Where is the Labour Party?

June 23, 2016

As part of the book that Anthony Barnet is writing, on line and live, as the referendum campaign progressed he has added a late chapter entitled “The long history of Labour’s missing oomph”, its definetly worth a read. The entire Labour effort around the referendum has been crushingly awful. As Barnet rightfully points out one of the single biggest missing features in this entire campaign was a debate in the House of Commons. Given that the issue of the sovereignty and role of the UK parliament is absolutly central to the questions posed by the referendum the fact that there was not a debate in the Commons to kick off the referendum campaign is actually quite shocking. We know why the Tories didn’t want a commons debate, because they didn’t want to expose their divisions in public, but why on earth did the Labour Party not insist on a proper parliamentary debate?

Barnet writes:

“Had it [the Labour Pasrty] wanted to insist on a Commons debate, it could have had one. Had it put forward with clarity and conviction the Labour party’s own consideration of democracy and the European Union, this would have been heard. When Nicola Sturgeon speaks up she gets prominent coverage in the London press as well as Scotland’s. Labour’s leader doesn’t because he has nothing distinctive to say. An astonishing example is Jeremy Corbyn’s Ralph Miliband lecture at the LSE last week, on 17th May, on Rebuilding the Politics of Hope. He talks about the need to rebuild trust, quotes Harold Wilson saying the Labour party is “a moral crusade or it is nothing” and… does not mention the referendum over the future of Britain, even in passing. Is hope so evanescent it needs no country or continent?”

“Meanwhile the left won’t even be barking at the caravan, it will just be scavenging for bones. For it was already clear that, despite many months of warning that a referendum was coming, no preparation of a left agenda or even vision rooted in an analysis of the forces at work had been started within the Labour party or outside. Such a failure can’t be reversed by adopting ‘a position’ – it demands repairing the left’s political culture. A left that is irritated and uncomfortable with debating its democracy, constitution, sovereignty and the principles governing our relationship to the EU, has walked away from its own country. Now it has to walk back. And, of course, it will be a different country from the one it has been used to. I’m not saying that fighting austerity is not a priority. I’m saying the way the left now uses urgent social and economic questions to freeze out wider issues such as the nature of the state is not prioritisation – it is repression: a pathological weakness, not a grasp of strategic importance.

“What the fuck is wrong with the left?” That is what I am asking in a sentence. I regret the vulgarity but we live in coarsened times. Why can’t the English left wake up to the significance of ‘Europe’, to the issues of how we are governed, and to their urgency now they are being taken into everyone’s homes by the referendum?”

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