Jeremy Corbyn

Labour in disarray over Brexit: centrist minority in turmoil

The truce within the Labour Party is over. If Jeremy Corbyn thought that his landslide victory against Owen Smith in the recent election for the leadership would grant him some rest, he must have realised by now how mistaken he was. The centrist minority is in turmoil. Again.

Winter is coming and discontent is mounting. The first issue is Corbyn’s alleged lack of clarity about Brexit. Secondly, his internal opponents accuse him of having an ambiguous position on Russia’s actions in Syria. But the real issue is Labour’s future under his leadership, since the last polls mercilessly indicate that Conservatives are ahead by 17 points.

The problem for Corbyn, from the very beginning of his tenure, has been that the majority of MPs are against him. From Westminster came last summer’s failed attack on his leadership and from Westminster troubles keep coming. Yesterday, for the first time since his re-election, Corbyn met with this mostly hostile group. If it wasn’t as bad as some of the previous meetings between them, it wasn’t a happy reunion among long lost friends either.

First reason of discontent is the replacement of the supposedly hostile chief whip Rosie Winterton with a loyalist like Nick Brown. A decision that to many MPs seemed in stark contrast with Corbyn’s alleged will to work for the unity of the party. That he chose to start this process of reunification with the dismissal of an opponent seemed a contradiction in terms.

Another elephant in the room is Brexit. Corbyn already attracted his fair share of criticism for his passive attitude during the campaign that ended on June 23rd with Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Nowadays, on this momentous issue, the party keeps looking astray. MPs are urging Corbyn to indicate a clear political line, especially needed when on the other side the Tories took such a radical stance on immigration that even UKIP members felt the need to express their disapproval.

Another element of discord is foreign policy. For many MPs, Corbyn’s is too soft with Russia. Asked about the attack on a UN convoy which killed many civilians in Syria, Labour’s leader spoke of “alleged” Russian responsibilities in spite of the overwhelming evidence that Vladimir Putin’s troops were involved.

«It is very worrying that Jeremy does not have the will to recognize the role that Putin’s Russia is playing in Syria» commented Angela Smith MP. According to a spokesman for Corbyn, however, the accusation is baseless. «Corbyn has never used the terms “alleged” or “apparent”, has always condemned all atrocities and has always opposed any international intervention».

Finally, there is a number that has all of Labour in disarray: if Britain were to vote right now, Tories would be 17 points ahead, 43% against 26%. It is worst poll for the party since 2008, when Gordon Brown was the leader. To fight a war with the hostile minority he has to face in Parliament would be difficult in normal conditions. With numbers like these, it becomes borderline impossible for Corbyn.

The leader can try to shift the blame on his internal opponents, saying that the polls are so negative because of the divisions that have come out in the open in all their violence this summer after the referendum on Brexit and not because of an alleged lack of leadership on his part. This is maybe true, but the fact remains that Corbyn is in charge now and it is up to him to find a way out.

His supporters can boast about his capacity to fill the gap with the conservatives before the next election, which is due in 2020, but for that to happen, Corbyn is in dire need of a miracle. Or he can hope that Theresa May commit a political suicide in the next three years. With the Brexit negotiations on the way, it is not utterly impossible…

Foto Garry Knight

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