Jeremy Corbyn is frequently criticised for his principled and allegedly controversial positions on foreign affairs. As such, he has been accused of being everything from a communist agent of espionage, to an Islamist terrorist sympathiser, to an IRA sympathiser, to a hater of Jews. This is all rather heavy fare for a British political atmosphere that prior to Brexit had been more or less sucked dry of any substance, any genuine controversy and any diversity of opinion on foreign affairs. In this sense, pre-Brexit Corbyn was a marmite party leader that aroused love, hate and little else in-between.
Now though this has all changed. However long he resisted, the traditional anti-EU Corbyn has presided over his party adopting a position that favours remaining in the European Union over a WTO exit or any deal adopted by the ruling Conservative party. When one cuts through Corbyn’s increasingly impenetrable rhetoric on the subject, it is now fair to say that Labour are a party of remain in virtually all foreseeable circumstances.
But whilst Labour and its affiliated trade unions are now waving the blue flag of EU integration over the red flag of the Labour working class, Labour’s core constituents are not going to be pleased. Due to the fact that a London-centric and socially liberal cabal have taken over the leadership of the Labour party, there is a tendency to think that just because Tony Blair won three elections on shamelessly pro-Brussels manifestos that this somehow equates with a countrywide pro-EU Labour constituency. The fact of the matter is that in the Blair years, Euroscepticism was up against the wall as very few even among Labour’s traditional anti-EU left felt that Britain would realistically leave the EU. Conservatives on the right who also opposed the EU were likewise resigned to the fate of permanent membership in the undemocratic club during the 1990s and early 2000s.
It should going without saying that the Brexit referendum of 2016 changed all of this because it demonstrated that not only was leaving the EU possible but that it was also the majoritarian position in the UK – including and especially in traditional Labour voting constituencies in the Midlands, south Wales and the north of England. Somehow Labour did not get the memo that if it supported the majoritarian position for Brexit and combined it with literally any set of policies that appeared to be less grim than those of the totally incapable Theresa May, it would have not only been in a strong position to form a government but beyond this, the surging Brexit Party might not have ever come into being.
If Labour had said to the country: “Vote for us if you want a WTO Brexit even if you don’t like our other policies and vote for us if you like our non-Brexit related policies even if you’re pro-EU”, Labour would have been able to retain its traditional votes in the midlands, north and much of Wales whilst still managing to pull in enough votes in southern England and Scotland to make the gamble pay off.
Instead, Labour have adopted a position that will alienate almost all of its English base outside of London and some parts of southern England whilst at the same time, the fact that Corbyn has publicly betrayed his erstwhile anti-EU principles bodes poorly for his overall image. Now, when opponents of Corbyn say that he cares more about democracy in Gaza than he does about democracy in Grimsby, such a simplistic statement will also represent an accurate statement.
Corbyn has now opened the door for the Brexit Party and the Conservatives to do a deal in the event of an increasingly likely general election in which broad-church Brexit Party candidates will stand unopposed by Tories in traditional Labour seats whilst Brexit Party candidates will not challenge ERG sylte pro-Brexit Tories in traditional southern Conservative heartlands. Even if such a pre-election deal is not made (Boris Johnson for example claims he wants no such deal), most polls indicate that a Tory/Brexit Party coalition could easily form a working majority in the Commons should an election be held sooner rather than later. Of course, the possibility of the Brexit Party winning a plurality or even a majority of seats cannot and should not be discounted by any means.
If the trouble with Tony Blair and most of his successors was that they had no principles to begin with, the problem with Corbyn is that on one issue over which his principles aligned perfectly with a cross-party trend throughout the country, he decided to betray his principles after silently betraying his own staunchest supporters in his own party for several years in a row.
Now, whilst Corbyn is still criticised for his foreign policy principles, Corbyn’s betrayal of his literally mainstream principles on Euroscepticism have left him with few allies apart from those who dangerously belong to what can only be termed as a Corbyn personality cult.
At one time, the next election was Corbyn’s to lose. Now it is clear that either the Brexit Party or more likely a Brexit/Tory coalition will win the day. This must be a moment of supreme embarrassment for someone who lived most of his political life as a stalwart opponent of the European Union.