Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Can we trust Jeremy Corbyn over Europe?

I originally wrote this as a companion piece to a post on how Smith could win, but put it to one side as I thought I was writing too much on Labour’s election. However as similar points are now emerging elsewhere, perhaps publishing this will help convince some that this is not just another MSM smear.

When the vote of no confidence happened immediately after Brexit, I suspect the thoughts of most Labour Party members were similar to those of MP Liz McInnes: what a stupid and inappropriate time to have another election (as indeed it was). It seemed to fit into the narrative about a PLP obsessed with removing the membership’s democratic choice of leader. Surely we should give ‘the project’ some more time, and allow Jeremy Corbyn more time to see if he could grow into his role. And who was Owen Smith anyway? Journalists saw the support Corbyn has, and started assuming this was no contest.

On the face of it Owen Smith appears on many issues to be quite close to Jeremy Corbyn. A big difference is Trident, which many Labour party members think is a waste of money (and I agree). In addition there is the issue of trust. Owen Smith talks the talk now, but can members trust him not to backslide as Blairite MPs and a hostile media tell him he has to modify his radical programme? Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, seems to be integrity through and through.

But there is another key difference between Smith and Corbyn beside Trident, and that is over Europe. On the face of it the difference is about something that may never be allowed to happen anyway: a second referendum. Smith wants one, Corbyn does not. But for those party members who feel strongly about retaining as strong a link with Europe as we can, not just because of the economics but because Europe represents opportunity and is part of their identity, this difference may be the way they begin to unpick the issue of trust.

The vote of no confidence was the result of Brexit. You can tell yourself that was because the ‘plotters’ thought it would be to their advantage, but why would that be? Forget issues about effort and holidays. The crucial question is whether Corbyn’s heart was ever in the Remain campaign, and whether (perhaps as a result) his campaign was flawed, or perhaps even counterproductive. I do not know the answer to the heart question, except to say that a lot of the points Corbyn supporters make about Smith’s past could be used to suggest Corbyn was in truth more ambivalent than he says he was.

Of course if you are a true Corbyn believer you have to take him at his word. But the flawed campaign I have said something concrete about (quoting from here):
I have written right from the early stages of the Brexit campaign that I saw this as about the benefits that many people saw in being able to control EU migration, and weighing this against the economic cost in doing so by losing access to the single market. It was vital therefore to take seriously the warnings of economists that these costs could well be large. Jeremy Corbyn however seemed to suggest that when these warnings were repeated by the Chancellor they should not be believed because he could not be trusted. I doubt that was critical to the result, but it was nevertheless a serious economic, tactical and political error.

To put it bluntly: Corbyn appeared to be undermining the central part of the Remain campaign.

The context in which this was written is also important. I have recently said that I think John McDonnell’s Economic Advisory Council was an important innovation that he should be congratulated for both introducing and utilising it in formulating policy. Just because I think Owen Smith should win does not mean I do not give credit where it is due. But in our last meeting Brexit was discussed, and I think it was fairly clear what the general feeling was, reflecting the overall consensus among economists. I was not alone in being unhappy that this advice appeared to have been ignored, as the carefully worded statement from all five of us makes clear.

Of course this mistake could conceivably just reflect a speechwriter getting carried away at wanting to have a go at Cameron or Osborne. Speeches on economics should normally be checked by someone from the shadow Chancellor’s team, but then we know about the competence thing. But perhaps we should take Corbyn at his word, and that he did not agree with the almost unanimous view of economists. And then there was this unfortunate howler about triggering Article 50 straight away - again an obvious mistake quickly retracted.

But I know if roles were reversed, and Owen Smith had done these things, Corbyn supporters would be declaring that they just KNEW that Corbyn really wanted us to Leave. Which suggests to me that if we are skeptical about Smith’s radicalism, we should also be at least as skeptical about Corbyn’s attitude to the future Brexit negotiations.

In fact it goes further than this. The 48% of people who voted to Remain, plus any more who voted Leave but are now beginning to wonder that maybe all those economists were not exaggerating about its impact, plus the majority of companies that want to Remain, plus all the overseas governments that want the UK to remain, will be looking to someone or some party to be their political representative over the next few years. Labour under Owen Smith could play that role for sure, but Labour under Jeremy Corbyn? A leader whose heart may not be in it and who has said the costs of Brexit are exaggerated and who only has 20% of MPs who have confidence in him and who isn’t very good at doing the parliamentary thing or the details about Brexit policy thing is hardly a good choice to champion this cause. And if Labour members feel that way, voters will feel the same, and can UK politics persist with the two major parties accepting Brexit and leaving the 48%+ unrepresented?

Just as the coup itself followed Brexit, it may be that members (like Alex Andreou) begin to realise that this event has changed the political landscape in a crucial way. 2016 is not like 2015. Yes there are plotters, but there are also MPs desperate for Labour to become an effective opposition again for whom Brexit was the last straw. For some members the project is everything, even if the project does not include Europe or winning elections anytime soon. I have debated with plenty of party members like that. But if there are others who do care about both winning elections and minimising the harm done by Brexit, we may see support for Smith growing. He will get his own momentum.


53 comments:

  1. Corbyn's commitment to the EU as it is now is heavily qualified - as any socialist's would be - but that doesn't automatically translate into believing that Britain should leave. Other evidence is needed, and it's not hard to find: in the same statement in which he - wrongly - attacked Osborne on the economic costs of Brexit, Corbyn said explicitly that he supported Remain.

    As for "this unfortunate howler about triggering Article 50 straight away", Corbyn never said that Article 50 should be triggered 'straight away', any more than he said it should be triggered 'immediately' (another formulation which has been widely attributed to him). What he said was that Article 50 would have to be triggered 'now' - which in the context clearly meant 'now' as opposed to 'before', i.e. 'now that the results are in'. In other words, he was saying - and has repeated - that the referendum result means that triggering Article 50 is inevitable. I don't agree with his position on this, but it is widely held across the political spectrum - see Frances Coppola's comments.

    You seem to be saying that Labour members should decide how to vote on the basis of vague feelings of unease fuelled by speculative and inaccurate stories about what Corbyn may or may not believe. It's a point of view, but I would have expected more of a commitment to finding out reliable facts.

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    1. Thanks for highlighting this - Corbyn did say 'now' - you could view this as an unhelpful use of language, but it's one we could all make. Thanks to Simon also - I really enjoy these blogs. I am much vexed by the current situation, as I'm sure we all are. After over 30 years as a Labour voter/supporter/activist I moved 2 years ago to the Greens. It was a difficult decision and not taken lightly. But Labour had left me - and others - quite some time ago. The election of Corbyn made me think twice about re-joining Labour, but I hesitated and I'm glad I did. I've watched the shenanigans from the sidelines. Kinda glad that I'm not in there and kinda itching to be in there. I've seen this play before - in Liverpool in the 80's. Slightly different context, but ultimately, only slightly. I now believe that the best way forward is a progressive alliance - and Paul Mason's Brexit plan - combined with constitutional change. An elected second chamber, PR, a federal UK and an economic plan as advocated by Simon and others. We must, must act to heal the divisions in the country. I also believe that Caroline Lucas should be at the front of the leadership of this alliance. I like Corbyn but we need to win and ensure change - Caroline Lucas can reach parts that Corbyn can't and having an outstanding woman in a leading role can only strengthen our position. Owen Smith is not the answer, Clive Lewis is good but lacks experience etc. A collaborative opposition with Caroline Lucas and the Greens plus the SNP (Mhairi Black anyone?), Plaid (Leanne is great, and even the LibDems, properly marshalled, could effect powerful change. I know this is a big ask and that few will see it as possible - but now we have to embrace the impossible.

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    2. On the "now" howler, when I heard him say that from his own mouth (unmediated by enemy spin or second hand reports) I assumed when he said "now" he meant "now", and felt absolutely deflated. I take him at his word that he didn't in fact meant that, but meant "now" in the sense Phil describes. But look. This was a historic moment of acute national trauma, and he was addressing the media as the Leader of the Opposition. The nuance of the message, and the tone in which it was delivered, needed to be spot on. There should have been a team around him in the days beforehand, hammering out the details of exactly what he would say in response to either outcome. Instead he turned up, made it up as he went along, and stuck his foot in his mouth. Not good enough. Not even *nearly* good enough.

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    3. Indeed, Phil. The people behind the heave against Corbyn clearly didn't expect the claim that he was responsible for the Leave vote to face any scrutiny; they thought they could generate an irresistible stampede, force Corbyn to resign, and by the time anyone had time to question the story, it would be academic anyway. As days passed and Corbyn refused to buckle, they evidently realized how feeble it was—accusing Corbyn of sabotaging the Remain campaign by getting 63% of Labour supporters to vote Remain, just one per cent less than Nicola Sturgeon managed with her own voters—they started inventing ludicrous supplementary material: claiming that Corbyn had 'deliberately sabotaged' the Leave campaign, in a much-trumpeted BBC story (on closer inspection, the alleged 'sabotage' consisted entirely of Corbyn refusing to say that EU immigration was a problem—one minute he's accused of being too critical of the EU, then he's called a saboteur because he wasn't critical enough); then, in a moment of low farce, we had the made-up story about a conversation in a south London tapas restaurant (they couldn't even get the date right: the Times had it on June 17th, the Sun on June 10th). Within a week of the referendum John Curtice—no partisan of Corbyn, needless to say—had shown that it was Tory voters who made all the difference and it was absurd to blame Corbyn for the outcome.

      At this point, the whole story is in tatters. It's very surprising to see it being given credence here. Simon cites an article by Alex Andreou, a deeply unimpressive commentator on this subject: I saw him trumpeting the shock-horror BBC 'Corbyn sabotaged the Remain campaign' story online and becoming frankly rather overwrought as he accused Corbyn of 'betrayal' and so on; it appeared to have escaped his notice, as an EU immigrant living in Britain, that the only concrete sin Corbyn was being accused of was refusing to say that EU immigrants living in Britain were a problem that had to be dealt with.

      If Simon wants to support Owen Smith on the basis of trying to overturn the referendum result, he is welcome to do so. I think it would be extraordinarily foolish for Labour to do so; it would do the party a lot of damage in many of the areas where it badly needs to hold or regain seats; I think Corbyn's instincts on this question are much sounder than those who refuse to learn any lessons from the Scottish independence question and would be happy to sacrifice Labour's political future for the sake of the EU (or the UK). Corbyn's instrumental view of EU membership is much more sensible than the zealotry of his Labour opponents. But as I say, Simon is welcome to take that position if he likes. However, it is very difficult to respect that position when it is combined with a totally discredited narrative about Corbyn's position and behaviour during the EU referendum.

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    4. This has to rate as the most bizarre interpretation ever. Over the final week mention of Article 50 was frequent. And when it should be triggered was also becoming a hot topic especially throughout the night. So the idea that Jeremy was clearing up the fact that article 50 would have to be triggered after the vote and not 'before' is truly absurd. No one was arguing that it could or should have been triggered before!

      In the light of the debate it was clear that Jeremy meant by now that we should get on and quickly trigger article 50. It is pretty clear he was poorly briefed or possibly not at all - he doesn't think reading newspapers is a good idea. If he had been he could have given himself and the Labour party time to consider what was the best next step. It appears that getting the best deal out of the post-Brexit mess wasn't important to him.

      Instead he failed to consult at all - a school boy error or massive proportions.

      In years to come psychologists will be using the Labour Leadership vote to write thesis on how extreme confirmation bias can be.

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  2. Alternatively, I thought this by Philippe Marlière at the LRB has some truth to it also:

    "As usual, the Labour right wanted to have its cake and eat it. Most of Labour’s Remain campaigners had no qualms about sharing platforms with Cameron and Osborne. This was highly problematic: though not subjected to the European Stability and Growth Pact, this government has been one of the most zealous proponents of austerity policies in the EU. Yet the Labour campaign kept using the Tories’ discredited economic language, bombarding people with data about GDP, inflation and trade surpluses. Why would any of that appeal to the ‘left behind’ in the Labour heartlands?

    While campaigning for the economic status quo – broadly speaking, an EU tailored to maximise the gains of business and the markets – the Labour right went along with the idea that immigration was the reason for people’s misery. Obviously, immigration has to be monitored and organised. That is the responsibility of the government, and the current Tory executive has been inept at it. Successive governments have turned a blind eye to the fact that companies have been paying migrants less than British workers. But the Labour right didn’t question this situation. Instead of looking at raising the minimum wage and protecting the rights of British and foreign workers, Hilary Benn and Co gave credence to the idea that immigration was responsible for the nation’s ills."

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    1. I think most sensible would agree that immigration has not been the major contributing factor to inequality and low wages for unskilled labour. I think the problem was that the establishment (backed up by naive neo-classical theory and reasoning such as comparative advantage) made arguments that large scale immigration would bring massive benefits and win-win outcomes. Instead people see a lot of immigration and immigrants in work, while their own predicament has worsened or stayed miserably the same. And of course immigrants are an easy target. A link was posted recently to an article by a cognitive expert that explains the mindset of how people make "direct causative" arguments.

      NK.

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    2. «immigration has not been the major contributing factor to inequality and low wages for unskilled labour»

      "immigration" in general on average no, there have been billionaire immigrants, and stock trader immigrants too, and the second largest immigrant group in the UK (after the polish) are the germans, who certainly are not in the UK because they are desperate for jobs even at low wages.

      The issue is "immigration from low wage countries".

      And there there are some interesting "doublethinks": many of the people who say that "immigration from low wage countries" has not impacted employment and wages in the UK also say that without immigration bigger NHS wage costs would bust the NHS budget and result in higher taxes on the affluent.

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  3. «Corbyn believer you have to take him at his word. But the flawed campaign I have said something concrete about»

    A "flawed" campaign that miraculously, in a historically eurosceptic party, delivered 2/3 of labour voters for the position advocated by J Corbyn, just like a similarly "flawed" campaign by N Sturgeon delivered 2/3 of SNP voters.

    J Corbyn famously said that he now is 75% for the EU, and a lot of people criticized him for that.

    How much can you trust J Corbyn on "Remain"? Well, people who trusted him to be on their side instead of that of southern property rentiers and City spivs would have been probably a lot more likely to vote for "Remain" than otherwise. He was an invaluable support for "Remain" for that reason.

    Because of all people J Corbyn, who is one of the few Labour MPs who voted against austerity, against vicious benefit cuts, and was in past on balance eurosceptic, supported "Remain" must have swung quite a few people that way. That "75%" even lent a much stronger credibility to his support, because it made it clear that he was not just talking the talk, not just selling snake oil, he still had reservations.

    When a lower income voters thinks "the EU got me a lot more low wage immigrants as competition, and plummy Cameron tells me Remain and slimy Johnson tells me Leave, and both of them want to screw me, what should I do? Well, I know that old tosser Jeremy is on my side, I'll take a chance he is right".

    In a sense J Corbyn is "Remain"'s counterpart to N Farage's "Leave": they both are "authentic" to their supporters.

    The difficulties with J Corbyn and "Remain" are not about how much he can be trusted on that, they are:

    * Less importantly, whether he could be persuaded to try to overturn a popular vote (one that he disagrees with, even) by campaigning against it in a general election. I wrote that he is not for turning, but maybe I am wrong. If offered press and funding support for a socialdemocratic domestic policy he might decide that being on the side of the lower classes is more important than being on the side that democratic votes matter that much.

    * Would potential business/establishment sponsors of a Labour general election campaign for "Remain" be put off by it being accompanied by a mild socialdemocratic domestic policy? I think they would not, one thing at a time, and O Smith has swung heavily towards a mild socialdemocratic domestic policy, and he is obviously betting they won't.

    * Would a "Remain" general election campaign fronted by J Corbyn attract enough "Remain" tory-lite voters? Maybe. Depends on whether their priority is "Remain" or being against centrist social democratic domestic policy. In theory that's a problem with O Smith's domestic policy positions too, but tory-lite voters would assume he does not mean them.

    Finally, let's go back to my usual quote, where my impression is that J Corbyn presently is a reincarnation of the younger G Brown:

    «Philip Gould analysed our problem very clearly. We don’t know what we are. Gordon wants us to be a radical progressive, movement, but wants us to keep our heads down on Europe. Peter [Mandelson] thinks that we are a quasi-Conservative Party but that we should stick our necks out on Europe.»

    Well, J Corbyn is a G Brown-style «radical progressive» (where "radical" here means not much), and before being a leader he did «keep our heads down on Europe», but then as leader he did «stick our necks out on Europe», delivering good results (ruined by the appalling failure of the Tory leadership to lead their voters).

    While O Smith used to be a «quasi-Conservative» that did «stick our necks out on Europe», and now tries to look like a «radical progressive» (and even T May is trying to do that :->).

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    1. > A "flawed" campaign that miraculously, in a historically eurosceptic party, delivered 2/3 of labour voters

      I can't see any reason to give JC any credit for the campaign's successes, as opposed to Sadiq Khan, Alan Johnson, and the others who really got stuck in. Corbyn's contributions were chiefly towards the campaign's flaws.

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    2. @richard, you say that AJ "got stuck in", and yet AJ's appearances were about 20 against Corbyn's 125ish. AJ seemed almost entirely absent during the whole thing... which when you consider he was the guy in charge really doesn't put him in a good light. Khan's was around 25ish, which again was not really what could be called "highly visible", by a long shot. Brown had the second highest number of appearances at 50ish.

      (note, I am "ish"ing as I'm working from a graphic that someone created from a media study, and I can't find the original reference. If my memory serves it may be lbrough)

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    3. It depends what you mean by "appearances", I suppose. Khan may have only put in 25 performances, but one was a two hour showdown against Boris Johnson in Wembley stadium. Corbyn did nothing remotely approaching that level of impact (and made a couple of serious missteps).

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    4. The real failure of Labour's campaign rests with the party machine, who organised too little and too late. I have vivid memories of collecting boxes of leaflets from untouched pallets in a car park under the Wales Labour office, with nobody apparently having any idea how to distribute them. If senior officials had put the effort and money into the EU campaign that they are now putting into trying to remove Corbyn and disenfranchise members, then we could have won the referendum.

      And where was Owen Smith when he was needed to lead a campaign in the South Wales valleys?

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  4. BTW as to J Corbyn and "Remain" I like both, and I don't see a contradiction.

    My frustration with J Corbyn is that he still seems a bit naive, for example as to symbolic stuff like the monarchy and Trident. As to the monarchy, he could say that he respects E Windsor as head of state, as in any modern country, rather than as monarch. As to Trident instead of walking into the obvious trap (perhaps arranged between New Labour and Conservatives) of the recent debate, he could talk about Trident's lack of "value for money" and being for reducing "Weapons of Mass Destruction", as per the Non-Proliferation treaty that conservative governments support. But he seems a bit too fond of "gesture politics", that work well perhaps in Islington, but not so well with the less "cosmopolitan" parts of the labour base. Hopefully he'll learn. In an ideal world the less fanatical New Labourists like H Benn would have helped him patiently to get to grips with that instead of trying to screw him over.

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  5. BTW as to the two separate issues of EU and domestic policy: 2/3 of Labour voters are for "Remain" and J Corbyn is for "Remain" and the PLP is for "Remain" and presumably most members are for "Remain".

    The real question is domestic policy, what our blogger described as the loss of soul of the PLP. Apparently the PLP will not accept any leader that voted against austerity and benefit cuts, because he is not "one of hours". Apparently the membership after voting for E Milliband regardless will now not accept anyhow who voted for austerity or supported benefit cuts with abstaining.

    Voters don't seem to mind that much: the gap between Labour and Conservative vote was small this year and zero on 2016-04-25 ("Con Lead" column):

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/voting-intention-2

    until New Labour decided that was intolerable.

    Also note the interesting "guesstimate" of a Labour split here:

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/9744

    Leaders don't actually matter that much, it is T Blair's «judge us on their instincts about what they believe our instincts to be». And in the UK today there are two principal "instincts": landlords in the South and renters everywhere and landlords in the North.

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  6. «Can we trust Jeremy Corbyn over Europe?»

    I just argued yes. But let's rewrite this question the other way round: can we trust 52% of voters over Europe? :-)

    Well, I don't trust a them a lot, because of Lord Ashcroft's polling (especially towards the end):

    http://lordashcroftpolls.com/2016/06/how-the-united-kingdom-voted-and-why/

    It shows, as far as it goes, that voters fundamentally voted on something else than the merits of EU membership.

    Still in a democracy it is hard to say "I don't trust 52% of voters on Europe". Also the same logic means that I don't much trust the other 48% of voters on Europe either.

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  7. "a lot of the points Corbyn supporters make about Smith’s past could be used to suggest Corbyn was in truth more ambivalent than he says he was"

    I'm sure you're tired of me making this argument, but whether or not Corbyn was more ambivalent about the Remain campaign than he let on is a very different issue (and besides the point) to whether or not Smith's various left-wing policies are sincere. We already know that Corbyn adopted an official position in favour of Remain, and campaigned at over 100 pro-Remain events. I realise you think that his campaigning left a lot to be desired, but that is not the left's fear with Smith (that he might be a bit half-hearted about his current left-wing policies), it's that he won't maintain them after the leadership election is over. Worrying what people really believe as opposed to the positions they have actually *already taken and implemented* smacks a lot of the "purity" that the pro-Corbyn left is supposedly obsessed with. It's normal that leaders will sometimes end up backing positions they're ambivalent about, for the sake of compromise. The fear is not that Smith is compromising, but that he's not serious about keeping the left-wing policies he's advocating past September.

    "The vote of no confidence was the result of Brexit"

    Come on. It was widely known that if Corbyn had have lost the Oldham West byelection, or done very badly in the local elections, that a coup was coming. John Mann (no great friend of Corbyn) said that Owen Smith approached him *six months* before the coup for leadership backing. The Telegraph reported weeks before the Brexit vote that a coup was coming. The idea that it was about Brexit generally, or about Corbyn's remarks on Article 50 in particular, is clearly false.

    As for those remarks, as other people have said, he clearly was not calling for the immediate implementation of Article 50, and he's repeatedly confirmed this since.

    "we may see support for Smith growing. He will get his own momentum."

    The absolute best odds you can get on a Smith victory right now are 7 to 1 against. Corbyn has 83% of the CLP nominations, and every poll of party members has shown him well ahead. Unless he drops out, all that Smith is going to achieve over the coming weeks is another month of party in-fighting and boosting the Tories further in the polls.

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    1. Given that nothing has actually happened yet to implement the Brexit vote, and many different outcomes are possible with very different implications for the UK economy and our links to Europe, I would say worrying that past actions might have implications for the future is absolutely relevant in this case.

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    2. He's talking about the EEA. It's the best possible outcome, sadly.

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    3. Regular Gonzales8 August 2016 at 02:40

      Fair enough. On that score, I'd say a couple of things. One is that in the real world, there is pretty much no prospect of Labour being in charge of Brexit negotiations, no matter who wins the leadership contest, so the issue is largely moot. Secondly, Corbyn has consistently been in favour of free movement, so on that score he's actually more pro-European than Smith, who is expressing some reservations. Your argument would suggest that we should worry that he is being disingenuous over wanting free market access - perhaps so. Corbyn has however also consistently favoured giving the membership more influence, and the membership is pro-Europe, so even if he is being disingenuous that would tie his hands somewhat.

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    4. Regular Gonzales8 August 2016 at 15:16

      To follow up on this - with Corbyn's slate having just won every single one of the six seats available in the NEC elections, it's clearer than ever that Smith can't win this contest. He should drop out and the party should turn their fire on the government.

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  8. Am really really disappointed in this piece Mr Wren-Lewis Brexit is most certainly going to make matters harder and yes probably worse than if we stayed in the EU,i myself was a Europhile all my life and in some ways still am!am certainly not against Europe or European union,so lets get to the truth here!Nirp,Zirp,QE bond buy backs are only here because the economic model has failed,in February not a single commercial ship was active in the whole of the Atlantic (see the baltic dry) the world economies are crashed and being held up by in my mind corruption and this all before brexit(although such is the level of denialism that am sure that it will be blamed,yet we are witnessing the effect of the baltic dry hitting the economy because of the time effect,Brexit will hit October-ish but it still really not the main reason for the downturn in the economy,i noticed in March the downturn with my eyes not a spreadsheet!,not one policy has been but in place to rectify the wrongs that created this mess only to keep it going, on as long as possible!we are going to be in a mess,which will be the worse mess is yet to be seen! and maybe your right being in the EU and in a mess like Greece is maybe better than in a mess and brexit,but Greece even the IMF was a mistake ,yet is it being rectified is it hell!So really the choice left to the citizens of the world is do you want to suffer like Greece or even worse and still be under the yoke that help create it,or do you want to suffer and be free at the end to those that created this mess,i have had much time for Alex Andreou but am afraid he wants change but he wants to be tied to a system that has created the mess in which his family and fellow countrymen are trapped!if i must struggle at least being free of these fools makes it a price worth paying(am under no illusion that that may not happen) but for Alex to expect us to go the same way of his countrymen and blame Corbyn is delusional,we've seen the evidence with his countrymen than is not the path i wish to tread,i voted out for two reasons Greece treatment! and the building of a conscripted army,Smith threatens both to protect his privilages,i disagree with Corbyn on many things but i never voted for thatcher to get rid of one form of tyranny to end up with another!

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  9. As to the Single Market and trade, there is far too much focus about 'deals' (including the Brexit side and Liam Fox) without realising that it is regulatory harmonisation that is the key issue. The impact on trade isn't tariffs. It's regulatory harmonisation - i.e. not having your lorry load of widgets stopped and checked for 'compliance' at the border.

    Tariffs negate each other out. If you charge 10% and I charge 10% then those taxes can be used to subsidise the other side and we all end up back where we started.

    And since we're harmonised with the EU on goods regulations, then there *should* be no actual impediment to things in the future.

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    1. "Tariffs negate each other out. If you charge 10% and I charge 10% then those taxes can be used to subsidise the other side and we all end up back where we started."

      Please clarify what you mean, because 10% tariffs by both sides would reduce trade.

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  10. Outside the EU I can ensure everyone has a job, a house and a pension to look forward to. If you can do that inside the Single Market then great. If you can't then, like central bank independence, it is a 'nice to have.'

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  11. Or to rephrase the question, "why should we care whether we trust Corbyn on Europe?".

    As a fervent remainer, I think you have to let this go. I think any action to try to subvert the Brexit vote is anti-democratic and the outrage that it would lead to would further discredit the political class. In that case, IMHO, Corbyn has played it as he saw it - he sees the EU as flawed, but it contains enough of merit to be a critical supporter of remain. Now the vote it over, we have to deal with it. Expecting a second vote, as suggested by Smith, is a profound mistake, and I would suggest would be punished at any upcoming election if he were leader.

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    1. As I said, Corbyn did undermine Remain's key claim. Now why does a result following a campaign based on lies which have already become apparent have to be set in stone, but giving people the chance to change their minds is completely undemocratic?

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    2. If you recall, your key claim wasn't polling well thanks to George Osborne's intervention (I assign no blame to experts - you were right). There were good, strategic grounds, for not playing into that narrative.

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    3. As I’ve argued before, a second referendum is illusory. Its democratic legitimacy is highly dubious given the promise Parliament gave that it would respect the outcome of the June 23 referendum. A new Parliament following a general election could give it some legitimacy but Labour’s position going into such an election would be weakened by not having argued earlier for either a threshold or a second referendum. Beyond a strongly pro-EU minority there is no public appetite for going through it all again. In any case, the moment has passed, as Parliament is not going to be dissolved.

      I’ve asked previously for an explanation of how Smith’s promise of a referendum “when the terms are known” could work given that the EU will not negotiate until we trigger article 50 and once we’ve done that there’s no way back. I’m still waiting. I campaigned for Remain but we lost. The British people were asked to make a choice and they did. Accept it, as Corbyn did in his post-referendum statement, and move on. Anything else will be seen as the elite once again trying to fix the rules to get the result they want. There is a huge danger to democracy in that.

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    4. I agree with Simon and am saddened by how readily people want to accept the result and move on. The result hinged on outright lies by demagogues. Letting this go unchallenged sets a dangerous precedence. I thought we were better than this.

      S

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  12. Further to that comment, let me ask you (and the PLP) a few germaine questions:

    1. Why has your ire not be poured onto those Labour Party MPs that campaigned for Brexit?

    2. Why has your ire not been poured on those MPs that failed to deliver a remain vote in their constituency?

    3. Why has your ire not been poured on Cameron, who failed to deliver the Tory vote, ran an appalling campaign and caused this debacle?

    4. Why has your ire not been poured on May, who was notably absent from the remain campaign?

    Why, instead, is Corbyn the focus of your complaints?

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    1. Precisely. This is such a disingenuous position. Whilst I can understand Simon's desire for a second referendum, the subtext of the piece is pretty clear. Similarly, isn't there an argument to suggest that calling for a second referendum now is both strategically naive and offensive to those Labour voters who voted to leave? Aren't they the very core voters who already feel left behind and voiceless? What kind of message does the de haut en bas send to this core group of voters?

      The EU situation is very, very fluid at present. Renzi's in trouble, Spain has no government, Germany is suddenly taking a much more flexible approach to fiscal rules in the Southern periphery and Le Pen is outperforming Hollande in the polls. In the meantime, we have just held a referendum, one which delivered what was for many of us an unpalatable result. We have, as a party, to be seen to respect that vote. We have four years in which to change our policy position: now is not the time to do so.

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    2. "Similarly, isn't there an argument to suggest that calling for a second referendum now is both strategically naive and offensive to those Labour voters who voted to leave?"

      Prceisely, I had meant to include a similar a comment.

      Corbyn is, on the one hand, damned for not delivering the "lost left-behind Labour voters" in the referendum but, on the other hand, is now being asked to promote a policy that seeks to ignore their voice once again.

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  13. You might also look at Zoe Williams latest piece that shows that it was not just "lost Labour votes" that caused Brexit - the south, the Tory heartlands, were where the battle was really lost. It's just that the media concentrates on the "thick working class" as scapegoats.

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  14. The blaming Corbyn for the Brexit vote or claiming he didn't do enough or said the wrong things (which if you think about it is crazy. He was absent and didn't campaign for Remain, but he also said the wrong thing and caused people to vote Brexit/be confused about Labour's position etc. If he was so useless and absent how could he at the same time be so persuasive that his statements caused people to vote Brexit?) is dumb. It was clearly the first available pretext for the coupsters they thought would convince MPs who were on the fence about Corbyn.

    Regardless, your second point of Smith's position on a 2nd referendum vs. Corbyn's position is very important. Does it matter which is more politically viable? If it could be shown stumping for a 2nd referendum is a vote loser in the seats Labour needs to win should Labour not do it even if it means Brexit definitley happens? You say "48%" but a parliamentary election is not like a referendum. The 48% may be bunched in either ultra safe Tory or Labour seats meaning their views are kind of immaterial when it comes to Labour's electoral strategy.

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    1. My post said of Corbyn's campaign: "I doubt that was critical to the result, but it was nevertheless a serious economic, tactical and political error." Given how central Brexit issues will be over the next few years, do we want someone with that record taking the lead in opposing this government with its Brexit ministers?

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    2. When you say "opposing this government" it is important to be clear if you mean opposing as Smith does, which is opposing Brexit happening at all via a 2nd referendum. Or opposing as Corbyn does which is accepting the result but opposing the free market fanatics who want to use Brexit to gut workplace and consumer protections and regulations.

      I don't know if a 2nd referendum is viable or possible. If we accept Brexit is happening then who is best suited to making sure British workers and consumers get the best deal possible?

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  15. My views on trident are similar to your own. However it would be interesting to know what the FCO view is. I find your blog presents the establishment economics view - it would reflect the view of most BOE, Treasury and university economists that are closely linked to these institutions and have grown up according to the Books of Mankiw and Sargent.

    I am not saying I am right about Trident, but my instincts say this is an incredible waste of money - and I do know a little bit about international relations theory (which unlike economics is pluralistic and based on several schools of thought) which says that the more countries that have nuclear weapons the more likely nuclear conflict will break out. But I would not be surprised if the UK foreign policy establishment does not take this view. Is their a Mainly Macro that looks at foreign policy issues?

    NK.

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  16. You are writing too much about the Labour election. You seem to be joining the 'daily organ of the central committee of the anti-Corbyns' ie The Guardian, in putting out article after article against him and his supporters.

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    1. This election may be crucial to the future of the Labour party, which in turn is the only viable opposition to this terrible government. The problem with most of the opposition to Corbyn is that it failed to see why he was elected in the first place. I did not oppose his 2015 election. Perhaps that puts what I say in a different perspective.

      On 'sticking to the economics', I would say this. If this blog could be half as good as Paul Krugman's I would be extremely pleased. During the Bush years Paul did not stick to the economics.

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    2. Hear hear. Though I disagree with your position re Corbyn, why on earth should you 'stick to economics'?

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    3. Please keep writing about politics and what ever else you feel like writing about. It's always interesting.

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    4. Politics is in effect! the actual implementation of economics! it is foolish to think that you should write about economics and i its implementation ii the implementation of other economic ideas iii the vehicles and process of the implementation and how they could be improved iv the influences that effect economic policy!!!!

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  17. 'But I know if roles were reversed, and Owen Smith had done these things, Corbyn supporters would be declaring that they just KNEW that Corbyn really wanted us to Leave. Which suggests to me that if we are skeptical about Smith’s radicalism, we should also be at least as skeptical about Corbyn’s attitude to the future Brexit negotiations.'

    You know no such thing. Honestly, for a social scientist you seem peculiarly drawn to the anecdotal and the counterfactual.
    I'm at a loss to explain the cognitive dissonance at the heart of your most recent posts: your scientific research, like that of Professor Curtice clearly shows that Corbyn was not responsible for Brexit, yet you keep banging this very tiresome drum. Moreover, you seem content to make context-free arguments to support your case: why did Corbyn refuse to share a platform with Cameron, for example? Was it not reasonable to take lessons from the Scottish referendum? Corbyn delivered, just as Nicola Sturgeon delivered. You should focus your ire on those who failed to deliver.*

    *To be clear I'm similarly angry about the vote, but not so that it clouds my judgement.

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  18. I can't believe you're citing Alex Andreou's hysterical smear job. Isn't this a space for grown-ups?

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    1. I think grown-ups shouldn't describe things as 'hysterical smear jobs'. A movement that can only react to criticism in that way contains the seeds of its own destruction.

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    2. Have you actually read the Andreou piece?

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    3. Now this, is a serious and balanced analysis that combines criticism of Corbyn's leadership with an attempt to understand his support.

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    4. AAV did a very good counter critique of Alex's blog post. http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/alex-andreous-acid-attack-article.html

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  19. I hope you're having second thoughts about the people you're potentially facilitating. Dothe NEC's tactics and Owen Smith's craven adoption of Corbyn's policies not make you ever so slightly queasy? Smith is clearly a zelig type figure, a political chameleon capable of adopting and dropping policies like a stone. Moreover, the way he waits for Corbyn and McDonnell to make a policy statement or statement of intention before adopting said position within the hour is frankly embarrassing. How can one possibly trust such a creature?

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  20. Oh, and Smith is offering something that it is not in his gift to offer (again). The EU were very clear about a second referendum and they've been very clear about Article 50. We may be looking at a much changed landscape in 2018, so promising a second referendum now may appear tactically smart (for that's what it is tactics, nothing more), but in reality is a typical example of Blairite triangulation. It is not good strategy to alienate your core supporters so soon after they've made their feelings clear. If the opportunity for a second referendum does arise, then we should look at it further along the line, when tempers have cooled and the reality of 'taking back control' proves as dismal as we all imagine. Best to keep one's powder dry on this issue if we're to avoid further trauma.

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  21. Simon, whilst I think your judgement on Corbyn's overall contribution to the referendum is a little unfair - I think it could have been stronger but doubt it made any significant difference to the overall result, I think that your point about his failure to warn about the economic dangers of Brexit is 100% spot on.

    In fact, I would go much further. I think the decision not to go very hard on the negative economic consequences of Brexit was a gargantuan, colossal and highly stupid strategic error. If Corbyn, McDonnell and the rest of the shadow cabinet had repeated endlessly the warnings of economists about what would happen and continued this after the results, day after day after day on all the main media outlets they would now be in a very strong position because they would be able to conclusively pin the responsibility for the negative economic consequences of Brexit on the Tories. They could have forced the Tories to own the slump and shredded their deserved reputation for economic competence for a generation. Deeply disappointing.

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  22. Its not surprising that Smith's policies are almost identical to Corbyn's, this is the PLP's modus operandi: simply position yourself as close to your rival as physically possible.

    My unpleasant suspicion is that the PLP have been using this technique now for so long, that not only do they actually think it is a viable means of running a political party, but they think it is the ONLY means of running a political party. The idea that you might try to win votes by standing for some defined set of principles and policies and then try to persuade the public why these are good ideas is simply outside of their world view.

    Under Miliband the PLP were desperately trying to out-Tory the Tories to the point where they ended up to the right of a hard-right party on a number of issues, and now they're falling over themselves to out-Corbyn Corbyn. They still don't get why thousands and thousands of people who aren't traditional Labour voters signed up to elect Corbyn and thousands and thousands more are trying to keep him.

    I don't really see the point of Owen Smith, if the PLP still don't understand why they lost the last election so horribly and then couldn't even win their own leadership contest, then they might as well not have a party leader. Just appoint an automated teddy bear pre-loaded with anodyne clichés.

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