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Corbyn and Brexit
03 Jun, 2019

The wrong revolution

London4Europe Committee member and retired HM Treasury senior civil servant Michael Romberg says that Jeremy Corbyn needs to address the problems the country faces, not the problems he wishes to address. His attempts to change the subject have failed. His lack of management experience means that he fails to recognise that implementing Brexit would be all-consuming and prevent a post-Brexit government doing anything else. If he wishes to implement his agenda he has to stop Brexit first.


Jeremy Corbyn wishes Brexit would just go away

Jeremy Corbyn wants Brexit. He always has. But it seems that not even he finds Lexit that interesting.

It’s not like the liberation of Nicaragua, or the overthrow of whoever it was the President Maduro overthrew in Venezuela, or hanging out with Sinn Fein during the troubles, or the liberation of Palestine at the expense of Israel. The 2018 Labour Party conference banned EU flags but handed out Palestine flags for the delegates to wave.

Corbyn finds Brexit annoying. It consumes all the political oxygen so no-one really listens when he speaks on other subjects.


People keep asking him what he thinks about Brexit

That is problematic, because when he tells the truth – that he is for it but wishes to make political capital out of the Government’s problems – no-one believes him. Leavers do not believe that he really wants Brexit rather than just make trouble for the Conservatives; Remainers are sure that the man they idolise must think like them on this key subject.

Nor does his particular version of Brexit – a customs union – convince. Why would it? It’s good Marxist economics: a focus on commodity manufacturing of heavy industrial goods with low intellectual content; and a hostility to service industries. But it has no connexion to a modern knowledge-based service economy based on Continent-wide integrated supply chains. Nor to any ideal of Europe.


Some politicians can change the weather

So it is understandable that he wishes that Brexit would just go away. And on this, the whole of the electorate agrees with him – a rare feat for such a divisive leader.

And yet he cannot change the subject. Some politicians can: they “make the political weather”. They alter the subject that people discuss, they reframe politics, they change the terms of debate.

Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair did that. Both had compelling visions of the future, both reached out to groups that were not traditionally their supporters. Simplifying enormously, Margaret Thatcher created the enterprise society and Tony Blair a socially modern country on the back of accepting the primacy of the market in the economy.

Jeremy Corbyn wishes to change the terms of debate. He has an enormously strong appeal to his followers. The problem is not that he is divisive – so was Thatcher. But his base is narrow. Whatever the cause, it is certain that in a country obsessed by Brexit – even if resentful of the need for that obsession - he has failed in his project to shift people to thinking about something else.

His launch of the Labour Party European Parliament elections manifesto was his latest attempt to do so. It bombed because it came across as yet another shifty attempt to cover up the cracks in Labour’s Brexit stance, something that has already damaged Corbyn’s standing.


All politicians have to deal with the world as it is

David Cameron and George Osborne thought they would be “spending the proceeds of growth”. They found themselves confronted by the financial and fiscal crises that they inherited.

Whatever you may think of their solutions, you have to give them – and Nick Clegg – credit for addressing the twin crises that the country actually faced rather than just wishing that they were not there.


Brexit won’t go away if it happens

Jeremy Corbyn seems to think that if Brexit happened then he would be free to implement policies that he cares about. He wouldn’t.

If Brexit happens, there would be real consequences that would need to be managed: new organisations, new policies, new trading relationships, company closures. All very exciting and a great opportunity for change – except that it will be too much all at once and in very difficult circumstances.

Moreover, we will first have to address the question of what Brexit is for. Apart from an irritation with State Aids rules and a desire to stop freedom of movement Jeremy Corbyn has provided no answer that is relevant to today’s economy and society.


But the electorate will think Brexit has gone away

Few in the electorate have any idea what implementation of a policy actually entails. On Brexit, so many slogans told us we would just go back to how things were – therefore many believe that must be easy.

The reality is that negotiating the next phase of and then implementing Brexit would be even more consuming for Government that this first phase has been. Just the negotiations would be bigger and more complex; implementation would then need to deal with reality not just ideas in a treaty.

Nothing else will get done.

Any government in the ten years post Brexit with any agenda other than keeping the ship afloat will massively disappoint.


So why does Jeremy Corbyn not see that?

As a backbencher he has never had to manage anything more complicated than his allotment and some internal power plays within the Labour party. He has never had to manage a business or an organisation or a government department, implement a programme, negotiate with foreign powers, work out a strategy with real concrete plans. He has not had to take responsibility when things go wrong or take steps to make sure that they go right.

What is needed is some of those who come into contact with the Leader and who do understand both Brexit and management to explain that.

Perhaps that is another task for Keir Starmer. He is a former Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service, a department of 6,000 staff with a budget of £500m. Small, but better than nothing at helping its leader to understand some of the challenges of management.




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