What is Corbyn thinking?

Bernard Porter

Jeremy Corbyn is getting a lot of stick just now – certainly on the anti-Brexit Facebook pages I subscribe to – for not coming out clearly in favour of a second referendum, and for Remain. The Guardian is especially critical: but when hasn’t it been, of this untidy bearded radical who flouts even liberal standards of political respectability? I have to say, a part of me is disappointed too. I’d have liked Labour to have taken more of a pro-European lead. But then I think again.

There are three reasons for suspending judgment on Corbyn until the whole sorry affair has worked itself out. First, he is at least being consistent in his career-long Euroscepticism, which is more than you can say for Theresa May: pro-Europe one day, leading the anti-Europe charge the next. What would the press have made of a similar volte-face by the famously principled Corbyn?

Second, he has always been a Eurosceptic, not an anti-European; and for totally different reasons from the right-wing antis: he sees the EU as having been taken over by global capitalism and so an obstacle to the democratic socialism he wants for Britain. That’s why he must be against a form of Brexit that releases Britain from the hands of Brussels only to send it into the claws of Trump, and America’s lower product and labour standards. The emphasis in Corbyn’s speeches has always been on jobs and workers’ rights; which could be secured either within a reformed EU (there are plenty of Leftists there to help him) or by a ‘soft’ Brexit arrangement that kept Britain within the single market. In the present chaos it isn’t clear which is more likely. So Corbyn is – sensibly and intelligently – holding his fire. Of course the Manichaean tabloids are too thick to see this; or else assume their readers are.

The third reason for giving Corbyn the benefit of the doubt is that he has his Northern working-class and other ‘left-behind’ voters to think of. Insofar as they and others voted against Europe (and they may not have been as solidly Brexit as the popular press makes out), it was largely for all the wrong reasons; but they don’t like being told this, especially by ‘elitists’ and 'experts', and so are building powerful and expert-resistant barricades – ‘You lost, accept it’; ‘What part of democracy don’t you understand?’; ‘We’re not idiots, we knew what we were voting for’; ‘Brexit means Brexit’ – against any sign that they might be about to be ‘betrayed’ by the ‘Establishment’. At the very least it may be wise for Corbyn not to come out as a Remainer until the practical flaws in the Brexit enterprise have been clearly revealed to everyone, as well as the cheating on the Brexit side.

Much of the working-class Brexit vote was a blind expression of anger, or a desperate cry for help. Only the elitist leaders of the movement cared much about Europe. Any solution to the problem that doesn’t address this, or even exacerbates it, could intensify the dangerous divisions that the debate has opened up in Britain. This is an important consideration, which only Corbyn’s more subtle approach – if I read it correctly – takes proper account of.

My money’s on an eventual Norway-style settlement – membership of the single market with free movement, and the freedom to nationalise things. Corbyn’s ‘red lines’ would be fundamentally different from May’s, and he might be more successful with them. But in the present situation nothing can be predicted.

In the meantime we should try to see the problem from Corbyn’s – and Labour’s – point of view. The party’s priority must be to make radical changes to Britain’s economy and society. The relationship with Europe is secondary to this. A social democratic Britain could be reconciled either with membership of a reformed EU or with a soft Brexit. But it isn’t compatible with any Tory policy towards Europe, either out or in. So: an election must come first; followed either by a renegotiation on Labour’s terms, or another referendum, with Remain as an option, which should give us a more accurate picture of the ‘people’s will’ – a more informed will this time. It might even allow us to crawl back, tail between our legs, into the EU. (That would be my preference; but then I live there.)

Last, but by no means least, this just might undo some of the domestic harm done by this wretched contest, smoothing out the political divisions between Brexiters and Remainers, and enabling the British to live at least moderately happily together again. Johnson and Rees-Mogg, and the rest of the public school crowd, would be pushed back to the margins where they belong. On this view, Corbyn’s way could even be seen as ‘patriotic’. Or am I crediting him with too much good sense?


  • 31 December 2018 at 4:04pm
    Moebius05 says:
    Yes, you are crediting him with too much good sense. Corbyn, despite having been a full-time politician for forty years has never found the time to develop a contradiction-free stance on the most important question of his - and my - lifetime. Sadly he is joined by the quasi-totality of the British public in not paying attention to the most important political development since 1945.

    • 31 December 2018 at 5:16pm
      Dic Penderyn says: @ Moebius05
      "... the most important political development since 1945", says Moebius.

      The support assembled at Westminster to enable Britain to go to war in Iraq (a support known to be assembled on lies) is a more important political development since 1945.

      Corbyn was very contradiction-free on that Issue, as he is on opposing Britain arming Saudi Arabia, UAE with weapons to massacre civilians in Yemen.

    • 1 January 2019 at 10:37am
      Moebius05 says: @ Dic Penderyn
      quod erat demonstrandum

    • 1 January 2019 at 10:20pm
      Dic Penderyn says: @ Moebius05
      Placere discere temptare

    • 2 January 2019 at 2:07pm
      mototom says: @ Dic Penderyn
      Humilitatem accipit a vita tempus

  • 31 December 2018 at 5:00pm
    woll says:
    The question is rhetorical. Corbyn doesn't do 'good sense', he is a conviction politician and never changes his convictions - as shown by the mess he made of the anti-semitism row. His dislike of the EU is a long held conviction, not based on any understanding of how the EU, even on the EU policy of national investment. But Brexit is a Tory policy, with nothing to be ganined from Corbyn meekly trailing alaong after May, ignoring the opinions of most of his party members, of the majority of the party's MP's, and even of the membership group who have so far supported him. The large number of remainers who have so far supported Labour will soon have to choose between the party and their beliefs, many may well choose to go elsewhere, there are other options. Corbyn will not change, until the party remove or bypass him it will stay unelectable. This is a a sad and disturbing fact at a time when we have the worst government in living memory.

    • 31 December 2018 at 6:10pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ woll
      I generally make it a rule not to respond to comments submitted under pseudonyms; but I thought it worth remarking that neither of these first two comments addresses my arguments, which, if taken seriously, might (just might) give Corbyn’s critics pause for thought.

    • 1 January 2019 at 12:26am
      authorgary says: @ Bernard Porter
      I can see the ambivalence. Corporate capitalism agglomerates, wherein the EU becomes a takeover bid.
      Alan Bennett calls it "cowardice" to opt out rather than ally with left-wingers within the EU to allay the right-swing sweep across the board.
      Britain is already rotten with corporate capitalism: it's led the corporate way in Europe for 40 years. As a socialist, and pessimistic about any chance for a civilized society, I don't know that it makes much difference to a doomed scenario either way. I don't think the issue gets to the heart of what we've already lost, and we lost it while we were IN the EU.
      Human rights have been abused in Britain long before anyone drafted a new charter to dump some theoretical obligations. Middle class commentators may not have noticed this, but the disadvantaged clocked it without a voice.
      The European issue, so vital to all commentators in all publications in Britain now, might be so much fiddling while Rome burns anyway - - in London, land of artful dodgers.

    • 1 January 2019 at 12:35pm
      woll says: @ Bernard Porter
      Arguments? Pause for thought? We are advised to give Corbyn time (the decisive vote on the future of this country is in two weeks!)since he is 1.a eurosceptic or 2.holding fire for a better moment or even 3. mysteriously a closet remainder waitng to reveal his secret identity. None of this is any way convincing, Corbyn and friends are merely cynically expecting the country to crash so the wonders of socialism can come to an unlikely rescue. The least one might expect of the leader of the opposition is that he/she provides both leadership and opposition to the rabble currently in power. Corbyn does neither, I doubt the electorate will be convinced by his 'subtlety'.

    • 9 January 2019 at 4:13pm
      KevinWhitston says: @ Bernard Porter
      Here is a contribution that I hope does address your arguments. Corbyn might get brownie points for consistency in his Euroscepticism, but nothing else in Bernard Porter’s argument holds up. It is neither sensible nor intelligent for Corbyn to ‘hold his fire’ until it is clear whether jobs and workers’ rights would be better protected in a reformed EU or a soft-Brexit: the TUC and most unions have already told him both are more secure in the EU, soft-Brexit is politically unsustainable, and holding his fire does nothing to reform the EU. It just leaves the field clear for the Tories.

      Porter reminds us that he ‘has his Northern working-class and other ‘left-behind’ voters to think of … it may be wise for Corbyn not to come out as a Remainer until the practical flaws in the Brexit enterprise have been clearly revealed to everyone’. Well, I wonder when that will be Bernard. Long after a time when it might have been possible to shape events, and almost certainly long after Brexit.

      But says Porter, only Corbyn’s ‘more subtle approach’ adequately recognises that ‘Much of the working-class Brexit vote was a blind expression of anger, or a desperate cry for help’. There was blind anger, maybe a plea for help too, but it was a great deal more than that. Too much middle-class comment thinks about the working class as a largely unthinking mass, moved this way or that by economic injustice. Neither Porter’s sympathy nor Corbyn’s slogan of ‘jobs and rights’ address the politics of the working class leave vote. 60% of the leave vote was middle class (A, B, C1 (Dorling)). The coming together of this constituency with a sizeable element of the working class was only partly historical accident or mismatch, it was also political in origin, including shared ideas about ‘the nation’, about democracy, immigration and Britain’s place in the world and it has a long history. There is nothing subtle about an approach that overlooks the politics.

      The argument that the EU is not the main question anyway will ring a bell with those wanting to call down a plague on both houses, the EU and British capitalism. ‘The party’s priority must be to make radical changes to Britain’s economy and society. The relationship with Europe is secondary to this. A social democratic Britain could be reconciled either with membership of a reformed EU or with a soft Brexit’. Actually, in an international economy, the relationship to Europe – and the rest of the world – is almost certainly critical. A social democratic Britain isn’t impossible outside the EU but it will be a great deal easier to blunt the hostility of European and world capitalism, and to find allies to build on what British socialists want to do, if fighting from within.

      The big strategic question that Corbyn must address first is about Britain’s place in the world. If geography, politics, and economics dictates that it is in Europe, the fate of British socialism will be bound up with the struggle for the same things in Europe. We won’t get a reformed EU this side of Brexit and a social democratic Britain will have zero influence on EU reform after. Nor will there be any kind of reconciliation in a soft Brexit which clings to some economic advantages at the price of political influence. Corbyn’s subtlety looks more like irrelevance.

  • 1 January 2019 at 5:04am
    D. Waller says:
    Howdy. I'm writing from America - you know, the ones who did their own Brexit a couple hundred years ago, followed by a close, special relationship with the people they broke off from...

    As I don't live in the UK - and I've learned more about British politics in the last 2 1/2 years than I did in my whole life before Brexit - I realize the value of any comment of mine is suspect, but I'd like to take the author up on his interest in comments that address his article.

    I'll start by summing up: the article underscores important domestic issues that outsiders like myself can too easily overlook, but the point that is repeatedly made is that Corbyn is to be let off the hook for not leading.

    First, I am to at least admire the consistency of his career-long Euroskepticism. Sorry, but consistency isn't admirable to me; I'd rather see a person change and grow. More importantly, I have not seen this consistency. Corbyn is campaigned in some way for Remain in 2016 (or so one is told); then this year he said he would not know how he would vote in a second referendum; then a week or so ago he finally came out as a full-on Brexiter. So, no, I can't give him points for consistency, even if I did think it was an admirable quality: Corbyn is inconsistent in the most obviously shallow political way.

    Second, I'm supposed to applaud Corbyn for "holding his fire" as he must be "against a form of Brexit that releases it from the hands of Brussels only to send it into the claws of Trump." But the "form of Brexit" was (unlike the Remain option) an unknown in the language of the 2016 referendum, when Corbyn, in all his consistency, should perhaps have taken the Brexiter reigns and shown the UK what the possibilities meant for him. He still hasn't. But, of course, that would be leading rather than holding one's fire...

    Third, I'm to consider that "it may be wise for Corbyn not to come out as a Remainer until the practical flaws in the Brexit enterprise have been clearly revealed to everyone." In other words, I'm to suppose that Corbyn qualifies as a leader precisely in his refusal to lead. This is a truly odd thing to hold up as a quality in person with leadership ambitions. From where I live, it seems that what the UK needs is a leader in the Remainers' corner, not someone who sits back and sees how it all shakes out. And anyway, this is a strange line of argument - how can Corbyn "come out" as a Remainer when he's just getting comfortable as a Brexiter?

    Well, this is a view from a small town in the US. In summary, I don't think there's anything clever or subtle about Corbyn, and while the article is educational, its invitation to let Corbyn continue in his evasive way is, I think, letting him have too much. I believe he subscribes to Boris Johnson's cake-and-eat-it philosophy: in Corbyn's case, this means wishing for March 29 to pass without a deal, so that all hell breaks loose and an election is possibly called that he might think he has a chance of winning.

    He'd be a Brussels-free Prime Minister with no Brexit dirt on his hands - an ideal situation for a non-leader with his complex constituency, and one that recalls to me the famous words of that American anti-hero Bart Simpson: "It was like that when I got here."

    • 9 January 2019 at 7:16am
      billyr says: @ D. Waller
      Thank you, D.Waller, for a fascinating perspective on La Corbyn. Let’s conjugate Corbyn: I am principled, you are stubborn, he (despite apparent revolutionary tendencies) is change phobic and duplicitous.

  • 1 January 2019 at 10:43am
    Mr October says:
    If I set out to deliberately write a comment on Corbyn that was wrong, I don't think that I could beat this article.

    He is nothing more than a political coward, afraid to come down on either side of the debate, and an opportunist, wishing the worst for the UK, so he can step in and pick up the pieces.

    The good thing is that age isn't in his favour, and Labour will need a new leader shortly.

  • 1 January 2019 at 4:00pm
    Bernard Porter says:
    It's interesting that most of the ad hominem anti-Corbyn comments here are pseudonymous. In view of the suspicion - 'conspiracy theory', if you like, but there is some evidence for it - that the Israel government has been using Facebook to attack Corbyn, it would be reassuring to be able to check that this isn't the case here. I doubt it is, or that the revelation of 'Woll's' real name will answer the question; but in any event if comments, on any topic at all, are to be taken seriously, they need to be owned. Anonymity (of which hiding behind pseudonyms is a form) could be regarded as no less 'cowardly' than anything 'Mr October' attributes to Corbyn.

    • 1 January 2019 at 4:03pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ Bernard Porter
      'Osa1911a' is me, B. Porter, of course. I don't know why this time it came up in code.

    • 1 January 2019 at 5:00pm
      woll says: @ Bernard Porter
      Interesting to have a pseudonym complaining about the use of pseudonyms - but now - apparently - explained. Writing on a blogsite using a pseudonym is perfectly normal, at a guess about half the responses to the LRB site are written as pseudonyms, an awful lot of so-called 'cowards'. As to the smear that any criticism of the current labour leadership probably comes from the Israeli embassy, this is desperate stuff, best to ignore. And sorry to disappoint but unfortunately no conspiracy theory, my name is Will Firebrace, I am a long-standing labour supporter, and have been contributing to this site for many years. My views are my entirely my own, I will continue to express them but am content to remain ... woll.

    • 1 January 2019 at 5:38pm
      Mr October says: @ Bernard Porter
      Do you deny that Corbyn is a coward? Do you deny that he is an opportunist who wants to see the worst for our country?

    • 1 January 2019 at 5:52pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ woll
      Thanks, Will, it's good to have my impression that you aren't a Zionist plant confirmed! But you must see the problem, especially in the light of the recent 'Labour anti-semitism' debate.

      I still think pseudonyms are disreputable, however long they've been used on the web. I've given my reasons in previous blogs, including the LRB one (which the editor won't thank me for referring back to). They're a feature of modern life that I believe to be corrosive; akin to 'anonymous letters' in pre-internet days, or the wearing of disguises. (And I've written on the history of 'secret service' and 'dirty tricks'. It may be this that has made me so hostile to the practice.) I've never used pseudonyms, and would feel embarrassed at doing so. We should have enough confidence in our views to acknowledge them openly. There are exceptions, of course: where openness might be dangerous to oneself. But otherwise one should have the courage of one's convictions.

      And by the way, you'll notice that I did not write that 'any' criticism of Corbyn 'probably' comes from the Israelis. Only that it might do - and has in some instances. The stated purpose of my last comment was to reassure me that this isn't true in the cases cited here. I'm happy to be reassured. Thanks.

    • 1 January 2019 at 5:54pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ Mr October
      (From Bernard Porter.) Yes, absolutely. Before I argue the case, however, I'd like to see your evidence; and also - if possible - your real name.

    • 1 January 2019 at 6:56pm
      woll says: @ Bernard Porter
      All fine and no offence taken. Though I am still not not sure if I am writing to osa1911a or to porter, either could be a pseudodym. And to suggest without evidence that I am an Israeli plant and then to say you are now happy that I am not, is certainly a bit odd. Actually woll isn't even a pseudomnym, I sometimes work in Germany and people think I am wooly (wollig) so its a corruption of Will. None of this particularly bothers me. Its all a bit of a sideline from the political issue, but literary pseudonyms have a long and valued history - Le Carré, Stendhal, Voltaire Ferrante, Akhmatova etc etc - without there being anything to conceal, it conveniently provides a writing identity separate from daily life, and is perfectly respectable, might even suggest an interesting LRB blog. I'll now step back and leave you to deal with the Corbyn (presumably his real name...) issues.

    • 1 January 2019 at 8:01pm
      D. Waller says: @ Bernard Porter
      I didn't realize the London Review of Books was this kind of website. Your use of the phrase "Zionist plant" is both humorous and despicable. Your need to see yourself as a target for Israeli spies is both laughable and psychologically fascinating. It just goes to show: there's nothing, but nothing, more interesting than people.

    • 1 January 2019 at 8:01pm
      Timothy Rogers says: @ woll
      On the issue of pseudonyms, I'd like to add my own take. I’m old (74), way behind the times in the use of electronic gadgets of all types, and have never utilized any popular social-media platform (you all know their names – and insane, greedy ambitions). I am not including e-mail in this “boycott”, because I find it useful and the equivalent of sending notes or letters to people (but then I actually draft a note or letter, edit it, let it sit a while, look at it again, and then send it – which is probably not the usual approach). But, and to my way of thinking it’s a big But, if I read something on a blog and would like to respond to it I use a pseudonym, for the simple reason that the internet is teeming with a variety of nut-jobs who, if they don’t like something you write, may try to initiate some kind of campaign against you, and, if they have hacking abilities, may find a way to track down your e-mail address, for instance, so that they can bombard you with drivel or threats. To me this is sufficient reason for using a pseudonym. Call me paranoid, though that’s not my call-sign. After all, the LRB editors know my real name because they can link my internet address to an e-mail account which is also linked to my status as a subscriber to the journal (I think it might work this way, explain to me why not, if otherwise). I think of it as a reasonable form of self-protection, rather than cowardice.

    • 1 January 2019 at 9:29pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ D. Waller
      What?! I specifically wrote that I DIDN'T think he was a 'Zionist plant'. And I never suggested that I was a target - only that Corbyn is. You should read more carefully.

    • 1 January 2019 at 9:33pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ Timothy Rogers
      I can see the argument. But I don't think that always using my own name has made me a target for 'nut-jobs' in any way. Maybe I'm not paranoid enough.

    • 1 January 2019 at 10:31pm
      Moebius05 says: @ Bernard Porter
      Netanyahu and other people with similar interests (on both sides of the Atlantic) would prefer to live in a world without the European Union and would welcome a Brexit as it would weaken the EU (just google "Heritage Foundation + Brexit" to find a selection of opinions from that august organisation).

      As for Corbyn's possible anti-Semitism: Netanyahu has time and again (one might think of his intercourse with Orbán, Kaczyński, Fico or Dragnea) proven that he will not let that bother in pursuit of his political aims.
      To honestly fear that might want to undercut Corbyn before Brexit is consummated seems bizarre.

      But even if it were the case it wouldn't justify calling for people to divulge their "true identities". Either a claim is true, or it isn't; either an argument makes sense or it doesn't.

      To anybody who thinks that my person, and my private life and deportment should determine the veracity of my arguments I can only say: It's as bad as you think. I am anti-Semitic, wife-beating, polygamist, homosexual Israeli plant who eats red meat, smokes, drinks, swears, and sells drugs and child pornography for a living.

    • 2 January 2019 at 12:31am
      Bernard Porter says: @ Moebius05
      Netanyahu's desire to prevent Corbyn becoming PM - as the first PM we will have had who openly espouses the Palestinian cause - is certainly far greater than any feeling he may have towards the EU, and furnishes a motive, at least, for attacking or 'smearing', perhaps, Corbyn and Labour. If you have evidence of Netanyahu's greater animus against the EU I'd be interested to read it. The Heritage Foundation is an American, not an Israeli, body (though obviously, being 'Conservative', it supports the Israeli government).

      Still, it was good to read at last a reasoned argument from the 'pseudonymous' side. The earlier comments simply indulged in wild and unsubstantiated attacks on Corbyn. Hence my curiosity to know whence they came. I agree that 'either an argument makes sense or it doesn’t', but these weren't 'arguments'.

      The main reasons for openness in this respect is that anonymity can raise doubts - even unworthy ones - about the motive for that anonymity; and about the reliability of the commentator. I'm afraid I'm old-fashioned in this regard: I don't like conversing with someone who won't reveal him- or herself. To me, it smacks of deception.

    • 3 January 2019 at 1:28pm
      Moebius05 says: @ Bernard Porter
      I was learned at university, that ever since Suez there is a world-wide consensus that the UK, on it's own, is too insignificant to act in any meaningful way on the world stage. Also, world-wide economic and demographic changes can only have further deteriorated the UK's position in the intervening half century. If that weren't so, then Farage and his ilk might have a case.

      Concerning Netanyahu's position you might be aware that the EU is scrambling to save the deal with Iran that Netanyahu and Trump are trying to torpedo, you might be aware that it is the EU that chiefly funds the Palestinian Authority ... But in the end I am neither able, nor indeed willing to find the kind of "proof" you are asking for. I do not read Ivrit, I do not want to waste my time trying to disentangle which think tanks or news platforms (Jerusalem Post?) are Israeli, which ones are American, and finally I do not sufficiently care. If you look for "EU-Israel relations" on the Times Of Israel homepage or on that of the Jerusalem Post you can find a number of articles that seem to support my claim, but I do not claim that they prove anything.

      For me the fact that over the past twenty years the closeness of Netanyahu's relationships with politicians in EU Member States has constantly been inverse to their fondness of the EU is sufficient proof.

      Finally I have nothing to fear of divulging my identity. But I have friends who do and in solidarity with those I shall not do it either.

      And finally there is something that I apparently failed to communicate: When I say that the EU is the most important political question since 1945 I do not mean to say that it is the most important political question since 1945 for Britain, I mean to say it is the most important political question since 1945 for the world.

      Brexit will not improve the quality of British food or British weather, but it might be decisive when people in countries that are in upheaval look for inspiration.

    • 4 January 2019 at 3:34pm
      Oliver H says: @ Bernard Porter
      Or maybe you're just not paying enough attention to what's happening out on the net, where people receive death threats for voicing their opinion if they are lucky and get police sent to their house under the assumptions there's a hostage situation going on there if they are unlucky. That HAS led to deaths already in the United States and can happen even when people are using a pseudonym, but the more barriers there are for people to find out your street address, the less it will happen on average, as at least casual bullies are prevented from engaging in such practices. We don't necessarily have to make things as easy as possible for the worst the web has to offer.

  • 1 January 2019 at 4:29pm
    XopherO says:
    Whereas I understand the Left's antipathy to the EU, particularly under such neo-liberals as Juncker and Merkel, I never understood the Bennite idea that we could get a socialist Britain outside more easily than in, which it would seem is Corbyn's view. And now the SNP has such influence it is even more complicated. A majority Labour government looks like cloud-cuckoo land. And the idea that Labour could negotiate a better deal than May is probably the same. The EU does not have a history of being nice to leftist governments, and indeed as Hollande (and Greece) found out, the rigidity of the ECBs rules make Keynesian policies almost impossible. Anyway, Labour's current 'policy' is for 'some kind' of customs union, outside the free market. Which is surely a contradiction. It's just words.

    May, and a host of civil servants, has negotiated an exit agreement - not a trade agreement, which is open for discussion afterwards - while everybody else just fiddled with slogans. She had to get rid of several idiot Brexit secretaries to do it. It is the only plausible way to avoid mayhem, and secure the Good Friday international treaty.

    I wish it were different. Perhaps I am too pessimistic. But I agree that Corbyn is as bad as the others. He is not on a path to protect jobs, except perhaps his own (good pay for an old lefty!)

    And by the way, it is not the worst government - it surely ties with Heath's appalling collection of incompetent ministers. Remember imprisonment without trial anyone? Perhaps it also ties with Blair's - Iraq - which revealed that most Labour MPs were lobby-fodder morons. Perhaps they still are.

  • 1 January 2019 at 7:13pm
    Graucho says:
    If he does have political smarts he will do the following.
    > Remind the house that they can pass motions until they are blue in the face, but we are going to have a no-deal brexit because the parliamentary arithmetic won't pass any Brexit proposal.
    > Point out that the only way out is to change the parliamentary arithmetic and that you do that by holding an election.
    > Point out that in an election parties have manifestos and each party, including his, will have to decide what type of Brexit it wants and each candidate will either support it or stand for someone else.
    > Point out that an election will actually give voters a range of Brexit options including remaning which no binary referendum could offer.
    > Declare that the day after May's deal is defeated he will table a motion of no confidence in the government and that he expects all those members who have vehemently declared no-deal a catastrophe to vote for it, putting country before party.

    • 1 January 2019 at 9:37pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ Graucho
      I broadly agree. I'm hoping this is JC's plan. It's good to get a comment that takes it seriously, rather than attacking him from already established positions.

    • 4 January 2019 at 3:29pm
      Oliver H says: @ Graucho
      Your assertions are rather fictious. Having an election at this point will not give voters a range of Brexit options, but rather write in stone a hard Brexit. By the time the elections done, the clock will have ticked down and that's the end of the whole sorry affair. And if you believe that holding no less than TWO elections during the negotiation period will earn the UK applause and empathy on the continent, you are seriously misjudging the mood there.
      You either pull the plug now or the whole thing is over.

  • 1 January 2019 at 9:27pm
    woll says:
    Maybe, but I doubt this would get us any further on the issue at hand. As XopherO points out above, the idea of a labour majority is cloud cuckoo land - all polls (which I know can be fallible..) point to yet another hung parliament. A coalition or working agreement with either SNP or/and Libdems would have to mean another referendum. And since Labour currently have no believable strategy for Brexit, what are they going to propose beyond more sitting on the fence? And an election would have to mean the suspension of Article 50, not a given. We would remain between the proverbial rock and hard place.

    • 1 January 2019 at 11:24pm
      Graucho says: @ woll
      Could it get us any less further than the current impasse ? If the new parliament isn't hung then the matter will be resolved and if it is, there may still be a coalition to push through a version of Brexit, which there certainly isn't at present. One thing I believe to be true is that the electorate, bored/dismayed/impatient with what has happened, will give short shrift to any party which equivocates on what to do about Brexit at such an election.

  • 1 January 2019 at 10:29pm
    Simon Wood says:
    Norway plus plus plus their oil would be good, yes. The trouble is Jeremy may be only offering this bolted to an austere programme of nationalised trains, cycling and allotmenteering. White van woman likes "X Factor" and "Strictly", not trains and vegetables.

    It's not a politician's job to be principled or populist but it is to be popular. Labour don't get in very often - 1945, 1964 and 1997 basically. Last time they got in, their leader seemed like a Radio 1 DJ not someone about to lead us down disused railway tunnels of Britain, however interesting.

  • 2 January 2019 at 9:53am
    Mr October says:
    Not even sure why we are debating this, in better times under Churchill etc, the bearded wonder and his sinister henchman McDonnell would be residing in the Tower on a diet of bread and water. Traitors will always be traitors, its just the state that has moderated its response to them.

  • 2 January 2019 at 10:23am
    Bernard Porter says:
    I think the nub of the matter is the importance one attaches to the Brexit issue. To me, and to most of those who read the LRB, I guess it seems pretty vital; affecting as it does our very feeling of identity and the character of our country. (I've applied for Swedish citizenship in order to escape from it. That's how strongly I feel.) But for the mass of people, and in the long term, it really matters very little. They didn't vote, in that notorious referendum, on the issue of Europe, about which they had shown little sign of caring before then. That was an 'elite' thing, on both sides. The fundamental problems with Britain, which fuelled the 'out' vote, run much deeper: to do with austerity, late-stage capitalism, inequality, the democratic deficit, the north-south divide, and much more. The European issue doesn't directly affect these, although there can be arguments on both sides over which position - in or out - will marginally help to cure these basic woes. It seems more likely, however, that the main significance of the European issue is to act as a distraction from these deeper problems; in which case an ambivalent stance towards the Brexit issue makes sense, and the higher priority Labour is putting on securing an election could be wise.

    • 5 January 2019 at 10:55am
      ianbrowne says: @ Bernard Porter
      I'm not convinced that these should be thought of as the wrong reasons. The Parliamentary system hasn't really offered the opportunity for people to give expression to these concerns. The referendum did give them that opportunity. Sometimes you have to take whatever opportunities are offered to you.

      It strikes me that most peoples reasons for voting for Brexit were excellent, and there was no other way they could give expression to those reasons.

    • 5 January 2019 at 4:40pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ ianbrowne
      By 'wrong reasons' I meant reasons quite apart from the question on the Referendum paper. I agree that it was rational to vote against the government in a situation where the people were more generally oppressed (if that's not too strong a term), and had been allowed no other opportunity to express their displeasure - our voting system being what it is. See

    • 9 January 2019 at 10:34am
      RegPresley says: @ Bernard Porter
      It's an interesting argument that Brexit is a marginal issue because the underlying problems- inequality etc. - can be solved either from within or without the EU. Or that because much of the Leave vote was fuelled by grievances that are not caused by the EU an ambivalent attitude towards Brexit can be justified.

      There's a strong sense of non sequitur here. The UK's membership of the EU is either important or it isn't. Whether the 2016 referendum was a sensible mechanism for attempting to resolve the issue is a separate question. (I think it was a totally foolish idea, partly for the reasons you give: broadly scoped referendums will always risk attracting a sort of generalised protest vote, particularly if such referendums are rare).

      In any case, the fundamental strategic importance of the EU is to do with securing peace and prosperity by integrating economic and political structures among nation states that had previously been repeatedly at war with each other, under dictatorship or imperial (Soviet) domination. Clearly this has been a project with many difficulties but at the same time has had very great successes.

      To my mind, the Brexit issue is extremely important because the EU is extremely important. The mis-characterisation of Brexit as something to do with UK prosperity or inequality has been, and still is, a mistake. But it doesn't lead to the conclusion that the European issue is less 'deep' than the issues you identify.

  • 2 January 2019 at 2:04pm
    XopherO says:
    Why people voted Brexit is indeed complex, but a new referendum would hardly simplify it. There is not a lot of evidence Brexit voters are changing their minds (in fact more like getting impatient for it), and some evidence that Remainers are. Just before the last referendum the polls showed a comfortable Remain win - Ho Ho. The EU, Barnier etc have been so vilified, so accused of seeking to punish, having nasty motivations and being inflexible, plus the blandishments that it will be all right on the night and Britain will be great again - we got through the war we will get through this - that it would hardly be surprising if Brexit won again. A choice with transferable vote(s) would just muddy the water even more and probably end with a no deal majority if it could be so called (supported by the totally false idea that we would then not owe the EU most of the billions agreed), and certainly not Remain.

    A general election is unlikely. The DUP would hardly be so stupid as to vote for one, given their hard-line stance against Remain and contempt for the Good Friday agreement - little to gain and a lot to lose. Corbyn is so hated by Tories (and even some of his own party, who might just happen to be unavailable to vote!) that they would not risk losing a vote of no-confidence, whatever the situation.

    Groucho says the arithmetic does not add up for May's deal (the EU's deal, remember - they never said it would be a good one) - well only if Labour votes against. I can't see it happening, but gambling on a slight chance of getting into power through causing political upheaval (and possibly violence on the streets) that would do a lot of damage to Labour's constituency, and solve nothing, is madness, whatever your reasoning, or Corbyn's, or Groucho et al. After losing, if May were able to bring the vote back with some words from the EU, Labour would surely have to vote for it - in the name of the nation! Who knows?

    • 4 January 2019 at 3:25pm
      Oliver H says: @ XopherO
      Not sure where you get your information, but there is indeed plenty of evidence that people are changing their minds. A lot of structurally weak areas have realised that the only one who actually insisted that their infrastructure be improved and jobs created in their region was the EU, not Westminister, which had neglected them for decades and would do so again after Brexit.

  • 3 January 2019 at 7:36am
    FoolCount says:
    It puzzles me that any Labour person could be anti-Brexit and pro-EU, not that Corbin is not calling for the second referendum (he was a eurosceptic his whole political life). The whole EU project is essentially an anti-socilalist and globalist put-on, instigated by the US from the very start. The only major achievement of that project was taking political power away from the people, thereby making almost all of Europe safe for the international oligarchy. It is almost like the same type of insanity when the working stiffs in Kansas and Oklahoma keep voting for Republican party against their own economic interests. So are the brainwashed British Labour supporters who are preaching in favour of "United Europe". United to what end? Ruled by whom? EU needs to die and be forgotten like a bad dream. Brexit is a good first step towards that goal.

    • 3 January 2019 at 9:17am
      woll says: @ FoolCount
      Must get a bit lonely. The independently run YouGov poll of Labour members, announced yesterday, says that 72% want a new referendum, and 88% would support remain.

    • 3 January 2019 at 10:56am
      XopherO says: @ FoolCount
      Since when did the people have significant political power in the UK? Not in my lifetime, which includes many years before the Common Market. It has always been in the hands of an elite - particularly in the Civil Service (they stuffed Wilson didn't they). And Brexit will take what little is left and put it in the hands of an even more right-wing elite, oligarchs, those who financed the Leave campaign and will coin it by shorting the pound if there is a no deal, robbing the taxpayer. Workers pay will be cut, conditions worsened, any security lost. It is the only way a UK standing alone with poor productivity can compete in international (yes, capitalist) markets with tarifs and bigger transport costs, and a weak pound. The EU is neoliberal in many ways, but so is the UK, probably even more so, and a lot more than France. Macron is being taught that France still has a social contract, and previous right wing presidents have tried to undermine it with limited success.

      The EU has at least defended some workers rights, to the disgust of Thatcher and those that who followed her, including Blair. I don't know which country you have been living in FoolCount. Do you really think voting Democrat in the USA is in the economic interests of those you rudely call 'working stiffs'? Perhaps marginally. That's all! Those 'stiffs' would be better off in the EU in terms of social security and health care. So would British 'stiffs'.

    • 3 January 2019 at 1:50pm
      FoolCount says: @ XopherO
      All that might be true as a reality, and selling yourselves out to somewhat less cruel capitalist exploiters might seem like a less bad option to some today, but in the long run only restored national sovereignty holds a potentiality of a better and fairer future. EU is a purely capitalist globalist endeavour with no future. It is doomed to failure as is the capitalist economic system itself. It is better to get out of it now and get a head start rather than to wait until the whole contraption crushes down as it surely will, Brexit or not. This "European" delusion will inevitably end. The only real choice is the hard way or the less hard way. I'd say, less hard is better.

    • 4 January 2019 at 3:24pm
      Oliver H says: @ FoolCount
      You're hilarious.
      The EU achieved more for employee rights in the UK in the period it has existed for than Labour did. It has enacted sundry regulations that are a PITA for the US, up to and including the GDPR which even applies to companies residing solely in the US if they conduct business with people in the EU.

      As for your talk about an "anti-socialist and globalist put-on", there has never been a more globalist movement than socialism.

    • 5 January 2019 at 2:42am
      Oliver H says: @ FoolCount
      Then ask yourself what your nation looked like before it joined the EU.
      Your arguments are hardly convincing, given that all you serve is tropes, talking about "capitalist" this and "globalist" that, in apparent ignorance of the fact that socialism was one of the first truly globalist movements. Your "alternative" is nothing but what we have seen in Eastern Europe before the EU - a hate-filled, blinkered ideology that poses as socialism but in the end only serves to perpetuate misery so that a handful chosen ones can eternally style themselves as the defenders of the downtrodden - who, of course, need to remain downtrodden, or they would not need defenders anymore, and hence said "defenders" would lose their privileges.

    • 7 January 2019 at 5:27pm
      David Sharp says: @ FoolCount
      Like Bernard Porter, I am in general reluctant to reply to comments written under false names, but as something like 95% of what is published here falls under that category, there seems to be little choice.
      What "FoolCount" writes is common sense for me, although I would not be so categorical about whether the EU is a US-inspired project from the start. It seems to me that the various European governments are perfectly capable of creating a neo-liberal nightmare all on their own, and that is precisely what they've done, with a great deal of inspiration coming from the UK.

      I see what's going on now in France (where I live) as a late-stage attempt to introduce Thatcherism; history repeating itself as farce. The only reason why France still functions, more or less, is that the people in charge haven't yet had time to completely hollow out all our once-powerful public services, but believe me, they're hard at it. Unfortunately, this is little reported in the English-language press.

      I have been both surprised and disappointed that the LRB, which along with the New Left Review and Le Monde Diplomatique most regularly expresses opinions that I agree with, has devoted so little space to the Left-wing arguments against Brexit.

      Those arguments are well expressed in the website "The Full Brexit" ( ). Both Chris Bickerton and Costas Lapavitsas have written eloquently on these subjects. For those who read French, there's also an excellent book by Coralie Delaume and David Cayla, entitled "La fin de l'Union Européenne" . A key quote from that book (my translation) states that "The EU is already dead; it just hasn't realised it yet."
      One of the biggest concerns for all those who are desperate to see the UK return to the fold should be that by the time they get it organised, there won't be an EU to go back to.

      As for the message from the person who signs him/herself as "woll", you should beware of getting too excited by opinion polls, particularly in circumstances such as the present ones. How many polls predicted the result in June 2016?
      And concerning the idea that "FoolCount" "must get a bit lonely", since when have radicals been worried about that?

    • 7 January 2019 at 5:51pm
      Oliver H says: @ David Sharp
      The end of the European Union has been predicted so often that one should feel silly doing so yet again.

      And left-wing arguments against the EU regularly can easily be shown to be vapourware based on deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. Quite often, they are probably born out of embarassment that the EU has, in fact, done more to improve the situation of the neglected in a country than whatever "left" movement has put them forward.

    • 7 January 2019 at 7:51pm
      woll says: @ David Sharp
      For the person who signs himself as David Sharp: Damn those dratted polls. An October 2018 poll for the European Parliament gives 67% of the the population of the 28 countries of the EU as being broadly positive to the EU, as opposed to 47% in 2011. No doubt to be cheerfully disregarded, as with any data one dislikes. Fantasies of the death of the union, however, have been with us since its beginning, but as yet remain uncomfirmed.

  • 3 January 2019 at 5:31pm
    Moebius05 says:
    What should be common knowledge:

    There is no EU country with greater income inequality than the UK.

    When people from Cádiz to Rovaniemi complain about "neo-liberalism" they are thinking about the UK. From Skagen to Heraklion there is broad agreement across the political spectrum in that "this place mustn't become like the UK".

    Any meaningful crackdown on tax havens is blocked by the UK.

    Sensible regulation of the banking sector is blocked by the UK.

    Any expansion on human and citizens' rights is blocked by the UK.

    Democratic (that is proportional) representation exists in most places, but notably not in the UK.

    There is a socialist case for Brexit, namely that Brexit removes one of the biggest obstacle standing in the way of making the continent a better place.

    If there is any scale on which the UK is more "progressive" than the average EU Member State, then I would be interested to hear about it.

    • 8 January 2019 at 7:46pm
      Coldish says: @ Moebius05
      Thanks, Moebius05, for giving voice to this aspect. I've always been a fan of the EU, with all its faults. Life is better in most other EU countries than in Britain. When the UK joined I had hopes that membership of this liberal club might have a civilising effect. Instead, as Moebius05 points out, the UK has remained the most corrupt and undemocratic of at least the larger EU states, blocking reforms left and right. So, I've been disappointed, but haven't given up hope.
      Going back to the theme of Bernard's post: I would like to see the British Labour party working with other European socialists and true social democrats (not Blairite impostors) to raise basic living standards across Britain, the rest of the continent and, in time, other parts of the world, and to abandon the dangerous and expensive military posturing and neo-imperialist adventurism which has caused death and destruction in so many countries.

  • 3 January 2019 at 6:26pm
    Rod Miller says:
    As a non-Brit living on the Continent, I'd just like to remind everybody how instrumental the UK has been -- as an EU member -- in weakening the Union by insisting on 'Widening' at the expense of 'Deepening'. Tory or Labour, this has been a constant theme.

    Just look at the place now, with countries like Poland, Hungary, Romania, Cypress and Malta in it.

    I fear the EU is finished anyway. So leave or don't leave. I think the damage is done. It's always been in the UK's strategic interest to have a disunited Europe.

  • 4 January 2019 at 1:12pm
    Oliver H says:
    The piece suffers from a host of flaws that are mind-boggling. That Corbyn has been far from consistent has already been pointed out. The most fundamental flaw, however, is reducing Brexit to an issue of subjective identities, completely ignoring the economic fallout. Britain will certainly be transformed after Brexit and, through his inaction, Corbyn will share responsibility for that transformation, but it will be far from the transformation he promises. All the other countries flaunted as examples that his policies work are, at a minimum, members of the EEA. As Corbyn, a fact Porter ignores, explicitly insists that freedom of movement will end - it's right there in the Labour manifesto - that road is blocked to him. A direct membership is also blocked by the fact that Norway rejects that option, not wanting a gorilla in their midst. Corbyn will thus lack the tax base for any of his promises and ideas. Even more, he will lack the personnel to maintain the NHS, which already now buckles under understaffing.
    Corbyn will become the executor of the Tories other than he believes - by continuing what he does now: supporting and enacting their political ideas for sheer lack of alternatives. He will be the grave digger of the NHS and he will have no money for anything but austerity.

    And his idea of the EU as a corporatist cabal only underscores how blind he is to the real world. A corpiratist cabal would never have enacted REACH, nor the working time directive nor sundry other regulations the EU often pushed through against UK objections.

    • 4 January 2019 at 7:15pm
      Rod Miller says: @ Oliver H
      "Corbyn will ... lack the tax base for any of his promises and ideas. (...) He will have no money for anything but austerity."

      I find this an odd take on monetary affairs. As if tax-payers themselves issued the British pound.

      I would have thought the government had a bit more say in money supply than that.

    • 5 January 2019 at 2:33am
      Oliver H says: @ Rod Miller
      Oh, of course they do, but not on the total valuation of said money. If they simply print more money, it will be worth less and won't help people one bit to buy imported products.

    • 5 January 2019 at 10:23am
      Rod Miller says: @ Oliver H
      An end was put to the Gold Standard almost half a century ago. People seem to have a lot of trouble getting their minds around this fact and its implications.

      I therefore fail to see where your premise about money's value comes from. Care to explain?

    • 5 January 2019 at 11:26am
      XopherO says: @ Oliver H
      No one has mentioned the problems a leftist government of Corbyn's will have in borrowing money on the international markets - mind-boggling interest rates like for Greece. He will be a pariah, and much effort will be expended by the Tory establishment to undermine him - shades of Wilson. Blair made peace with the big capitalists by appearing to accept their ideology - unfortunately, having got a stable government he forgot he was supposed to be a socialist of sorts, and joined them completely, including making himself a multi-millionaire, and expanding the gap between rich and poor. Nothing wrong in being filthy rich.

      I can see the UK going to the IMF cap in hand whether we have a broken Tory government or a broken Labour one after Brexit. As to the value of money, it is of course relative among the big currencies. I remember (under the gold standard) when there were 4 dollars to the pound. After the GS, I remember when there were 5 DMarks and 15 FFrancs (now around 7). Against the Euro from about 1.55 to 1.11. Even at the height of the Euro crisis it was still worth more against the dollar and the pound that when it was launched. Such devaluation has been essential for the UK to compete, and will continue whatever the government because productivity and investment are so poor. It is true that at first a weaker pound is good for exports, but only until the higher cost of imports to make exports removes the advantage (as is currently happening). Hence the need for a continuous (as opposed to declared) devaluation which was not possible under the GS, and is not possible in the Euro-zone - one of the reasons Brown kept the UK out. The underlying economy is very week. The effect as most of us agree will be to pinch wages, worsen conditions, and reduce security.

    • 7 January 2019 at 10:04am
      Oliver H says: @ Rod Miller
      @Rod Miller

      Not sure what you believe the gold standard has to do with anything. The valuation of the money can be seen on the foreign exchange market. If you simply start the printing press, then the value of the Pound, already under pressure, will collapse completely. Imported products will become more expensive and the UK, with even less manufacturing after Brexit than it has now, will have serious problems satisfying its needs through import - further endangering jobs as even more manufacturing will become unviable as parts are unaffordable.

    • 7 January 2019 at 10:07am
      Oliver H says: @ XopherO
      The problem with devaluation is that it merely puts a nice pin-up poster in front of the structural problems. It makes you appear being able to pay, while doing nothing about the problem of not producing enough value. And with UK imports being almost twice as large as exports, the effect on imports will be much more significant than the effect on exports. All the more since the trade deficit will increase when production of some products is moved to the continent to keep it within the EU...

    • 7 January 2019 at 12:46pm
      Rod Miller says: @ Oliver H
      I simply don't accept (necessarily) that "if you simply start the printing press, then the value of the Pound, already under pressure, will collapse completely". It's like the Republicans assuring Obama that "quantitative easing" (aka starting the printing press) was going to cause inflation -- a claim so ludicrous it beggared belief. (Of course they failed to acknowledge it when they turned out to be Dead Wrong.)

      I think you have to look at the National Resources you have and decide how best to Use them. Anyway, even if worse comes to worst, a cheap Pound boosts exports and creates jobs. And all those newly printed currency-units Go somewhere to Do something. They end up in people's pockets and are hopefully spent on the local economy.

      Seems to me that imbibing too much IMFism has proved itself to be a big mistake.

    • 7 January 2019 at 5:49pm
      Oliver H says: @ Rod Miller
      Seems to me that you don't know the difference between quantitative easing and starting the printing press. They are too entirely different things. Obama neither "started the printing press" nor could he have, since that's the prerogative of the Federal Reserve.

      And no, a cheap pound neither boosts exports (of what?) nor does it create jobs. That is the case in an export-dominated economy with access to resources, but not one that has to import parts or raw materials in order to produce something to export. Such an economy finds it harder to acquire the materials it needs to create something and consequently can't cope with demand.

      And all those newly printed currency units will still have to, first and foremost, pay for food. Now check how much of UK food is imported and you see the problem.

    • 8 January 2019 at 7:17pm
      Rod Miller says: @ Oliver H
      Yes I Know it wasn't Obama personally. Yet -- Strangely Enough -- he saw eye to eye with the Fed, even while the Republicans were squawking about the sky being about to fall. Odd coincidence.

      "Quantitative easing" (correct me if I'm wrong) means purchasing debt from banks (buying treasury bills, bonds, whatever) As A Means Of Increasing the QUANTITY of money [because they've lowered interest rates so much they can hardly make it any cheaper].

      Now, if that isn't tantamount to cranking up the ol' printing press, I'll eat my hat. Just a fancy euphemism is all.

      Secondly, I said "boosts exports" only because that's always the other side of the coin with a cheap currency, even if those "exports" are things like tourism (a foreign-exchange earner and job-creator). The Royals are big business after all.

      Mostly I was responding to the Flat Statement (as if it were an obvious truism) that increasing the money supply would lead robotically to a lower value of the currency. To me that sounds like the pat assurances from the Republicans that the same thing was going to cause inflation. Pardon my skepticism.

    • 10 January 2019 at 9:00pm
      Rod Miller says: @ Oliver H
      The underlying economy is what it is -- Real National Resources > Real Value. Meantime, one Glaring difference between the UK and Greece is that the UK issues a sovereign currency. Greece doesn't. So, to acquire euros Greece has to extract them through taxation or borrow them from somebody.

      The UK, though, can ISSUE currency. The degree to which issuing Quantity X and using it to pay for government programmes is a good idea depends on a number of factors, but it's an option Greece totally lacks.

      So "the problems a leftist government of Corbyn’s will have in borrowing money on the international markets" makes the pound sound like some rare foreign good that has to be coaxed or bribed from Somebody Else, as if THEY were the source.

      This seems to me to be turning reality on its head.

  • 6 January 2019 at 12:50pm
    woll says:
    I wonder if any of the well-informed contributors to the discussion on this site see any resoltion to the current impasse?
    Polls over the last few days (naturally to be viewed with suspicion but still an indication of how things stand) show:
    - support for Theresa May's proposal, which is currently thought to have anyway little chance in parliament, running at about 23% for Tory members, even less in the country as a whole.
    - the principal candidates for leadership favoured by Tory membership all extreme Brexiteers, but who have limited support within the Tory party or the country.
    - a Labour party led by a Brexit supporting Corbyn would gain a mere 26% of the vote, lower even than in Michael Foot's time.
    - We apear to have a slow switch of public opinion towards a second referendum, and to this leading to Remain.
    - In addition we have a lacklustre Libdem party led by a discredited member of the coalition government, a Green party with only one MP (Greens stand at around 20% in Germany) plus a popular nationalist party in Scotland and the various NI parties.
    I know this is all bits and pieces of information and not a coherent assessment. But the impression is of a disturbing mismatch between the leadership of the various political parties and the (also very varied) opinions of the mass of voters.
    Is there any chance of a more representative and/or more balanced politics emerging? Can anyone see any way forward in 2019?

    • 7 January 2019 at 10:11am
      Oliver H says: @ woll
      "– In addition we have a lacklustre Libdem party led by a discredited member of the coalition government, a Green party with only one MP (Greens stand at around 20% in Germany) plus a popular nationalist party in Scotland and the various NI parties."

      Comparing the Greens in Germany with the Greens in the UK is nonsensical. The UK has an FPTP system, which naturally disadvantages small parties, whereas Germany has a mixed member proportional representation system where, barring a cutoff like the 5% in Germany, the proportion of votes matches the proportion of seats.

    • 7 January 2019 at 2:35pm
      woll says: @ Oliver H
      Yes, of course there are different electorial systems, each with its advantages and disadvantages.
      But why would the comparison be nonsensical?
      Firstly, part of the current political impasse is created by decision-making being dominated by two large parties. Both are at present poorly led, and in both the leadership is unable even to command the votes of their own MP's. At least in a system with potential for parties to grow and shrink, and to take part in all levels of governement, there is flexibilty and a genuine choise for the voters.
      Secondly the Greens in Germany and elsewhere are able to have a considerable impact on environmental legislation - an issue which one might consider more important than years of pointless squabbles over backstops. In the UK neither of the two large parties shows more than token interest in the environment, this is likely to get worse if Brexit does go through, since the EU has a good record on environmental matters.
      Far from being nonsensical, these issues are vital to any progress in producing a better society.

    • 7 January 2019 at 5:44pm
      Oliver H says: @ woll
      But the difference arrives from the FPTP system in the UK. An FPTP system leads to two-party dominance (cf. also the United States).

      The very fact that Germany has an MMPR system has led to coalitions being something with a long history in modern German politics, and with it the influence of smaller parties on legislation. Whereas the fact that the FPTP system in the UK has now repeatedly led to one of the big two needing a coalition partner demonstrates the dysfunctionality of the UK political landscape.
      So rather than focussing on the Greens, the proper attention should be given to the fundamental political system in the UK, which tends to produce government majorities disconnected from the actual will of the people.
      There's a very good video explaining mathematically why the election result three years ago giving the Tories the majority with which they started this mess was the worst result in recent UK history:

      Work on that system and you will see more legislative influence of the Greens, too...

    • 7 January 2019 at 7:14pm
      woll says: @ Oliver H
      Yes, I agree.
      But while hard left (such as in Germany die Linke) and hard right (such AfD) in the case UK are simply absorbed by the two main parties, the Greens appear as yet to remain independent, and also electorally weak.
      My original questions remain. Is there any chance of a more representative and/or more balanced politics emerging? Can anyone see any way forward in 2019?

    • 8 January 2019 at 1:47pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ Oliver H
      I'm with 'Oliver H' on this - if not on Corbyn. First Past the Post has distorted our democracy dreadfully. (See my blog on my own site: The Brexit referendum was the first national vote for some time in which voters could feel that their votes - probably against the 'political class' generally in this instance - really would 'count'. I live mostly in Sweden, which has a PR system; which doesn't always produce 'strong' governments - e.g. right now - but at least genuinely represents its voters. I miss not having my own MP here, as I do back in the UK; but there are ways of combining the advantages of both systems (viz. Germany?). We shouldn't be surprised at people using referenda to express their general discontents when they're not allowed to in conventional FPTP General Elections. The tragedy is that it was on such a crucial issue as this. The hope might be that it gets us all (British) to rethink our democratic practices. Until then, however, we need a Labour government, by whatever means. (Yes, I know...)

    • 10 January 2019 at 9:15pm
      Rod Miller says: @ Bernard Porter
      "viz. Germany?"
      Yes, Germany has a bit of a hybrid system: you have two votes, once for your local MP and once for the slate of the preferred party on the PR side of things. So the two sides balance each other out, and as was mentioned above, the dog-wagging risk presented by pure proportionality is dampened somewhat by the 5% hurdle.

      The problem with change in the UK, I suppose (as in the US and everywhere else) is that the only people who could change the system are the very people in power owing to the present system.

      I'm a great admirer of the German system -- it encourages coalitions and consensus. But I think one should go the whole hog and introduce ranked voting. Let us dream on.

  • 6 January 2019 at 10:59pm
    steve kay says:
    Ah, Twelfth Night, and what jolly texts to read in front of the blazing logs. I have never known a New Year so deep in gloom, no amount of noisy First Footing or singing Auld Lang Syne can hide the imminent disaster.

    Some may be born great, some acheive greatness, but none of the pack currently in Westminster will ever have greatness thrust upon them. Corbyn may yet be responsible for a sad end to the Labour Party, but the awful question is, who could or would replace him? Why is Starmer remaining silent, why isn't he forcibly promoting a considered response to the disaster that the far right are planning and Corbyn seems unable or unwilling to oppose?

    I'm not sure whether this is Shakespearean drama, or a pantomime based on Buchner. The details of whether the EU meets the aspirations of a certain sort of socialist are trivial compared with the Carry on Brexit routines of shipless ferry companies, Kent divided by an immobile motorway, Gatwick flightless and not due to drones. They are the comedy bits. On the tragedy side we face medicine shortages, a catastrophic fall in health personell numbers at all levels, and food shortages. And then we move on tjo the disasters awaiting music, theatre and perfomance of every sort, have we heard a squeak from Corbyn or any non Tory about culture?

    Is it too late for a Webster-like fate to befall the Duchess of Mayfli, or to hope that a Kit Marlow style end will come to Johnson, Davies, Rees Mogg et al as it came to Edward II.

    • 8 January 2019 at 11:45am
      XopherO says: @ steve kay
      The Brexit debate has at least thrown up an amusing number of similes, metaphors, comparisons etc. I like the Jacobean one above, but perhaps the comparison on all sides is with Tourneur's The Revenger's Tragedy. There is all the amoral, greedy, back-stabbing, power-seeking and pointlessness of his protagonists.

      If we are to have a People's Vote on three options with a transferable vote, perhaps it could be on whether to hang, draw or quarter those three self-seeking devils.

    • 9 January 2019 at 12:01am
      Anaximander says: @ XopherO
      But some of us might want to see them hanged, drawn AND quartered.

      Steve Kay is right to draw attention to culture -- a massive asset, socially and economically, in both Britain and the EU.
      In music alone, I am constantly surprised to see, in France where I live, so many performers from the UK, whether as orchestral players, singers,jazz and pop band members etc.

      Brexit would make all that problematic.

  • 8 January 2019 at 5:23pm
    Phil Edwards says:
    I argue here that Labour's Brexit policy may be more constructive & more fully thought-out than we've recognised - and, particularly, more so than many people are willing to recognise.

    I may have 'bent the stick' too far in the other direction - a couple of people have commented that I'm overstating the unity of purpose of Labour's leadership team, which may well be correct - but I think it was worth stating the case in fairly unambiguous terms.


  • 8 January 2019 at 6:13pm
    Anaximander says:
    Corbyn won't have the time for an election, nor the opportunity for any renogiation with the EU.
    So he should go straight for the Ref option.
    You say: "until the practical flaws in the Brexit enterprise have been clearly revealed to everyone, as well as the cheating on the Brexit side." Both those have been aired enough, possibly making little difference to hardline angries.

  • 8 January 2019 at 6:46pm
    BarryE says:
    I agree with much of this piece. My own version is something like this:

    The Tories have nailed their standard to the mast labelled Brexit, although they cannot agree among themselves what form it should take. The Lib Dems and the Greens are both certain there should be no Brexit, despite the result of the 2016 Referendum. What they all have in common is that they offer nothing for the 48 or 52% that did not support their side of the debate.

    I doubt if it is possible to find a deal that would satisfy Labour’s tests but, ideally, I would like to see Labour attempt to negotiate a deal (not May's red lines). There may not be enough time for this to happen. Then, after (or instead) there should be a statement along these lines.

    ”In 2016 the British public, by a small but clear majority, asked Parliament to negotiate a withdrawal from the European Union. This has not been as straightforward as those advocating Leave implied at the time of the referendum and it is now clear that there is no version of Leave that does not cause serious and long-lasting constitutional and economic consequences to the United Kingdom, our dependencies and also to our many friends and trading partners abroad.

    ”Now that we have a much clearer idea of what the consequences mean we have decided to recommend that Parliament requests a pause in the timetable that was started in March 2017 that is long enough to put a new choice before the British people.

    ”The choice will be between continuing to seek to leave the EU, with all the consequences this would mean to the UK, our dependencies and friends, or remaining in the EU. This would not be a return to the status quo but include a new deal for Britain involving a radical package of decentralisation, regional investment and political reform as well as a commitment to reform the institutions of the EU.”

  • 8 January 2019 at 11:10pm
    Peter Leary says:
    Aside from a fairly transparent effort to use Brexit as a ‘wedge issue’ to oust Corbyn, there is no good reason for any real Remainer to get worked up about Labour’s current position.

    There are two forms of Brexit currently on the table: ‘May’s deal’ and ‘no deal’. Labour is committed to doing everything in its power to oppose both but does not currently have the numbers to prevent either on its own. Only a general election can change that.

    If either ‘May’s deal’ or ‘no deal’ comes to pass it will not be because Labour has failed to oppose it but rather because a majority of MPs have chosen to support it. If such a majority exists then there is nothing that the Labour Party or anyone else can do to bring about a second referendum.

    If, and only if, Labour along with others succeed in preventing both ‘May’s deal’ and ‘no deal,’ then only at that point might a degree of disagreement arise.

    Clearly, any Brexit deal that passes Labours six tests (including ‘the exact same benefits’ of single market and customs union access as at present) would be a very soft Brexit indeed and would satisfy many Remain supporters. Labour itself is committed to opposing any deal that doesn’t meet those tests, but no doubt some Remainers would still be disappointed. If, however, no such deal is possible, then Labour is open to a second public vote.

    Labour, under Corbyn, is offering either an extremely soft Brexit or the possibility of a second vote. This suggests that much of the Remainer rage directed towards Corbyn is either ill-intentioned or ill-informed.

  • 9 January 2019 at 12:09am
    raf37 says:
    Amo amas and bloody Arma virumque cano
    no more please of this Euro lingo
    In school we surely had enough
    In court one cannot bide the stuff
    On LRB things will get tough
    If Corbynistas read the stuff

  • 9 January 2019 at 2:05pm
    XopherO says:
    Corbyn and Labour are just posturing with the impossible idea that the UK could remain in the single market and customs union outside the EU without paying, having no input on the laws and rules, having to admit any EU citizen, and no right to negotiate separate trade deals. The EU always said any deal could never be as good as membership, and it obviously means it, so why the surprise that May's/EU's deal is not very good? It is even more fanciful to try to add 'special' provisions. It is more likely that in an attempt to stay or rejoin the UK would lose its rebate, unless it became so poor as to become a net receiver! And possibly be required to join the Euro within 3 or 5 years.

    It is to be hoped that Labour never gets into a position to negotiate a deal, because it will come away from Brussels with egg on its face, and look very, very stupid. I think Corbyn knows this, and that Labour will never be able to negotiate a significantly better Brexit deal, only annul Article 50, which Corbyn himself is not up for apparently. Anyway, Labour could only get into government in coalition with the SNP, who have no truck with anything but Remain (and might be prepared to bring down or not even join a coalition without Remain in the deal, or a new independence referendum, or both.)

    I'm afraid I have little faith in another referendum solving the problem. Pie in the sky. One can hardly say that referendums are a stupid way to make policy and at the same time demand another... in some vain hope...

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