With Tories deaf to Rory, and Corbyn rehashing Wilson, the Lib Dems should flourish even more

According to last night’s Newsnight, and Heather Stewart in the Guardian, Jeremy Corbyn told a very fractious shadow cabinet meeting that he was reading Harold Wilson’s memoirs as inspiration. Shadow ministers saw that as a signal that Corbyn, like Wilson, “is not ready to become a cheerleader” for EU membership. 

According to  those memoirs, published in  1986,  end in 1964, the year he became PM and  started grappling with the possibility of EEC accession which he asked for after vastly improving his government majority in 1966). 

In their book “Post-War Britain, 1945-1992” (Penguin Books, 1993), professors Sked & Cook tell us that Wilson as shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman  was “unenthusiastic” about the EEC and was “characteristically (..) content to follow rather than to lead”. Wilson wrote in 1962 that “a dying government doesn’t have the right (..) to take a divided nation into” the EEC.”

Andrew Marr (“A History of Modern Britain”; Pan/Macmillan, 2009, p. 295) writes about Wilsons opinion on the EEC in 1965: “the strongest view” he had about joining the EEC “was that he didn’t have a view”. And Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Wilson ) and Marr say Wilson never had a holiday on the continent; whereas his Tory successor Ted Heath had oodles of continental travels and ditto political conversations from the 1930’s onward (Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Heath ; and Marr, p. 295, 327). And Marr writes that Wilsons contribution to the 1975 EEC referendum was mumbling “vaguely in support, rather than actively making the European case” (p. 348).

You can see many similarities with Corbyn; the only difference is he never wrote that the dying May/Johnson government doesn’t have the right to push the divided UK out of the EU.

So we cannot possibly, ever expect any strong Remain endorsement from Wilsonite Corbyn.

On the other side we have Farage’s raging Brexit Party, and a field of four Tory leadership candidates with unicornish ideas of blackmailing, cajoling the EU (with threats of No Deal and no Severance payments) into a “good deal”. The only voice of reason and realism about that, Rory Stewart, stayed in as long as he was useful to push Raab out, and then was left dangling.

The threat of no severance payment if Brussels won’t drop (or limit) the Backstop isn’t credible. If Brussels doesn’t budge, and the UK stomps out with no deal and without paying, the EU surely will demand some atmosphere-improving payment before entering any negotiations about a Free Trade Agreement with the then suddenly flourishing, resurging yeah “triumphantly independent” United Kingdom (another Brexiteer opium pipe dream). And the UK needs the EU market more than the EU needs the British market. 

 And another thing: The difference how Brussels and Trump treat the NHS.  According to the Economist  Trump still wants to break into the NHS of that “independent” Britain. Europe has always co-operated with the NHS to serve British tourists, expats and Benidorm-based pensioners; no break-in in sight.

 With Corbyn equivocating about (and mistrusting) Brussels, and the Tories dreaming impossible dreams, the Liberal Democrats are bound to flourish further.

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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  • Laurence Cox 20th Jun '19 - 12:05pm

    Harold Wilson was famous for holidaying in the Scilly Isles. I think that he was always agnostic about the Common Market (as it was then) and placed party unity above the referendum result. Corbyn, on the other hand, has always been a Lexiteer and does not care if it destroys the Labour Party (as long as he can purge it of ‘Blairites’).

  • Bernard Aris 20th Jun '19 - 12:38pm

    @ Martin: Both Wilson and Corbyn are first and foremost Labour tribalists who want Europe to let Britain alone. Wilson was a Bevanite once (see his resignation under Attlee over fees for NHS glasses and dentures); and Marr, Sked and Cook tell of many duplicitous utterances, and acts, by Wilson. So the comparison is stronger than you think.

    Marr points out that Wilsons wife and his domineering livelong private secretary both voted to leave; he says that indicates what Wilson voted; so I’m not sure he was happy with the 1975 result.
    Fact is, by 1975-6, according to Marr, Wilson stopped caring about politics and simply wanted out; his docters had just told him he had Alzheimer in an early stage.

  • Bernard Aris 20th Jun '19 - 1:03pm


    Dutch Prime minister Rutte, talking to the BBC, hitting every unicornish weeze or trick Boris and his 3 minions (race competitors) are coming up with, straight out of the ball park, the way the English cricket captain scored a Hundred a couple of days ago.

    see https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-48703043

  • Christopher Haigh 20th Jun '19 - 4:07pm

    @BernardAris- Harold Wilson was an extremely well respected academic and wartime civil servant. He was also extremely personable. The common market entry was a Tory objective because they thought they would rule the roost in Europe. Many ‘agnostics’ of the Wilson ilk thought that the economies of the existing members were too similar to create an effective trading partnership and that our industrial economy was more suited to trading with the agricultural based commonwealth countries. As time progressed the European Union became much loved by liberal democrats and consequently much hated by conservative party members who hate anything socially liberal !

  • Richard Underhill 20th Jun '19 - 4:12pm

    GWYN WILLIAMS: During a war between Egypt and Israel Time magazine reported that a fighter jet had been hit over the Med. and landed on an aircraft carrier.
    The pilot was summoned to the bridge and told
    “What are you doing landing on my ship?!? The USA is NEUTRAL in this war!!!.”
    “Terribly sorry, I thought it was one of ours”.
    That is Chutzpah.

  • Bernard Aris. Your comments about our former Prime Minister Harold Wilson are a right wing tabloid caricature and far removed from the truth…… especially your comments on Mary Wilson and Marcia Williams.

  • Sorry Bernard, but if you knew anything about cricket you wouldn’t call it a ball park.

  • My biggest fear is that Labour pivot further to remain. If they stay where they are the Lib Dem’s can win lots of seats in places Labour won’t get near. I think we may need a remain pact.

  • Christian,
    I wouldn’t be to concerned about Labour pivoting, at the moment they are reminiscent of a clown car, any attempt to pivot will lead to the doors falling off and a large number of clowns falling out of the car. Remember they couldn’t even get enough Labour MP’s to vote to take no deal off the table.

  • @ Christian “My biggest fear is that Labour pivot further to remain. If they stay where they are the Lib Dem’s can win lots of seats in places Labour won’t get near. I think we may need a remain pact.”.

    Are you saying the most important thing is for the Lib Dems to win seats rather than for the UK to remain in the EU ?

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