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Stella Creasy: Labour is a party running on empty

It is unforgivable to have a leader who asked others to go on to the pitch over Brexit while he benched himself, says the Labour MP for Walthamstow.

Since last Thursday, my inbox has burned with anguish about the state of our nation and our politics. People fear splits that are not just geographical, but also between generations and income groups. These divisions exist everywhere – while I’m proud that Walthamstow voted two to one to stay in the EU, locally and nationally our success will depend on finding ways to rewrite what at present looks like a very bleak future. To stop despair curdling our capacity to achieve this, Labour must urgently offer a radical and distinctive response.

It would be easy in such circumstances to lapse into misery; to find someone or something to blame and luxuriate in the safety of opposition believing a scapegoat is enough. But now is the time to recognise our hunger for social justice demands we do more than wring our hands; not to think in abstracts, but to focus on finding direct and deliverable answers to the challenges we face. And above all, to stand for something, not just against something. To be against austerity, neoliberalism or corporations: this only describes what you want to stop, not what you will achieve. Hold a placard, tweet a slogan, buy the T-shirt if it helps, but if you want real change you have to be prepared to work at making it happen in detail as well as in hashtags. 

Britain is crying out for progressive and courageous change-makers to help put it back together. We need leadership which, in the negotiations ahead, knows why we fought to protect the rights we could lose by leaving the EU. We need leadership that also looks to the world to come and champions how we can co-operate across our communities, our country and our continent. At a time of whirlwind global economic change and social disruption, the UK has just set out its intent to cut itself off from the collective bargaining power of the European Union. Leaving or staying is no silver bullet  it only increases or reduces our options for action. With Britain this badly broken, we cannot shrink into holding repeated meetings about how we wish it were different. In an era when money, services and people move at rapid pace, the crisis Labour faces is about its very purpose, not just its people. We have to show we can lead the way in the world to come, not the world gone by.

Labour must again be a progressive party which has courage. Courage to say the world is a very different place and so our answers must change too including from those given by any previous Labour administration. To give everyone a real chance to succeed, our vision of the economy, of our public services, indeed, of our core mission, needs to be completely revised less focused on institutions, more rooted in networks of people working together to transform markets and communities than anything ever previously proposed. Not a movement trying to stop the pace of change, but one actively trying to hasten and shape it for the benefit of all. 

This would be hard work at the best of times; Labour is a party running on empty, with energy and ideas as well as organisation depleted. We have never been a cult, where everyone has to think the same or leave. As grown-ups, we are able both to have differences of opinion and to make compromises so together we can take action. Actions that every day show we seek power to speed up and strengthen our ability to achieve our goals and that we also refuse to wait until we hold office to get started on our ambitions for Britain.

I have never agreed completely with any leader whether on ID cards, going to war in Iraq or skirting the Financial Transaction Tax but I have always fought our corner. Labour needs each of us to put our very all – our 10 out of 10, not 7.5 into achieving our aims. Each of us asking the public to take sometimes difficult steps with us because we believe it is in the best interests of the country. That is why I have no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn any more. It is unforgivable to have a leader who, when faced with Brexit and the damage it could do, asked others to go on to the pitch while he benched himself.

Being half-hearted about key issues in a world this complex and challenging does little for those we care for most or to win the argument for progressive outcomes  as is now depressingly clear. The trolls and naysayers will stamp their feet whatever happens; it is our responsibility to chart a different course. Labour doesn’t just need new leadership, but also new passion and determination for social justice and social action. As these forces try to tear us apart, let us reject the politics of inertia. Let each of us work to bring Britain back together to face the 21st century with confidence, commitment and common cause.

Photo: Getty
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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.