The Tory party is a threat to the national interest. We need a Labour leader who can defeat them. And that leader plainly isn’t Jeremy Corbyn.
He must go, not to save Labour, but to save the country. Look at what has happened since the Conservative party took over. Their austerity programme devastated British communities and put rocket boosters on Scottish nationalism. Those rocket boosters may not have been enough to win the independence referendum, but they’ve turned the SNP into an astonishingly robust political movement since then. The Tories then pitted the English against the Scots at the general election. Then they started an EU referendum to sort out their own internal challenges, turned it into a national spasm of xenophobia, and lost it, in a way that threatens to turn Britain into an economic irrelevance. Now we’re facing another Scottish independence referendum, and this time the nationalists look set to win. There is also a severe threat to the Northern Ireland peace agreement and our control of Gibraltar.
The Conservative party is clearly unfit for government. Their political programme now poses an existential threat to the United Kingdom. The possibility of a general election now offers us a glimmer of a chance to get them out before they can do any more damage.
Corbyn has done nothing since he was elected leader to suggest he can win a general election. He is plainly intellectually, politically, presentationally and strategically unable to do so.
That’s not a gleeful observation. Corbyn is a decent man and he could have done many interesting things with the opportunity handed to him by the influx of new Labour members. But it was obvious from the moment he hired Seumas Milne that wasn’t going to happen. No matter how loyal or how principled, Corbyn supporters in the Labour membership must see he isn’t going to win. And it’s increasingly clear this country cannot survive another five years of Tory leadership.
But it’s not enough for someone to just not be Corbyn. One of the depressing things about his critics is that they rarely contribute any ideas of their own. The admiration for Liz Kendall and Dan Jarvis seems to stem primarily from the fact they both look good holding a gun. It’s actually quite patronising. You can almost hear their supporters thinking: ‘Yeah, they’ll like that, the working class lot, a bit of rough and tumble.’
Labour is experiencing its own class war, with many working class supporters suddenly at odds with liberal middle class supporters. But that’s not just a Labour problem, it’s a British problem and arguably a western problem. From Nigel Farage to Donald Trump, we see the far-right seizing an angry public mood and directing its anger in a direction which profits them.
Who in Labour has an answer to this question? Who is able to channel the frustrations and anger of voters who feel they’ve been left behind into progressive policies, rather than blaming immigrants, Islam and Europe? The only person even starting to do the intellectual heavy lifting on this is Yvette Cooper, who has been far superior since unsuccessfully running for leader than she ever was when doing it. Her proposals for Labour reform of European immigration rules showed she was at least thinking actively about what kind of ground the left can give way on in order to have a place in the debate. It was tiny stuff, barely even a first step, but it showed she was at least thinking. Depressingly, that’s currently the high water mark of Labour’s approach to the crisis facing it.
There needs to be far more policy imagination. And there needs to be a sign from professional politicians that they can talk using clear, evocative language of the sort which won the referendum for Leave and the Republican candidacy for Trump. The debate isn’t just about policy - it’s about democratising the manner in which politics is conducted.
There’s time for that. Britain could be going back to the polls in a matter of months, with Boris Johnson running on the back of his Brexit deal and Labour running on campaign to return Britain to the EU. These catastrophes - Tory austerity, Britain’s exit from Europe, the likelihood of Scottish independence, disaster in Northern Ireland - can be prevented.
Corbyn can’t do it. Perhaps his critics could. But they need to show there’s more to them than just not being him.
Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk
The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners
This week's vote came as a body blow to anyone on the liberal wing of politics. A campaign based on myths and distortion, which appealed to the most base instincts of the British public, succeeded. It does not matter that it only just succeeded. Millions voted for it. Liberalism lost.
Let's not kid ourselves - as many liberal eurosceptics are trying to do - that it was won on the basis of arguments about democracy or sovereignty. It was won on the basis of immigration. Nigel Farage's dream of leaving the EU only picked up momentum when he twinned the issue with migration in the public imagination. Despite Boris Johnson and Michael Gove's conciliatory noises about inclusivity and diversity yesterday, their campaign was defined by dog-whistle messages on Turkish immigration and an obsessive repetition of the word 'control'. Farage sunk much lower, to the level of Nazi-era propaganda, a theme he reprised in his victory speech for "decent people".
This is what happens when we make excuses for those who hate immigration. For decades we've been told to understand the concerns of those who are afraid and angry about it. Tony Blair may have operated a liberal immigration policy when he was prime minister, but the rhetoric from him and his home secretaries was consciously modelled on the Sun. The policy game and the public relations game had no connection whatsoever. Gordon Brown, who now frames himself as some sort of unifying elder statesman, dragged the BNP slogan 'British jobs for British workers' into the mainstream. David Cameron and George Osborne, both private supporters of immigration, encouraged ministers to go on baseless campaigns against health or benefit tourism, despite knowing it was all nonsense. Cameron made a promise to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands, knowing it was not in his power to do so. Then, when he failed, he did it again.
Well guess what? After a while the public see that your words and your actions are doing two completely different things. And then we get the catastrophe of this week, an explosion of irrationality and self-harm.
Which legitimate grievance are we supposed to acknowledge? The outright demand for cultural purity from southern Little England? The false claim from the post-industrial north that immigrants are stealing their jobs? It's all lies.
The first people to suffer from a reduction in immigration will be the lower-income groups who predominantly voted Out. Migration contributed £20 billion to our economy between 2001 and 2011. A two-thirds reduction in immigration would reduce the size of the economy by nine per cent by 2065. Even with immigration of 140,000 a year, our debt will reach 99% of GDP in 50 years. Without immigration, it’ll be 174%. Who is going to be the main victim of the cuts required to address that? The higher income voters who mostly opted for Remain? Or the lower income groups who mostly voted Out?
Labour MPs now walk around saying that immigration reduces domestic wages, that the rich man has got a cheaper plumber, but the indigenous plumber has had to reduce his fees. Usually this argument is framed as an assault on the 'white working class', as if we don't have any black or Indian or Pakistani or Bangladeshi working class people in this country.
Well that's a lie too. We have no idea if immigration reduces wages and in fact many studies show it does the precise opposite. PwC research suggests it raises the median income by 0.7%. LSE found areas with high immigration did not have lower wage growth.
The Bank of England found that there might be a two per cent drop in income where there's been a ten per cent rise in immigration, but then EU migration stood at two per cent between 2008 and 2015, so this amounts to a 0.4% income fall over seven years. The Policy Studies Institute found a "quite small" effect on lower wages, with a 0.75% (£3.90 a week for a full time worker on the average wage) decrease where over 10% of workers in a company are from the EU. Only 15% of workplaces have more than ten per cent EU workers. If you're looking for the reason people are struggling to get by, this isn't it.
Immigration brings in working age people who pay the taxes we need to fund the pensions and health care of the baby boomers who just voted to have them thrown out. It increases demand, it increases productivity, it increases wages, it increases GDP.
And when you actually ask critics of immigration about the negative impact on them, most of them admit there isn't one. Just 24% of the public believe immigration has had a negative effect on where they live - the exact same proportion as the number who feel it has had a positive one. Forty seven per cent say has had no effect whatsoever. Fifty-one-per-cent of people say immigration has had no impact on them personally, while a quarter say it has been good for them. Just 19% say it has been bad.
The young, who are the ones competing for jobs with immigrants in this supposedly terrible assault on British workers, are the most positive about immigration. People aged 18-to-34 are twice as likely as those aged over 55 to think EU immigration has been good for Britain. And dig into those figures a little deeper and see what happens. Despite being more negative about immigration, people over 55 are more likely to say they haven't been affected by immigration (59%) compared to those aged 18-to-34 (42%).
Compare the maps of areas with a high immigrant population with areas which vote Ukip and they are like opposites. Ukip support is strongest where there are fewest immigrants. The anti-immigrant party is concentrated in remote and coastal towns, immigrants in major urban areas.
Their concerns are myth and nonsense and yet we are told to understand them. We're not allowed to dismiss it as small-minded, ignorant, and fictitious. We have to 'listen', we have to 'comprehend'. We have to say that it's not racist to talk about immigration. But it's not a debate they want. They get that all the time. What they want is to be able to drone on and on about immigration without anyone pointing out they're wrong.
Now I have to listen to European friends in England suddenly feel scared and unwelcome. I have to listen to them make plans for how they would leave if it comes to that, for how to secure their immigration status here if the rules change, or even debate if they want to, considering millions of English people supported a campaign which was so brazenly xenophobic. I have to listen to those who have spend decades in this country suddenly ask if the place they call home respects or even wants them.
And the response of many liberals is to tell us to listen to the people committing this act of aggression against them? To 'listen' and 'understand' the made up concerns of the people scaring them? What good has it done, pretending this stuff is valid? All these years of vindicating lies about wages and cultural harmony have accomplished nothing. They made it worse. They encouraged it.
If you want to do something for post-industrial northern areas then get out there and support trade unions. Support parties which will legislate for decent wages for decent work, and decent education to allows workers to compete for it. Get out there and highlight how the decoupling of wages and productivity is at the heart of the powerlessness lower and middle income groups are feeling. Get out there and highlight the Laval and Viking cases in the European court, which did so much to weaken trade unions and collective bargaining.
These are real things, with empirical underpinning, which would have an impact on people’s lives. Jumping on board with the lies people have been told by the Express about how it’s all the fault of a family from Romania isn’t helping those left behind by a capitalist economy. It’s hurting them, because it addresses a myth while the pressures which are really damaging their quality of life continue, without any political effort to correct them.
This was a culture war and our side lost. Millions of us understand the benefits of immigration and love living in a country where people come from all over the world. We don’t want to live in the England of suburban golf clubs, with middle-aged white men stuffing bland food into their mouths while bleating out their lurid sense of entitlement. It’s time to stop being ashamed of words like multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. These are proud, honourable words. They are good things to believe in.
We lost the vote, but the negotiations for Brexit will soon be underway. Everything is still to play for. Freedom of movement can still be salvaged. Or we may, as Daniel Hannan was saying yesterday, be able to ensure that we at least protect freedom of labour, so people can move around Europe and the UK on the condition of a job offer. But we can only reduce the damage of this week’s vote if we express our support for immigration loud and proud. No more excuses. No more pretending to ‘understand’ things which are not true. Immigration makes this country better and those who say otherwise are wrong.
Ian Dunt is the editor of Politics.co.uk
The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners
I’ve laid out already what the most likely outcome of last night’s vote was, but a lot of people are asking a more optimistic(/desperate) question: is there any way whatsoever Britain could stay in the EU?
The answer is yes, but it is very unlikely. It would involve three things: A willingness to keep the UK in the union from EU leaders, a willingness from Brexit winners to have another vote, and British public support.
EU leaders' priority now is drawing a line under this and hoping no-one else holds a referendum. But what incentive do they want to follow? The most obvious, and the one which seems to be on offer, is the punishment incentive. They're going to hurt us in order to discourage others. Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, told the Guardian today he wanted the UK out of Europe as soon as possible. “Proceedings under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union will have to be launched,” an EU fact sheet said. That suggests they are going to pile on the pressure for the UK to enter into Brexit negotiations sooner rather than later - certainly earlier than the three months David Cameron envisages. Once Article 50 kicks off, it’s the UK vs everyone else, with its back against the wall because of a two-year deadline. It is not a good negotiating position.
But there is another incentive. Maybe European leaders are looking at videos like this or this and concluding that Brits might just change their mind if they were presented with another deal. They'd probably have to find some sort of special name for it. Associate status - something like that. But basically, it would amount to still being in the EU. This is an old tactic of theirs. When France, Holland and Ireland voted against them, they came up with some sweeteners and then went back and asked the country again until they gave the right answer. They could well try that again, especially if they thought it might work.
But there are downsides to this strategy. Would you also encourage other countries to rock the boat by rewarding the UK for doing so? And anyway, Europe didn’t seem keen to offer David Cameron many concessions when he went seeking negotiations ahead of the referendum. Would they have changed their minds now?
Even if they did offer some concession, would the winners of the Brexit vote be willing to take a risk with another vote? We are basically talking about Boris Johnson here, with Michael Gove helping out. They both looked a bit over-awed by the magnitude of what they’d done today. Combined with harsh economic news, moves in Scotland to hold another independence referendum, a threat to British sovereignty in Gibraltar and renewed trouble in Northern Ireland, they might have shocked themselves into welcoming a deal. After all, Johnson isn’t Nigel Farage. He doesn’t actually believe this stuff. He’s only on this side because it was useful to him.
If another deal was offered, Johnson would either have to hold a referendum again or perhaps a general election. Given what happened to Cameron this morning, it may not be a route which appeals to his sense of self preservation. And even then, he might struggle to even get to hold the vote. Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, a general election before 2020 would require two thirds of all MPs to call for one, which Labour may not support if they don’t feel the timing works for them.
The only other way Johnson could hold an election is if he got his MPs to back a motion of no confidence in his own government, which is rather odd but again perfectly possible. There’d then be a 14-day period for someone to try to form a government followed by another general election. So again: possible. But again: there are a lot of unknowns in that calculation. And that’s before you even get to the vote.
Would Brits U-turn?
After all that, would the British public even offer a different vote to the one they made last night? It’s unclear. Sure, this morning people seem shocked, but then all that comes from the same TV stations and social media users (like myself) who were confidently predicting Remain. The disconnect between medialand and En-ger-land is severe. Perhaps even economic chaos and recession won’t be enough to scare people out of supporting Brexit.
And there is a massive face-off at the heart of the British public’s relationship with the EU. Freedom of movement is non-negotiable. And one senses it is freedom of movement, more than anything, which the British public rejected last night. So even once all the practicalities go, that problem still remains. Perhaps a jolt of recession would make them reassess how much of a priority they place on reducing immigration.
So there you have it. Could Britain stay in the EU? Sure. If European leaders want to scribble a deal on the back of a napkin and make it constitutionally possible they just need to do it. But there are an awful lot of variables there and all the circumstances and incentives need to be perfectly aligned for it to happen.
And yet, for all that, it is possible. And the worse the economic impact of Brexit in the days to come, the more tempting it might be for those on both sides to explore options for compromise.