Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Wednesday 24 August 2016

Why Corbyn’s Brexit campaign matters

I sometimes think discussions with Corbyn supporters is a bit like talking to one half of a couple going through a bad patch in their relationship. Let’s call them PLP and LPM. There is no doubt that for many years PLP had taken LPM for granted. And as a friend to both you can wholeheartedly agree that PLP’s flirtation with austerity in recent years was a serious breach of trust, and more generally a very foolish thing to do. You agree that in those circumstances LPM getting into bed with Corbyn was quite understandable.

But you can see that Corbyn is no good for LPM. Their relationship is going nowhere. What is more PLP is, perhaps as a result, full of remorse. Austerity has long gone, and PLP is promising almost everything LPM wants. You know that when LPM and PLP work together they are a great couple, perhaps even a winning couple. Yet when you try to say this to LPM you either get the hurt of an aggrieved party (how can I ever trust them again), or worse still the poisoned words of despair (that even at their best as a couple they were no better than anyone else).

So when I ask how can you expect Corbyn with only the confidence of 20% of his MPs to get many votes, I’m told that the PLP should not be able to dictate who the leader is, as if that somehow negates my point. [1] Life with Corbyn may be going nowhere, but it is all PLP’s fault. When I point out Corbyn’s major mistake during the Brexit campaign, I’m told it probably had no effect so why should it matter.

But it does matter. What Corbyn and his team decided to do as part of their Brexit campaign was to rubbish Osborne’s claims about the economic harm Brexit could do. They were rubbishing the key part of the Remain campaign. That decision was certainly an embarrassment for that campaign, and for his own PLP colleagues. It was a slap in the face for academic economists, 90% of whom did think that Brexit would be harmful.

Not only was it the wrong thing to do for those reasons, but it also puts Corbyn in a far weaker position after the Brexit vote. Let me quote a comment from that earlier post from Mike Berry, who knows a thing or two about the media. He says it 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.”

So why did they make such a big error? According to this report, “the Shadow Treasury team vetoed a story developed by Labour’s policy team for Shadow Chief Secretary Seema Malhotra, which warned of the effect of Brexit on the value of sterling.” It goes on: “Those close to the Shadow Chancellor felt that the independence referendum in Scotland had shown how Project Fear went down badly with Labour voters. McDonnell’s Economic Advisory Council (EAC) would have felt the sterling crisis idea was counter-productive too, one source said.”

It was blindingly obvious, from either macro theory or from market reaction to polls, that sterling would depreciate sharply if the UK voted Brexit. Mike Berry’s point continues to apply. But the reason given for not going with this is bizarre. Leaving the EU, as with Scottish independence, will have serious economic consequences for the UK and Scotland respectively. To not mention this, or worse still trash others that do, because it might not be believed is extraordinary logic. (It is like saying a lot of people do not believe in man made climate change, so let’s start supporting climate change denial.)

It is fine to talk about some of the issues the Remain campaign was ignoring, like workers rights, but you can do that without rubbishing what other people on the same side are saying.

What added insult to injury when I read this account was the reference to the EAC. The EAC certainly did not say that Corbyn should discount economists claims about economic costs, or that the likely exchange rate depreciation should not be mentioned. Some of us may have said that talk of some kind of financial crisis similar to 2008 was going over the top, but that is completely different. (A substantial depreciation is not a financial crisis.) It’s not good to misrepresent the EAC as a cover for bad decisions. You do not need to take my word for this. To quote from the statement five of us made after Brexit and Danny Blanchflower’s resignation: “we have felt unhappy that the Labour leadership has not campaigned more strongly to avoid this outcome”.

The reaction of Corbyn’s supporters to all this is to respond to a very different accusation, which is that Corbyn helped lose the Brexit vote. But that is something that is virtually impossible to decide. The issue for me is not whether Corbyn in undermining the Remain campaign influenced the final vote, but that he did it in the first place.

One possibility of course was that he was quite happy to undermine that campaign because of his own ambivalence towards the EU. After all, he did take a holiday during the campaign (imagine if Cameron had done that), and he didn’t actually campaign that hard. But let us instead take him at his word. What we have then is a major strategic failure by him and his team, a failure that will have consequences for the future.

A large part of politics over the next few years will be about Brexit. The Prime Minister is extremely vulnerable on this issue given the splits in her party. There is a huge difference between the various forms of Brexit, and a united Labour party with a passionate advocate of European engagement leading it could help influence events. If there is an economic downturn as a result of the uncertainty over Brexit the government must be made to own that downturn in voters eyes. You cannot do that if the leader of the opposition said the downturn wouldn’t happen.

Let me end with a quote from a recent article by Martin Jacques. While I disagreed with his unqualified description of New Labour as neoliberal, I think he gets Corbyn exactly right in this quote.
“He is uncontaminated by the New Labour legacy because he has never accepted it. But nor, it would seem, does he understand the nature of the new era. The danger is that he is possessed of feet of clay in what is a highly fluid and unpredictable political environment”

I know it has only been a year. I know recent betrayals still hurt. But the road Labour is currently on leads nowhere, and the longer it takes for the membership to realise that the more damage is done. Once you stop seeing the alternative through jaundiced eyes it is so much better.

[1] Logical consistency often goes out of the window in such discussions. I’m asked how can I know that this no confidence vote will damage Labour in a General Election by the same people who tell me Corbyn’s current unpopularity in the polls is because Labour is split.

Postscript [07/09/2016] It now looks like the reason why the explanation given for not supporting (or indeed trashing) economists analysis of the benefits of the single market reported and discussed above were bizarre is because they were a diversion. This report and this from George Eaton show clearly that Corbyn and McDonnell do not support membership of the single market. 


  1. "What is more PLP is, perhaps as a result, full of remorse. Austerity has long gone, and PLP is promising almost everything LPM wants."

    Really? Owen Smith has made a few statements in the context of the election. But do we know that the PLP really supports these policies? At best they have been remarkably quiet.

    Re Martin Jacques, isn't he arguing that Corbyn isn't being radical enough?

    1. Yeah this is the most contentious bit. The idea the PLP is "full of remorse" seems like wishful thinking.

      The issue with the support for austerity was not just that it was wrong on its own terms but that it showed Labour to be a timid, managerialist party adopting positions based on narrow and not very sophisticated political calculations. Everything about the Owen Smith campaign suggests a continuity of this approach, not a break from it.

  2. While I agree Corbyn bungles communications ever day and should shape up or ship out, you must remember that according to Ashcroft, 2015's Labour voters voted Remain at the same rate as 2015's SNP voters! Does that mean Sturgeon screwed up the EU referendum campaign in Scotland and she should resign as SNP leader? Screwed it up as badly as Labour, that is.

    1. This. If your Counterfactual is that your suggested strategy would have gotten more than ~70% of Labour to vote Remain, you certainly haven't presented evidence of that.

      If your Counterfactual is "Labour didn't bash the Tories enough for going through with a stupid promise," then I want to see examples (say, three since Profumo and one post John Major) of them doing that.

    2. My impression is that some people who criticize J Corbyn for being only 75% for "Remain" are being clever, and that is being used as rather tedious pretext. The key is this statement:
      «Smith talked fluently to make his case for a second referendum or a general election to be staged on the Brexit terms [ ... ] the Brexit vote will hurt British workers (I agree) and that they should be given the chance to rethink that 52% to 48% vote»

      I suspect that the real issue is:

      * A large chunk of "The Establishment" wants the next general election campaign to be a rerun of the referendum.

      * They need a party that campaigns for "Remain", and the Conservatives cannot be that party as the vast majority of their members voted "Leave".

      * So it needs to be a party where the majority of voters did vote "Remain", and for obvious reasons that can only be "New Labour".

      * J Corbyn has declared that he does not intend to oppose the referendum result, obviously because he does not intend to destroy the Labour party; if the Labour party campaigned for "Remain" at general election time, they would lose a large part of that 37% of their "Leave" voters to UKIP.

      * Therefore "The Establishment" want a "New Conservatives for Europe" party, that is "New Labour", to be lead by someone who will campaign at general election time for "Remain".

      * The idea is that "New Labour" will lose forever the 37% of mostly low income voters etc. who voted "Leave", but gain a fraction of the 48% of Conservative voters that voted "Remain", in particular ex-Liberal voters, and win the election on a "Conservatives for Europe" platform of "Remain" and more neoliberalism and neoconservatism, and in particular higher house prices.

      That is J Corbyn's electoral strategy is to keep the Labour voting based whole, get back some of the 3 million Labour voters who abstained as they could not see much a difference between "New Labour" and Conservative PFI etc., and wait for the housing boom to end, which will get the Conservatives fired by voters, as that's the only thing that gets voters to stop returning a majority for incumbent governments.

      My impression is that some part of "The Establishment" want instead "New Labour" to become the new Cleggist Liberals. But as a mandelsonian put it:
      «Labour will not win the next election by relying on disaffected leftwing Liberal Democrat voters, but will also have to frame policies that are attractive to former Conservative voters in the south, the shadow cabinet member Caroline Flint has said.»

      The problem with "The Establishment"'s electoral plan is that a "New Conservatives for Europe"/"New Labour"/"New Liberals" it is amazingly risky, because:

      * It seems unlikely that there is a "New Conservatives for Europe" majority of the voters, and some large part of the Conservative party would fight it hard; the others would follow "hints" from their "sponsors" to "take a breather" for "patriotic" reasons, and they would be taken care of if they lost their seat.

      * "The Establishment" may be betting that "New Conservatives for Europe" could win a majority of *seats*, even if "Leave" parties could get a majority of *votes*, as "Leave" votes would be mostly wasted on second place UKIP and Conservative candidates; the main difference between referendum and general elections being FPTP.

      But a situation where in mid-2016 a referendum is won by 52% majority of the popular vote, and it is reversed by a parliamentary majority with a 40% (at best!) of popular votes would be quite dramatic, to say the least.

  3. I feel your weakness with Corbyn and so attempts to influence the election by your blog is that when he wins he will officially declare for brexit. This will swing many labour votes who voted to remain to the leave side. Which is probably your worst nightmare.

    1. «Corbyn [ ... ] when he wins he will officially declare for brexit»

      I think that is very very unlikely. J Corbyn very clearly has no political ambition for himself (watch A Burnham, who clearly is both more principled than the mandelsonians and is playing the long game); he is a 67 year old quasi-pensioner with an allotment that has been given the thankless task of being a "caretaker" leader with the mission to keep the party mostly united, that is from losing their core base of low income workers without losing *too many* of the "New Conservatives for Europe" MPs. For this he has compromised hugely, putting a massive amount of those same "New Conservatives for Europe" MPs in his first shadow cabinet, toning down with obvious great personal embarassment on republicanism and pacifism for the sake of the party's official line, and he is now prepared to forget the often vicious attacks of those "New Conservatives for Europe" MPs when he wins.

      The last thing he is going to do is to stick the finger to the 63% of Labour voters who followed his lead (miraculously!) and chose "Remain". He is also not going to stick the finger to the 37% of Labour voters who chose "Leave" either. He is going to let the blame fall on the Conservatives, who voted 58% for "Leave". Unless the PLP does the Conservatives a big favour and quite inventively blames him for losing the referendum.

  4. MaInnlLY mAcRoO0

  5. If Owen Smith wants to really push this EU referendum redux he should go up to the Lib Dems in public and private to see if he can join the two parties together formally, as was flirted with in the 1990s.

    And as for the depreciation, wasn't it Harold Wilson in 1967 who went around saying to old ladies that their pound in their pocket was still worth a pound. Do you think old and not so old ladies and gentlemen have changed all that much today?

  6. Labour are going to have a mountain to climb at the next election, but one thing that would make life a lot easier would be if UKIP were to disappear in a puff of smoke. (Which may yet come to pass. One of the few signs of a silver lining over the last couple of months has been UKIP's local election results, which have been almost unrelievedly awful.) I'm sure Corbyn was working on the assumption that Remain was bound to win - everyone else was, after all - and on that basis the best way to neutralise UKIP was to play the idea of Brexit with as dead a bat as possible: yes, there are lots of problems with the EU, yes, lots of people genuinely believe we should leave, here's our take on what the real issues are. Conversely, the best way to strengthen UKIP and store up trouble for 2020 would have been to go down the 'Better Together' route, celebrating the glories of the EU in terms which sounded removed from people's experience and failed to differentiate Labour from the Tories. I think the kind of campaign Corbyn's being criticised for not running could have had much worse results than what we did see. But I agree that the campaign wasn't his finest hour - the episode you refer to is an appalling example of the political instrumentalisation of economics, from both sides.

    On another point, has austerity 'long gone' - in the sense that the majority of the PLP was formerly committed to working with austerity and are now committed to challenging it? I'm dubious. You don't need me to tell you that austerity always was a political project - it gave Osborne and Cameron cover for a long-term project of shrinking the state, while also giving them a handy mechanism for making the economy look a bit better around election time. The big change isn't that the PLP has abandoned its opposition to austerity but that May has abandoned her (inherited) commitment to it. There are a variety of reasons for this: she's not especially committed to shrinking the state, her treatment of Osborne suggests she's averse to playing party-political games with the economy (which is to her credit if so), and she doesn't want to go down in history as the heir to Cameron.

    Whatever the reason, it means that anyone phrasing left-wing politics in terms of opposition to austerity is re-fighting old battles. I think Labour MPs have picked up that message, which is why most of them have stopped talking about austerity*. A much more important question is whether they still believe in triangulation: do they still believe, as Harman plainly did believe in 2015, that Miliband's Labour had lost because they were seen as being too left-wing, and** that the party can only win by moving to the Right relative to the 2015 manifesto? This kind of political 'realism' - which effectively amounts to letting the Tories set the political agenda - has been a common disorder in the party for a very long time, particularly among MPs; Corbynism represents a coherent and unapologetic challenge to it. I'd love to believe that leadership style is all we're being asked to vote on - that the key faultline in the PLP runs between Corbynism and Corbynism-without-Corbyn - but there's very little evidence to support that proposition and plenty against.

    *Although not all. Owen Smith opens his candidate's statement as follows:
    "My vision for Labour's future is a set of radical anti-austerity policies that ensure Labour delivers prosperity for our country."
    The fourth paragraph (of five) begins:
    "It is simply not enough to talk about anti-austerity, we need to set out a concrete plan to tackle inequality, deliver prosperity and hold this Government to account."
    Jeremy Corbyn's statement doesn't 'talk about anti-austerity'; in fact, the word 'austerity' doesn't appear.

    **Note that the second point doesn't necessarily follow from the first, particularly given fixed-term parliaments.

    1. «has austerity 'long gone'»

      Currently the UK is running a government deficit of 5-6% of the (recently "optimized") GDP index and a balance of payment deficit of 6-7%.

      Those are pretty amazing and not far from the levels reached by Spain just before 2007 (the levels reached by Greece are almost inimitable, a truly stunning achievement made possible only by brutal accounting fraud and extreme corruption).

    2. «Conversely, the best way to strengthen UKIP and store up trouble for 2020 would have been to go down the 'Better Together' route, celebrating the glories of the EU in terms which sounded removed from people's experience and failed to differentiate Labour from the Tories.»

      That's my impression too. Polls that both the 63% of Labour voters who chose "Remain" and the 37% are still with Labour.

      But look at it from the point of view of some of "The establishment": if Labour had run or will run a suicidally gung-ho "Remain" campaign, and that had made/would make a difference of a few % points, "Remain" might have won/might win, *and* Labour would have/will suicide. It's a win-win! :-)

  7. It is probably difficult, but it would make sense to accept that the Labour party is finished as a credible opposition and a potential government-in-waiting. There appears to be no way that any reconciliation will be achieved between the members, TU affiliates and supporters who back Mr. Corbyn and the MPs who have declared no confidence in his leadership. In any event all current Labour MPs wishing to remain in the Commons as Labour MPs will have to offer themselves for re-selection.

    In the modern era we've had long periods of governance by the same party Generally the governing party generated its own internal opposition, often unsatisfactorily, but occasionally successfully – until the main opposition party reinvigorated itself. A new government-in-waiting will emerge; enough voters will ensure that will happen. But it won't be Labour.

    The task now is to explore and support every means of imposing parliamnetary scrutiny, restraint and accountability until the mess created by the Labour party has been swept to one side.

    1. «the Labour party is finished as a credible opposition»
      «Labour MPs have raised concerns that Jeremy Corbyn’s rhetoric on tax avoidance could appear anti-aspiration. A senior shadow cabinet source said the party leader was in danger of overreaching himself in his criticism of David Cameron for investing in Blairmore, the fund set up in an offshore tax haven in the Bahamas by his father Ian.»

      «Labour MPs have raised concerns that Jeremy Corbyn’s rhetoric on tax avoidance could appear anti-aspiration.»

      Compare and contrast with the master of credible government:
      «Green is a tough and ruthless businessman, now based in low-tax Monaco.» «Blair recommended him for a knighthood»

  8. The analogy between the PLP/LPM and a couple falls down almost immediately when you write 'What is more PLP is, perhaps as a result, full of remorse'. What evidence whatsoever is there that this is the case? The PLP have spent thousands attempting to shut out LPM and there is zero indication that they even understand that Corbynism is 100% a result of the way they have behaved for 20 years, let alone that they are remorseful for this and wish or intend to change this.

    What you call Corbyn undermining the campaign, I call attempting to distance himself from the embarrassing level of public debate going on from both sides during the referendum campaigns. Corbyn attempted to give a measured response, acknowledging the faults of the EU whilst also highlighting the dangers of leaving it.

    1. Martin.

      Is that the, "It's not me, it's you," phase of the argument?

  9. A negative impact doesn't obviously equal recession. Three minus two doesn't equal less than zero.

    Among a bunch of things I think this post goes wayward on, it's not at all obvious that George Osborne wasn't exaggerating on the likely impact of a leave vote Neither is it any sort of obvious Corbyn didn't argue that a leave vote wouldn't harm to the economy.

    I know it's a shock to technocrats that Leave won and it's all very disorientating; but Corbyn's may well have been one of the more reasonable and prescient voices during the campaign. Your fire might be more useful aimed elsewhere.

    1. Leave was supported by technocrats that oppose the United States. You don't get it. Leave was and is a scam.

  10. I really wish you'd put this effort in last year when it might have made a difference.

    Oh well.

  11. Logical consistency often does go out of the window. You're backing a man who could well lead Labour to electoral disaster:

    There's some logic for you!

    1. «who could well lead Labour to electoral disaster»

      Suppose some of "The Establishment" managed to get the "New Labour"/"New Liberals"/"New Conservatives for Europe" setup and they would get a majority of seats (on, very optimistically, 40% of the votes) on "Remain" (more precisely on "EEA", like Switzerland).

      Suppose that would be a once-only special case, as pro-"Remain" tory voters would only vote tactically, encouraged by the CBI etc., and then at the next election after that "New Labour" would evaporate like the Liberals did, as tory voters would return to vote Conservative, as pretty obviously there is no space in UK politics for a far-right party and a "merely right" party, and the Conservatives, at a general election, are perfectly capable of moving temporarily to look like a "merely right" party by hiring a PR professional like D Cameron as their frontman.

      That to me looks like a win-win for that part of "The Establishment" that wants passporting rights and free movement from Romania and Bulgaria.

  12. We may disagree on Corbyn and LPM v. the PLP. The question is, however, what will happen once Corbyn wins election as leader, twice, in barely one year? Continued opposition by the PLP? Another vote of no confidence? If Corbyn wins, and it seems he will, isn't there a duty on the losers to accept him as leader and stop the opposition? If it's just too much for them, what should they do? Resign? Bolt? These are also important questions, and I don't see Corbyn's opponents revealing themselves. Don't they have a duty to state what they will do once Corbyn is re-elected?

    1. Looks like the party machine are in full purge mode to ensure a Smith victory: until next year.

    2. 1. This is what you get for letting people decide who gets to be leader.
      2. Smith will be annihilated by the media, much like Corbyn is being now.
      It may be more true to state "nobody will be elected to be government without the media, largely, on their side"

  13. " You agree that in those circumstances LPM getting into bed with Corbyn was quite understandable."

    So who was wearing the prophylactic? Was anybody?

    "But nor, it would seem, does he understand the nature of the new era. "

    So is everything reduced to real politik? What happened to principle?

    I'm not entirely a fan of Corbyn, at least he stands for a principle.


  14. Why are you not going to the conference at UMKC Simon?

    To me and many others around the globe it is the monetarists who look like they have feet of clay.

    Times are changing can you not feel it?

  15. I don't think you get Corbyn, or the new politics at all, Simon. It's not like the old politics.

  16. Was Corbyn also supposed to support Osborne's claim that a 30 billion pound austerity budget (Osborne's words) would be necessary if Brexit happened? You don't agree an austerity budget is the right thing to do now, right?

    Could Corbyn say he doesn't agree with an austerity budget being necessary but he agrees on the economic consequences of Brexit? Would that have been credible considering the media-macro influenced economic thinking of a lot of people? Could he have just ignored the austerity budget claims and still agreed with the other claims about the consequences of Brexit?

    It seems, regardless of what happened before, once Osborne made the claim for the necessity of post Brexit austerity it would be tough to support the economic arguments for the consequences of Brexit, but not the specific budget claim. If Brexit was going to cause such a catastrophe and in media-macro land the proper response to an economic catastrophe is austerity wouldn't Corbyn be basically strengthening the Tory narrative on the economy in general?

    1. For one thing, Brexit has to happen first. Next, they need to fully disinvest in the EU like the Rothschilds want and join the WTO. If they don't, then there is no real "move". Most businesses are tied to the Morgans and won't want to work in a anti-Morgan country.

      The problem is, not only will the "UK" economy tank, it will probably dissolve itself. That the Rothschilds and its lackeys(Farage,Murdoch) can't happen without the US also tanking. If the UK economy tanks and the US economy booms, they seriously effed up.

      Guys, it is time to understand, the Brexit vote was really a pro-Rothschilds vote and a Anti-US/Morgan vote. People don't get that. I mean, they simply don't. Most "right wing" groups globally are scam organizations of the international(financed by types like Vlad Putin who are owned by the Rothschilds). From Ron Paul to Donald Trump(who I argue comes from the opposite method of destruction and is really a Morgan boy at heart that owes 100's of millions of dollars worth of debt to the Roths, which is why he is there) they have been financing these scams and making the "white proletarian" believe in their crap for 50 years. The 1929 crash was really the death rattle of the British Empire/Rothschilds financial empire and the Morgans helped spur that on by helping trigger the 1931 phase of the crisis. By 1933 there was total anarchy and the US with the Morgans came in and filled in the gap. It basically led to the US economic empire. Since then, everything has been gobbled up by the US/Morgans. They own the EU essentially. They have control of the Bank of England. Russia's central bank, is owned by the Rothschilds and financing anti-American opposition. Coming together yet folks?

    2. That is total conspiracy theory nonsense, anonymous.

  17. Simon, please don't repeat the canard about 'Corbyn's holiday'. Yes he planned a short break, although after 18 hours he went to Port Talbot to show solidarity with steelworkers who had just been told their plant was to close.

    It's this kind of story - particularly when it originates from MPs who work far less hard than Corbyn does - that has done so much to embitter the leadership campaign.

  18. More increasingly desperate denial. Sadly.
    Like the drunken friend of the girl at a teenage party who is blubbing uncontrollably in the front garden having watched her boyfriend snogging another girl, your random and irrational attempts to 'help' are proving to be of no earthly use to anyone concerned.
    'Go home, you're drunk.'

  19. Corbyn as an unreliable fancy man? This relationship analogy is getting out of hand.

  20. Corbyn as the accidental saboteur of the remain case is not plausible. His tradition of leftist has always hated the EU. The idea that the left were going to rally around the EU cause is fantastic. Here is the one subject on which the far left have been unambiguously vindicated. The EU is indeed a bankers ramp, a corporatist tool for the suppression of welfare, wages and employment. Permanent policy set in treaty concrete and imposed via prerogative powers has been Europe's shiny new innovation. Technocrats wielded vast power (even deposing elected prime ministers and overturning referenda) and insofar as they bothered to justify themselves at all, they did so via a debased managerialist narrative of "expertise" and "complexity".

    In short, Europe's brand new innovation turned out to be a relaunch of a very old model perfected by the Vatican in the 15 century.The prof. might as well demand that the left support a revival of the Inquisition.

    More specifically the prof describes a (currently) dysfunctional marriage between the PLP and the LPM. It seems to me that this a menage a trois - the third party being the core Labour vote. It was this much neglected and much derided vote that delivered Brexit. This core vote is more socially conservative and patriotic than the Blairites in the PLP and less economically radical than the activists in momentum. They are now being written off as a biddable lumpen mass entirely at the disposal of the Murdoch press. This is a mistake. They are Labour and without them the disputes between the PLP and the LPM has all the political salience of those permanent spats and splits that consumed the Trotskyists in the 80's.

    The Brexit vote was won by populists. The first round of the French provincial elections saw breakthroughs for the populists. Populist breakaways are on the rise throughout Europe. The labour party was a populist movement to its fingertips. It fought the class war a passion that led it from the fringes and into government. There is no equivalent populist movement in favour of the EU - anywhere. This is your real problem prof. - there is no substitute for a mass constituency. The EU doesn't have one in the UK - or anywhere else in Europe.....

  21. Why cannot we not just assume that Corbyn (and Milne) wanted the UK out of the EU, and only toed the party line to the minimal extent possible. That is what it looked like at the time at least to me, and that is what reports from inside the Labour party EU campaign suggest. Further, the man himself, prior to being elected leader of the party, was clear about his opinion of the EU.

    1. I think perhaps it was a bit of both. The fact Corbyn has been and no doubt still is anti-EU, along with many of those close to him, no doubt made it very easy for him to play a less than enthusiastic part in the campaign.

      But I also think that, like most people, he expected a narrow victory for Remain (even while hoping for a Leave victory). He probably thought that keeping his distance from the campaign would allow him to capitalise on the inevitable backlash to a Remain vote among Leavers, presenting his anti-EU history as a positive and a way of winning over disgruntled Leave voters.

      In that sense, Corbyn was playing politics with the EU referendum no less than Johnson and Gove. As for them, it might even have been successful, if not for the unexpected Leave vote.

  22. I can understand your feeling of betrayal by Corbyn over the EAC,it is like you say the feeling many have had over 20yrs.
    Twenty years of mistrust is far harder to forgive,particularly has it has done so much damage to so many lives!maybe (you was in the loop)a betrayal of the greatest kind,but we the public see two things i) a unfair proportionality of blaming Corbyn (he's hadn't been on the seen a year earlier)whilst many have a far bigger blame factors that should be highlighted than him are getting away with it! ii) yes anyone would admit that brexit wasn't the best option economically under the globalisation/neoliberal economies,but that is actually is what needs breaking(for so many reasons) Corbyn makes mistakes (probably not has many as some others & more than some others) but for me EAC over reacted (am on the outside) he had a balancing act & Osborne was rabid in his remarks(one does suspect to inflict more ideology on the nation) since has i have already pointed out the Baltic dry had dropped of a cliff in February with so many other factors that Brexit was no part off that Osborne was being opportunistic & was busy trying to apportion blame everywhere but were you rightly point out it belongs in Tory mismanagement/ideology) So maybe Corbyn misunderstood the EAC stance in two ways one it now seems that they were trialling Corbyn to see how serious he was!(& therefore the EAC picked the wrong time,place & subject) or it was lost not by him by those transmitting the points to him! of the fact this wasn't just a position but the economist felt they were staking a great deal of their credit-ability to it! which therefore would feel like a betrayal!& hence theirs & your responses.
    I don't think Corbyn is the person to take Labour forward,that would have been the person who did more than their remit and helped Corbyn out,built up trust and showed not made unsubstantiated claims that they had seen the light,20 yrs of mistrust isn't wiped out that way,just has Corbyn has the lefts legacy to overcome,so do the plp have theirs (even if they don't recognise it) & nothing they have done commands the slightest respect that anyone should take their word for it.
    They needed to gain respect & believe-ability
    For those that are smug at labours demise i say this Hitler built up massive forces in in all departments & still couldn't sweep away all those who opposed him! sometimes the path of fate is very misleading! in years gone by trees have dominated the world only for the eco -system that they themselves (the trees obviously unlike humans was unconsciously) created meant from time to time great forest being burned in your dominance you should still show some decorum because your fate isn't as assured has you may think!

    1. You misunderstand. Politicians have every right to disregard advice. But to then imply that these advisors were giving them different advice is either deceitful or inept.

  23. This piece says it all, really:

    1. "to ask themselves why they supported him in the first place, and what has changed." Well I didn't support or not support him in 2015, but it is blindingly obvious what has changed. He had only one way of being successful, and that was by compromising with the PLP: leading a centre-left PLP from the left. He tried, and much of the PLP tried. They failed.

      Who you blame for that failure does not change that. The idea that Corbyn can successfully lead Labour against the wishes of 80% of the PLP was never, ever plausible.

    2. Sigh, yes it is. Anyway we'll soon see one way or another. In the meantime you find yourself backing an appallingly callow and disingenuous opponent who is, if reports are to be believed, already held in contempt by those in both the media and the PLP who fostered the coup, and is thus, vulnerable to just such a challenge by those on the right of that party in the next twelve months. During that time all the positive recommendations will whither away, the leadership will be decided by the PLP pace Watson and the membership purged.
      On your head be it.

  24. Well, he was trying hard to appear genuine.
    But unfortunately, that train episode has revealed JC to be a mendacious fool.
    This contest could be closer than initially expected.

  25. I’m not going to defend Corbyn’s handling of the Treasury report on the consequences of Brexit. He didn’t get it right. But I will put it in context.

    It was a tricky matter. You admitted yourself (blog, 19 April) that defending Osborne over Brexit made you “want to go and lie down for a while”. It was much harder for Corbyn, who is not a trained economist and who has been waging a hard campaign against the Treasury. His challenge was to endorse the broad findings of the Brexit analysis without simultaneously endorsing a department that has made rosy predictions on the consequences of austerity. I’ve thought quite a bit about this since you first drew our attention to the video clip. It was possible to get the right balance but it required very careful speechwriting and he does not seem to have been adequately advised on it.

    Corbyn’s emphasis on Treasury failures rather than its Brexit warnings reflected a view across the party – until the final weeks – that the referendum was an internal Tory squabble distracting attention from the real business of winning elections and running councils. The EU campaign was viewed through the prism of party political struggles, rather than an existential issue in its own right. The British political system is not designed around single issue votes that cut through parties. Labour organisation for the campaign was poor, and during the preceding regional and local elections canvassers had been discouraged from talking about Europe in case it cost Labour seats. This was not down to Corbyn: as we have seen in recent weeks the elected leader has little influence on the behaviour of MPs and party officials.

    The Treasury analysis was also widely misunderstood, particularly the headline £4300 loss per household. Arrived at by the standard economists’ method of dividing the overall predicted loss in GDP by the number of households, it was presented by politicians and understood by the public as a predicted loss in each household’s disposable income. As this number was such a large proportion of disposable income in deprived areas, it had no credibility there. Like Osborne’s threatened ‘punishment budget’ it was seen as just an attempt by the establishment to spread fear, and treated with contempt. It probably did more harm than good to the Remain campaign.

    Economists and politicians would have done much better to have focused on why and how Brexit would cause losses: the reluctance of businesses to invest and recruit in the face of uncertainty and market volatility; the increased price of imports and travel from a falling pound; the risk to exports to our largest and nearest market; the sheer difficulty and cost of disentangling ourselves from the EU; etc. Relying on numbers generated from the black box of econometrician’s models was never going to be convincing.

    Corbyn didn’t handle the Treasury analysis well but I don’t think that did any damage to the Remain campaign. The real problems lay elsewhere.

    1. But the logic behind not warning of a depreciation - it was inept. And as for using the EAC to justify it.

  26. I have been decidedly disappointed in the abandoning of Jeremy Corbyn by Wren-Lewis, and this essay makes me more so. Go, be a Conservative, but do not try to turn Labour into Tory-lite as Tony Blair did.

  27. Summing up my thoughts:

    * J Corbyn has come out for respecting the referendum result as doing otherwise would destroy Labour's core electoral base.

    * It is extremely unlikely that any party or set of parties aligned with "Remain" would get an *absolute* majority of the popular vote, never higher than 52%, at general election time.

    * The best that can be hoped is a significant plurality like 40% with a majority of seats thanks to most of the "Leave" vote being neutered by FPTP.

    * With a plurality of votes, even with a majority of seats, it is not remotely plausible to undo the Referendum.

    * As O Smith says, there may be a «case for a second referendum or a general election to be staged on the Brexit terms», which means "Brexit lite", that is a Swiss-like deal, which would please me (or the EU27) very much. The problem is whether the 37% of Labour voters and the 58% of Conservative voters would accept any deal that involved free movement. I suspect that they would.

    * I think that "free movement" from Romania and Bulgaria is the absolute key to making some of "The Establishment" happy: all those £5/hour hour romanians and bulgarians who also pay huge rents for sheds in backgardens have made a lot of tory voters and businessmen much richer.

    * Then the question is whether J Corbyn can be persuaded to campaign for a "Brexit lite" including "free movement", like O Smith is doing. I suspect he could. Then there would be problem that he would still be blacklisted by Likud, but I think that's manageable, as nobody expects him to to PM even if something like Labour wins 2020. Has anybody asked him? It would be aligned with his "75%" for.

    1. Contrary to what Daniel Hannan and BoJo intimated in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit result, I think accepting Freedom of Movement (FoM) would be seen as a betrayal by most Leave voters. Unless FoM were accompanied with greater redistribution towards the lower income, I think accepting FoM would prompt a surge in support for UKIP and the fringes in general. And even then that might not be enough.

    2. «question is whether J Corbyn can be persuaded to campaign for a "Brexit lite" including "free movement", like O Smith is doing»

      J Corbyn has actually already been doing that, so what's the problem with him? Just Likud?
      «Both Smith and Corbyn spoke tonight in Cardiff and even after the rise of UKIP, the vote for Brexit and the genuine concerns of the working class in their traditional heartlands regarding uncontrolled immigration, they are still both advocating the free movement of labour . . electoral suicide . .»

      As to this:

      «accepting Freedom of Movement (FoM) would be seen as a betrayal by most Leave voters. Unless FoM were accompanied with greater redistribution towards the lower income»

      I am not so sure: the vast majority of "Leave" vote in England was the 58% of Conservative voters. They usually voted "Leave" for "little englander"/"Britannia rules the waves!" reasons, as Lord Ashcroft polls seem to show.

      They may be happy with just being outside the EU and the jurisdiction of the ECJ and the Human Rights legislation.

      The 37% of Labour "Leave" voters is a tougher job, but I guess that as boost in welfare and jobs for the deprived areas could be arranged, only to be "faded away" a bit at a time after they vote for the single market.

      Anyhow what really matter is that *some* of the 58% and 37% endorse the "single market" fix, so that it gets a majority of something like 52%, and then job done.

  28. Hey Labour Brexit voters on here vote for the Conservative Party! You don't have to vote Labour!

  29. Simon – yet again I find myself in strong agreement with you in this blog. Excellent. There is one question I have. You talk of how the PLP is now full of remorse re Austerity. The problem is that this suggests to Corbyn supporters that the PLP always wanted to be pro-Austerity and have reluctantly been persuaded by Corbyn to change position. This reinforces their impression that the PLP cannot be trusted in this area.

    Some time ago 2012 / 13 you blogged about how the most logical conclusion to be drawn from Osborne’s continued austerity policies showed that in fact it was a cover for shrinking the state – which was his underlying objective. A view I’d have thought even the most right wing Labour MPs don’t go along with.

    Now move forward to your comments about the PLP flirting with austerity policies post 2015 election. My understanding was that quite a few in the PLP felt that the party had responded correctly to the financial crash and that their anti-Austerity position had been right and necessary throughout the period of the coalition. They may have been too timid but they still weren’t anywhere near as strongly pro-Austerity policies as the Coalition. However, in the view of many of them continuing to prosecute this argument was becoming counter-productive. They just had to move on and sound as if they would live within their means. My understanding is that you still believed the Labour party needed to win that argument – which I agree with.

    Wasn’t this shift more a matter of tactics than a shift in belief / instincts. Would Labour really have pursued pro-Austerity policies in office or was it more a matter of talking ‘centre’ whilst knowing that in office they would act left. Especially as to do so would be just following mainstream macro orthodoxy. They would seek to use many counter-cyclical policies - invest in infrastructure etc particularly in times when the economy desperately needed greater stimulus – their position would in essence be anti-Austerity.

    What I am getting at is that PLPs flirtation with Austerity wasn’t based on a heartfelt conversion to austerity in the first place, it was more about giving certain impressions. In which case their remorse is that not advocating anti-Austerity position was tactic born of a lack of confidence. Their recent shift in position being more about how the current context has changed and how important anti-Austerity measures have quite obviously become particularly with the economy being where it is at the moment – low interest rates, the need for significant stimulus. Arguing this means that Corbyn was right to argue that Labour should have more confidently argued for anti-Austerity but the PLP were never really that close to Osborne’s position in the first place.

    1. I think you are right for many MPs. That was in a way the message of the New Labour and Neoliberalism post: the natural inclination of most Labour MPs is to increase the size of the state rather than embark on austerity.

    2. Yes, that'd explain the failure to challenge the terms of austerity between 2010 and 15. You made a far better case in your blogs than any Labour politician during those years.
      They were, frit, as per. We demand a Labour leader who refuses to frame his policies around narrow parameters defined by the Tories!

  30. Actually the PLP have been doing this for at least 35 years rather than the 20 Martin credits them with. Which helps to explain why the wider membership is so alienated. It's quite a long time to be marginalised, ignored, and conspired against.


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