post-brexit britain: where are we now?
The EU referendum, David Cameron's resignation, Angela Eagle's coup against Jeremy Corbyn, Theresa May's appointment. Britain's political landscape has changed beyond recognition in the past month. As the doom and gloom of a post-Brexit Britain sinks...
I saw it on Facebook, a glib little statement, but it seemed to make more sense of where we are right now than any of the plethora of dull opinion pieces the media have been tossing out recently. Jeremy Corbyn being elected leader of the Labour Party is the equivalent of Chuwumbawumba hitting number 1 with Tubthumping in the 90s, it said; a fringe radical group suddenly propelled to mainstream success. It made me laugh a glum chuckle of resignation.
The Labour Party Election was his all pervasive, all conquering, smash hit, but instead of signalling the start of his meteoric rise to Number 10, it looks increasingly like he's head back to obscurity, back to singing English Rebel Songs to his old core audience of disaffected cuddly commies. To stretch that Chuwumbawumba metaphor to breaking point.
British politics has been moving at an infuriatingly quick pace in the weeks since the EU referendum, look away, look back, everything's changed. First Cameron went, then the whole house of cards collapsed in a scene that resembled Frank Spencer doing the final scene of Hamlet.
Boris, Gove, Farage, all followed Cameron's example and did one, refusing to clean up the mess they'd made. Jeremy Corbyn was quickly challenged by his party to step down. Angela Eagle leading a coup against him after orchestrating almost all of his Shadow Cabinet to stand down in a dramatic day, stretching their resignations out to maximise media exposure of their revolt. Yet Corbyn hung on. Then in the weeks that followed the attempted coup, the membership of the party has swollen massively, with another 130,000 new members joining the ranks. Corbyn has grown the Labour Party to the largest it's ever been, yet, paradoxically, has made it its most divided.
Divided not just between leader and MPs, but MPs and members, and divided between its metropolitan and provincial heartlands. It's no longer really clear who the party stands for. Labour are undergoing a period of soul searching brought on by two election defeats; there's an uneasy symbiosis of two distinct halves, split along Blair's Iraq and electoral legacy, its shift towards the right and a desire to remain true to its roots.
Corbyn has grown the Labour Party to the largest it's ever been, yet, paradoxically, has made it its most divided.
One thing remains certain though, Corbyn retains the backing of the majority of the members of the party, the grassroots, and especially, the young, who've overwhelmingly thrown their support behind him in the past and continue to do so. For my generation, Corbyn is a beacon for a brighter, more equal, more optimistic future.
I joined the Labour Party, aged 15, as part of an offshoot organisation from the 80s hard left Militant Tendency, a group who believe in entryism, the process of joining the Labour party to turn it into a vehicle for left wing politics. Putting me well ahead of the curve of today's Corbynista entryists. But equally, Corbyn is exactly the kind of leader I've been waiting for all these years. I joined during the glory glory years of Tony Blair, when it felt that the party was losing touch with what I believed it stood for.
But, just a few long months since taking charge of the party, he's been engulfed by coup and crisis, and the political landscape has shifted under his feet. He's shown himself to be not the nimblest of leaders, or the weaseliest of political operators, but that should come as no surprise really, he was elected leader of the party precisely because he wasn't a weasel. His views seem to have stayed essentially the same since forever, and as he has little natural experience of shifting mercilessly around in the way career politicians seem to do with ease, events wrap around him, or flow past him. His quiet, pleasant demeanour gets swallowed up by the incessant screaming of our political discourse, but these are faults with our political system and political culture, not Jeremy himself.
When he was elected leader, I wrote of how he was the politician the young had been waiting for. How it was our generation who'd been disproportionately affected by the financial crisis and its continuing fall out. It's hardly a glorious time to be young; the unemployment, the housing crisis, the rising tuition fees. These problems haven't magically gone away now that Brexit has exploded. And it's still only really Jeremy Corbyn who represents a break with the policies and politicians who caused this crisis, on both sides of the House of Commons.
But the question raised by opponents of Corbyn recently have been centred on not whether he offers a programme, but that he's ineffectual to actually get into government and realise it. They suggest we should offer Tory-lite (again) to the electorate to try and reclaim power, despite it failing just last year in the general election.
The EU referendum turned essentially into a vote of no-confidence in a whole political system, a type of politician, a political bubble.
But in the face of the newly coronated post-Brexit PM, Theresa May, the divide between the two parties couldn't be clearer. Cameron brought austerity cloaked in social permissiveness, a kind of doomed resignation that the modern world is here and it wasn't going away. May is a red blooded alpha Tory who opposed gay equality by voting against repealing Section 28, and making gay and straight ages of consent equal.
She was against the minimum wage, scrapped a legal requirement for public bodies to seek to reduce inequality, showed no sympathy over the plight of women in detention at Yarl's Wood immigration centre. She's for the Snooper Charter, a tool to increase state surveillance by recording everybody's telephone calls, texts, emails and internet browsing histories. As Home Secretary, Theresa May sent out vans across emblazoned with "GO HOME" to try and convince illegal immigrants to turn themselves in. She's voted against rental reform, regulation payday lenders, against reforms of the banking system. She's basically an exemplar of all the bad, divisive, things this government has done.
She voted against increasing the tax rate of people earning over £150,000, against taxing bankers' bonuses, voted for more restrictions on trade unions, against a mansion tax. She voted against banning hunting, against allowing the terminally ill the right to euthanasia, she has consistently voted to raise undergraduate university fees to 9k a year, voted in favour of academy schools, voted against measures to prevent climate change, voted for culling badgers, voted for the privatisation of the Royal Mail, it goes on and on. Hardly a Prime Minister to bring hope to those the system has left behind, because the government she's been an instrumental part of running for six years, has effectively engaged in crushing them.
Corbyn though, does offer something different, some kind of hope to those who feel the system has let them down. The EU referendum turned essentially into a vote of no-confidence in a whole political system, a type of politician, a political bubble. Corbyn is the only person out there who actively is for a new kind of politics, a new kind of politician, a politician who could turn our post-Brexit world into something positive and progressive. He's turning the Labour party into an actual social movement again, based not simply around party politics, but issues that will make our society better and fairer.
Text Felix Petty