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Monday, June 25, 2018

Where's Jeremy Corbyn?

Labour supporters and others stood amongst a crowd of over 100,000 people on Saturday protesting against Brexit, calling for a vote on the final deal, and chanting 'Where's Jeremy Corbyn?'

The Labour leader had conveniently scheduled a visit to a refugee camp to coincide with the march, but the chant was not just about his absence on that day, it was questioning why Labour under his leadership has failed to show-up at all as an official opposition during the debate over the existential crisis that Brexit threatens to become for the UK.

In this context there is an interesting piece on the Guardian website today by John Harris, who is or has been a longstanding Labour supporter. He argues that what is missing is a clear, confident, consistent Labour narrative. He suggests that the Labour Party should stop framing its policies in terms of a return to the pre-Thatcher past – 1945 and all that – and start basing what it says in the future. He says that it ought to be Tory free-marketry that feels like yesterday’s thing:

'For sure, Labour has a set of entirely justified moral convictions. Thanks chiefly to the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, it has the beginnings of an across-the-piece economic plan, and some very interesting ideas about making the country more equal from the roots up. But what the party doesn’t yet possess is an account of the last few turbulent years of British history, and any human, emotional story about what the country might look like if it gets to implement its programme. So when its big figures get to their punchlines, there are often only empty bromides. “We want to live in a world where there is decency, and above all, hope,” said Corbyn – which was very nice, but floated off into the air as soon as he had said it. The usual questions remained unanswered: What is the United Kingdom? Why should it hold together? Where has it been, and where is it going? And as well as all the despair, where are the spots of hope that point to a different kind of country?

Such, perhaps, are the perils of attempting to make political headway while maintaining a stubborn reticence about the biggest change the UK has faced since the second world war. Right now, politics begins and ends with Brexit: the current Labour habit of talking about the past, present and future as if leaving the EU is a tangential subplot simply doesn’t make sense. But that is what the leadership does, having concluded that, as the government tumbles into shambles after shambles, the best thing to do is sit the whole mess out and say as little as possible. It is some achievement that many leavers think Corbyn is a remainer, while remainers are split between those who think he is secretly one of them, and those who damn him as a hardcore Brexiteer. This in turn blurs into a wider sense of paralysis and confusion – not a good look for an opposition that may go into a general election much sooner than some people think.'

Whilst Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour opposition continue in their failure to show up to the big debates and issues, then the Tories will continue to have free reign to drive this country into an isolated hole in the ground. Theresa May's minority government is succeeding in delivering a disastrous hard Brexit simply because she does not face a unified and coherent opposition,
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