The sacking of Owen Smith proves there’s no hope for Remainers in Corbyn’s Labour Party

Soon Labour may wake to the realisation that they can have Jeremy or they can have the EU but not both

Sean O'Grady
Saturday 24 March 2018 12:45
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Owen Smith sacked by Jeremy Corbyn from Labour frontbench after calling for another Brexit referendum

Who’s next for a Corbyn cut? Such is Jeremy Corbyn’s personal grip on power in the Labour Party that he could, conceivably, sack any of his Shadow Cabinet or officials with impunity. Indeed he recently saw the departure of his longstanding General Secretary Ian McNicol, widely thought to be unsympathetic to what we may soon learn to call “Corbynism”. Perhaps this emerging ruthlessness about the exercise of discipline is what Peter Hain had in mind when he termed the sacking of Smith a “Stalinist purge”.

Outside Westminster and the Labour Party few will notice the loss of Smith. He has gone, with barely a splash, at a safe distance from his failed leadership bid against Corbyn in 2016. Even then the Corbynistas had such a hold that his main pitch was that he agreed with Corbyn on every policy, but would just be better at presenting it.

Now it seems that he doesn’t agree with Corbyn about Europe and that is where the real significance of this clash lies. For Smith merely voiced what the great majority of Labour members, the Shadow Cabinet and the parliamentary party believe – that Brexit ought to be stopped and at least referred back to the people in a second or final referendum on the terms of exit. It would be a perfectly popular pitch, would unite his party and, as Smith put it, is simply the right thing to do.

Labour must 'show leadership' on Brexit, says sacked frontbencher Owen Smith

Now instead of tolerating the kind of principled dissent that he, Corbyn, used to symbolise, he has finally closed down the one policy option Labour’s army of pro-Europeans clung to in the hope of a change in direction from the party leadership. Soon Labour may wake to the realisation that they can have Jeremy or they can have the EU but not both.

The truth is becoming increasingly clear: Corbyn now favours Brexit – just as he did back in the 1970s and 1980s – because it allows him to run a socialist economic policy. Membership of the EU with its ban on state aid and subsidies, and its promotion of free movement of goods and capital, is incompatible with Corbynism. If Corbyn wants to save the Port Talbot steelworks or the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port he doesn’t want some bureaucrat in Brussels telling him it’s not allowed.

In its purest form, Corbynism represents an updated version of the old Alternative Economic Strategy, a model of economic policy popular in the early 1980s, which also advocated import controls to protect British jobs and a massive programme of nationalisation and public investment. Corbyn remembers it well and hasn’t given up on it.

Not so much Socialism in One Country, as Stalin once called it, but Corbynism in One Country. Jeremy isn’t as nice as he seems.

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