by Jonathan Todd
“There are decades where nothing happens,” according to Lenin, “and there are weeks where decades happen.”
We are living weeks of decades. At least the Great British public are. In contrast, Labour, with its Leninist conclave nominally at our helm, are having some meetings.
Meetings about meetings. Paranoid bunker meetings. Rousing, Kinnock-fuelled PLP meetings. Nice that Neil’s still got it in him. But just a meeting.
But some meetings don’t happen. Like between our leader and deputy. Portland Communications, newly rumbled and keen to appear even-handed but doubtless driven by dastardly capitalist motive to showcase a client, have given them both brain reading technology.
This means that they are constantly meeting, even when they are not meeting, but never, decade after decade, saying anything relevant to a population crawling into a new, disconcerting era.
Change so bewildering that a politician who struggles to guarantee the status of EU nationals in the UK, against a backdrop of intimidation to such people, starts to appear the least bad PM option. Better than the “political psychopath” who did as much as anyone to induce this Brexit catastrophe. Preferable to the new Iron Lady – who, as the Remain frontrunner is intensely scrutinised, might win to satiate the Tory thirst for a Leaver.
No matter who the next PM is, they have no mandate for the terms upon which the UK leaves the EU. The Leave campaign – on a false prospectus that no one is held to account for – won a Brexit mandate.
No-one, though, has a mandate for our terms of exit. For a PM to initiate this exit without such – which can only come from a general election or second referendum – would be as scandalous as the disingenuous, powder keg of Leave.
This PM must be held to account; the country deserves an alternative future. You don’t need brain reading technology to know Labour provides none of this.
Brexit transformed the inadequacies of Corbyn’s Labour from party disappointments to national scandals. Corbyn ruinously failed to prevent the UK tumbling out of our most vital alliance and is now unable to either properly hold to account those now responsible for charting a new course or to credibly set out what Labour would do differently.
Labour might begin by noting that of the options likely to be available, EEA status would do the least harm to the UK’s economy. But this would do nothing about free movement – perhaps most effectively combated by a country crashing its economy and endlessly going on about how much it hates hard working, ambitious people coming to its shores – and would mean that the rules of the single market are applied to the UK with the UK having no say over these rules.
If Labour were leading, we’d open people’s eyes to this. “But what,” the Leave part of Labour’s base would angrily ask, “are you going to do about all those hard working, ambitious people?”
“Well,” we might say, if we were leading, “no matter how hard working and ambitious they are, they will have zero access to public housing, the NHS, or benefits till they have contributed enough through national insurance to earn them.”
Leaving the EU is a destructively wrong answer to immigration – a debate that has been largely about numbers of people coming to the UK. Contributory welfare is the right one.
The numbers game on immigration is a madness that threatens the nightmares of PM Leadsom and her most vocal opposition coming from even further right, as UKIP reap a bitter harvest of Leavers across Labour’s heartlands.
This, for Labour, is an unwinnable death spiral. We must play smarter. By reconfiguring all public services around contribution. Immigrants, like everyone else, can only access them once they’ve contributed. A policy of something-for-something, a debate about contribution, not numbers.
Once the promises of Leave evaporate; the disadvantages of even the UK’s best option, EEA, manifest; contributory welfare takes the sting out of immigration; we might get round to thinking that we are better off in the EU.
The 48% can grow in size, they hunger for leadership now. All those most destructive to Labour – not just Leadsom and UKIP but even darker forces, Marine Le Pen et al, further afield – are seizing their opportunities.
To lead the 48% is Labour’s opportunity. But Labour is meeting, not leading. The craving for leadership from the 48% is such that if Labour doesn’t lead them, alternative leadership will emerge. Such leadership, whether via Labour or other centre-left forces, is imperative to the UK’s interests.
There is no historical inevitability – pace Lenin and other determinists – to Labour’s withering or cogency. We must choose to be part of the future or not. And in choosing, we help form this future.
Marx understood this. While professing the historic inevitability of communism, he published the Communist Manifesto to try to shape the future emerging around him.
The liberal, social democratic manifesto of the 48% remains unwritten. Its future will never be born in a Labour meeting. Only leadership can bring this future into the present. The only question is where this will come from.
Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut