Observations of an ex pat: Socialism vs Brexit

Boris Johnson made it clear. An election has been called to break the parliamentary deadlock on Brexit.  A “People v Parliament” poll.

Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn, however, appears to have failed to hear properly. In his opening salvo of the campaign battle he hardly mentioned Brexit. Instead the dyed-in-the-wool far-left Socialist took the opportunity to declare a class war on the “Establishment Elite.”

Corbyn is attempting to flip the 2019 election agenda away from Brexit in much the same way as he did in 2017.  This is for several reasons: 1- his party is hopelessly split on Brexit; 2- Corbyn’s plans to deal with Brexit are an inconsistent mish-mash 3- he needs an electoral platform that will appeal to both Leave and Remain Brexit voters and, finally, 4- the chaotic state of British politics offers  Jeremy Corbyn the best chance he has of ushering in the Socialist workers’ paradise that he has dreamt about for his entire political career.

The current disreputable state of British politics creates opportunities for demagogic figures to tout their over-simplified sound bite solutions to complex issues. What could be more simple – or divisive–than a clarion call to class war.?

On the other extreme end of the political spectrum sits a prime minister who appears determined to replicate the 17th century battle between the executive and parliament.  After a series of civil wars and a Glorious Revolution that battle ended with the establishment of parliamentary sovereignty. The 2016 referendum was not the “will of the people”. It was a narrow victory for an ill-conceived exit from Europe without due regard to the consequences. The country remains hopelessly divided on the issue and the parliament which Boris Johnson disdainfully dismisses is a reflection of that division– as it should be.

As well as demonstrating almost total contempt for British constitutional processes and the law, the prime minister has been caught in a tangled web of incompetence, misinformation, deceit and outright lies in and out of office.  One of his biggest is that lost European trade will be more than compensated for by a massive boost in trade with the United States—a porky that was blown out of the water by his erstwhile friend Donald Trump even before the campaign officially started.

As the two traditional main parties race to the extreme opposing ends of the political spectrum, they leave the usually fruitful centre ground unguarded. In theory this presents a huge opportunity for smaller political parties with a clear message and consistent policy to break through the barrier of the first past the post electoral system—ie the Liberal Democrats and Brexit Party who offer a clear choice from opposing ends of the Brexit divide.

But does it? The polls show that after three and a half years the pro and anti-Brexit divide is as wide as ever. But at the same time, there appears to be a growing feeling that the electorate is sick of the Brexit debate. They so desperately want a resolution that they may simply force a shift in the political agenda by demanding a focus on issues such as the NHS, austerity, social services, police numbers and crime at the expense of the Brexit-oriented parties. If so, the two main parties will benefit; Labour with its radical socialist agenda and the Conservatives with their quick-fix EU Withdrawal Bill.

But there is no guarantee that either the Labour or Conservatives’ electoral strategy will succeed. They have the money. But the political turmoil, indecision, division and incredibly high stakes makes the 12 December 2019 the most important and unpredictable for generations.


* American expat journalist Tom Arms is a regular contributor and author of the forthcoming book “America: Made in Britain.”

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Peter Martin 2nd Nov '19 - 12:54pm

    We’ll no doubt read lots more disapproving comments and posts on the question of Labour’s supposed extreme left stance.

    I’m never quite clear exactly what policies are being objected to. Can anyone be more specific? This is a genuine question BTW.

  • Surely the political conversation moving to non-Brexit topics should be an opportunity for the Lib Dems to say “also, we have good policies here, too” and win that way as well – or is the *intent* to be seen as a single issue party?

    This article feels like the author has no confidence in the Lib Dem’s policy on anything outside Brexit to be attractive to the electorate … and with MPs holding five year terms, that’s a problem.

  • Tom Arms…………………….Corbyn is attempting to flip the 2019 election agenda away from Brexit in much the same way as he did in 2017………………

    And why not? As far as I’m concerned the NHS, Welfare, Housing, etc. is of far greater import that a ‘Brexit’ which should’ve been settled by a “Johnson’s deal or Remain” referendum rather than a GE which could see ‘Leave’ pushed through on a one seat Tory/Brexit party majority.

    This party, of course can only fight on a ‘Remain’ ticket as its, and Jo Swinson’s, record on Housing, Welfare, Benefits is hardly ‘liberal’.

  • The late Charles Kennedy could be described as left-wing. Vince Cable was originally from that political background too. So it doesn’t help getting hung up on labels. Certainly during the Blair years (circ. 2003 -2005 – iraq) many on the dovish left flocked to the Lib Dems.

    it’s yet to be seen what’s in Labour’s manifesto of course, but let’s not have opposition for opposition’s sake. Labour and the Lib Dems need to cooperate where there is policy overlap.

    it’s almost certain for instance, that had a traffic light coalition (Red, Yellow and Green) been viable after 2010’s election, it would have resulted in far more of what Lib Dem supporters desire than the coalition with the Tories produced. The Tories reneged on House of Lords reform after promising support as a quid pro-quo for Lib Dem support for Andrew Lansley’s controversial NHS reforms. And Cameron campaigned against modest voting system reform – the non-proportionate, but nevertheless improvement over FPTP, that is,was AV, this despite an assurance he would stay neutral.

  • I’m afraid I find the general tenor of Mr Arms article deeply depressing. It consists entirely of knocking copy typical of the Tory tabloids.

    It focuses on Brexit as the be all and end all of politics (yes, as a Remainer I know it’s important). But it leaves a vacuum on all other policies to do with health, education, welfare, social care, employment rights etc. etc., or anything else of a generous radical spirit.

    I’m sorry but Mr Arms gives no positive reasons whatsoever to vote Liberal Democrat. If the generality of the party continue to campaign like this they will find support melting away.

  • Laurence Cox 2nd Nov '19 - 6:10pm

    @Peter Martin

    While Corbyn undoubtedly has some good policies, like all new houses being zero-carbon by 2022, policies like re-nationalising the railways and the Royal Mail will take up Parliamentary time without doing anything to stop climate change. Apart from stopping Brexit, the next Government should be concentrating on legislation to kick-start the Green New Deal.

  • Billle Breton 2nd Nov '19 - 6:13pm

    The urgent priority is to stop Johnson’s Brexit and that means focusing as much attention as possible on this report detailing its effects over the next ten years: https://www.niesr.ac.uk/media/niesr-press-release-uk-economy-35-cent-smaller-under-latest-brexit-deal-13975

    If Johnson wins, with or without the help of any Brexit Party votes, everything else goes by the board.

    How is our Party going to do its bit in bringing a search light to the details of the deal? Is this a job for Ed to concentrate on? Should our social media campaign focus on it?

    Johnson will do all he can to deflect attention elsewhere. Not sure we can reply on Labour. Certainly doubt print and broadcast journalists will be successful.

    Read the report. Take a fact from it each day over the next fortnight – anyone will do – and share that fact among your ‘contacts’ and in every forum you visit.

    In no election before has each Lib Dem member or supporter had the power to spread a message further than the road or the neighbourhood or the Town they live in.

    Your address book will reach to the corners of the country and from those contacts to their contacts. And given the way social media works the noise we create will change the very algos that prioritise the subjects of the nation’s agenda.

    Let’s use that power.

  • I was very comfortable with Corbyn’s speech on policy, most of which seemed moral and just. I’m not about to join labour or help them, but also won’t respond well to people telling me what to think – I know common sense when I hear it. I also revile the attempts of the right to paint Corbyn as unpatriotic – he may well want to tear down parts of the establishment and threatened some people’s sense of entitlement to join privilege, but he is not unpatriotic.

  • My dislike of Jeremy Corbyn has little to do with policy. Yes it is true that many of the individual Labour policies are good aspirations – though it is worth mentioning that Labour have no solidly costed plans to pay for them, and that they are basically still a pro-Brexit party, and as we know any form of Brexit will hit the economy hard and reduce the amount of money for public investment.
    But aside from all of that, my main complaint against JC is something that has not been mentioned in this thread: Labour’s anti-Semitism problem. This is something he has totally failed to manage. He seems either unable or unwilling to do so, and this alone makes him unfit to be Prime Minister and his party unfit to be in government. We should be making this point loud and clear, much more often than we do.

  • Denis Mollison 3rd Nov '19 - 8:49am

    Before you repeat the accusations of anti-semitism against Labour please look at the evidence, e.g. https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/statement/rebuttals/
    .. which suggest that what is going on is a highly successful campaign by supporters of the current Israeli government to confuse anti-zionism with anti-semitism.

  • @Denis Mollison. JVL is an extremist fringe group within the Labour party. That article/polemic was itself unpleasant to read, and seems to rely mainly on excuses of the “present but not involved” variety. Hard to believe that I’m having to argue on a LibDem website that there is an AS issue in the Labour party, but there you go.

  • If you are at the point of preparing a multi point brief for canvassers I’d suggest you have a problem.

  • David Evans 3rd Nov '19 - 10:31am

    Billie Breton – Your point is well made, but it sadly exemplifies how unorganised we still are as a party at a national level. We need tens of thousands of Lib Dems to Facebook, Tweet, e-mail, What’s App every day with key messages to get it out in the public domain.

    However, despite many individual Lib Dems posting here and elsewhere that we need to do it and pointing out its power, we have not done it once. Why? Because it is not organised. I have been urging the party to organise a concerted approach to online campaigning for years and still we don’t have one. Instead too many of us simply urge individual Lib Dems to do something.

    It hasn’t worked despite a decade of lots of individuals trying this approach. I wonder when we will begin to realise it won’t ever work for us unless we are willing to get organised.

  • Charles Smith 3rd Nov '19 - 8:13pm

    Britain’s election campaign heated up Sunday even before it officially started, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he would apologize to Conservatives for failing to take the U.K. out of the European Union by Oct. 31 and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage saying he won’t personally run for a seat in Parliament.

    Johnson’s promise to have Britain leave the bloc by Oct. 31 had been his central platform in the party leadership competition that brought him to power in July.

  • Denis Mollison 3rd Nov '19 - 8:48pm

    If you disagree with me, how about some reasoned arguments?
    Throwing around words like “extremist” and “unpleasant” doesn’t cut it.
    Just what part of the fact-based, politely argued case put by JVL do you find unpleasant and extreme?

  • Well Denis, your document doesn’t get far before referring to “Blairite Luciana Berger, who later joined the LibDems.” If you think that is politely argued then I think we have different reference points. In the language of the Labour left, this is the most vicious kind of attack they can make. A serious document committed to presenting evidence would not use that kind of language. And of course they make no mention at all of WHY Luciana left their party, which I think would have been relevant.
    Now, sorry to disappoint you but I have no intention of going through a protracted debate about whether Labour has an anti-Semitism problem. I feel like it would be arguing that water flows downhill.
    But I do think it’s worth making clear to any Jewish people reading this that the LibDems absolutely believe there is a big problem with AS in the Labour party. Mr Mollison is speaking for himself, not this party.

  • “While Corbyn undoubtedly has some good policies, like all new houses being zero-carbon by 2022, policies like re-nationalising the railways and the Royal Mail will take up Parliamentary time without doing anything to stop climate change. Apart from stopping Brexit, the next Government should be concentrating on legislation to kick-start the Green New Deal.”

    British Rail was the most efficiently run rail system in Western Europe when the Tories started their privatisation disaster. Bringing it back will make the railways more efficient, reduce fares and encourage the use of public transport.

    Besides which, not everything is about climate change. Especially when the UK represents a tiny fraction of greenhouse gas emissions, so can’t do much about it anyway.

  • Denis Mollison 4th Nov '19 - 9:40am

    You still don’t seem prepared to try to understand the arguments of what you’re reading. The relevance of Luciana being/having been “Blairite” is to place her within internal Labour politics; it’s no more a “vicious attack” than calling someone within the Lib Dems an “Orange Booker”.

    You also seem determined to personalise what should be a debate of facts and ideas. The link I gave is not “your document” – I had nothing to do with preparing it and have no connection with the organisation that did. And your last para is not in the friendly tradition of LDV debate.

    I am not the only longstanding LD member deeply troubled by widespread acceptance within our party of the notion that Labour is more infected with AS than other parties or the general population, which seems largely if not wholly to arise from confusion of AS with anti-zionism. If our party has now come to “absolutely believe” things without being prepared to look at the evidence it is a sad day for it.

  • Peter Martin 4th Nov '19 - 9:59am

    ” re-nationalising the railways and the Royal Mail will take up Parliamentary time….”

    OK. It’s perhaps natural that a more right wing party might disagree with the Labour Party on the question of nationalisation. But, I still don’t see how this justifies comments such as “far-left Socialist took the opportunity to declare a class war on the ‘Establishment Elite.'”

  • Rodney Watts 4th Nov '19 - 6:21pm

    @TonyH @Denis Mollison
    As a Jewish LibDem I am touched by Tony’s concern over AS, but Denis is speaking the truth. As indicated in a number of other comments there are a number of policies that we LibDems can find common cause with Labour. Having joined the Liberals from Labour in 1970 I can remember ‘Lib-Lab packs’ and in the Blair era we were to the left of Labour in some areas. It seems to me now, as much as any at time we should guard possibilities of future cooperation in certain areas.

    Jeremy Corbyn is clearly the leader that we would not desire, but Tony, a number of Jews in JVL have criticised him for not pushing back strongly enough against the false accusations of AS. (Of course there have been a few genuine cases). I know quite a few members of JVL as we are among the over 2000 signatories to Jews for Justice for Palestinians. We also have a deep concern for left wing/liberal Jews in Israel. I reckon at least 150 are members of JVL – hardly a fringe.

    Of course, as a party we should point out errors and disadvantages with our opponents, whilst pushing our own policies. However, many of the electorate are also looking for integrity. There are also Jews who have recently experienced fear through false accusation of AS. Yes, the Labour Party has been reported to the EHRC for alleged
    institutional AS, but I recommend a read of JVL’s submission https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/statement/ehrc-investigation-into-the-labour-party-evidence-of-jewish-voice-for-labour/
    Note that the 24 signatories include Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC and Naomi Wayne who was The Equality Commission’s Enforcer for N.I. Also Appendix 4 is 143 Jewish Labour testimonies. I recently heard from the EHRC that it is a very complex and difficult case needing much consideration. We do need to be cautious with accusation.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Nov '19 - 12:06pm

    A General Election is a lousy way of solving the most important constitutional issue of a generation. We should be shouting this at every opportunity. Only another referendum will solve the issue. We should be reluctant participants in a travesty of our democracy. All paths lead to Brexit whether JC and BJ like it or not.

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