Two steps forward, two steps back. That’s how I feel about Jeremy Bernard Corbyn, Member of Parliament for Islington North, cyclist, allotment gardener, pescatarian, supporter of Arsenal Football Club, keen photographer of decorative manhole covers, and leader of the UK Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition in Westminster.
Apart from a few occasions in the past when ultra-lefty stupidity has got the better of him and he’s expressed sympathy for some dodgy Irish and Middle Eastern terrorist organisations, I don’t think Corbyn is a bad bloke – certainly not as politicians go. Indeed, I think most of his views about where British society and the world generally ought to be heading are sane ones.
(Please note that I’m talking about Jeremy Corbyn, not necessarily about all members of the Labour Party. And I’m certainly not talking about the Scottish branch of the Labour Party whom, as I’ve said before on this blog, I regard mostly as a bunch of diddies whose gigantic sense of entitlement is in inverse proportion to their abilities.)
For instance, I cheered when Corbyn responded to a recent Twitter pronouncement by Donald Trump. (‘Pronouncements’ hardly seems the best word for Trump’s Twitter output. ‘Emissions’? ‘Discharges’?) Referring to a demonstration calling itself NHS in Crisis: Fix it Now that’d recently taken place in London and drawn thousands of marchers, President Brainless Blabbermouth Baldy-locks tweeted on February 5th that the demo was evidence of a universal, free-on-the-point-of-delivery healthcare system not working and evidence why nothing similar should be attempted in the USA: “The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working… No thanks!”
(This came after Trump had watched Nigel Farage on his main news source, the loony right-wing Fox News network. Farage, whom Fox would have you believe is the only British person with an opinion on the planet, had been spouting off about how Britain’s NHS was at ‘breaking point’ and how this was all the fault of beastly immigrants. Predictably, shit-gibbon Farage sidestepped the fact that 12.5% of NHS staff in England are non-British nationals, i.e. immigrants.)
Of course, the London demonstration was really in support of Britain’s National Health Service and its principles; and was protesting at what the organisers, the People’s Assembly and Health Campaigns Together, saw as Theresa May’s Conservative government’s underfunding of it and insidious moves to push parts of it towards privatisation. Jeremy Corbyn responded to Trump’s tweet and nailed its dishonesty: “Wrong. People were marching because we love our NHS and hate what the Tories are doing to it. Healthcare is a human right.”
My attitude towards Corbyn is like that old catchphrase from The X-Files: “I want to believe.” Yet despite his good points, he’s repeatedly left me feeling annoyed, frustrated and let-down because of his determined obfuscation about another issue, the none-too-trivial one of Britain quitting the European Union. With Corbyn at its helm, the Labour Party seems happy just to bob along in the Conservatives’ slipstream on this. Indeed, Corbyn imposed a three-line whip in the House of Commons to make his MPs vote in favour of the activation of Article 50, which triggered the whole sorry process of Brexit.
And can anyone make sense of Corbyn’s position on whether or not Britain should have membership of the EU’s Single Market (like non-EU-members Norway and Switzerland) or Customs Union (like Turkey)? Corbyn and his Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer have been contradicting each other, and themselves, about this for months. Their incoherence on the matter has been, well, Trumpian.
It was especially maddening that Corbyn missed an open goal at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, after some Treasury forecasts about the dire economic impact of Brexit on the UK found their way onto Buzzfeed. Rather than raising the matter and using it as a rhetorical machete to reduce Theresa May to sashimi, he chose to bang on about policing and law and order instead.
Why has Corbyn has been so vague in his Brexit policies and so toothless about Brexit when confronting the Tories? Well, first, I suppose Corbyn thinks it makes sense to keep schtum about the topic while the Conservative government is making such a spectacular hash of the Brexit negotiations and while pro and anti-EU factions in the Conservative party are busy eviscerating each other. (See Anna Soubry’s recent outburst against Jacob Rees Mogg, the new champion of the Brexiting Tory right and a man who looks like the result of a sinister experiment splicing together DNA from Lord Snooty and Dr Jonathan Crane, the Scarecrow in Batman). Why shouldn’t he just sit back and let his opponents get on with destroying themselves?
Second, many pro-EU Labour MPs are in the uncomfortable position of having to represent constituencies in Labour’s English heartlands where a majority of people voted for Brexit. No wonder a lot of Labour politicians, including Corbyn, prefer to bite their tongues about it.
And third, I’m pretty sure that Corbyn, for all his endorsements of a ‘remain’ vote before the 2016 Brexit referendum, doesn’t really like the EU that much. In fact, he’s been anti-Europe at various times in the past – he opposed Britain’s membership of the then-EEC in the 1975 European Communities Referendum, opposed the Maastricht Treaty in the 1990s and opposed the Lisbon Treaty in the 2000s. I doubt if his attitude differs much from that of his old left-wing guru the late Anthony Wedgewood Benn, who once claimed that “Britain’s continuing membership of the (European) Community would mean the end of Britain as a completely self-governing nation.”
© New Statesman
By ducking Brexit, Corbyn no doubt reckons he’s doing the right thing by his own beliefs and doing the wise thing by political expediency. But I suspect it’s a policy that’s going to end in tears, especially if it entails the Labour Party sitting on their hands until it’s too late. For one thing, those Treasury forecasts make horrendous reading and Labour areas – ones that, paradoxically, voted most enthusiastically for Brexit – are predicted to take the worst economic hits. The UK generally is expected to see a 2% decline in economic growth under the very best-case scenario, which would be remaining in the Single Market, and an 8% decline under the worst-case one, which would be quitting the EU with no deal at all. However, the figures range between a 3% decline and an eyewatering 16% one in what’s predicted to be the worst-affected area, England’s North-East.
Anyone who’s read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine (2007) must be wondering if an economically-traumatised post-Brexit Britain is being lined up for a strong dose of disaster capitalism; whereby its resources, assets and public services get flogged off in a fire-sale to piratical corporations, oligarchs and free-marketeers by a government desperately trying to pay the bills. The NHS would surely be top of the auction-list. At Prime Minister’s Questions this week, it took Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats – remember them? – to raise the scary prospect of American firms taking over chunks of the NHS if Britain has to wheedle a post-Brexit trade deal out of the Trump administration. Typically, May refused to give any guarantees. This possibility, combined with potential losses among the NHS’s non-British workforce, suggests that the venerable institution is heading for a horror-story ending.
For old Jeremy, these Corbynite manoeuvres around – and avoiding – Brexit might make sense. But I fear they may well spell disaster for his beloved NHS and for the country as a whole.