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Leave Corbyn alone: an exploration of whiteness in politics and a call to action on the left

28 Jun 2016

The decision to leave the EU was met with disapproval and anger from both sides of the political spectrum. This inevitably led to the resignation of Cameron and pushed Boris into the top spot for the Conservative leadership. I take serious issue with the way the right-wing media will have you believe the stand-alone reason we left the EU was because of Corbyn’s alleged lack of commitment to the cause. The constant hassling and haggling of Corbyn is inappropriate and uncomfortable to watch.

Firstly, the EU referendum put Corbyn between a rock and a hard place. He needed the support of his party but has historically been skeptical of the EU. In the past he has often shared his Eurosceptic views, voted No on the Lisbon treaty and even in his April speech at Senate House he openly stated he has continued to be critical of many decisions taken by the EU”. He also said that it has a serious “lack of democratic accountability”. 

If there is anything we know about Corbyn it is that over his past 30 plus years in politic, his rhetoric has remained the same. He is undoubtedly a man of his word and commits to it. However, on this issue he willingly backtracked on his words and even deleted articles as under the current circumstances, he had to support the campaign to Remain. He was supported by 200 of his fellow Labour MPs whilst 10 planned on voting out. This is in stark contrast to the Conservative Party, which had more than 130 MPs who wanted Brexit – including 17 government ministers. Corbyn – 1 Tories – 0.

Yes, this election saw Labour lose support in many of their heartlands in the north east of England, like Sunderland and Middlesbrough but this was not a result of Corbyn’s leadership. I believe that it was more to do with Labour ignoring the silent white majority. Tristram Hunt, Labour’s MP for for Stoke-on-Trent Central, everso slightly scratched the surface of this issue in his new book about a need for a new sense of “radical patriotism” on the left. When I first read his piece in the Guardian and Labour List I scoffed and thought he was being ignorant, but the north east defying the Labour party line in the EU referendum and voting to leave was evidence of this.

The Labour party’s neglect of white working class individuals and the parties perceived “anti-English agenda” has not worked in their favour. This is not a Corbyn issue but rather a political issue. The same thing happens within American politics, and the latest NPR Code Switch podcast on whiteness in politics describes this very well. They explain  that in politics, “we’re not used to talking about white people as their own identity group” this makes it hard to engage some branches of white people into politics and pushes them into the hands of the Nigel Farage façade of the anti-establishment. They also talk about how “whiteness is everywhere and invisible all at once”. It establishes itself as the norm, whilst everything else is “other”. In politics race is what everyone who is non-white has, which means we don’t feel that we can analyse it in the same ways we can BME demographics

In addition to race, age played a huge role in the referendum. This election relied on the young to swoop in and save the day. Unfortunately, young people failed to show up at the booths and reportedly had the lowest turnout out of every age bracket. Polls before the referendum suggested that 75 percent of young people voted to stay in the EU, and had more young people turned out it could’ve been a game changer. This is upsetting, but this was not the fault of Corbyn. As it is widely known, young people love Corbyn and he engages more of them than most politicians do. What caused the low turnout was young people’s general dissatisfaction with the political system and politics in general; not to mention the poor political education in schools that has left many young people unsure about the issues surrounding the EU.

Lastly, if we insist on pointing fingers, the Conservative Party were truly the weakest link. More Conservatives voted Leave than voted to Remain, and the Leave campaign was headed up by prominent Tory officials playing on the fears and prejudices of white Britain. This, it can be argued, along with the tabloids, lead to an increasingly xenophobic attitude brewing within the general public. The vilification of Corbyn is yet another right-wing media ploy to paint the left as falling apart when in all honesty the reason we left the EU was more to do with a lack of cohesiveness on the right, little time invested in the silent white majority, and a disengaged youth.

Right now, It is more important that the left stand strong in the face of a potential election. The EU referendum has left us in an abysmal position but we have the opportunity to rebuild ourselves on a strong left agenda that seeks to support the most disadvantaged in society.