First published on the Huffington Post
Jeremy Corbyn took the opportunity to visit the European Union at the height of the referendum on Labour’s continued membership of the world’s most successful peace project. Not to make a speech, speak truth to power in Brussels – but to holiday. Portugal saw more of Corbyn than whole regions of England did. The Labour leader didn’t visit the north-east once, where the EU is vital to the economy.
Worse, having returned from said holiday, there was no noticeable change in tempo. More lacklustre speeches, more a long list of problems with the EU than opportunities if we remain. But the mask slipped at 10.01pm on 23 June. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the world that Corbyn was where the country was. It turned out to be for ‘Leave’. No real surprise then – just a confirmation of what we all knew.
Labour is at a fork in the road. The road it takes could decide so much about the nation’s future.
Tory MPs from the 1990s believe that, had Ken Clarke become the leader of the opposition, Britain would have joined the euro. Their support for William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith at least stopped that, even if they did go on to lose.
If Labour re-elects Corbyn, a Leaver, he will be in post for the foreseeable future. Does anyone think that if he is leader of the opposition when Theresa May invokes Article 50 he’ll be fighting for Britain’s role in a single market that is about to include the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? His catastrophic misjudgement on 24 June, calling for Article 50 to be invoked, tells you all you need to know about his ability to fight for Britain’s best interests and get for working people the rights they rely on and the deal they need.
The voters must get their way and Britain will hurtle towards the exit door. But, as I have written in Progress’ Editorial this month: Labour must set being back in Europe as its long-term goal. This is what we believe and that does not change. As interdependence grows, the case for international cooperation grows with it. Working with our closest neighbours is often tough, but it is always the right thing to do.
If you want Labour to remain a ‘Remain’ party, we need a leader other than Corbyn.
This does not mean abandoning the north or our heartlands. Instead, this means going to the difficult places, the issues we have not fully confronted for so long. Many Labour people across the country will come out and vote for us, but being pro-European needs to be the baseline for the party. Our hard-working and tenacious MPs will step up and use their strong relationship with their voters to do the rest.
We need to be the best Europeans we can be. Not because we are pro the institutions themselves but because we are set to leave the world’s most successful peace project. The benefits of being in the EU we took for granted will come to the fore. Pro-Europeans must be ready to seize those opportunities. Particularly, as ‘Project Fear’ gives way to ‘Project Understatement’, a second scare campaign will not work. It must be a hearts and minds campaign.
Without an avowedly pro-European Labour party, not only will we fail ourselves, worse, we will fail the country.
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