To everyone’s huge surprise, Jeremy Corbyn has come out as being quite a hard-line Eurosceptic, despite his tireless campaigning last year during the referendum.
He has also further cemented his party’s newfound respect for immigration restriction, attacking the importing of cheap labour from abroad. Whether any of this makes any impact on his legion of supporters, who seem to project their own vision of what he should be onto reality, I don’t know; the Labour coalition already seems so incoherent but then I’ve given up trying to understand how politics work; it’s like there’s been a writer’s strike up in heaven and nothing makes sense anymore. I suspect Corbynmania mainly comes down to the Conservatives losing their USP – being sensible about the economy – as Hugo Rifkind pointed out a few weeks back.
As long as there is a strong suspicion that the Tories are actually wildly out of their depth – and are dragging us into the greatest act of national self-harm since the Xhosas followed a prophetess’s clever advice to kill all their cows – then people may as well enjoy the self-affirmation that comes from voting for a left-wing party.
Some on the Corbynite Left, who supported the Remain campaign because Leave represented a victory for cultural conservatism and nationalism, perhaps sense that they will be the victors after all. I can see the irony behind this; for years we ruddy-faced Tories whined about Europe holding back our entrepreneurial spirit with needless regulation, and the winners turn out to be actual socialists who dislike the EU because it stops us subsidising failing industries and returning to the 1970s. If history is indeed one great black comedy then I appreciate this one, even if it’s on us. So if Brexit does indeed lead to economic crisis and Corbyn is swept to power for ten years, we’ll end up relying on a UK En Marche to beg our way back into the EU to save us from Communism. This will be after all the Brexiteers have been stripped naked and dragged through by horses through the streets. It probably won’t be that bad, but I can see why Owen Jones, for example, feels Labour has to get behind Brexit now.
Personally, I’m the polar opposite; I voted Leave but if it looks like clearly being an economic disaster, then it’s ridiculous to pursue it whatever the cost. In no field does someone continue along the same course, knowing it will end in complete failure, whatever the consequences. It is true that there would be public anger at a second referendum, but there would be far more if the economy went down the toilet. There is also the fact that, while we voted to leave, we didn’t vote for any particular alternative; I very reluctantly cast my ballot, having previously decided to abstain, because I was assured – by actual Leave campaigners – that we would stay in the single market and have a relationship similar to Norway.
I have no idea why Theresa May has since adopted a hard-line approach; we didn’t vote for it, it’s economically inadvisable, and I don’t think there’s great public demand for it. It’s also very, very un-conservative – a basic principle of the philosophy is that huge changes are almost always by definition bad, which was paradoxically the core of the Leave campaign (for many a vote against mass immigration). It’s the principle laid out in Richard Dawkins’s classic The Blind Watchmaker, that small mutations are often advantageous but large ones mostly devastating. Whatever change we undergo in our relationship with Brussels it should be as small and subtle as is possible, for anything too drastic is almost certainly going to end terribly. We’ve even had politicians using the language of Utopians, accusing people of doing Britain down or wanting Brexit to fail because they have pointed out faults in the plan.
We can’t see how things will pan out but any minister who feels that leaving would seriously damage our economy has a duty to inform the public and to stand down rather than go ahead with it. Whatever last year’s vote, to do otherwise would be a betrayal of the public.