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The Turkish coup is unlikely to have a clean outcome

Affairs in the country will now be determined by power alone. 

For anyone closely connected to Turkish politics, the British drama that has – to some extent rightly – been attached to the EU referendum had about it, at all times, a political equivalent of first world problems. As the Turkish military, on the night of 15 July, went about enacting its first coup since 1980, the sentiment could not be more overwhelming.

Information from Turkey is never reliable. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has long intimidated all factions of the media, eventually going on to seize those outlets that retained even the slightest trace of outspokenness. Whoever has control of communications, be it the government or the military, there is never any assumption of accuracy in official reporting. That a coup is never good, and always anti-democratic, goes without saying. It is no less true that the AKP party has disregarded all of the tenets of democracy apart from holding, by and large, fair elections in an otherwise fiercely anti-democratic state.

Many Turks will have wished for this moment, perhaps not quite expecting it to come, and not thinking fully of its consequences. The AKP is widely loathed, not by enough people to lose power at the ballot box, but certainly by sufficient numbers that many in Turkey will have cautiously wanted, if not a return to the days of coups, then at least the restoration of some powers that would have traditionally guarded its secular, republican state – founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1923 – from the erosion that the AKP has meted out against it. It is not an excuse for a military presence in politics, but it is nonetheless necessary that western audiences be conscious that the role of the Turkish military, paradoxically, was in part to protect a secular democracy.

Turkey’s significant diaspora – those living in London, in Berlin – now have a simpler time of it. It is easy to wish for the restoration of what you perceive to be good in your country, without the presence of camouflage and artillery on your streets and fighter jets flying overhead. Turkey itself is a nation of tribes and factions, and the AKP is by no means without supporters who would not ordinarily be averse to violence in the name of their chosen side. Whether that will be so in the face of a military presence and martial law, it remains to be seen. For those who are understandably quick to point out that a coup is always a political nadir, it is worth considering the effects of a police state where civilian law enforcement has, for many years, administered no lesser power than the military will now seek to. The word "coup" grips viscerally at us where a totalitarian state, observed from a distance, can seem stable no matter the chaos, violence and injustice it visits upon those living under it.

Both sides, neither with any commitment to democracy as it should be, will seek to claim the title of "democratic". But this will be for the view of the international community; the AKP will point to their democratic mandate, the military to their historical role as guardians of a democratic state. Affairs in Turkey will now, for a while, be determined by power alone. Erdogan, who has wielded power over so much media, has now addressed the nation via Skype and from a smartphone. This is as clear a statement as any that he has lost power. His incitation for his supporters to pour onto the streets (while he remains in a hidden location), is as typical of Turkish politics as it is unhelpful. The ideal scenario is a military intervention to safeguard a democratic state that had turned totalitarian, followed by a withdrawal and the return to power of a democratically elected government with their wings clipped; a restoration of rule of law, pluralism, rights, free speech - democracy as it should be. Whatever happens, it is unlikely to be so neat.

Julian Sayarer is cycling from London to Istanbul, he blogs at, follow him on Twitter @julian_sayarer.

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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.