Corbynism is not the future, it is the future refusing to be born
1964, 11 years before the EU referendum of 1975, the West Midlands constituency of Smethwick was the most colour-conscious place in the country, and the scene of a Tory campaign that successfully exploited anti-immigrant sentiment. The infamous slogan that propelled a Tory into the House of Commons was, “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour.”
Peter Griffiths, the successful Tory candidate refused to disown the slogan, “I would not condemn any man who said that,” he told the Times during his election campaign. “I regard it as a manifestation of popular feeling.” All sounds rather depressingly familiar, does it not? One need not strain one’s imagination to hear Farage today saying exactly what Griffiths said to the Times in 1964. One never, in one’s wildest dreams, expected to hear a Labour leader use the…
During last week’s by-election in Oldham and West Royton, commentators criticised the apparent inability of a large number of constituents to speak English. In the lead-up to the poll, the Guardian’s Northern Correspondent tweeted: A dismaying number of voters I met in Oldham today can’t speak English despite living there a decade or more. But they’re voting…
This article was updated on October 9 to take account of new developments.
The rules are clear. Only one group can lead the official campaign on either side of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. And while that isn’t proving a problem for the side that wants to stay in, the process of picking a leader for the exit camp is proving deeply political and highly fraught.
On the “remain in” side, the approach has been to have quiet, behind-the-scenes discussions. From these talks, a group will emerge to lead the campaign. One might argue that the general lack of mobilisation in the remain camp has made this easier, as there’s relatively little competition.
On the “leave” side, there are now two credible contenders to lead the campaign and the competition between them is tense. One is a group formerly known as The Know and now rebranded as Leave.eu.
The other is Vote Leave led by Matthew Elliott, founder of campaign group the TaxPayers’ Alliance, and Dominic Cummmings, a special adviser in the coalition government.
The former uses the substantial financial backing of businessman Arron Banks and last week received the enthusiastic support of UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage. Banks has been UKIP’s largest donor in recent years and feels free to make disparaging remarks about Douglas Carswell, the party’s only MP. Farage’s failure to intervene is perhaps not that surprising given his continuing desire to steer his party single-handedly. Carswell, for his part, is backing Vote Leave.
Elliott and Cummings have the distinct advantage of appealing to a wider range of the many anti-EU groups and organisations that have been bubbling along over the years. As less party-political figures, they look more like the straight equivalent of the In campaign. They are the consensual option. A vote for them is not necessarily a vote for UKIP.
Mobilise the base or sway the centre?
In essence, the two groups represent the two choices open to campaigners. They could focus on mobilising decided eurosceptics or seek to convince undecided people to vote for a Brexit.
Farage is the poster-boy of the eurosceptic movement in the UK (and beyond). He speaks truth to power, says it like it is and all the rest. As a communicator and as a personality, he is unsurpassed on either side of the Brexit debate. However, he is also a highly divisive figure: just as he fires up and motivates those who like his ideas, so too does he rile and motivate those who oppose them.
Elliott and Cummings could argue that there’s little point in getting your vote out, if you’re also getting the opposition’s vote out too. If enough people are riled into voting to stay in the EU by Farage’s rhetoric, the whole game could be up. They would instead suggest that it’s better to try and change people’s minds rather than focusing on getting existing eurosceptics out to vote. And there is evidence to support that approach.
British public opinion towards European integration can be summarised as largely indifferent and mostly shallow. That makes it highly erratic.
Famously, the 1975 referendum moved opinion from two-thirds in favour of a “No” to two-thirds “Yes” in just six months. Since then attitudes have drifted back and forth, not obviously linked to either cues from politicians or developments in the EU itself.
In large part that has been because Europe as an issue hasn’t been on most people’s list of priorities since the single currency debates of the late 1990s and early 2000s were kicked into the long grass.
Elliot and Cummings are counting on the very broad 1975 establishment consensus on the value of membership not being replicated this time around: the media is much less supportive, there is a more fragmented party political line and people are generally less deferential.
Why they can’t play nicely
In the face of all of this, why don’t the two groups just resolve their differences and work together? Given the finances at play (especially before any spending limits kick in) and the scope for presenting a united front, this would appear to be the best option. The binary nature of a referendum speaks to having more unified approaches.
But the leave campaign will always be faced with the challenge of describing what comes next, after the UK has exited the EU. It is difficult to move beyond platitudinous statements about “being open to the world” or “unshackling Britain” precisely because euroscepticism is to be found across the political spectrum.
The left’s critique of worker exploitation – likely to be heard more following Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader – does not sit with the right’s push for more trade liberalisation. Both sides agree that the EU is a problem but that isn’t the same as agreeing on how to resolve that problem.
As a result, the broader the official leave campaign becomes, the easier it will be for those who remain to point out the inconsistencies (even if they suffer from a similar problem to a lesser degree). By keeping the two groups apart, different messages can be sent out.
That in turn, raises the question of what happens after the referendum. For Elliott and Cummings, the vote is a discrete event, to be contested and then decided. Their organisation is thus contingent and ephemeral. For Banks (and, by extension, Farage), the vote is a part of a bigger picture and a longer process of political action. Certainly, for UKIP it represents their best opportunity in the next few years to secure continuing political relevance and importance.
The upshot of this difference is that choices made now might come back to haunt people in the years to come.
In the end, the choice between one group or two will matter less than the nature of relations between the campaigners. How much they will swallow their differences and work to challenge the weight of the status quo will be the real mark of success.
Growing nervousness on pro-EU side that campaign momentum is going the other way
Three of the biggest political donors in Britain are to bankroll the campaign to pull the country out of the European Union, it will be announced.
Peter Cruddas, who has given the Tories over £1.2 million will join Labour’s largest individual donor John Mills and Stuart Wheeler who bankrolled Ukip as joint treasurers of the cross party ‘leave’ campaign.
Together the three have a net wealth of over £1 billion and have donated around £3 million to political causes.
The campaign is also being backed by the mobile phone billionaire John Caudwell who founded Phones 4u and who helped bankroll the ‘No to AV’ campaign.
Other rich backers who will be announced on 9 October include the banker Alexander Hoare whose family is worth over £300 million and the Christopher Foyle the Chairman of Foyles bookshops.
Sources in the campaign said they expected to raise at least £13 million in the run-up to the official referendum campaign when donations become regulated by the Electoral Commission. This is on top of the £7 million that the campaign will be allowed to spend during the official campaign period.
Under Electoral Commission rules the ‘leave’ campaign will not have to declare any donations they receive before the referendum bill is passed into law – allowing the campaign to amass a secret war chest of undeclared funding.
The launch of the ‘leave’ campaign on 9 October comes amid growing nervousness among prominent pro-EU campaigners that they are facing an uphill struggle to persuade undecided voters to back Britain’s continued membership of the EU.
A poll last month found that the ‘remain’ campaign has just a 3-per-cent lead while another recent study found undecided voters were much more attracted to the messages of the ‘leave’ campaign.
A new poll by ICM for the ‘leave’ campaign released on 9 October found 54 per cent of the public are either in favour of leaving or dislike the EU but might vote to stay because they are worried about living standards.
To address this the ‘leave’ camp intend to concentrate their efforts on highlighting the £350 million a week they say the UK save by not contributing to the EU and the economic potential for the country of being free of European regulations.
Unlike the Ukip-backed Leave.Eu campaign the cross party leave campaign – which is backed by Labour, Tory and some Ukip Euro-sceptics – intends not to make immigration an integral part of their message.
“All the polling we’ve down shows that people who are worried about immigration are going to vote ‘out’ anyway,” said a source in the campaign.
“Going on about it is just going to put off undecided voters who we need to woo and re-assure.”
One pro-EU former Conservative minister told The Independentthat he was under “no illusion” that supporters of Britain’s membership could lose the campaign warning that he feared they would be damaged by ‘anti politics’ sentiment.
“We could well lose the referendum – I am under no illusion about that,” he said.
“There is such an anti-politics mood around and the other side will tap into that. All the stories about the EU’s failure to deal with migrants arriving at its borders play into that.
“I know I would rather have the EU dealing with it rather than just 28 sovereign states with their own competing interests – but that is an argument we really have to win.”
A senior Labour source added: “At the moment I’m very pessimistic. It feels like all the momentum is with the other side and that’s not been helped by Jeremy Corbyn’s election. He may say he’s pro-EU but he doesn’t sound very enthusiastic when he talks about it.”
The Independent understands that the ‘remain’ campaign, which is officially due to be launched next week, is receiving significant funding from Lord Sainsbury.
But many big Conservative donors are expected to hold off donating to the campaign until they see the outcome of David Cameron’s renegotiation. This, yes supporters fear, could allow the ‘no’ campaign a head start in financing a ground operation that could prove decisive if the vote is close.
The ‘remain’ campaign also admit it faces an “enthusiasm gap” and needs to find a way to articulate the benefits of Britain’s EU membership in a way that resonates with undecided voters.
“During this referendum campaign we will make the case that staying in Europe makes us stronger, while leaving would be a leap into the dark and a risk we can’t afford to take,” said Lucy Thomas, Deputy Director of the In Campaign.
“We’re looking forward to setting out that case in the coming days.” ………..’
Corbyn may not have an antisemitic bone in his body, but he does share platforms with people who do
The 2008 financial crash has had two major consequences for British politics. The first is the destruction of the Labour party as a credible party of government. The second is a growing political parochialism on the part of politicians and the electorate.
Such is the public indifference to events beyond Britain’s borders that a politician can hold almost any madcap belief on foreign affairs and get away with it. How else are Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond still taken seriously after lavishing praise on Vladimir Putin?
None of this explains the mercurial rise of Jeremy Corbyn. But it does account for the non-stick nature of his leadership campaign. The rightwing press has thrown heaps of mud at Corbyn; however, because much of it focuses on his views on foreign policy very little has stuck.
During the disastrous Iraq war, the misleadingly named Stop the War Coalitionreleased a statement which “reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends”.
For the Ba’athists and al-Qaida militants who largely made up the Iraqi “resistance”, “whatever means necessary” included suicide attacks on Iraqi and British soldiers. More recently Stop the War has ludicrously accused the US of launching a “proxy war against Russia” in Ukraine.
Then there is Corbyn’s apparent proximity to antisemitism. While I genuinely believe that Corbyn does not have an antisemitic bone in his body, he does have a proclivity for sharing platforms with individuals who do; and his excuses for doing so do not stand up.
It isn’t a peaceful negotiated solution that Hamas wants; it’s the destruction of the Jews. Here is a direct quote from Hamas’s charter: “The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: ‘The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! there is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!’” If this were not bad enough, Corbyn has also:
• Written a letter defending Stephen Sizer, the vicar disciplined by the Church of England for linking to an article on social media entitled 9/11: Israel Did It;
So why are Mr Corbyn’s fellow leadership contenders so unwilling to challenge him on any of this?’
• Presented a call-in programme on Press TV, a propaganda channel of the Iranian government which was banned by Ofcom and which regularly hosts Holocaust deniers;
• Been accused of donating money to self-proclaimed Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, whose Deir Yassin Remembered group has been shunned by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, in the name of refusing to “turn a blind eye to antisemitism”. Corbyn has addressed that claim via his spokesman, who said that “Jeremy Corbyn’s office” had had no contact with Eisen and that Corbyn disassociated himself from his extreme views – a denial that seems neither forceful nor convincing.
So why are Corbyn’s fellow leadership contenders so unwilling to challenge him on any of this? The fact Corbyn believes in Keynesian economics is apparently a bigger faux pas to the Labour hierarchy than his association with the characters mentioned above.
Much of this demonstrates, as I mentioned already, that a politician can at present take almost any position on foreign affairs and get away with it. As for the rest, I believe it shows that the Labour party – and the left more generally – no longer takes antisemitism seriously. ………..’
Nigel Farage has claimed that Ukip is “100% united” – something Westminster’s keenest observers have derided – after two of the party’s most senior aides were axed after publicly attacking him.
Patrick O’Flynn and Suzanne Evans stood down as economics spokesman and policy chief respectively after publicly criticising Farage for reneging on a promise to stand down as leader if he lost his bid for a seat in parliament.
O’Flynn had called Farage “snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive” while Evans had publicly urged Farage to “take a holiday”.
On Wednesday, Farage told the Today programme: “What has happened in Ukip is, since the election, after the pressure cooker atmosphere of a campaign office, one or two regrettable things were said and done by a very small number of people.
“But I tell you where this leaves Ukip going into this referendum campaign, unlike the other parties – united, 100% united. We have for over 20 years fought hard to make the EU an issue.
“We were told we were the mad men from the hills for even considering whether Britain could have a future outside of political union and we now have a referendum on this subject. We are united; the other parties are very, very divided.”
The comment about Ukip being “100% united” didn’t go down with sceptical journalists:
Ominously, he said he had “other plans” for Evans, who is still the party’s deputy chair
He previously praised Evans when she unveiled the party’s election manifesto and many saw her as a potential successor to Farage when he initially said he would resign – only to “unresign” days later when the party’s NEC rejected it.
On the Today programme, he said: “There’s no question that she is a very able woman.” But he would be drawn on whether she was a potential leader.
Just after the manifesto was launched, Farage said of Evans: “The fact that she’s done it with all of our costings verified and backed up is testament to her professionalism… I absolutely congratulate Suzanne Evans and her team for producing this excellent manifesto.”
Mark Reckless, who defected from the Tories last year but lost his seat in the general election, has been mooted as a replacement to head up the party’s policy unit.
Speaking on the BBC this morning, Evans described Farage as one of her “political heroes”. She said she believed O’Flynn stood down of his own free will.
She denied there had been a purge or a coup attempt, saying: “The only person who has ever plotted again Nigel Farage’s leadership is Nigel Farage himself, by offering to resign.”
She was asked why people who criticised Farage were quick to resign, she said: “It is quite ridiculous isn’t it? But I really think it’s a coincidence.”
Speaking this morning, Evans told the BBC: “”The only person who has ever plotted against Nigel Farage’s leadership is Nigel Farage himself, by offering to resign.”
In standing down, O’Flynn, a former journalist, told colleagues he felt “sincere regret” for making his comments in a hostile interview with The Times.
Farage also told Today that CBI president Sir Mike Rake was “wrong” in urging businesses to “speak out early” in favour of remaining in a reformed European Union.
Rake will tell the business group’s annual dinner in London that the time had come for business to “turn up the volume” on the issue.
Farage said: “The whole point about the CBI and many of these big multinational companies is that when it came to the debate 13 years ago about whether Britain should join the euro or not, they all said unless Britain joined the euro we’d miss out on investment and it would be a disaster.
“Well they were proved wrong about that and I think they are wrong about this.”
He also said he feared David Cameron would win “some cosmetic concessions” in his efforts to reform Britain’s relationship with the EU, which the prime minister would then use to claim to “cry victory” and urge Britons to vote to remain in the EU in the promised referendum.