Labour & Brexit - Shifting Sands

Policy Exchange, notionally non-partisan but in fact a broadly centre-right think tank, offered a platform last night to Professor Richard Tuck, the Newcastle-born political theorist based at Harvard.

This was interesting because Professor Tuck comes from another age politically - a world that would have been 'normal' in British politics in the 1970s but has been marginalised by the turn of the Left under globalisation into mere managers of national provincial units of one neo-liberal federal political culture. Tuck is an old-style British social democrat happy to talk about socialism as a liberal good.

At any other time in the last two or three decades, Tuck's views on why Brexit would be advantageous to the Left would have been regarded as the thoughts of a dinosaur but not today. He made two points of current interest and argued them well. The first was that Brexit had preserved the Union (though his claim that England gave a permanent Tory majority was later contested). The second was that traditional British socialism was impossible within the European Union and that the Left would be liberated from its merely managerial role by Brexit.

He argued that it was the British Conservatives who should be most wary of Brexit. We can see that those Tories closest to business and to the southern upper middle classes have indeed been most horrified by the vote on June 23rd and are most aggressively involved, with the Financial Times acting as their house journal, in trying to reverse that vote by stealth, threatening to divide the Tory Party in the process. But while most eyes have been on Tory divisions in recent days, it is becoming equally apparent that Labour is far from united and faces similar pressures.

The vote of thanks was given by Caroline Flint, MP. She had campaigned for Remain and might reasonably be considered a Party centrist tending to the pragmatic Right. It was an impressive performance, challenging the Professor with some additional facts but coming to a clear conclusion that the Remain vote still contained a lot of people disillusioned with the European Union (positioned by Tuck as a neo-liberal block to popular aspirations). Labour's vote a few weeks ago (by implication) certainly did not overturn the democratic vote which had now to be accepted without reservation.

Despite all the palaver in the media and albeit with a commitment to improve and amend the Great Repeal Bill, she made clear that there was no intent by Labour to 'wreck' the Bill while a Second Referendum was off the table as far as Labour was concerned. Not all Labour MPs agree with her and certainly many Labour activists and members are at variance with what she and the voters are saying but it is the public's vote that counts if the Tories collapse. The pragmatic centre of the PLP seems to be rallying around Corbyn on Brexit having learned lessons from a toughly fought election.

Messaging from the Labour Party is clear at the centre but still confused at the periphery. Flint sounded as if she was trying to bring clarity in order to reassure Lexiters (Left Brexiters) that they should not follow one tactic that is becoming more widely accepted amongst them - to paraphrase Brecht "First, Brexit, Then Labour". Tuck had been saying plausibly that there was no social democracy or socialism of any consequence without Brexit. Her response to this showed perhaps a dawning awareness that, for all the utopian idealism about Europe in the recent past, he had spoken the truth.