It Was Not Corbyn, But the Tories and Blairites, Who Are to Blame for Brexit

After the disastrous vote of 52 per cent of the British people to leave the EU on Friday, the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites automatically turned to blaming Jeremy Corbyn. One stupid Tory MP on the breakfast news on BBC 1 on Friday declared that it was all Labour’s fault. She announced that the people voting to leave were all working class Labour voters. This ignores the fact that the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and the rest of the gutter pack, were all Tories, and that the most vociferously sections of the British political establishment critical of the EU was the Eurosceptic extreme Right of the Tory party. But having lost the vote, and seen her party deeply divided on the issue, this lady clearly couldn’t stand the fault that it was all her fault.

Predictably, Tim Farron, the head of the Lib Dems, followed suit, blaming it all on Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn, you see, had not campaigned hard enough for us to stay in, and so it was all somehow due to him. He was then joined by two Labour MPs, Margaret Hodge and someone Coffey. They immediately demanded a ‘no confidence’ vote in Corbyn. Now I think that Corbyn has been a Eurosceptic, and in fairness I don’t think he put his heart into personally campaigning for Europe. But I’m not sure how much difference it would have made if he had. And it all seems to me that the decision to leave was taken very much in spite of Labour as a deliberate act of opposition, and not because of a simple lack of effort by the Labour leadership.

The authors of the book on UKIP, Revolt on the Right, which is an academic study of the party, point out that the majority of the party’s grassroots supporters are older Labour voters, who are socially very conservative – against immigration and gay rights, and so on. These are the very people that Bliar, Broon and New Labour abandoned. Blair and his cronies fully embraced Thatcherism, including its hatred and contempt of working class organisations. One of the first things Blair did in the 1990s was threaten to cut ties with the trade unions if they didn’t back one of his ‘modernising’ measures. He then further cut down workers’ rights and the power of the unions as a way of currying favour with the right-wing press and the middle class, swing voters New Labour wanted to appeal to. In the last years of Blair’s period in office and Broon’s occupancy of No. 10, the party passed further measures to make it easier to sack employees, all in the name of encouraging mobility in the labour market, or some other vile piece of economists’ jargon to make people losing job security sound positive.

At the same time, New Labour was, like Clinton’s New Democrats, also committed to internationalism and the movement of labour between nations. Behind some of the idealistic verbiage behind this, about encouraging peaceful relations between nations, hands across the water, diversity and so on, there was a harsher, economic motive. Immigrants were and are easier to exploit than indigenous, settled workers, and profits made from them could be used to support the welfare measures for the rest of the population without raising taxes. Though Blair and his successors were also extremely keen to cut down on these as well.

Now Blair’s New Labour effectively ignored the working class as a whole, but it did put genuine efforts into raising the performance and opportunities for women and ethnic minorities, in schools, at work and in politics. And it was the White working class that felt particularly snubbed. A few years ago, you may recall, the Beeb broadcast a short season of films about race relations in Britain. One of them showed the face of a stereotypical working class man, which was gradually scribbled over with black until at last nothing was visible. A gruff male voice then asked whether the White working class had been written out politically. I think it was a very controversial trailer, but it’s actually a good question. Many White working class voters felt that New Labour was ignoring them, and when the time came they transferred their support to UKIP.

Many of the ‘Leave’ voters undoubtedly were working class, but they weren’t necessarily Labour voters. In the case of UKIP, they’re largely former Labour voters. If they’re not Eurosceptic Tories. When I met our local Labour MP, Karin Smith and the local councillor for my part of Bristol last year, I expressed my dismay at finding that people in the neighbouring ward had voted for a Kipper as one of their councillors. It shocked me, as I didn’t think this part of Bristol was particularly racist. They told me that from talking to the people there, they found that what moved them to vote UKIP was economic fears, not racism. Again, this is a fair point. Mike over at Vox Political had a running argument on his blog with a Kipper who insisted, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that UKIP was ‘left-wing’. He appears to have done so solely because of Farage’s tactics of lumping the opponents altogether as ‘LibLabCon’. Liberals, Labour and the Tories are all raging Neoliberals with a fanatical worship of Maggie Thatcher, or at least that’s how they appeared. UKIP claimed to be different, even though it was more Neoliberal, pro-privatisation and fanatical in its adoration of Thatcher than the others.

Aside from the grotty xenophobia and racism of the ‘leave’ camp, the vote to leave was a sharp retort against Neoliberalism and its supporters across the political spectrum. And in the Labour party, this means Blairites like Hodge and Coffey. It does not mean Corbyn.

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