Labour will be seen as part of the great sell-out unless the party embraces the referendum outcome

Labour will be seen as part of the great sell-out unless the party embraces the referendum outcome

Labour has so long been divided on membership of the EU that the party has learned to stand on its head. Now it faces its greatest test on both fronts. It does so in the face of its own serious problem: can it win back the support of those core voters and regions it lost in the Blair years? Can it weld the great coalition of Labour between the middle-class intellectuals and the working class back together?

The two tasks go together. New Labour did many good things but never delivered enough to the regions and the people left behind. Punished by Tory austerity, Labour’s enthusiasm for globalisation and Britain’s economic failure which made employment uncertain and household incomes static, these disgruntled groups turned away from Labour to UKIP, abstention or the SNP. The gap between the liberal leadership and the needs of the people gaped.

Jeremy Corbyn is now rightly trying to win them back by offering more radical politics, an end to austerity and cures for the plaints of the people. His offer will produce a storm of hostility from the Tory press, the vested interests and affronted capitalism – but the last election result and the rise in party’s membership indicate that it will work. Britain wants new answers, not more neo-liberal gobbledygook.

The European Union is a major difficulty in this healing process. Europe has attractions to politicians and the middle class which it doesn’t offer to those down the social scale. It has drained jobs, money and demand out of Britain, boosted immigration and undermined faith in the British state as protector and defender of the deprived. Labour’s leadership came to like or even love it, but for the people left behind it became yet another in a growing list of grievances.

As a result, the people took the opportunity in the referendum to reject the whole package – which now poses a major quandary for Labour. Our middle-class liberal MPs love the EU with a vacuous enthusiasm. Groups whose support we need (and used to have) don’t, and Labour can’t adjust to its base unless it bridges that gap.

Jeremy is trying hard. As long as a divided government dithers, he can claim that Labour will handle things better without saying how. Yet unless he can show that Labour is committed to fulfilling the decision of the people and stop his naive Remainers airing their egos and encouraging the EU to play hardball, Labour will be seen as part of the great sell-out.

What kind of a party are we? It’s right to say that jobs must be protected. Yet it’s also necessary to recognise that there’s no going back without humiliation and relegation; no way we can accept the EU’s effort to force us to concede everything before they’ll deign to deal; and no way of winning back our lost support unless we show that we are determined to fulfil the democratic verdict of the people, rather than offering more soft soap and bubbles.