This is another situation report written as an overview for those of you who don’t get the detail on Brexit from their media that we do in the UK. And, just like the last post there has been a great deal of activity, with many accompanying articles in the press, and then again nothing has happened as the process to leave the EU has not, as yet, begun. But something significant may happen shortly. I’m talking, of course, about the initiation of Article 50 that could happen in the next few days.
To bring you up to speed, there has been a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing in the mother of Parliaments after the recent High Court ruling that the executive (i.e. the government) cannot take precedence over parliament, consequently, there must be an Act of Parliament to initiate Article 50. The bill termed the European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill was voted through the House of Commons primarily because Corbyn had given Labour MPs a 3-line whip to support Brexit and vote for the bill, much to the disgust of the Remainers in the UK and many Labour MPs, out of which, a few abstained or voted against, but not anywhere enough.
The bill is now making its way through the House of Lords, which is providing far more of an oppositional stance than the Commons. The irony. Yes, think about it, those aristocrats (both real and elevated) have defied their whips and defeated the government twice. Once, on guaranteeing the rights of European citizens. Thank the Lord (ha) as at last someone has voted for something that has a tinge of decency within it. And second, it has passed an amendment giving parliament a veto over the final outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Never did I think I would give Douglas Hogg the time of day (look up the expenses scandal) but here he is saying, “The sole purpose [of the amendment] is to ensure the outcome – agreed terms or no agreed terms – is subject to the unfettered discretion of parliament. It is parliament, not the executive, which should be the final arbiter of our country’s future.”
Exactly. Anyway, in a ping-pong action the bill will go back to the Commons, who will then send it back to the House of Lords, who will probably pass the un-amended bill and, in doing so, bow to the will of Theresa May’s executive and of course, the will of the people. Read this with a totally exasperated tone, please.
But this, apparently, is what the ‘people’ want. I’ll give her this, Theresa May is a clever woman. She reads the British public well. Some time ago in the midst of Blair’s administration (1997 – 2010) she dubbed the Tory party the ‘nasty party’. Yes, we forget that once upon a time, Blair was popular. He did wonderful things for our country (Sure-Start anyone?) and chided those who occasionally muttered about Europe and the EU. This was what won elections. Cameron understood this, modelled himself on Blair and stated at the beginning of his time in office that all we needed to do was hug a hoody. Coming out of the EU was unthinkable on Cameron’s watch until, that is, at the last election, to appease the right of the Tory party, he put into the party manifesto a definite, ‘we will have a referendum on whether we’d like to be in or out of the EU’, thinking that the Tories would still be in a coalition with the Lib Dems who would put a stop to all the nonsense of leaving the EU – which he didn’t want at all. But things didn’t go quite Cameron’s way. The Tories won with a good margin, the Lib Dems became a lost cause and were not part of the administration, the brakes came off, the promised referendum happened and, you know……
Have you listened to any of Theresa May speeches when she speaks to the ‘just managing’ and tells them she understands their plight? She sounds as though she’s well left of centre. But she’s not. By that I mean, she is not part of Cameron’s world; the wealthy, Etonian, upper-crust, patrician Tories who try to disguise how very Establishment elite they are (Boris is a good example of that type). No, she’s a true-blue middle-England Tory who reads the country very well.
And she’s popular. Very popular. But not quite as popular as some media would have you believe. And for verification of that, and rather than relying on any one media outlet for May’s ratings, I’ve looked at a polling digest – here’s the link. As you can see she is still in the honeymoon period, which started at a net approval rating of +31, with 46% of Brits saying she was doing a good job and only 15% disagreeing. But that approval, interestingly, is beginning to go down, with a drop of 20 points to +11. The digest goes on to point out that the percentage of voters who approve of the way she has been doing the job has fallen by only 6 points, but the percentage disapproving of her has risen from 15% to 29%.
However, the polling digest emphasizes that this should neither be seen as a ‘loss’ for May nor a ‘win’ for Corbyn. Because Corbyn, and I’m quoting here, is monumentally unpopular with his approval ratings apparently (and I don’t quite understand this) in the minus low 20s. In contrast, May’s ratings which are above 0 in the polls is almost unprecedented for a British Prime Minister.
So, the point to make here is that May is very well regarded in comparison to the very poor ratings given to the Labour leader. And why does Corbyn have such low ratings? Well, where to begin?
Corbyn, of course, offers a genuine alternative to the Tory-lite policies of previous Labour leaders who favoured business and supported austerity through cuts to welfare. And I am totally with Corybn’s alternative views. Which are very admirable. But he is increasingly coming unstuck with his leadership skills – which are poor – and his kowtowing to the Tory mandate towards the EU – which is so very poor in so many ways. Leadership and an opposition to May’s Brexit tactics, we have none.
The thing is, Labour is all over the place with regard to the EU and our exit from it. This is primarily because Corbyn is, and always has been, a lukewarm supporter of the EU – he really is not that enamoured with the EU hence his equivocation in that he supports free movement (of people and goods between the EU nations) yet does not want to be part of the single market.
In contrast, the majority of Labour MPs are ‘Remainers’ although, ironically, their constituents predominantly voted to leave. At the Labour party conference last year the policy is to keep open the option of remaining in the EU if the terms are not good. And in an earlier post I showed you that a majority of Labour voters (as opposed to constituents) voted to remain in the EU.
Yet Corbyn has now, apparently, accepted the will of the people and the result of the referendum. In the Commons he imposed a three-line whip on MPs to vote for the triggering of Article 50 (with 60 Labour MPs, including absentees, defying the whip on the 3rd reading) and ditto the Lords with slightly more defying him – see above.
Meanwhile, out in the real world, there were two byelections in Labour held seats. Labour won Stoke albeit with a swing to the Tories but lost Copeland by a significant margin to the Tories, a seat that has been held by Labour for nearly 80 years. The EU was probably not the only issue of importance to Copeland voters as Corbyn’s attitude to nuclear power (not keen) was also a concern in a constituency where the main employer is the nuclear industry. But as Owen Jones puts it “Opposition parties simply do not lose byelections to governing parties.” Yet it’s happened under Corbyn’s watch.
Corbyn is not popular, and without a doubt, not a strong oppositional leader and the public can see this. 48% of those who voted to remain are without any strong oppositional political voice
What I think we have to realise is that the referendum triggered a profound shift within the UK. A cultural pivot has occurred. May understands this. But does Labour? May recognised the cultural shift when Blair was in power and duly noted that the Tories had to change. Cameron adapted to this and as Rafael Behr describes was self-consciously modern and Ok about Europe.
But where are we now? I think, the Brexiteers have not grasped their position. They are the Establishment. There is no need to be confrontational about Europe, instead they need to take responsibility for their win and understand where the exit from Europe will take us. Meanwhile, Theresa May recognises the popular will – the cultural stance of the UK is nationalist now, and inward-looking and anti-Europe. And she will take us out of the EU, no matter what.
Liberal, urban, internationalist, outward looking people, those of us who feel European as well as British – we have lost the cultural wars. Have you grasped the scale of our defeat? Has Labour? We are the losers, here. I have lost my identity. This is not what I want for my country or, to be absolutely clear, myself.
Btw, if this seems negative, it is how I feel about the situation. But I believe we have to keep speaking up about the path the UK is taking. I also believe we have a duty to understand what is happening to our country. And this is why I set up this blog. It is my exploration of what I think is the worst decision the UK has made for decades.
There will be more about Corbyn and the profound vacuum that exists within the Labour party; a party that is obsessed with its internal politics, and unable to rid itself of a man who will not give up his position and who will not oppose the Tories or Theresa May, while the country staggers towards a harsh exit from Europe. And I will be writing about the initiation of Article 50 itself, but that’s all for now.
Penny Kocher 12th March 2017