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Editorial: Beware misleading narratives on Labour

AS LABOUR’S national executive meets tomorrow the members of Europe’s largest political party should heed MSP Neil Findlay’s warning that the constant stream of negative publicity is a bid to “attack and undermine the Labour Party.”

Findlay’s clash with former party adviser Ayesha Hazarika saw the latter express views promoted day-in day-out by most of the media, not questioning a narrative that the party is “riddled with anti-semitism” despite statistical evidence showing that Labour members are less likely to hold anti-semitic views than the public at large or indeed Conservative Party members.

She echoes the media narrative on Labour’s position on the EU as well, saying that the party does “not have any position on Brexit” when its conference-agreed position is fairly straightforward.

The fact that both the major attack lines against Corbyn are thrown at the same time serves to underline Findlay’s point. There are Labour Party members who are genuinely concerned about anti-semitism in the movement and there are members who are sympathetic to Corbyn and passionately oppose Brexit. 

But the high-profile weaponisation of both issues is mostly being driven by the same individuals and the endgame is the same — to stop Corbyn becoming prime minister and preventing the election of “the most transformative government we’ve had since 1945,” in Findlay’s words.

Momentum activist Holly Rigby made a convincing case today that a second referendum could mean the end of the Corbyn project even if Labour won an election. But winning that election would be far harder if Labour decide to take on the Tories as the party of Remain.

Remain supporters claim that the public’s position has shifted significantly on Brexit, but evidence suggests otherwise. 

The European elections were a disaster for Labour and the Tories, but the Brexit Party topped the poll. Arguments that if you compile all the pro-Remain parties’ votes they outmatch the Leave ones depend on how you define those categories. Even if Labour is counted as a Remain party for the sake of the experiment, the difference in tallies is marginal and becomes meaningless when we consider that two-thirds of eligible voters stayed away.

There is a concurrent retrospective attempt to claim Labour’s massive advance in the 2017 general election, when it received its biggest vote increase since 1945, was because it was seen as backing Remain. 

But Labour was distinguished in that election by being the party that talked about issues other than Brexit. The Greens, Scottish Nationalists and Liberal Democrats went in on an emphatic Remain ticket and all saw their vote share drop. 

By contrast, the Conservatives were saved by being the party most associated with Leave, increasing their vote share despite having few other policies. While YouGov’s assessment of voters’ motivations the week after the election showed Brexit as the number one concern of Conservative voters, the top three motives for Labour voters were its socialist manifesto, opposition to the Tories and support for Corbyn.

Labour’s polling was dire at the beginning of that election campaign. Constant media misrepresentation does work. But in the course of the campaign it was able to get millions of people engaged with its practical plans to transform our country. 

Those plans are developing all the time — since then the party has fleshed out its vision of empowering working people through enforcing sectoral collective bargaining, addressing climate change with its green industrial revolution, installation of solar panels on two million homes and reshaping of a new National Grid in public ownership, most recently shaking up the Treasury so it better serves the interests of the whole country.

Since these issues get little to no airtime compared to the media’s preferred fixations, Labour’s transformative vision is struggling to cut through. Promoting it must become a task for our whole movement. It could take years or decades for the left to recover if we fail.

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