How Corbyn fever could kill any chance of Remaining

PUBLISHED: 13:00 23 September 2017

Jeremy Corbyn

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Labour’s position on Brexit is softening, says NATHANIEL TAPLEY, and the 48% should get off Jeremy Corbyn’s back

The greatest threat to the cause of Remaining are large swathes of the country who are in the grip of Corbyn-fever.

There are activists and commentators whose every article, every statement, every position is all about the Labour leader. They’re obsessed with him.

I’m not talking about the hordes of new lefties chanting his name but the commentators determined to monster him.

Most lefties I’ve met are reasonably ambivalent about Corbyn as a person and leader (it’s difficult to create a personality cult, when there isn’t that much personality to work with. It’s like trying to build an extension out of an old, grey flannel you found in a drip tray under the fridge when you moved house). They are, however, very keen on having the Labour Party be a party which espouses some left-wing ideas.

Young people in particular seem bemused by Jeremy’s old-school antipathy towards the EU, but they’re willing to overlook it, in the same way you might overlook an aged relative’s festive racist outbursts because they do make rather spectacular mince pies. Although these same young people may well nowadays shame such an aged relative on social media, getting clicks from the video of them ranting about how “You can’t even say ‘eggnog’ any more. You have to say ‘resident of Easter Island!’”

It’s entirely possible that were there another major politician who was unabashedly left-wing, obviously sincere, and was in favour of remaining, the so-called cult members might well prefer them. But there isn’t. There’s just Vince Cable. A man whose main appeal is the fact that his name scans in the same way as the last leader’s, so we don’t have to change the tune of “We’re Tim Farron’s Lib Dem Army!” at the next Remain march. It’s not difficult to be a big fish in a little pond when there are only 11 other fish in the pond.

There is, of course, a Corbyn cult – but it is not his band of merry followers. It consists of people who claim to be Remainers and yet spend most of their time attacking Jeremy Corbyn for his perceived faults, rather than Theresa May for the fact that she’s actually pushing ahead with exactly the sort of damaging Brexit they claim to be opposed to. You can usually identify them by the way they use the phrase: “Corbyn cult” (or “cult of Corbyn” for those who want to make their cliches seem more potent by wrapping them in archaisms).

You can easily find them. Probably by flicking a couple of pages in either direction of this article.

Of course, this is all just part of the rough-and-tumble of British party politics. Not to be confused with Boris Johnson, who is the Mr Tumble of British party politics.

It didn’t really matter to us Remainers that many of our commentators were firing at the wrong trenches when the only choices between the parties were between spectacularly hard Brexit, inconceivably hard Brexit and your-choice-of-Brexits-of-varying-solidity. Now that the Labour party’s position has significantly softened, however, this approach has become counter-productive.

This was obvious when Labour’s change in position was first announced by Sir Keir Starmer. You’d have thought that sincere Remainers would welcome this move, which pretty much reversed Labour’s position on continued membership of the single market for an indefinite period in the future. And they may have, but, notably, our soi-disant Remain-leaning commentariat all took the opportunity to give the new position a good kicking, saying it was “confused”.

Not as confused as the rest of us, however, at the sight of people who claim to want to stay in the single market, becoming intensely irate when a political party suggests that we should possibly stay in the single market for the time being.

And it goes further than that. There was a lot of hubbub before the second reading of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that we would finally see the much-vaunted Tory rebellions at this unwarranted power grab. That no responsible remain-leaning politician would stand for the Henry VIII powers that would finally let Boris Johnson have all the wives that he wanted.

Of course, they didn’t materialise. Much as it pained the potential rebels, they admitted they couldn’t risk handing Corbyn a victory. Even Caroline Flint, who just last year went on television to call for Corbyn to stand down because his position on Brexit was “too complicated”, voted to give May unlimited powers to push through exactly as hard and uncomplicated a Brexit as her party morlocks (Bore-locks?) want.

Again, the greatest threat to the Remain cause is sensible, moderate MPs, who would rather give a feeble and flailing May every lifeline rather than risk the sky falling by giving Corbyn’s Labour a putative victory.

This Corbyn obsession is driving wedges through the Remain cause, and giving easy victories to the hard right. It burns valuable time and resources which should be devoted to the only game in town at the moment: ensuring that the Tory vision of Brexit (which is currently the only one on offer) never comes to fruition. They’re standing around their pentagram, smearing whatever they have instead of faces under their hoods in pig’s blood (David Cameron has a supplier) and they’re about to start the final incantation, and our commentators and politicians are focusing on the next door neighbour with the unruly hedge.

The Labour conference is on. As a party and a parliamentary group, Remainers should see them for the allies they are. Their position is changing, and we should expect it to change in the future, and we should be pushing hard for it to change in the right direction.

Inter-party squabbling and intra-party leadership shenanigans are a luxury for which we simply do not have the time. The fates of the SNP and the Lib Dems at the last general election suggest that Brexit-purity tests are not huge hits with the general public.

The crunch time is coming. It’s time to stop listening to all these cults.

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