Introduction: my own reflections
On January 15th, I wrote to my constituency MP and Shadow Minister for Exiting the European Union, Paul Blomfield, expressing my deep concerns over Labour’s repositioning on Brexit:
[T]he danger facing Labour is that so many of its traditional voters, in the North especially, will feel betrayed if the referendum vote is not respected. Unknown numbers will be recruited by the far right. Indeed, I fear that Labour may lose so much of its traditional support that it could easily enter into the wilderness once again.
In March I wrote to him again:
[A] second referendum with ‘remain’ on the ballot breaches Labour’s election manifesto pledge, which is less than two years old and which you reiterated, that you accept and will respect the result of the first referendum. This will cause untold damage to Jeremy Corbyn’s reputation for authenticity, believability and honesty. It will also reinvigorate Ukip [Brexit Party was yet to be formed], and provide ammunition to far right extremist Tommy Robinson. Like many people inside the party and outside, I believe that such a U-turn will very likely ruin Labour’s electoral chances for decades to come.
The exchange of letters between us ended in May. The full sequence is appended to an earlier post entitled “Brexasperation! or why I cannot campaign for Labour but I will cast my vote again for Jeremy Corbyn” This was my final remark to Paul Blomfield:
I regard this change in policy [Labour’s commitment to back a second referendum] as entirely dishonourable, but worse than that, it will be electorally disastrous.
Last Thursday night’s election results came as a shattering blow to all Labour supporters. Tormented by the drip, drip, drip of miserable news, I’d waited up well into the small hours feeling little more than a mix of dismay and anger as the dim forecast determined by the exit poll refused to budge. We had sacrificed the Left’s best chance of instituting real and lasting reform under the most principled Labour leader in my lifetime and all in a failed bid to stop Brexit. Defeat was both predictable and avoidable, but the victory instead went both to the Tories and to the Blairites who had forced the issue of a second referendum quite deliberately to box Corbyn in.
Today, Brexit is almost behind us. Not in actuality, of course, but in terms of how we might influence it and how its once overwhelming presence seems already to have waned. Britain is destined to leave the EU, and in the manner that now will be determined solely by Johnson, the Conservatives and their corporate backers. This is extremely bad news and yet for many (Labour supporters and remainers included) it also feels like a painful boil has been lanced at long last: in fact a sense of relief that the nation will not have to tear itself apart all over again throughout the weeks and months of a second referendum is palpable.
Indeed, a political row that had engulfed all of us suddenly is confined within the constituency of the Labour Party itself, where civil war has yet again begun to rage between old enemies. Seizing upon this exquisite moment of vulnerability, the Blairites’ strategy is to wreak as much havoc as they possibly can; their intention, as always, is to sink the Corbyn project once and for all.
But I can also sense an awakening, and while the establishment media continues to do its utmost to blame Corbyn, the real debate on the Left (away from the headlines), disengages from scapegoating and is impelled more by regret and self-reproach for its own mistakes in shaping Labour’s Brexit policy. While the other central issue is the decisive role played by the media and most specifically the BBC; its thin veil of neutrality cheaply abandoned and perhaps unrecoverable. The analysis and opinions that follow are very much in this vein, and, amongst those on the Left, I would say representative of the prevailing mood in Britain at this uncertain time.
Those who read this blog regularly will know that I have very little time for political analyst and Guardian columnist Owen Jones. However, in his latest opinion piece entitled “Brexit and self-inflicted errors buried Labour in this election” published yesterday, he does correctly acknowledge that Labour’s U-turn on Brexit with its call for a second referendum (a policy shift that he had previously endorsed) was the main reason for the collapse of the Labour vote:
The decisive failure – yes, with hindsight – was that the Labour leadership did not use the political capital of the 2017 election to make a principled case for a Norway-style soft Brexit, and definitively rule out any future referendum. If that message had been held with stubborn discipline, a perception of weakness and dithering would have never set in. Whether it was truly politically feasible – and whether Labour’s membership could have worn it – is another question. The failure to move swiftly created space for the fantasy that the 2016 result could simply be reversed – and leading remain campaigners relished the opportunity to bully the Labour leadership and insult leave voters as gullible bigots.
The left needs to own its failure in this election, but those who spent two years claiming Labour shifting to remain was a cost-free exercise, blocked only by Corbyn’s stubborn Euroscepticism, might consider entering their own period of introspection. Brexit is now settled: Labour must decisively rule out the prospect of rejoining the EU in its current form ever again.
Click here to read the full article published in yesterday’s Guardian.
Craig Gent is head of articles at Novara Media and lives in West Yorkshire. The following extract is from an article entitled “Learning the Lessons of Labour’s Northern Nightmare Will Take Longer Than a Weekend” published on Dec 17th by Novara Media. I encourage readers to follow the link and to read the article in full.
In moments like this, everyone has to have a take. The unrelenting tempo of social media feeds won’t allow otherwise.
Of course, people are more than entitled to air their reflections and opinions about what went wrong, how we got here, and how the disparity between hope and reality got so wide. But it is galling to see people who were sideswiped by the result – who had largely written off the crumbling of Labour’s ‘red wall’ as a myth – now speaking in authoritative tones about how shit really went down, as explained by this one handy graph.
The bare facts are these: Labour’s election campaign did not look the same across northern towns as it did on left Twitter. Swathes of towns that said they wanted Brexit in 2016 still want Brexit. Those towns by and large felt patronised by the offer of a second referendum, a policy whose public support has always been inflated by the gaseous outpourings of its most ardent supporters. And two years on from 2017, the novelty of Corbynmania had thoroughly worn off, with his increasingly stage-managed media appearances beginning to rub people up the wrong way.
Naturally, people are now rushing to say why the result confirms their long-held suspicions that X needs to happen. Chief among delusionists within this deluge are the centrists whose core contribution over the last two years was the very policy that proved Labour’s undoing. I am not a habitual lexiter, but the idea that the second referendum offer had nothing to do with the result is completely detached from reality. More still is the idea that Labour could have won by backing an outright remain position sooner. To understand this election, context is everything, and I’m afraid those who conveniently point to data sets comparing 2017 and 2019 as proof that they were right all along are lacking it in spades. […]
Rightly or wrongly, Brexit offered enough people an antidote to years of feeling defeated and defeatist – the experience of finally winning something. Labour’s prevarication since the 2017 election left many people feeling ‘let down by Labour’ – a sentiment which propelled a number of independents and right-wingers into local councils, and which propelled the Brexit party to first place in the European elections.
Let’s be real – these signals were written off as a protest vote, or likely to be statistically insignificant come a general election. Doing so was a failure to recognise the political journey many former Labour voters were on. While the Conservatives and Brexit party fanned the confidence delivered by winning the referendum for their own cynical purposes, Labour became the party of ‘steady on’, asking leave voters to gamble their sacred victory in order to appease a bunch of hard remainers who never accepted that they lost, and worse yet, appeared to think their votes ought to have been worth more than the votes of leavers.
Click here to read the article in full at Novara Media.
Chris Nineham is a British political activist and founder member of the Stop the War Coalition serving as National Officer and Deputy Chair of the Stop the War Coalition in the UK. He served under Jeremy Corbyn from 2011 to 2015. On December 14th he shared his views with Douglas Lain for the youtube channel Zero Books.
If you want to know what I think the absolutely central issue is for election and the fundamental reason why Labour did so badly – and it was a terrible result really for Labour – I think it’s Brexit.
I think it’s the fact that Labour went from a position in 2017 of saying that they were going to respect the referendum result, which was to leave, and that there was going to be an attempt to negotiate a Brexit which benefitted working people, which tackled inequality, which was good for the majority and not for the few. That was line in 2017, which by-the-by meant that Brexit wasn’t really an issue in that election.
Fast-forward to now. Or to this election just gone. You have a situation where Labour – the Corbyn leadership – has been forced into a position of saying they are going to have a second referendum: that they were perceived to be essentially supporting a ‘remain’ position, trying to overturn the previous result. And the Johnson Tory Party could pitch itself as being insurgent against the liberal elites. And also, amazingly, Johnson could pitch himself as being a defender of democracy, because that was the way the referendum went in 2016 and he was going to respect that.
So that was a really massive turnaround and I think it became totemic – the Brexit issue – because what it said to people is that, whereas in 2017, Corbyn was beginning to establish himself as someone who was breaking from the consensus, breaking from the Westminster elite, breaking from neoliberalism. Honest, democratic, listening to ordinary people. Not out of touch like the rest of the politicians. Suddenly that narrative no longer looked plausible.
Now we were in a position where the Labour leadership was turning its back on the referendum result, was – I mean to all intents and purposes – taking the ‘remain’ position (however much Jeremy Corbyn himself tried to resist that) and therefore looking more and more like the other politicians.
There’s such a deep sense in British society, particularly amongst those parts of the working class that have been most attacked and most under pressure, that the political class don’t give a shit. That Westminster is another world from most people’s reality. That it took an awful lot to begin to overcome that and those gains that were made in 2017, I think were lost over the last two years, because of mainly – there are other factors – but mainly because of the change of line on the Brexit question. [from 8:25 min]
The transcript above is my own.
The following is a short extract dealing with media bias and specifically the role played by the BBC from an excellent piece of analysis entitled “Corbyn’s Defeat has Slain the Left’s Last Illusion” written by independent journalist Jonathan Cook published in Counterpunch on Dec 17th. I encourage readers to follow the link and to read the article in full.
The real revelation of this election, however, has been the BBC, the most well concealed of all those illusion-generating machines. The BBC is a state broadcaster that has long used its entertainment division – from costume dramas to wildlife documentaries – to charm us and ensure the vast majority of the public are only too happy to invite it into their homes. The BBC’s lack of adverts, the apparent absence of a grubby, commercial imperative, has been important in persuading us of the myth that the British Broadcasting Corporation is driven by a higher purpose, that it is a national treasure, that it is on our side.
But the BBC always was the propaganda arm of the state, of the British establishment. Once, briefly, in the more politically divided times of my youth, the state’s interests were contested. There were intermittent Labour governments trying to represent workers’ interests and powerful trade unions that the British establishment dared not alienate too strongly. Then, countervailing popular interests could not be discounted entirely. The BBC did its best to look as if it was being even-handed, even if it wasn’t really. It played by the rules for fear of the backlash if it did not.
All that has changed, as this election exposed more starkly than ever before.
The reality is that the corporate class – the 0.001% – has been in control of our political life uninterrupted for 40 years. As in the United States, the corporations captured our political and economic systems so successfully that for most of that time we ended up with a choice between two parties of capital: the Conservative party and New Labour.
The corporations used that unbroken rule to shore up their power. Public utilities were sold off, the building societies became corporate banks, the financial industries were deregulated to make profit the only measure of value, and the NHS was slowly cannibalised. The BBC too was affected. Successive governments more openly threatened its income from the licence fee. Union representation, as elsewhere, was eroded and layoffs became much easier as new technology was introduced. The BBC’s managers were drawn ever more narrowly from the world of big business. And its news editors were increasingly interchangeable with the news editors of the billionaire-owned print media.
To take one of many current examples, Sarah Sands, editor of the key Radio 4 Today programme, spent her earlier career at the Boris Johnson-cheerleading Mail and Telegraph newspapers.
In this election, the BBC cast off its public-service skin to reveal the corporate Terminator-style automaton below. It was shocking to behold even for a veteran media critic like myself. This restyled BBC, carefully constructed over the past four decades, shows how the patrician British establishment of my youth – bad as it was – has gone.
Now the BBC is a mirror of what our hollowed-out society looks like. It is no longer there to hold together British society, to forge shared values, to find common ground between the business community and the trade unions, to create a sense – even if falsely – of mutual interest between the rich and the workers. No, it is there to ringfence turbo-charged neoliberal capitalism, it is there to cannibalise what’s left of British society, and ultimately, as we may soon find out, it is there to generate civil war.
Click here to read the full article on Counterpunch.
Yesterday’s episode of RT’s ‘Going Underground’ was dedicated to an extended interview with award-winning journalist John Pilger. In the first half they discussed Pilger’s latest documentary film “The Dirty War on the NHS” which was broadcast yesterday on ITV (available on ITV hub). In the second half, discussion moves on to last week’s General Election calamity; the reason why Brexit has been taken over by the extreme right since 2016; anti-Semitism allegations against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party; and allegations of BBC bias against the Labour Party in the election.
Asked by host Afshin Rattansi, why so many working class voters throughout the Labour heartlands switched to vote for the Conservatives, John Pilger replies:
“I can’t explain that. But I can say that there was a democratic referendum in this country in 2016, and it was won by those wishing to leave the European Union. And also from a minute after that election, there was a massive campaign to deny the legitimacy of that democratic referendum, and the whole issue of Brexit then fell into, bizarrely, but very significantly, into the hands of the extreme right in Britain of which the Prime Minister is one.
“I can only guess that people who voted to leave the European Union for all kinds of reasons felt that their voice had been treated with contempt, as indeed it was. In many ways, there was a class war. And why, as somebody said to me the other day, the poor should vote for more poverty, the sick should vote for more sickness, I can’t answer that question, but that’s certainly happened.” [from 16:50 min]
The upload embedded below is cued to start at the point when their discussion moves on to the General Election.
Regarding allegations of institutional antisemitism within the Labour Party, Pilger says:
“The story you get from the BBC is not to be believed. And there’s plenty of evidence why it should not be believed. However, there’s no question that the whole question of antisemitism [inside the Labour Party], by and large is a bogus issue, an utterly bogus issue: accusing somebody like Jeremy Corbyn of being antisemitic – or even others of being antisemitic – that he, perhaps unwisely, allowed to be expelled from the Labour Party. It was just absurd that it became an issue.
“Perhaps it says something about today that we’re consumed by this thing [the media and social media] that [puts out] propaganda – whatever you want to call it (fake or whatever) – that was the most brilliantly successful piece of propaganda aimed at one political group. And I don’t think the Labour Party fought it.” [from 18:35 min]
And on the implications for the Bernie Sanders campaign, which is suddenly dealing with similarly bogus allegations of antisemitism; claims that are all the more ludicrous for the fact that Sanders is the Jewish son of Holocaust survivors:
“What should they learn? They have to stand up and oppose it. They have to resist. They have to understand that there are powerful political forces that do not want them to take power democratically.” [from 20:05 min]
More specifically on subject of BBC bias and Laura Kuenssberg’s flouting of election laws, he says:
“[Laura Kuenssberg] is only part of the system. She wouldn’t be in that system, as Noam Chomsky once famously said, unless she did that. So there is nothing extraordinary about what she has done particularly. But the whole system… and then for [Director-General Lord Tony] Hall to come and point at the easy [target] social media, when the BBC is probably the most powerful, refined propaganda system in the world, [with] nothing like it.
“Now whether it swayed [the result]… you know we have to be careful listing all the excuses. The Labour Party sure contributed to their own electoral demise. There’s no question about that. But the fact that one side in the election campaign had powerful establishment forces – especially the media arranged against them – is extremely important to understand.” [from 20:05 min]
“The fact that Andrew Neil is considered some kind of BBC icon is amazing. Those of us who remember him as Murdoch’s editor at The Sunday Times, and [yet] there he is, he’s on the state broadcaster, as… [and] you must be interviewed by him if you’re running for Prime Minister. That, almost in itself, tells us all we really know about bias within the BBC.” [from 22:35 min]
Afshin Rattansi then asks about the NHS leaked documents and the immediate allegations that they may have been released by Russia. John Pilger replies:
“Well my breakfast emanated from Russia. The sky emanated from Russia. Rain emanated from Russia. I joke but it is a rather grotesque joke now. And I’ve read some of those documents. What they say is devastating. I wish Jeremy Corbyn and others had made much more of that.
“You have a Department of International Trade official, obviously a senior official, not a junior official, as they tried later to say, and a US trade representative talking to each other. And the British official is – and I paraphrase, I hope accurately – saying ‘Look just be patient, all sorts of promises have to be made now – brackets: (in the election campaign) – but later on there shouldn’t be a problem.’ Absolute duplicity. Duplicity, that’s how power works. And that’s why Julian Assange and wikileaks have been targeted, because they have revealed that underside of power.” [from 23:30 min]
Finally, he shares his thoughts about how people should interpret Johnson’s new “people’s government”, saying:
“Well, you see in propaganda terms – you go back to Edward Bernays, the father of modern public relations, who invented the term ‘public relations’, the respectable word for propaganda, and even [back to] Goebbels, but the British were much better at it than Goebbels – using good words such as ‘people’s’, ‘democracy’, ‘reform’. You look at all the corporate words that are [used as] propaganda now, drained of their meaning [such as] the word ‘reform’. That used to be a very positive word; it’s no longer a positive word… I’m just making this wider point because there is a task for people now to try and decode the propaganda that they’re getting. Because [Johnson’s new “people’s government”] that’s propaganda. ” […]
“Unknown to most of the public, around the Houses of Parliament, are the offices of so-called ‘think tanks’, lobbyists and professional propagandists. All of them with one target: the National Health Service.
“They are actually clustered around the Department of Health. And there’s a revolving door between them and parliament and the Department of Health. But their vocabulary is a deceitful one. They use words like ‘reform’ [and] ‘partnership’. None of these positive terms have any real meaning any more. What they mean by ‘reform’ is privatising and destroying.
“They would deny that but they have created this extraordinary vocabulary, as they have created their own persona, they hope, of legitimacy, because they have so many people within parliament, and so many people from the private healthcare industry within the Department of Health, they feel they can get away with this. Broadening it out, this is modern corporatism. It’s how it works. Its greatest and least understood weapon is propaganda.” [from 25:20 mins]
The transcriptions above are my own.
Click here to watch John Pilger’s film The Dirty War on the NHS on ITV Hub.
And here to watch the same interview on RT’s official website.
Neil Clark is an independent journalist, political writer, broadcaster and blogger. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. The following extract is taken from an op-ed entitled “Destroyed by appeasing his enemies: The Shakespearean tragedy of Jeremy Corbyn” published by RT on Dec 14th. Again, I encourage readers to follow the link and to read the article in full.
Jeremy Corbyn was never in a stronger position than on the morning of the day after the general election of June 2017. Against all the odds and punditocracy predictions, he had taken Labour to the brink of a stunning victory. The 40 percent of the vote Labour attained in that election represented the biggest increase in the share of the popular vote the party had achieved in over 70 years. But fatally, Corbyn didn’t take the tide at the flood. He should have used the moment to move swiftly and decisively against his ‘centrist’ enemies in the party who had done so much to undermine him. Instead, he held out an olive branch to them. They repaid his magnanimity by plotting the downfall which came to a head so spectacularly this week.
Phase One of the plan was to get Labour to sign up to an electorally suicidal shift on Brexit. Labour did so well in 2017 largely because it gave a clear manifesto commitment to respect the result of the 2016 referendum. But great pressure was exerted on Corbyn to agree to a change in policy and pledge Labour to support a second referendum. Years earlier, Corbyn had, quite rightly, attacked the EU for making the Irish vote again after they had rejected the Lisbon Treaty. But asking Labour Leavers to vote again on whether to leave the EU is precisely what Corbyn was doing in the 2019 general election. It’s true that others were constructing his political coffin, but it’s also true that Corbyn handed them the nails.
Phase Two of the plan to ‘Get Corbyn’ was to promote a narrative that Labour under his leadership was absolutely awash with anti-Semitism. Corbyn’s enemies wanted us to believe that Labour, a party which always prided itself on its anti-racist credentials, and which had a Jewish leader as recently as 2015, was in fact a racist party. Incredibly, this audacious campaign succeeded because Corbyn failed to call it out. The level of actual anti-Semitism in Labour was tiny, but the Labour leader accepted the narrative that there was a big problem to deal with. The result of his continually going on the back-foot was that he and his party were denounced as ‘anti-Semitic’ on an almost hourly basis. Chris Williamson, a loyal Corbyn ally, was thrown under the bus on trumped-up charges. But this appeasement only led to the campaign being ratcheted up still further.
Corbyn paid a very heavy price for the mistakes he made in the period 2017-19. The party’s backtracking on Brexit saw them haemorrhage support in their traditional pro-Leave Northern heartlands and lose working-class seats in the election that they had held for generations. Labour lost Blyth Valley for the first time ever. Wrexham in North Wales went Conservative for the first time ever. Great Grimsby was lost by Labour for the first time in 74 years. 71 percent of voters there had voted Leave in 2016. Yet Labour was asking them to vote again, next year. How absurd.
Click here to read the full article by Neil Clark published by RT.
Last Thursday former trade union leader, Ian Lavery, was returned as the Member of Parliament for Wansbeck in Northumberland, but he watched as the so-called “Red Wall” of traditional Labour constituencies running from Wales to the North-East had collapsed around him. On Tuesday [Dec 17th] he joined Michael Walker and Ash Sarkar in another episode of #TyskySour to discuss the cost of a Second Referendum, and what next for Labour: