Labour Remainers’ dismissal of our working class supporters is deeply dangerous

Fighting a culture war will separate the party from its social roots and lose it seats vital for a majority. 

NS

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Paul Mason argues his corner well, but really needs to stop being so dismissive of opposing views. In his recent New Statesman article he attacks all shades of left opinion which do not back his analysis of Brexit. 

He is simply wrong to cite Ford Bridgend, Honda Swindon and British Steel in Scunthorpe, none of these problems are caused by Brexit, any more than the many car factories and steel works shut over the last 40 years were closed because of the UK’s EU membership. The free market and right-wing governments are the problem.

My comments on The Andrew Marr Show evidently touched a raw nerve with Mason — he can dish it out but not, it seems, take it. Let me make it clear that I have no problem with Mason being a “remainer”.  Everyone is entitled to change their mind and converts are often the most zealous.

I do have two problems with his argument, however. Firstly, he writes off politically many working class areas which he sees as lost to a nationalism that can no longer be part of his progressive, radical coalition. They should be left to their presumed bigotry while we concentrate our efforts on the big cities.

This dismissing of class in favour of a culture war is deeply dangerous. It creates a vacuum to be filled, perhaps permanently, by the real racists within our society. It separates Labour from much of its social roots. And it will lose us constituencies vital for a Labour majority, without securing compensating gains elsewhere.

Mason says the backbone of Labour is our membership and he holds a low opinion of trade unions, another part of Labour’s historic coalition. We shall see what the party’s views on Brexit are following the consultation currently being carried out by Jeremy Corbyn, but surely the millions of working people who have supported Labour for a century, including the ones Mason now dismisses, also have a claim to be the “backbone” of Labour.

The second issue I have is with his call for those working for Corbyn to be sacked for allegedly stopping the leader from leading as Mason thinks he wants to. 

Does he not realise how offensive that is to Corbyn? It plays into the narrative of the right-wing media and MPs who promote the image of a weak leader. The truth, of course, is that nobody stops Jeremy from doing what he wants; he is a strong leader — no other sort could have survived the pressures of the last four years. That’s why he won’t be bounced or bullied into any position until he has completed his consultation with all parts of our movement.

That’s the correct course to take because discussion, debate and dialogue are essential in trying to see if there is a mechanism to maintain the coalition that came so close to victory just two years ago.

There are two narratives, both legitimate, being promoted. One holds that the only way Labour can win a snap general election is to become an out-and-out “Remain” party. The other says that to do so would destroy Labour supporting the north and elsewhere while failing to secure vital marginals — 55 of the party’s 75 targets are “Leave” seats and, therefore, Labour should uphold its 2017 manifesto commitment to respect the 2016 referendum result by negotiating a deal that can unite the country.

Paul Mason is wrong to suggest my “annoyance” will intensify if Labour becomes an unambiguous remain party.  Providing a proper debate takes place in the manner I’m hoping for, Unite will support the party’s final position. Loyalty and self-discipline is in our bones. I commend the same virtues to all commentators.

Len McCluskey is general secretary of Unite.