On Thursday 23rd June the unexpected triumph of the Leave campaign can only be read as a rebuke to the authority of the political class. Certainly racism and anti-immigrant prejudice informed many voters, but that was far from the only motive for so many people rejecting the overwhelming consensus view of experts and professionals who counseled caution.
What credibility did George Osborne have in saying that leaving the European Union would jeopardize the prosperity and strength of the UK economy, when millions work on zero hours contracts, or with only a few hours through agencies; when a million people rely upon food banks; when there is a crippling housing crisis; when there is both a growth of in-work poverty, and also a brutal and inhuman regime of sanctioning the unemployed; when thousands of graduates are burdened by an unimaginable yoke of debt.
For people who cannot afford the bus to go and sign on, what did it matter that they might lose the theoretical opportunity to take a job in Milan or Berlin. When people see their local employers advertising vacancies only in Poland or the Czech Republic, without giving them an opportunity to apply, then the employment law protections enshrined in EU law may as well be dust in their mouths.
The arguments from anti-Corbyn rebels in the Labour Party make scarce sense. The vote to Remain had to be won amongst those angry and alienated, and who are highly skeptical about the EU. The argument from Corbyn that the EU is far from perfect, but on balance it was still better to remain, was one carefully calibrated to engage with potential swing voters in the referendum.
The plotters know that Corbyn is not responsible for losing the referendum. As Angela Eagle herself explained on 13th June, “Jeremy is up and down the country, pursuing an agenda that would make a 25-year-old tired. He has not stopped. We are doing our best, but if we are not reported it is difficult.”
However, it takes a staggering lack of self awareness by Labour MPs, many of whom failed to convince the electors in their own constituencies to vote Remain, to fail to see that the referendum revolt against the politics of “business as usual” also rejects them, and the whole culture of the Portcullis House bubble; it rejects the incestuous linkeage between conspiring careerists and establishment journalists.
At the very moment when the prospect of Brexit threatens to rip up employment rights, when the economy might be overwhelmed by catastrophe as business confidence is lost, and investment decisions are postponed and cancelled. When the falling pound jeopardizes thousands of jobs in UK companies who buy on the world market in US dollars. At a time when not only 3 million EU citizens in the UK are unsure of their future, but there is a terrifying rise in racially motivated hate crime. At this very moment Labour shadow cabinet members indulge in an orchestrated fiasco of resignations, and student union antics. It is beyond contempt.
And who is the mighty, unifying figure who they suggest can bring the party back together as an alternative to Corbyn. Angela Eagle!? Does anyone seriously think that Angela Eagle, particularly if she is elected in a process that makes the assassination of Julius Caesar look quite proper and dignified, will have the authority and stature to unite the party, to appease the sense of betrayal from members and activists? Is Angela Eagle, who has not even carried the support of her own constituency party, the person who can bring back alienated Labour voters who are listening to the simplistic siren song of UKIP?
It is a far cry from the 1976 contest, when 6 giants sought the leadership. Michael Foot, Anthony Crosland, Tony Benn, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins and James Callaghan.
The statement from General Secretaries of 10 of the 14 affiliated unions issued yesterday is not quite a ringing endorsement of Corbyn. However it is withering in its scorn for the rebels of the parliamentary party, who have played parlour games at the moment when their nation, and their constituents needed them most to act as a unified and determined opposition.
The current crisis within the Parliamentary Labour Party is deeply regrettable and unnecessary. Last week’s vote to leave the European Union presents the entire labour movement with unprecedented challenges. Above all, we need to be fighting to preserve our members’ jobs, already under threat in several industries and across the public sector as a consequence. The government is in crisis, but already serious debates are taking place and decisions being made which profoundly affect the interests of working people.
Under these circumstances, our members and millions of others will be looking with dismay at the events in parliament. It cannot be right to seek to denude the Labour front bench at this time, when the government more than ever needs to be scrutinised and held to account by an effective and united opposition that does the job it is paid to do.
Jeremy Corbyn is the democratically-elected Leader of our Party who secured such a resounding mandate less than ten months ago under an electoral procedure fully supported by Labour MPs. His position cannot and should not be challenged except through the proper democratic procedures provided for in the Party’s constitution. We urge all Labour MPs to abide by those procedures, and to respect the authority of the Party’s Leader.
While we have stated that we believe a Leadership election would be an unwelcome distraction at this time of crisis, if one nevertheless occurs through the proper procedures we would expect all parts of the Party to honour the result and pull together in the interests of the country, and working people in particular. The only party that can win for working people is a strong and united Labour Party.
Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite the Union
Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON
Tim Roache, General Secretary, GMB
Dave Ward, General Secretary, CWU
Brian Rye, Acting General Secretary, UCATT
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA
Mick Whelan, General Secretary, ASLEF
Matt Wrack, General Secretary, FBU
Ronnie Draper, General Secretary, BFAWU
Chris Kitchen, General Secretary, NUM
Each trade union will make its own decisions, by the appropriate processes according to their own rule books.
However, the rightful scorn against the MP plotters, will I am sure be a factor in those decisions; and while many trade union activists and officers may have some reservations about Corbyn; the alternatives look far worse.