Speaker by Various Artists

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Britain: the crisis isn't Brexit, it's Labour

by Andrew Miller

For all her public denials, it never made sense that Theresa May would wait to 2020 for an election. Now’s probably as good a moment as she’ll get to grab a mandate for her vision of post-Brexit Britain.

Her reasons for calling a snap election, though, don’t stack up. Brexit related polls have hardly moved, and Labour whipped the Article 50 vote despite now trying to walk a ‘Soft Brexit’ tightrope. Most people simply assumed the obvious: that it’s a party-political decision. In normal circumstances Brexit would make the government incredibly vulnerable, but these are anything but normal circumstances.

Despite the vagaries of FPTP a massive Tory majority is inevitiable – but real story of the 2017 election remains the future of Labour. Polls suggest it’s potentially facing electoral oblivion. With no possibility of being overtaken and no chance of government, they’ll be left as a kind of zombie opposition.

Towards the end of her doomed Labour leadership campaign, Yvette Cooper made an impassioned speech in defence of Labour in government, and its internationalist values. Whilst it was far too late to affect the result, the failure of the Labour Party to address the questions she raised are likely to shape the upcoming election .

A few years ago, I met Jeremy Corbyn on a handful of occasions and he came across as a man who’s spent his 30-year back bench career talking to people who agree with him. You never sensed he could go beyond preaching to the choir. After two painful election defeats his victory wasn’t totally inexplicable, even if the fact it was Corbyn seemed quite surreal. Suddenly the British left had their ‘real alternative’.

What’s happened since should come as a surprise to no one. His complete lack of experience, and far-left links meant the car crash we’re witnessing was entirely predictable. He and hardcore supporters carry most of the blame for Labour’s current predicament.

There’s been little of the ‘Kinder politics’ promised, with MPs constantly told to ‘Fuck off and join the Tories’. His candidacy acted as a magnet for not just Trots and Tankies, but radical activists, disillusioned Labour members and well-meaning campaigners to project their hopes onto Corbyn. At times it smacks of a personality cult.

Despite polls suggesting the electorate don’t want a bar of him, blame’s been placed entirely on the media and the refusal of ‘Blairites’ to get with programme. The low point was arguably the emergence of ‘Brick truthers’ in the wake of the attack on Angela Eagle’s constituency. Even historic by-election defeats appear to have made no dent in their outlook, but for some reality has started to sink in, and this gallery of high profile u-turns makes for comically grim reading.

One of the most depressing aspects of all this is how open many supporters have been admitting they don’t care if Labour wins power. Corbyn even tried to kick start a suicidal civil war, which was at least instantly kyboshed by party officials as ‘impractical’.

Even when promoting ideas which chime with the public, his personal brand remains electoral kryptonite, and there appears to be no coherent economic strategy . It seems inevitable Labour will suffer historic loses, at a time Britain desperately needs a credible opposition.

Sadly, things are likely to get worse as Corbyn’s incompetence has only ever been half the picture. Word has it that the Tory campaign will increasingly focus on Corbyn’s fitness for public office. The problem Labour faces is that claims of ‘smears’ or ‘guilt by association’ will be met with Corbyn’s own words being quoted back to him, on views he’s held his entire adult life.

The material at times seems limitless, including appointing Seamus Milne, supporting Sein Fein/IRA, and a toxic mess over anti-Semitism. There’s the denial of atrocities in Kosovo, paid appearances on Press TV, links to STWC ... the list goes on. You can throw in a controversial take on NATO, and a view on Trident renewal which contradicts Labour’s official policy and makes them seem incapable of dealing with fundamental matters of national security. While many of these positions are uncontroversial on the ‘anti-imperialist’ left, the general public is a different matter entirely, one the Tories are now set to fully exploit.

Some Labour supporters have concluded there no good options for Labour voters, and no one outside of Corbyn’s inner circle is talking about winning. Despite this, Nick Cohen fears that even a crushing defeat may see the hard left cling on. With polls suggesting Scottish Labour is in danger of being wiped out, and that Wales may be lost for the first time since universal suffrage, where they go from here is impossible to predict.

Brexit may mean tough times ahead for May’s government, but for now the crisis of truly historic proportions belongs purely to the left.  

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