Labour can turn the election around if Corbyn firmly rules out single market membership

Labour can turn the election around if Corbyn firmly rules out single market membership

Whatever one thinks of the real reason behind Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election, genuine or pure opportunism, there is of course one legitimate reason for dissolving Parliament: with the country voting 52% to leave the EU and 73% of all MPs voting the other way, Parliament no longer reflects the general views of the people who elected them and has to be dissolved.

Neither is May to be blamed for wishing to fight the general election on her strength, namely Brexit, for she has managed to present herself as the one politician who is truly determined to implement the will of the British people for a clean and honest Brexit. On all other issues, be they education, housing, the NHS or elderly care, she is vulnerable.

All commentators and political analysts seem to assume that the 8th June General Election will be about Brexit and this is what Theresa May has made clear that she wants. But that can only be the case if the other main party, the Labour Party, plays ball, falls into the PM’s trap and allows Brexit to dominate the election. After all, the issue has been settled by a referendum less than twelve months ago and Article 50 has been invoked – we are leaving the EU. We do not need a re-match.

To avoid the election turning into a second EU referendum, it is not enough to say, as Jeremy Corbyn did, that the election is not about Brexit and hope that the issue will miraculously disappear. Keir Starmer’s attempt to differentiate Labour’s policy on the Brexit negotiations from that of the Tories by some formulations such as ‘retaining the benefits of the single market’, which in essence means the same as the Tories’ ‘best possible deal’, only helps to divert attention from the real differences between the Labour and Conservative positions on issues that Labour wants and should fight the election on, such as the economy, education and welfare.

Although Starmer affirmed the end of free movement and thus the end of our membership of the single market, his other utterances including never walking out of negotiations if a deal cannot be struck – a bizarre position for any negotiator to be in – may be interpreted as a means to reverse the referendum result.

The Labour Party, and especially Jeremy Corbyn, must do more. For Corbyn, it’s now or never. As leader and a lifelong eurosceptic, he must assert himself and unequivocally embrace the outcome of the EU referendum, and rule out membership of the single market and the customs union, the two things that Labour continues to flirt with. This is not as unlikely as it seems; in fact it is a necessity, for Labour cannot put its own policies into practice otherwise. Labour policies and membership of the single market are incompatible.

The key elements of Labour’s industrial and economic policy include such things as renationalising the railways, promoting regional development and using the Government’s huge procurement purchasing power to support British firms, all of which are prohibited under the rules of the single market. Then there are the changes to VAT which Labour is promoting. These are also disallowed by the single market. In short, Labour cannot implement its own programme – the programme upon which they wish to be elected – if we remain a member of the single market. Such inconsistency will be seized upon and will continue to haunt Labour throughout the election campaign unless it is addressed and sorted early on.

As for Labour’s high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity economy, this will be a pie in the sky if we remain in the single market with its free movement of labour and capital. While cheap labour is easily sourced from eastern Europe, there is little pressure on wages to increase and no incentive for employers to invest in new capital equipment to improve productivity. Those who argue that the NHS, among other services, needs immigrant labour to survive should remember two things. First, that controlling immigration does not mean stopping immigration altogether and second, that for every nurse, every doctor and every dentist that come from Poland, Hungary and Latvia means one less nurse in Poland, one less doctor in Hungary and one less dentist in Latvia.

Similarly for immigrants from the rest of the developing world, the people in these nations have invested heavily in their nurses, doctors and dentists only to find that the ultimate beneficiaries are the rich and highly-developed countries like our own, countries that are quite capable of nurturing their own skills and talents. Such plunder of the skills and talents of developing nations is equivalent to the bygone days when Britain plundered the natural resources of its colonies. Free movement is not internationalism as some of the political left have us believe; it is intellectual colonialism.

The 8th June General Election is far from being a foregone conclusion. If Corbyn sticks to his instincts of euroscepticism and rules out membership of the single market – and with it ends the free movement of movement of labour, goods, services and capital – then the only remaining issue that would separate Labour from the Tories would be the shape of the Brexit deal as we leave the EU.

For Labour, such a deal has to be one that allows Labour’s economic and industrial strategies to be implemented and that takes us back to the domestic issues on which Labour wishes to fight the election. It’s a win-win for Labour, and if Corbyn has the courage to grasp it, the PM may very well find herself in the same position as Edward Heath who called a snap ‘who governs Britain?’ General Election in February 1974. ‘Not you, Gov’ was the swift reply, kicking out Heath and ushering a Labour government back in.