The Tory party is in crisis. Half of its MPs, at least six cabinet ministers—plus Boris Johnson—and nearly all the Conservative-backing press oppose David Cameron on the European Union (EU) referendum.
This is a deeper split than the ones in the 1990s over Europe that splintered the Tory government of John Major.
This is Labour’s chance. But it is throwing it away. The “Labour In For Britain” campaign is a long way from the politics represented by Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader.
Its Blairite figurehead Alan Johnson argues that staying in the EU is the “real patriotic choice”.
He sounded more like Cameron than Corbyn, with big talk about confronting crime, terrorism and Russia—and “keeping our borders secure”, presumably from refugees.
Corbyn voted against the EU’s forerunner, the Common Market, in 1975. His views against war, racism and austerity have seen him criticise the EU. But, faced with a shadow cabinet mutiny, he is campaigning to remain in it.
Unity with the Labour right—that brought us the Iraq war, austerity-lite and racist scapegoating—comes at a cost.
Corbyn rightly slammed Cameron’s “dangerous” attempt to restrict EU migrants’ benefits—but only by ceding too much ground to the myths used to justify them.
He warned that Cameron’s deal “will do nothing to cut inward migration to Britain” or stop firms “using cheap labour to undercut British workers”.
This wasn’t enough to appease his critics. The Tory Telegraph newspaper’s pet Blairite Dan Hodges said Corbyn’s “policy of granting migrants unlimited access to those benefits” would see Labour “electorally torn to shreds”.
But it undermines the movement against the racism and razor wire which see thousands trapped in misery in Calais or drowning in the Aegean Sea.
Corbyn’s first act as Labour leader was to stand with that movement on a mass demonstration to welcome refugees. But it is harder to do that at the same time as defending an EU that is putting up fences to stop them.
On Tuesday the government reiterated plans to ram through a four-year freeze on benefits. It will hit more than 7 million children living in low-income families. We need to wage war on the Tories, not to support them.
Though the polls are volatile, it’s clear Cameron can’t win the referendum for the bosses’ EU and against his own party without Labour’s help.
Labour already saved his bacon once during the Scottish independence referendum. It got badly punished as a result of supporting the Tories and is still on life support there.
After the hope brought by Corbyn’s election as leader, it is criminal to repeat that mistake.