election trail, when Theresa May paralysed herself by making the election about Brexit, but then refusing to publicly discuss anything about Brexit at all (as has been her position throughout her leadership), Corbyn and the Labour Party also took the opportunity not to take a position on Brexit, making the campaign all about austerity instead, with considerable success, as noted above. By refusing to take a position, Labour was able to continue not alienating the roughly one-third of its voters (many outside London and the south-east, and other cities), who voted to leave the EU.

However, it cannot have failed to register with the party leadership that the majority of new voters were Remain voters — or would have been, in the cases of those who were too young to vote last year. Corbyn was very successful at attracting young people to vote, many for the first time, and it is reasonable to conclude they were all Remainers, as young people overwhelmingly support us staying the EU.

Some older voters may have come back from their 2015 flirtation with UKIP, because of Corbyn addressing austerity — the true enemy rather than the EU — but the majority of new voters were swelling Labour’s Remainers to something more than the estimated two-thirds who supported remaining in the EU in last year’s referendum, and at some point Labour will surely have to stop carefully being non-committal and hiding behind the default position that the “will of the people” must be fulfilled.

It is a sign of the success of Labour’s caginess that it is difficult even to say what the party’s true position is. Anecdotally, I would say, Corbyn is regarded as a fairly lukewarm Remainer, but actually his position at the time of the referendum reflected that of his party. As he explained to the BBC 12 days before the referendum, “his passion for remaining in the EU rates at about ‘seven, or seven and a half’ out of 10.” He explained that “he wanted to be part of an EU that was about ‘social cohesion’ and ‘human rights.’”

In the run-up to the referendum, he also said that there was an “overwhelming case” for staying in the EU. In an official statement on April 14, 2016, he stated, “We, the Labour Party, are overwhelmingly for staying in, because we believe the European Union has brought investment, jobs and protection for workers, consumers and the environment.”

Since the referendum, of course, Theresa May, formerly a Remainer, rather surprisingly became evangelical about leaving the EU, and as the months passed it became clear that May and her Brexit ministers — the deluded David Davis, the vile Liam Fox and the idiotic Boris Johnson — were pushing for a “hard Brexit,” one that involved us crashing out of the single market and the customs union, and also removing ourselves from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. This was an obsession of Theresa May’s, from her six paranoid years as home secretary, and from my point of view I would say that her whole leadership reveals how this obsession continues to drive her in a frankly deranged manner, and how her position on anything else other than “national security’ — the single market and the customs union, for example — is primarily being driven by her ministers.

I have written before about how alarming I find Theresa May’s obsession with doing away with our rights, and I remain unconvinced that there is any good reason whatsoever to get rid of our adherence to the European Court of Human Rights, and also the European Convention of Human Rights. Both, incidentally, are requirements not of EU membership, but of membership of the Council of Europe, but you have to be a CoE member to be a member of the EU.

On the single market and the customs union, it is clear that both are really quite essential to the health of our country, and it would be a disaster if we were to lose access to them. This, however, is the crux of the Brexit problem. These trading essentials are only available to countries that accept freedom of movement, and our Brexit position — the very heart of the “will of the people” we hear so much about — is a claim that it is important that, above everything else, we control immigration.

In reality, the absurd truth is that even if we leave the EU we are unlikely to be able to noticeably control immigration. Not only do we need huge numbers of immigrants to make our economy work; we also don’t really have mechanisms available that can significantly stem immigration — except, perhaps, trashing our economy so that no one will want to come here.

Given the problems stemming immigration, and the palpable disaster of dropping out of the single market and the customs union, the reality seems to be that there is no “soft Brexit” available — we either destroy ourselves via the “hard Brexit” that Theresa May still seems wedded to, or we don’t leave the EU at all.

This is the position I hope to see Jeremy Corbyn adopt — but he still maintains a silence on it, as, in general, does the party, with the exception of those figures like Chuka Umunna, who are actively working against a “hard Brexit” via Open Britain.

All we can say with any certainty is that, last September, Corbyn was obliged by his party to issue a clarification of his position regarding the single market. In a personal statement, he said he would be “pressing for full access to the European single market” for Britain’s firms, but added, “There are directives and obligations linked to the single market, such as state aid rules and requirements to liberalise and privatise public services, which we would not want to see as part of a post-Brexit relationship.”

As the Guardian explained, “Labour sources insisted Corbyn’s position was consistent with shadow chancellor John McDonnell’s claim in the aftermath of the Brexit vote that ‘the damage that would be done to our economy by pulling out of the single market at this time could be substantial.’”

In many ways, of course, it still makes sense for Labour to wait and see if Brexit destroys the Tories, as it certainly seems to be the most extraordinary example of a poisoned chalice. I have recently taken to describing Brexit as a process that is destined to destroy whichever party implements it, and there would, of course, be some considerable poetic justice if the Tories, the party whose former leader foolishly, and with flagrant irresponsibility, allowed the referendum to go ahead, were to be destroyed by its replacement leader trying to fulfil its absurd mission.

I do think that, with Jeremy Corbyn still so popular, and with so much hope projected onto him, that he should use the opportunity to begin explaining to the British people why leaving the EU would, on reflection, be a disaster that no leader can honestly permit to happen, but perhaps that is still too much to hope for.

Certainly, Keir Starmer, Labour’s shadow Brexit minister, seems to be holding the closest thing to a definition of the party’s position via his six tests, announced in March, which, if not met, will mean that Labour won’t back a final deal in Parliament.

The six tests for the Brexit deal are:

  1. Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
  2. Does it deliver the “exact same benefits” as we currently have as members of the Single Market and Customs Union?
  3. Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
  4. Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
  5. Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
  6. Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

Point 2 seems to me to be the escape clause — and I suppose my hope is that, when it is demonstrated how disastrous leaving the single market and the customs union is, the case can then be made that Brexit is basically too big a disaster to be implemented, and that it must be stopped.

Today, as the government published the first of its Brexit bills, the so-called Great Repeal Bill (there’s nothing “great” about it, by the way), it became clear that May’s obsession with citizens’ rights has, as the Guardian described it, set the government “on a collision course with opposition parties by insisting that it will not bring the EU charter of fundamental rights into domestic law on Brexit day.” The bill, which is now known as the European Union (withdrawal) bill, includes a clause that states, “The charter of fundamental rights is not part of domestic law on or after exit day,” which fails Labour’s fifth test. It has also angered the Liberal Democrats, and elsewhere the Scottish and Welsh governments have said they will try to block the bill. See here for details of Labour’s opposition, and their promise to vote against the bill at its second reading unless significant changes are made to it.

I hope that eventual public opposition to Brexit is where Labour is heading, but as I began by saying, I fear that a lot of wishful thinking is going on with all the excitement about Jeremy Corbyn, when he has not made clear that, when it comes to the defining political decision of our lifetimes, he will not, in the end, support or facilitate our departure from the EU.

Note: Please also check out this letter to Jeremy Corbyn from John Palmer, former European editor of the Guardian, regarding his meeting today with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier. As Palmer tells Corbyn, “you must show yourself willing to reject Brexit and embrace radical EU reform.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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35 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, tackling the thorny question of Labour’s position on Brexit, which arose because I was having difficulty reconciling the huge grass-roots support for Jeremy Corbyn during the General Election campaign (much of it from young people) and the clear enthusiasm for his anti-austerity message with Labour’s general refusal to take a stand on Brexit, when all his anti-austerity plans will be impossible if Brexit goes ahead, ruining our economy. I accept that Labour is playing a careful game, not wanting to alienate Leave voters, but I wonder when – if – the time will come when the party will have to not just allow the Tories to implode, but will have to start stating publicly why we mustn’t leave the EU – because it is a hideously pointless backwards step, and an act of profound economic suicide.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I realise the publication of this article – which I’ve had in mind since the General Election – coincides with the publication today of the Tories’ alarming Great Repeal Bill, which I mention in the article, but for anyone wanting to know more, please read the great Ian Dunt on why this is “the most dangerous piece of legislation of our lifetime”: http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2017/07/13/small-print-of-repeal-bill-creates-unprecedented-new-powers

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the Guardian’s report on Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Brussels today to meet the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, in talks that apparently “focused on [the] UK continuing to have access to the single market”: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/13/jeremy-corbyn-goes-to-brussels-to-set-out-labours-vision-for-brexit

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s the Guardian’s editorial about the ‘Great Repeal Bill’, “bad for Brexit, bad for democracy”: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/13/the-guardian-view-on-the-repeal-bill-bad-for-brexit-bad-for-democracy

  5. Anna says...

    “Jeremy Corbyn’s private session at the European commission headquarters in Brussels lasted almost half as long as the British government has spent in formal negotiations in total since triggering article 50 in March”. This and the rest of the Guardian reporting to which you provided a link, suggests – or confirms – that the EU is fed-up with May as a so-called negotiator who has nothing more to offer than banalities without content.
    So maybe it is time for an on-line petition to Corbyn conc Brexit, as the EU for the moment still seems to be open to a withdrawal from this madness.
    PS : glad to hear that Corbyn likes trains, so do I, a clean and comfortable form of public transport :-).

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Steve Hynd wrote:

    I wonder if Corbyn will have anything to say on the bill’s naked power grab severely damaging devolution in Scotland and Wales?

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, it’ll be interesting to see if he weighs in on it, Steve. I rather suspect he’ll leave Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones to make their own stand, but there really needs to be solidarity in Parliament. Here’s the Guardian’s take on it: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/13/scotland-wales-brexit-great-repeal-bill-naked-power-grab-nicola-sturgeon-carwyn-jones

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Steve Hynd wrote:

    From a Labour pov, staying silent on this would be a huge risk – Corbyn can’t afford to lose any more Scottish voters.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree, Steve, and it’s another reason why, I think, Labour needs to be thinking about not trying any longer to permanently sit on the fence and to create an illusion of pleasing all the people all the time – Scots in particular, like Londoners, are still waiting for a proper acknowledgement that, by a significant majority, we aren’t interested in Brexit full stop.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Steve Hynd wrote:

    Agreed, Andy.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Steve. I keep talking to people who are fed up with Brexit – and this article isn’t getting much interest – but I have to say that, it seems to me, that position is rather like getting bored as the Titanic approaches the iceberg.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I imagine the EU negotiators are seeing a future in which Corbyn gets to be Prime Minister, Anna, and are planning accordingly. It’s certainly good to hear negotiation and flexibility being discussed, compared to Theresa May’s ridiculous hardline inflexibility, and I can see us inching towards a position in which it is possible to sell the British people the need to scrap Brexit, but the deliberate vagueness about that end still unnerves me. The British people need someone to suggest that they shouldn’t go along with the “will of the people”, and that it’s perfectly OK for people to change their minds, so that we can end up with, say, a shift to a position where at least 60% of people support staying in the EU.
    A petition is an interesting idea, but at present too many people would still cling to traditional British subservience – agreeing that Brexit should go ahead, even though they didn’t vote for it, and even though that means throwing ourselves off a cliff.
    This Brexit thing is pretty nerve-wracking to have to live with, day in and day out, I have to say …

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    A good article by Martin Kettle, ‘Reject the chancers and their fantasy visions of post-Brexit trade’, sees Kettle state, “Don’t worry, we’re not leaving the EU, a former cabinet minister messaged me last weekend. Premature, in my view, but the possibility is on the table now in a way that it wasn’t before.”
    He also writes, “May is trapped by the toxic politics that put her into office a year ago and the growing realisation that Brexit is heading to be an economic and diplomatic disaster for Britain. Her essential stance in the election was that the country should rally behind her Brexit strategy. The country demurred. She still has not faced what this means. It means she has to reconfigure Brexit and go for a Norway-style transitional deal inside the European Economic Area (EEA), with the European court of justice remaining a central part of the arbitration system. If she won’t do that, she risks being deposed.”
    Given May’s obsession with getting rid of any EU involvement in justice, that risk of being deposed must surely be looking more like a certainty.
    See: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/13/post-brexit-trade-deals

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Ow! Here’s a bleak analysis by John Harris, ‘Brexit is clearly a terrible idea. But it has to happen’: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/14/brexit-eu-referendum
    Harris trawled up and down the country in the run-up to the General Election, meeting a shocking number of Leave voters, so he knows what he’s saying when he warns that, amidst the talk of stopping Brexit, we must also think of “the backlash that would be sparked, the myth of betrayal that would sit at the heart of our politics, and the great gift likely to be handed to ugly and opportunistic forces that are still out there, waiting for their chance. UKIP is in abeyance partly because its current leadership could not run a bath, but also because the process of Brexit is under way. Immigration did not much figure in the general election because the prospect of ending free movement was in sight.”
    He adds, “To understand why people support Brexit is not to agree with them. Clearly, leaving the EU remains a terrible idea. It will almost certainly be economically calamitous, and it sends out a terrible signal about the kind of country Britain has become,” but he sees it as unstoppable. However, there I have to disagree with him, as I believe it is important to try to sway public opinion towards a majority for staying in the EU, and then allow Parliament to make the case why we simply cannot plunge off a cliff to assuage the mistaken desires of a significant minority of the British people.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s a pretty tough Observer editorial on “how the tide is turning against deceitful and incompetent hard Brexiters”: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/15/observer-editorial-tide-is-turning-against-deceitful-and-incompetent-hard-brexiters
    Here’s an excerpt: “Our European partners cry out with rising incredulity: what is it that Britain wants? What is crystal clear is what we in these columns have been saying for more than a year: there is no workable plan, no realistic, realisable vision and no way to deliver on the false dawns and fantasies conjured by the hard Brexiters. They have been making it up as they go along. Slowly but surely, they are being found out.”
    The Observer also notes, “There has been a slump in the proportion of people who believe the government is doing a good Brexit job – down from 40% in April to 22%, according to YouGov. Most people are resigned to Brexit (although the numbers favouring a second referendum on any final deal are rising).”

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    A devastating analysis of Theresa May’s disastrous first year as Prime Minister, ‘Week in Review: Theresa May’s first year report card’ by Ian Dunt:
    http://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2017/07/14/week-in-review-theresa-may-s-first-year-report-card
    The opening paragraph: “On Thursday, we reached the first anniversary of Theresa May’s time in Downing Street. During this period she has pursued a hopelessly mangled Brexit strategy, rebranded the Conservative party with hard right-wing nativism, trashed Britain’s global reputation and thrown away her own majority in a fit of imperial arrogance. We are unlikely to have to mark her second.”
    This devastating summary: “May interpreted the Brexit vote as a demand for a reactionary overhaul of British society. She would eradicate freedom of movement, which meant leaving the single market. The economic price of this decision was very grave indeed, but she didn’t care. Reducing immigration had become the alpha and the omega of British politics. And there was a social dimension to this approach. May engaged in a culture war against anyone with an international sensibility, or who valued diversity, or who had multiple identities, or who was an immigrant, or who was the child of immigrants. This was not said outright, of course, but the message came across loud and clear. ‘If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere,’ she said.”

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s Gus O’Donnell, former cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, warning of the enormity of the task ahead: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/15/gus-o-donnell-politicians-face-reality-brexit-rough-ride
    Analysis here: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/15/brexit-disaster-theresa-may-gus-o-donnell-civil-service

  18. Tom says...

    It’s serious, but it’s also almost funny in a way. No matter what the Tory Powers that Be (and Tory Lite Labour people) say and do, they still can’t get rid of Corbyn.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. Good to hear from you. Yes, Corbyn’s definitely the “hope and change” candidate, to paraphrase how Barack Obama was seen in 2008. The question, as then, is: how much is real, and how much is projection?

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    I only just saw it in my feed for the first time just now. FB is curious in its algorithms. I think you have it covered Andy. The elephant is a size XXL. Labour MPs will wait until either the polls start showing that the slide to Remain is approaching a two thirds majority or that the EU blinks and decides that there may be some wriggle room for fudging on more concessions though it’s hard to see how. I fear the so called soft option is at present largely a comforting delusion. Brexit remains an enormously unfortunate own goal and minefield that it’s hard to see the path around

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Well, I’m glad it got to you finally, David. Don’t get me started on algorithms. It’s so difficult to work out whether the difficulty of getting to people is because of their lack of interest or because of skewed algorithms.
    That said, although I wanted this to pick up a lot of interest, I was also – in the back of my mind, at least – prepared for it not to. I lost the general support of some left-wing friends after the referendum, because the old left in the UK is vigorously opposed to our membership of the EU, and I wouldn’t say that my stance in general leads to centrists taking an interest in my writing. But I think the crux of my problem may be the fact that only a small number of people are spending any time thinking about Corbyn and Brexit. At the time of the election, seeing how well he was doing, and how resonant his talk of opposing austerity was, I began to feel a bit guilty for not having supported him more thoroughly over the last year, since his lukewarm performance during the EU referendum, but it remains of enormous import that we don’t honestly know what Corbyn, the supposed definition of an honest politician, thinks about Brexit, or what the Labour Party’s plans are for dealing with it. I can’t simply trust that the inability of any method of departure from the EU to satisfy Keir Starmer’s conditions means that, if they got power, Labour would tell that to the electorate and work towards overturning Brexit either in Parliament or through a second referendum, because there’s still a gulf between that and Labour’s behaviour in general.
    I feel rather like we’re back where we were before the General Election, with 16.1m of us unrepresented except by people like Tony Blair, who spoke a lot of sense on Brexit at the weekend, and even had a logical argument about how both the parties currently have no vision for the future, but both are looking back to the 60s (or 70s), and Michael Heseltine, who continues to be vigorous in speaking out about the disastrous impact of Brexit, which he calls the worst disaster since Suez, while recognising that that, at least, was a sign of the end of empire, whereas Brexit is potentially much, much worse.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Very interesting polling results reported in the Guardian – ‘Majority of Brexiters would swap free movement for EU market access’, which includes reference to a great new anti-Brexit slogan, “no Brexit is better than a bad Brexit”:
    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/17/majority-of-brexiters-would-swap-free-movement-for-eu-market-access

    The majority of Brexit supporters would be happy to swap European free movement for single market access, according to two studies which suggest ways for Britain to pull back from the brink in the upcoming negotiations.

    Amid calls for the government to loosen its opposition to free movement in order to protect the economy when Britain leaves the EU, the research shows compromise would result in far less popular backlash than is assumed. Campaigners opposing hard Brexit claim it also vindicates their new slogan “no Brexit is better than a bad Brexit”.

  23. Anna says...

    Hi Andy, re your 14, I had prepared a reaction but decided against it as I did not want to add a nail to your virtual coffin :-), as I imagine the despair you must be feeling in this situation and your helplessness to change it. I did have similar misgivings about backlash after a Brentry, no matter how desperately one is needed.
    But now Cummings is doing exactly what I saw as the only way to avoid that : revealing rifts within the Brexit team and most of all revealing his own promises to be an unreliable scam.
    The fraud to be exposed for what it is can only be done convincingly by those who peddled it in the first place. Anyone else will be accused of partisanship and not believed. Waiting until the delusional leavers find out for themselves will be too late, but reversing the process without a minimum of ‘consent’ or at least some understanding will indeed lead to dangerous resentment. I’m very curious to see how Cummings’ ranting will impact public (Brexit) opinion and whether it will lead to others following his example. Crossing my fingers :-).

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    Today’s stats – Big majority of Labour members ‘want UK to stay in single market’: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/17/most-labour-members-want-uk-to-remain-in-single-market

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that, David. It’s good to see the importance of single market membership being recognised so widely. I do think it may be key to beating Brexit.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    David Nicholl wrote:

    agreed….Im hoping its a case of ‘give the Tories enough rope’ as they have so fucked this up

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, exactly, David. Good to hear from you.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. I think your analysis is pretty compelling – that prominent Leavers must be the ones to help others recognise that they were wrong.
    Dominic Cummings’ awakening is pretty important, as you note.
    As the director of Vote Leave, he was the man behind the £350m-for-the-NHS slogan on the side of a bus, which proved to be a compete lie. Here’s an article about his doubts: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/05/brexit-error-vote-leave-dominic-cummings
    And now he’s pointing out how unsuited David Davis is for the rigours of the job of Brexit secretary – as is certainly true – calling him as “thick as mince” and “as lazy as a toad”: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/david-davis-thick-as-mince-lazy-as-a-toad-dominic-cummings-a7845911.html
    All this and the cabinet falling into in-fighting! It’s so good to see the Tories falling apart, but it still makes me nervous, as they MUST take Brexit with them when they collapse!

  29. Anna says...

    The more I read of the links you supply and the glimpses I see on AJE Andy, the more I realize that the only Brexit content that is available so far is being supplied by the press, with the responsible politicians just going round in circles uttering the same empty soundbites. Whether it is May, Johnson (never expected he could get even more infantile than he already was) or Davis, none of them seems to have a clue about the task at hand and none of them seems to realize how utterly ridiculous they appear to the world – and if they do, they apparently don’t care …

  30. Anna says...

    And yet one other comment from across the Channel: it seems to me, that as Brexit is being dissected (by press and other intelligent comments) and watered down, what would remain of any ‘advantages’ for the Leavers anyway? Adopting UE laws ‘with-a-few-changes’, getting a new trade deal against free-movement almost the same as before ‘with-a-few-changes’, etc etc. Sacrificing so much time, energy and tax payers’ cash for so little gain increasingly sounds like a mountain turning into a mole hill. So another reason to quit: Hard Brexit is suicidal, soft Brexit is not worth the bother.
    Between May & Trump the world has gone bonkers, Andy!

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, you are entirely correct, Anna. The senior Tories don’t have a clue what they’re doing, and apparently don’t care, and there is no good reason for us to leave. That latter point, however, has been true throughout this whole pointless, dispiriting and possibly suicidal process. I have said throughout that I have never, ever, for a single moment heard any Leave supporter explaining what the pressing need is for us to leave the EU. Not a single explanation as to why we shouldn’t stay, and try to make changes to the EU from within. There is no urgent need. It’s just an invention – involving vague references to sovereignty, and to not being told what we can and can’t do by ‘foreigners’, as though any of that has any relationship to reality. It’s so shamefully idiotic.

  32. Anna says...

    “and try to make changes to the EU from within”.
    I think that is crucial. When considering – admittedly while half-asleep 🙂 – recent developments and Corbyn’s opportunities, I unexpectedly ended up with a fairly optimistic vision: as brexit supporters are getting increasingly disheartened by disturbing news and therefore urgently need an alternative dream to believe in, Corbyn could take up the slack as it slowly grows. To make his dreams financially feasible, he would have to increase taxes on the richest – which would be no skin off the noses of the poor brexit masses – and he would need to offer them some ‘brexit ersatz’.
    Now the EU would also love to avoid the immense hassle & expenses of Brexit and the political embarassment of losing a prominent member.
    So I would guess that they would be ready to make some reasonable concessions to avoid the much bigger disaster and offer Corbyn some bait to catch opponents.
    The EU does need overhauling anyway, so this could be made to fit into some internal restructuring while being packaged as a brexit compromise. How about that for a realistically optimistic scenario from an inveterate pessimistic realist :-)?

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    What a lovely scenario, Anna.
    I think we can say with some certainty that there are those within the Labour Party who would appreciate it. The questions then are: will the Tories lose power, and, if they do, will Labour come up with a coherent non-Brexit strategy? To be fair, I’m not sure that, if there was another election, it would be possible to, so comprehensively, not discuss Brexit at all, as just happened last month, but maybe that’s too much reality intruding on your vision.
    I wish I was hearing more rumblings of EU reform from within, but I don’t hear much except from Yanis Varoufakis and his supporters, yet it’s something that is very much needed, and for the UK (not under the Tories) to be part of it would be excellent.
    On another note: what’s happening in Poland? The right-wing government proposes to scrap the independence of the judiciary sounds very worrying indeed: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/19/poland-may-lose-eu-voting-rights-over-judicial-independence

  34. Anna says...

    Yes, we’re returning to those middle ages of which we accuse other countries to be a part.
    There could be one excuse – if the politicians in charge would not be as raving mad as they are. That excuse would be that while we were one of the first European countries to have a constitution, our statehood has been something of a steeplechase. Next year we’ll celebrate our 100 years of existence as a state (oh dear, with that bunch of catholic right-wingers presiding over that …), after having been wiped of the map by our neigbours (Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire) for a period of about 125 yrs. That means that no one was alive anymore who had known a Polish state and all had to be built from scratch, by people who had been born, had been educated and had grown up in three different cultures, languages, politics. After 21 years of – maybe understandably pretty right-wing – attempts at solidifying the country, there were 6 years of WW II which wiped out 20% of the population and probably an even higher percentage of the Intelligentsia, only to be followed by about 45 years of communism. So 27 years ago we in many respects had to one more time start from scratch.
    That much as reasonable explanations of so many of our national irrational phobias.
    Then we got a wild run for western capitalism and consumerism – as if those were the biggest western-European values that we could now access – and much of what had been useful in communist times was privatised to benefit a few insiders. Young well-educated professionals got great careers and salaries, but many of the unemployed, the pensioners, the chronically ill etc etc were worse off than before. So capitalism produced a lot of what nowadays is called ‘precariat’, the mostly not all that well educated, rural elderly with insufficient pensions and medical care who form a big segment of the actual government’s support.
    Add to that a declining demographic coupled with xenophobia and you get the PiS’ – admittedly genius – idea of promising huge monthly benefits for each ‘white-and-catholic’ child.
    I have friends in their late forties, who barely manage to get by financially and who therefore decided they could not afford children as they could not guarantee a good education etc.
    That campaign promise evidently was a huge magnet for another big segment of the voting population: young people who would like to start a family. And judging from the number of prams with newborn babies or mothers with baby-bumps while the previous cannot even walk yet, we are indeed having a baby-boom. If you get the bonus (about 100 pre-brexit-pounds/month) for let’s say four kids, that makes an enormous difference – also to the national budget … But if that one survives until the next elections, they will win again. Hate to think what will happen to all those kids’ education when this bonanza will end, as it will sooner or later.
    Add to all that the fact that a few of our top politicians are true nut cases and that we do not have any viable political alternative to the PiS party (anything called left or leftist is still tainted by the communist stigma) which could win a majority and I think you have an explanation for what is happening. The remaining Twin – here with his late brother starring in a 1962 film based on a famous book for children about ‘those two who stole the moon’: (http://www.filmpolski.pl/fp/index.php?fotos=162128_3&galeria=152128) – unfortunately also is a clever strategist, who knows that this bonanza of controlling both houses of parliament will not last forever, so it’s catch-as-catch-can to solidify his power while he can. With the EU being in disarray itself, there’s not all that much to be expected from there either. The minister of defense is a frightful nutcase – he seems to seriously think that ‘The Russians’ created artificial fog to bring down the presidential plane in śmolensk, and the one in charge of ‘Justice’ is a notorious swindler (not financially as far as I know, but professionally), who at some point – years ago – held the same post and made sure that incriminating documents about the CIA prison in Stare Kiejkuty did not surface. Not exactly a person whom you’d like to see appointing supreme court judges …

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that detailed and very informative analysis, Anna.
    We obviously had discussed Poland’s very particular history of occupation during my time with you in Poland in 2011 – when, for the benefit of anyone else who might be reading this, you took me on a week-long tour of the film, ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo’ that I co-directed with Polly Nash – and had talked about how, after the Nazis and the Communists, the apparent insanity of accepting a CIA torture prison on Polish soil wasn’t as inexplicable as it at first appeared, because it reflected a need by the Polish government to have a strong friend (in this case, the US), after decades of oppression. What I hadn’t realised was the extent to which Poland suffered the same fate as Russia after the fall of communism – strategic capitalism that enriched a few at the expense of the many, with the poorer members of society left worse off than before, thereby building up resentment for cynical politicians to manipulate, as has happened with the PiS. All across the western world (including Eastern Europe), the greedy seem to be reaping what they have sowed. In Trump’s America and Brexit Britain, it is those abandoned by an increasingly greedy and narrow capitalism who have turned on their traditional elected representatives – desperately flailing around for an alternative and coming up with exactly the wrong answer – but, nevertheless, refusing to remain passive any longer. Unfortunately, populism is generally a far-right phenomenon, and, as you note, with suspicion of the left in the former Soviet-occupied countries, that leads to a situation where far right populism might be difficult to stop.
    I’m shocked by the ‘baby boom’ scenario, because it seems so obviously counter-productive to fill up a country by bribing people to have kids the state can’t really afford to look after as they get older, but it’s a tried and tested nationalist ploy, isn’t it? Along with suppression of the judiciary, which everyone should worry about, and the anti-refugee sentiment that is increasingly prevalent across the whole of the EU, things aren’t obviously looking very rosy for Poland right now. It’s somewhat ironic that it was the influx of Polish people to the UK that first started the slow rise of xenophobia that led to the Brexit vote, when the people in Poland appear to be just as intolerant of incomers, but I suppose the right-wing drift has partly been accomplished because so many capable people with more open-minded views left Poland to work elsewhere – like the UK.
    Sadly, we are living in ‘interesting times’ everywhere, Anna, and it’s hard to see somewhere where the future looks bright. What we really need is a change in thinking that puts the environment first, and which completely reimagines capitalism to reflect how we need, finally to take responsibility for our actions, but it’s almost impossible to see that happening, as we’re so stupid and misguided in so very many ways. Sigh.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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