PAUL MASON, a leading British journalist, commentator, film-maker and Labour Party member, spoke to Frontline at Parliament Square on the sidelines of a 10,000-strong demonstration held in support of Jeremy Corbyn even as the meeting to debate a no-confidence motion by the Labour Parliamentary Party was underway in Westminster.
How would you respond to criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, including that he sabotaged the Remain campaign because he is a closet Eurosceptic?
Our first problem was that we knew that the conservative Right in British politics wanted us to front a fundamentally dishonest campaign. That is the campaign the official Remain campaign ran, full of lies, full of fear tactics. Because we knew our own people, we knew they wouldn’t buy it. We wanted to persuade working-class people in small towns that they should remain and reform the E.U. [European Union]. You don’t do that by a slick, suited campaign, and you don’t do it by insulting their intelligence. Jeremy Corbyn fought his own campaign; he didn’t sabotage the other campaign, because we were acutely aware that the Tories would have loved it for Remain to win, and we take all the flak for our own members. That was the difference. So the accusations of sabotage could be the other way, although we are not into accusing anyone. We want to focus on the big picture, which is the dire situation for our country, when it has got no government and a massive economic crisis.
Did the Labour Party, Corbyn included, not see the depth of the anti-Westminster sentiment behind the Leave vote?
We knew it, we understood it. The problem is that even when you understand it, it is difficult to do stuff with people who are being bombarded every day with racist propaganda by the newspapers. We are a mass party of 400,000 people, but we still don’t have enough people to go into every pub, every workplace, every workers’ club and say: “This is wrong.” We don’t have that kind of strength—yet. So we knew what was going on. What surprised me though, and what I think swung it for Leave, was not what you might call small town, xenophobic people, because cities like Leicester, Sheffield and Birmingham, with large South Asian minorities, voted Leave. We think 30 per cent of South Asian people voted to leave. They too are sometimes driven by migration, because it is the Asian taxi driver against the Uber driver. We now find that the race to the bottom affects everybody. We, of course, need to find progressive and humane answers to the question of immigration. And remember, we didn’t even ask for a referendum; we didn’t want it, it wasn’t us who destroyed Britain’s relationship with Europe, and it wasn’t us who destroyed the U.K.—because that is the next thing that is going to happen.
Corbyn has said that poverty and low public investment in backward areas were the reasons people voted Leave.
That was the core of the Leave vote, but apart from that there was a left-wing Leave vote. I wasn’t part of it, but some left-wing people voted to leave. There were a few trade unions that wanted to leave as well for historical reasons. But, ultimately, this is not about the details of the campaign. This is about the fight. We could be in for an early election, by Christmas, and Jeremy Corbyn could win. So the forces of capital, the forces of big business, and corruption, I am afraid, have moved in, and they are going to fund a right-wing candidate against him. They want to destroy him.
What do you think is the outlook now for the country?
British society has been demonstrated to have split between what you may call an inward-looking group and an outward-looking group. My job as a socialist, a trade unionist and a humanitarian is that I must communicate with that inward-looking group. There have been some racist attacks and some other nasty stuff, but I don’t worry too much about that; it’s sporadic and small scale. What I worry about is what happens when Brexit goes wrong, when these 17 million people who have been told everything will be fine find out that it’s not fine. Then, we are facing a battle between the radical Left and a populist right wing that is going to really destroy our democracy if we let them.
What will happen if the Labour parliamentary group passes a vote of no confidence against Corbyn?
It won’t affect him. There is no legal status for a vote of no confidence. They can launch a leadership bid. They have to get 50 signatures for that. I think they will do that, and we will take them on. Either we will win or we don’t win. If we don’t win, I think it depends what kind of candidate they stand. If it is very clearly a right-wing, pro-business candidate, that will split the Labour Party.
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