OPINION
16/07/2019 07:30 BST

With Jeremy Corbyn As Leader, Being A Labour Remainer Has Become Nothing More Than An Oxymoron

Too many Labour MPs have blindly followed a leader who has lost sight of the national interest and the party's historic mission to champion what is best for working people, Tim Walker writes.

Reuters

Three years ago, I had a coffee with David Lammy and offered to help him in any way I could to fight for the Remain cause. I’d never felt motivated to make such an offer to a politician before, but I’d seen in his emotionally-charged speeches – not least when he had baulked at voting for Article 50 – a symbol of courage and hope.

It was striking how many there were of us back then who saw David as the kind of MP who got politicians a good name. We would all have gladly given up our time for him and other Remain Labour figures, such as Yvette Cooper, Stella Creasy and Keir Starmer.

They inspired a great many politically homeless souls such as myself to vote Labour in the snap general election that Theresa May was later foolhardy enough to call. Our hopes back then were high that Jeremy Corbyn would soon be persuaded to do what was so patently right on the single most defining issue of our times.

As the weeks turned into months and the months to years and these hopes began to fade, I was initially a sympathetic shoulder for David to cry on as he complained publicly and privately about his party’s continuing intransigence on Brexit. Perpetual moaning is not, however, an attractive trait, and eventually I began to lose patience with him, along with the rest of Labour’s supposedly sane tendency. They seemed to me to be individuals trapped only by their own inertia in a miserable and destructive relationship with their leader.

More than that, it seemed to me that a Labour Remainer had become nothing more than an oxymoron, somebody seeking an undisrupted career in a time of spectacularly disruptive politics.

My disillusionment had followed the ebbs and flows of a national mood that is now seeing Labour struggling to keep ahead of the Lib Dems and retain its status as Her Majesty’s Opposition. Even Betty Boothroyd, the former Speaker and a Labour woman all her life, can no longer say for certain if the party has a future.

Those of us who looked to the party for salvation from the right-wing demagoguery of the Brexiteers could only ever see befuddlement, if not actual complicity. John McDonnell’s recent comments that he was in awe of his leader’s patience when it came to Brexit seemed to me to encapsulate how out of touch and arrogant Labour had become.

The shadow chancellor could not see that poll after poll was showing that vast swathes of voters like me – not to mention Alastair Campbell, Charles Clarke and Cherie Blair – had long since given up, and it was as a consequence the Lib Dems that we all voted for in the EU elections.

Of course, Corbyn has never been the solution to the problems we now face, but a big part of the problem. For too long, too many Labour MPs, activists and voters allowed themselves to follow a leader who had lost sight of the national interest, his party’s principles and its historic mission to champion what is best for working people. At this eleventh hour, Corbyn is still tragically keeping faith with what only a few press barons, financiers and fanatical MPs now regard as the impervious will of the people: a Brexit for which it is worth paying any price, bearing any burden.

In what I suspect was no more than a cynical diversionary tactic on the day that three peers resigned the Labour whip over anti-Semitism, Corbyn put out a statement worded with lawyerly precision to say that if the new Tory prime minister manages to come up with a deal – or plumps for no deal – his party would seek a public vote, and, in those circumstances, it would campaign for Remain against either no deal or a Tory deal that would not protect the economy and jobs.

The poor old booby was thus clinging on to the delusion that a “jobs first” Labour Brexit was still somehow possible and couldn’t apparently get his head around the fact he would be the last man on earth anyone could ever take seriously as the leader of a Remain campaign.

Voters such as myself were once ripe for the taking by Labour, but our indulgence for the party has now given way to rage. We will neither forgive nor forget how it has handled Brexit, even though attempts are being made already to rewrite history. The oleaginous Barry Gardiner claimed in a television interview that it was Labour - rather than Gina Miller - that went to the Supreme Court to ensure that Mrs May didn’t circumvent parliamentary democracy by invoking Article 50 without a vote. Mrs Miller rightly demanded - but never received - a proper apology.

Sadiq Khan, too, insulted my own intelligence when he tried to assure me ahead of the EU elections that all of those voting Labour could be confident they would be helping the remain cause: it was, as he must have known every bit as Gardiner, arrant nonsense that he was talking.

If only there had been the will and the determination to take Corbyn out of the equation, I’ve no doubt both men would have had no reason to demean themselves in this way, Labour would also almost certainly be in office having won the last election, and Brexit would be but a dim and dismal memory as the party put into place policies that really would have put jobs first. And, as for my old mate David Lammy, he’d almost certainly be on the front bench - and we’d still be getting along famously.

As it is, in the way of breaking off diplomatic relations in the modern world, we’ve lately unfollowed each other on Twitter.

Tim Walker is an author, broadcaster and award-winning journalist.

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