Echoes of the 1970s and 1980s as Labour MPs choose to indulge in opposition

Purists and clever theorists are putting what they wrongly see as their interests above those of the

If the latest reports are correct, the Liberal Democrats are now swinging back to the Conservatives, with whom they may even strike a deal today. If that is the case, and the progressive alliance representing the progressive majority in the UK is to go down as nothing more than a dream, there is one group to blame above all others: those Labour MPs who are giving up and backing a Tory government.

One senior back-channel negotiator for the prog-alliance tells me: "They want to go into opposition. It reminds me of 1979, when Labour thought it was better to go into opposition because it thought Margaret Thatcher would be in for a short period while it regrouped -- and then, 18 years later . . ."

Throughout the 1980s, there were still some who sought ideological purity over a compromise with the electorate. Labour figures who want to go into opposition to "renew" are a combination of purists on the left and figures on the right who either are driven by their hatred of Gordon Brown or take part in clever-clever discussions about seminars instead of recognising their duty to govern. From a Labour point of view, after all, surely it is better for the country to have Labour cuts inflicted on it, rather than Tory cuts.

But these MPs appear to prefer what they (probably wrongly) perceive as their own, short-term interests to those of the country.

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.