I started arguing with Bob a couple of years before New Labour’s first term began in 1997; back when Tony Blair was still a cherubic ex public schoolboy who was yet to prove that I’d been right when I denounced him as a Tory with a red tie after he announced that he had ditched Clause IV at the 1994 party conference.
Central to the loud, late-night, vociferous arguments we shared with the other residents of the York hotel where we held our union branch executive meetings, was Bob’s belief that the UK wouldn’t tolerate a socialist government so Blair’s modernisation of the Labour Party – aided and abetted by those two paragons of principle Campbell and Mandelson! – was essential if we were going to rid ourselves of the Tories after eighteen years; whereas I steadfastly maintained that after all the damage that Thatcher and Major had heaped on the population for the best part of two decades, there hadn’t been a better time since the end of WW2 to present the country with a truly radical manifesto.
Whatever I might have thought, the fact remains that the electorate were never offered that option – at least not by the only party that had any chance of winning in our first past the post system – so we ended up with Tory Lite; and while Bob and millions of others optimistically bopped to D;Ream celebrating the landslide victory, me and all the other socialists were left devastated by the hollowness of a victory that we’d been waiting for ever since 1979.
In the twenty-odd years since Bob and I started passionately arguing about politics there have been a number of flare-ups, some comparatively minor ones like PPI and university fees and others major issues like the Iraq Invasion, but there has been nothing since that tragic misadventure in 2003 that has so thoroughly illustrated the enormous chasm between two individuals who formerly supported the same party as the controversy that erupted when Jeremy Corbyn became a contender in the 2015 Labour leadership election.
Aside from all of the other terrible sins he was accused of: serial backbench rebel; friend to terrorists; unilateral disarmer; obsolete 80s socialist – to name but a few – the main charge against him was that he was unelectable (obviously that meant by the wider electorate rather than the hundreds of thousands who had paid to swell the Labour Party’s membership). So for a whole year he was relentlessly attacked by the entire British Establishment – including the right wing of the PLP – for his failure to provide the kind of opposition that our ‘democracy’ requires to keep it in check (which struck me as rather ironic, when far from colluding with the Tory’s austerity agenda – as Labour and the Liberals had been doing ever since 2010 – he has consistently opposed it and challenged it at every opportunity).
Now personally I believe that Corbyn’s opinion of the EU is very much like my own – and that of most informed socialists – that it is an organisation that is very much aligned with the interests of Big Business, so if we had a decent, progressive, genuinely socialist government, the wider population would be better off out of it (albeit with the kind of relationship Norway has); however given that we haven’t enjoyed anything that even remotely resembled that since long before we entered the ‘Common Market’ (in 1973), in the reality of the here and now it at least provides a degree of protection for human and workers rights against the worst excesses of the Conservatives.
To this end Corbyn worked hard and travelled the country pushing the Remain agenda. He didn’t pretend – as Theresa May and so many other Remainers from across the parties did – that the EU was any sort of perfect ideal, but he was completely clear that membership was massively preferable to the alternative. Nonetheless within minutes of the announcement of the Brexit vote, the Blairites within the PLP who had been relentless with their attacks, briefings and leaks for the whole of the previous year, leapt at the opportunity to blame him for the country’s decision to support UKIP’s raison d’être.
Consequently ever since last June, Corbyn’s detractors – at least those who are Remain supporters, which includes Bob – have been citing his Brexit betrayal as his ultimate sin. They could, theoretically at least, get past the fact that he’s a socialist dinosaur and could even put his opposition to Trident to one side (somewhere just outside of their peripheral vision where the actual horror of such weapons exist anyway) but they could never ever forgive him for conceding to the will of the people. It doesn’t matter that the attack dogs of the mainstream media would have shredded him if he’d dared to do otherwise, or that the majority of the people who should have been behind him from his own party, were only standing there so they could stick knives in his back, he was on a hiding to nothing either way.
In spite or perhaps because of the caveat I described above, I was every bit as upset by the Brexit vote as any other firm Remainer but I quickly accepted that was what you are likely to get if you ask a badly informed public a really stupid question, so it was time to get on with it and to make the best of a thoroughly awful situation.
A couple of days after the referendum results were announced I made this photo my Facebook profile picture with the following comment:
“Right enough of that Brexit bollocks, time to get up and get on. Yes I think it was a shit decision but as many people have been at pains to point out, it’s done now and none of my bitching is going to change it.
When I crippled myself back in 2003, I was less than entirely overjoyed but I recognised immediately that there was no point in wallowing in self-pity. Unfortunately it took me over five year before I could walk again halfway properly – but hey.
Still could’ve been worse because I’ve still managed to have some brilliant times while I’ve hobbled along and I daresay that in spite of this decision, as I’m not right at the bottom of the pile I will hopefully have many more before I pop off. Hopefully the UK will recover too, even if it is left with a permanent limp.”
My words elicited critical responses from a few of my vehemently anti-Brexit buddies like Des and Lionel, who firmly believed that it was too soon to be throwing in the towel because it wouldn’t be over until the fat lady sings.
Well of course the Tory lady (who the Daily Mail informed us, far from being fat, has better legs than Nicola Sturgeon!) sang the Article 50 Aria shortly before she dropped her General Election bombshell, hoping to cash-in on the civil war, calamity and confusion within the Labour Party to increase her majority; which, should she achieve it, will allow her to take as hard a Brexit as she desires, as well as substantially increasing the pressure on ordinary working people – with particularly appalling implications for society’s most vulnerable citizens.
It was really refreshing then, when I saw what hardline anti-Brexiteer Des had to say on the subject yesterday morning.
“I don’t agree with him (Corbyn) on Brexit but the country is split on that and if he’d opposed the referendum outcome outright what would the press and public have said about him then? As it is he supports no Brexit on worse terms, and it should be fairly obvious what that means. If you don’t vote to oppose the Tories you are voting for more inequality, more asset stripping of the state, less public services, privatisation of health and education, involvement in the Syrian war, tax cuts for the rich paid for by the poor and the hardest imaginable Brexit.”
I considered tagging Bob because he is still banging on about Corbyn’s ‘Brexit hole’ this morning (as if he really doesn’t understand the kind of ‘damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t’ reality the man has had to deal with ever since he put his head above the parapet two years ago), rather than bigging up all of the nice, clear, positive things that Corbyn has committed to do. But I decided that if I reproduced what Des had to say here, it might allow a few of the many others who are still banging the “…But I’ll never forgive him for Brexit” tub, to stop and think for a moment about whose purposes they are serving and what the consequences of their comments are.
May is sloping around the country, avoiding public meetings, declining to take part in any debates or to answer questions from anyone aside from party members and the tamest of tame journalists, confident that if she repeats “Strong and Stable” often enough and she manages to dodge any serious scrutiny, the opposition will tear itself apart and she’ll be left with a rock solid majority and five years to do her worst.
I realise that Bob and a whole legion of others have stated as a matter of record that Corbyn is unequivocally unelectable – in fact is has always been a central tenet of their argument against his leadership – but that was then and this is now and frankly the alternative is just too awful to contemplate. I think that most of us can agree that a post-Hard-Brexit Britain under a May government is guaranteed to be an infinitely harsher, nastier place for the overwhelming majority of the population than it could possibly be under a Corbyn premiership.
I’m certain that Bob can’t be the only the one of Blair’s old cheerleaders who has subsequently admitted they were wrong about the Iraq War, so surely now is the time to think the unthinkable and to get solidly behind the only viable alternative to what could very easily turn out to be the worst years of our lives.