That Corbyn speech January 10, 2017Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
It is remarkable, to me, just how far matters have gone in relation to Brexit. That the British Labour Party today would express general opinions in relation to ‘managed’ immigration that a year ago would have been unthinkable for a progressive party to articulate, would indeed have been to some degree the preserve of the wilder shores of the Tory party, or UKIP, is a sign of the pernicious impact Brexit is having on the British body politic (and yes, I do remember the infamous cup and its infamous slogan and there’s no credit to those who produced it, but this is Corbyn’s Labour Party).
This I think is a crucial exchange… from an interview with BBC’s Today.
>Q: When people voted for Brexit, they were voting to keep out foreign workers.
Corbyn says employment conditions must be right.
But that’s not correct. Firstly the vote was very close, secondly its proximate issue was, as noted in another post today, about membership of the EU. Even if most people voting Leave voted first and foremost for such ‘controls’ a smaller tranche who voted for other reasons would be sufficient to at least suggest that most in the UK when the votes are taken in aggregate didn’t vote to ‘keep out foreign workers’. That Corbyn would not push back against that alone is lamentable. And it’s worse than that because it gifts the narrative to the right. And keep in mind that it normalises attitudes to immigration that are – at the very least not positive. That in the everyday, the public sphere, immigration is reinforced yet again, and immigrants obviously too, as a problem. And this has very real consequences as we know from the spike in crimes in the UK after the referendum. Words count in this.
We’ve seen a consolidation of the Tories, an election tomorrow, or next month, would gift them an overwhelming majority. We have seen a parallel weakening of the Labour Party. But above political power we have political rhetoric, a mean-spirited rhetoric that speaks of controls and limits – that demands access to markets in the EU (Corbyn was doing much the same today) while refusing to accept that a quid pro quo is the right of EU citizens to travel across the area of those markets.
Corbyn was still hedging, for which we can perhaps be grateful, and who would disagree that importing workers to be exploited is not something the left can stand over. But the fact that his language – formerly strongly in favour of freedom of movement, had softened to encompass ‘managed’ migration says it all. Even he has felt the stifling constraints that Brexit has generated within the UK political context.
That’s not a small thing, freedom of movement, it is key. We in Ireland often take it for granted because of our history, because of the CTA with the UK and because of residual links with the US, but for many in many places the idea of being able to travel within and across many countries is not even an aspiration. The EU is, correctly, a focus for huge criticism, and that criticism and critique must continue and be made ever more forcefully, but one thing it has got right is the idea of freedom of movement across its expanse by citizens of member states. And not just member states. For those that sign up to a range of areas those who are non-members are allowed access to the area. There are contradictions. There is an outside of the EU, borders both physical, geographic and mental (though individual states within the EU have varying approaches on this), but as a work in progress the idea of extending freedom of movement is a positive.
To see the UK step outside that is a grievous situation. To see progressives adopt the rhetoric of that equally so. I said it directly after the vote, and those of us warning of the implications of the referendum had been flagging it up in advance. There is no step forward in a context where new borders are put in place. Were it a situation where an alternative structure of a number of nations was in place – where four or five nations had banded together to generate a progressive alternative with freedom of movement, no internal borders, genuinely transformative left social democrat/socialist policies on all matter of things, that would be a very different matter. But no such alternative exists nor is it on the short to medium or even long term horizon.
What alternative could Corbyn propose in all this? Perhaps the obvious alternatives. That immigration is not an evil but a necessity in contemporary advanced economies, particularly one as open as the UK. That setting limits and quotas is self-defeating. That freedom of movement is a positive. That there are a range of measures well short of immigration controls that can alleviate pressures in housing, health, education and employment where necessary – that most of those measures are needed anyway simply to support workers in the UK. That all this was possible within the EU and within the context of freedom of movement with the EU.
That UKIP has won, and it has, it really has, this contest of rhetoric if not political power is merely another fillip to an environment that internationally is growing increasingly and overtly reactionary. How it could have been thought to end otherwise in the context of the UK and Brexit is mystifying.
All that said, what is also concerning is what happens in five or ten years time when the penny drops that intra-EU immigration wasn’t the problem and cutting it wasn’t the solution. Any of us who have tracked the progress of the British media across the decades and their ability to fix upon an ‘other’, be it internal or supposedly external, will wonder where that dynamic will manifest and who will suffer. And what political forces awoken or resuscitated or simply given heart by Brexit will flock to use it. For once again it is worth restating that UKIP’s support, and that of Brexit, gathered steam once there was a pivot from sovereignty to immigration. That’s a lesson others will adapt to their own ends.