When Corbyn got elected as Labour leader in September 2015, I thought at the very least we’d get to see what opposition unhinged and unsullied by compromise would look like. I knew I would probably disagree with a lot of Corbyn’s policies, but I did have to admit that watching someone say previously unsayable things from a left-wing position would be exciting to watch. When Corbyn first refused to sing the national anthem, I got butterflies in my stomach: he would have no choice but to tell the nation that the reason he wouldn’t sing “God Save the Queen” is because he doesn’t believe in the monarchy and thinks Britain should be a Republic. I awaited the subsequent shit storm eagerly.
Then Corbyn said nothing to the press, leaving John McDonnell to come up with some crap about how Corbyn was too moved by the event to remember the words or something. It was the first sign that Corbyn would run his leadership just like any other politician. Only much, much more incompetently.
Since then, he’s twisted and turned on almost everything. But there were two issues upon which he disagreed with the majority of the PLP that he had stuck steadfastly to his guns on: Trident renewal and freedom of movement of people. He has now backtracked in rather spectacular fashion on the latter in a speech today.
“Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle. But nor can we afford to lose full access to the European single market on which so many British businesses and jobs depend. Changes to the way migration rules operate from the EU will be part of the negotiations. Labour supports fair rules and reasonably managed migration as part of the post-Brexit relationship with the EU.”
That, dear friends, is from the mouth of Jeremy Corbyn himself. In case you are trying to remember what he might have previously said on this subject, let’s review.
“It isn’t migrants that drive down wages, it’s exploitative employers and the politicians who deregulate the labour market and rip up trade union rights. It isn’t migrants who put a strain on our NHS, it only keeps going because of the migrant nurses and doctors who come here filling the gaps left by politicians who have failed to invest in training. It isn’t migrants that have caused a housing crisis; it’s a Tory government that has failed to build homes.”
“A Labour government will not offer false promises on immigration as the Tories have done. We will not sow division by fanning the flames of fear.”
That was from Corbyn’s conference speech, a little over three months ago. The amazing thing about this latest turn is that it is both a folding on previously dearly held principle and really bad politics. Does Labour as a collective really think having Corbyn trot out mealy mouthed statements about immigration control is really going to get all those ex-Labour Leave voters back behind the party? Or that Corbyn going on Radio 4 and having real trouble remembering what his current line on immigration is supposed to be today will stem the rise of UKIP and even the Tories in Labour held northern seats?
All today’s announcement will do is make Corbyn look more confused and inept and make the Liberal Democrats seem more appealing to those on the Left animated by this issue. I keep thinking Labour have hit the nadir in regards to Brexit positioning, but they always find a way to make their situation worse somehow.