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John Lewis is the model British firm – so can Brexiteers please explain why it's suffering?

John Lewis looks after its staff and has a proud British history. It's been struggling since Brexit. 

After Brexit, many on the left argued that the surprise result had revealed a progressive blindspot. Fears about immigration and the European Union, so the argument went, were actually a profound reaction to the driving down of wages by low-paid immigrants, as well as a wider reaction to the forces of globalisation. 

As far as the model post-Brexit company goes, then, John Lewis is perfect. It's a British firm with a proud history, but it is also a company that looks after its staff. All 84,000 permanent staff are partners in the business, with a stake in the John Lewis department stores, Waitrose supermarkets and other assets, and receive a generous cash bonus. Theresa May might have shied away from the idea of workers on boards, but John Lewis already does it. 

So the fact John Lewis's profits before tax were down 53.3 per cent in the six months to 29 July 2017 should worry Brexiteers. While John Lewis said the slump in profits was partly down to an internal shake-up, it also blamed "inflationary pressures driven by exchange rates and political uncertainty". 

Sterling took a nose dive on 24 June 2016 and has not really recovered since. The Lexiteer theory is that more expensive imports should encourage manufacturing at home. But this did not happen the last time sterling took a tumble, after 2008, and at the moment, the most obvious impact of weaker sterling is rising prices. In an age of specialisation, even domestic manufacturers rely on complex supply chains, with individual components imported from abroad. In August, UK inflation jumped to 2.9 per cent - a four year high. 

Political uncertainty, too, seems to be affecting our buying behaviour. While consumer confidence recovered after the Brexit vote, it has since drifted back downward, according to the GfK survey. House price growth is slowing. Some may celebrate this fact, but a sudden crash is unlikely to benefit anyone except wealthy property investors who can afford to bide their time. 

John Lewis said in its latest results that it has continued to increase pay, to £8.87 an hour for non managers - £1.37 more than the government's own touted minimum wage hike. It would be an odd irony of Brexit if the firms that get squeezed the most are the ones apparently most in line with the ideals of the Brexiteers in the first place. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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Jeremy Corbyn supporters should stop excusing Labour’s anti-immigration drift

The Labour leader is a passionate defender of migrants’ rights – Brexit shouldn’t distract the new left movement from that.

Something strange is happening on the British left – a kind of deliberate collective amnesia. During the EU referendum, the overwhelming majority of the left backed Remain.

Contrary to a common myth, both Jeremy Corbyn and the movement behind him put their weight into a campaign that argued forcefully for internationalism, migrants’ rights and regulatory protections.

And yet now, as Labour’s policy on Brexit hardens, swathes of the left appear to be embracing Lexit, and a set of arguments which they would have laughed off stage barely a year ago.

The example of free movement is glaring and obvious, but worth rehashing. When Labour went into the 2017 general election promising to end free movement with the EU, it did so with a wider election campaign whose tone was more pro-migrant than any before it.

Nonetheless, the policy itself, along with restricting migrants’ access to public funds, stood in a long tradition of Labour triangulating to the right on immigration for electorally calculated reasons. When Ed Miliband promised “tough controls on immigration”, the left rightly attacked him.  

The result of this contradiction is that those on the left who want to agree unequivocally with the leadership must find left-wing reasons for doing so. And so, activists who have spent years declaring their solidarity with migrants and calling for a borderless world can now be found contemplating ways for the biggest expansion of border controls in recent British history – which is what the end of free movement would mean – to seem progressive, or like an opportunity.

The idea that giving ground to migrant-bashing narratives or being harsher on Poles might make life easier for non-EU migrants was rightly dismissed by most left-wing activists during the referendum.

Now, some are going quiet or altering course.

On the Single Market, too, neo-Lexit is making a comeback. Having argued passionately in favour of membership, both the Labour leadership and a wider layer of its supporters now argue – to some extent or another – that only by leaving the Single Market could Labour implement a manifesto.

This is simply wrong: there is very little in Labour’s manifesto that does not have an already-existing precedent in continental Europe. In fact, the levers of the EU are a key tool for clamping down on the power of big capital.

In recent speeches, Corbyn has spoken about the Posted Workers’ Directive – but this accounts for about 0.17 per cent of the workforce, and is about to be radically reformed by the European Parliament.

The dangers of this position are serious. If Labour’s leadership takes the path of least resistance on immigration policy and international integration, and its support base rationalises these compromises uncritically, then the logic of the Brexit vote – its borders, its affirmation of anti-migrant narratives, its rising nationalist sentiment – will be mainlined into Labour Party policy.

Socialism in One Country and a return to the nation state cannot work for the left, but they are being championed by the neo-Lexiteers. In one widely shared blogpost on Novara Media, one commentator even goes as far as alluding to Britain’s Road to Socialism – the official programme of the orthodox Communist Party.

The muted and supportive reaction of Labour’s left to the leadership’s compromises on migration and Brexit owes much to the inept positioning of the Labour right. Centrists may gain personal profile and factional capital when the weaponising the issue, but the consequences have been dire.

Around 80 per cent of Labour members still want a second referendum, and making himself the “stop Brexit” candidate could in a parallel universe have been Owen Smith’s path to victory in the second leadership election.

But it meant that in the summer of 2016, when the mass base of Corbynism hardened its factional resolve, it did so under siege not just from rebelling MPs, but from the “Remoaners” as well.

At every juncture, the strategy of the centrist Labour and media establishment has made Brexit more likely. Every time a veteran of the New Labour era – many of whom have appalling records on, for instance, migrants’ rights – tells Labour members to fight Brexit, party members run a mile.

If Tony Blair’s messiah complex was accurate, he would have saved us all a long time ago – by shutting up and going away. The atmosphere of subterfuge and siege from MPs and the liberal press has, by necessity, created a culture of loyalty and intellectual conformity on the left.

But with its position in the party unassailable, and a radical Labour government within touching distance of Downing Street, the last thing the Labour leadership now needs is a wave of Corbynite loyalty-hipsters hailing its every word.

As the history of every attempt to form a radical government shows, what we desperately need is a movement with its own internal democratic life, and an activist army that can push its leaders as well as deliver leaflets for them.

Lexit is no more possible now than it was during the EU referendum, and the support base of the Labour left and the wider party is overwhelmingly in favour of free movement and EU membership.

Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott are passionate, principled advocates for migrants’ rights and internationalism. By showing leadership, Labour can once again change what is electorally possible.