Jeremy Corbyn has crossed a red line on Article 50
With regret, I can no longer support Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, but neither can I support anyone else. On the defining issue of our time, Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, Corbyn has crossed a red line by urging his party to back the government and give the prime minister authority to trigger Article 50. Regardless of the referendum result, leaving the EU is not something that any leader of the Labour Party should ever advocate. It is an act of cultural, political and economic self-harm, the ramifications of which will be to steer this country towards reactionary conservatism that will leave the UK weaker, poorer and less just. If even Tony Blair can articulate this simple fact, then the game is up.
I have not taken this decision lightly, and it is not one that has been arrived at due to a growing sense of disillusionment on other aspects of Corbyn’s leadership. It is a decision that instead leaves me utterly depressed. Corbyn was supposed to be the chosen one, the anti-politician, the man of principle. He was someone who was willing to assert his beliefs at the cost of popularity, whether on nuclear power, increasing public spending or on promoting the rights of refugees. These positions were not focused- group tested and all of them are likely vote losers. They were instead announced out of concern for, respectively, the environment, social justice and protecting minorities.
I rejoined the party and voted enthusiastically for him, including in the second leadership contest, having left Labour after the Blair government crossed another of my red lines: the attempt to extend detention without trial to 90 days. At that time, the party I had grown up supporting was morphing into an illiberal beast, unrecognisable from the days when it touted the Human Rights Act, the freedom to join a union, and freedom of information.
Corbyn ended my estrangement. Here was a politician who would, even if he failed to win a general election, educate the public, persuade new groups of voters to engage in politics and perhaps create a movement that would outlive his tenure. He could have been the left wing version of Barry Goldwater’s unsuccessful presidential campaign in the 1960s that was to spur Reagan and other conservatives in the US.
For these reasons, I could ignore the incompetence that came with the first few months of his leadership. It was easy to put Corbyn's inability to communicate down to hostile forces in the media and to sore losers in the party who had seen their time come to an end. Allegations of bullying were overblown and designed to discredit a drive towards progressivism. His was "a different kind of politics", where leaders were less polished and more wholesome. Suddenly, there there was a genuine choice for voters.
Indeed, none of Corbyn's actions, or lack thereof, justified a leadership coup launched by MPs last summer. While I had my misgivings about his first year, Corbyn had not invaded another country illegally or attempted to lock up innocent people. He had not betrayed any of my principles. If guilty of anything, it was ineptitude. I was disillusioned but still a believer.
Alas, my reengagement with the Labour Party has reminded me of an invaluable lesson: warning signs lead to red lines; disillusionment to hostility. My dogmatic support for Corbyn has proven misplaced. His decision to largely ignore the government's policy position on Brexit after the June 23rd referendum should have sent alarm bells ringing. Why was he not raising the issue every week at PMQs? This indifference has culminated in a huge abrogation of duty on the part of the leader of the opposition. In caving in to the Brexiteers over the vote authorising the prime minister to trigger Article 50, Corbyn has shown himself to be just like any other politician, giving in to what Ed Vulliamy, Guardian writer and hitherto Corbyn supporter, has called, "the will of the people". Instead of leading, Corbyn has become a follower. He has accepted the Brexiters' plea for everyone to shut up so that Theresa May can get on with realising UKIP's warped vision of an immigrant-fearing Britain, the very vision that Corbyn has spent a lifetime railing against. Instead, his MPs were to act as delegates for the 52%. The 48%, which includes public sector workers, minority groups, council house tenants and the young, are to rely on, well, who?
His decision doesn’t even make for good politics. Those who voted to leave the EU do not associate Labour with their decision and now those who voted remain do not either. In this partisan world of fake news, those who stand in the middle of the road get run over. Corbyn’s political antennae, never the most attuned, mattered less when he knew what he was for and what he was against. Yet now all that’s left is a bent aerial. Why, for instance, has Corbyn, who rejects absolutely the rhetoric of America's 45th president, given into the same forces of reaction that are shaping the debate on leaving the EU?
To illustrate the inadequacies of Corbyn's response to Brexit, Vulliamy compares Labour's capitulation with the resistance to Trump in the US:
"The crucial contrast [with Corbyn is] how the half of America that voted against Donald Trump reacts to the 'will of the people'. 'Resist!' reads Greenpeace’s banner over the White House. Where are our equivalents to those American public and popular dissidents trying to make a difference by making some noise? Answer, citing Edmund Burke: 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.' This is a very British suicide."
Arguably, Vulliamy makes an even better comparison when referring to Colombia's president Juan Manuel Santos, who similarly lost a referendum last year on a peace deal to end decades of war in his country:
"Santos narrowly lost a plebiscite, but believed the matter too important to accept it as conclusive. Millions filled the squares, defying the result; Santos reworked the accord and passed it through Congress. The peace perseveres. David Cameron lacked that resolve and Theresa May mutated her views to ride the repugnant mood. That left Corbyn’s Labour in an interesting position: he could have 'done a Santos'; fought Brexit tooth and nail on principle, [become the] focal point for the 48% that is now a majority, [the] champion of open minds, of the economy, swaths of the working and middle classes who voted Remain; of business, academia, science, the NHS, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Bank of England – with a fair wind from the supreme court. But no."
"Dmitri Shostakovich said of his opera The Nose that it was about 'the appalling tyranny of the majority'. Among that majority, count the man who could have defied it and thereby defiles the term 'leader of the opposition', because that’s exactly what he’s not. If I defended Corbyn on these pages, I stand humbly corrected."
And so do I.