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Is poverty and climate change more important than Brexit?

By Jack Hudson

In a speech at Scottish Labour’s annual conference, Jeremy Corbyn commented that the Labour party were not ‘obsessed with constitutional questions’ such as Brexit and Scottish independence like he believes the media and other parties are. He said that what Labour is obsessed with is ‘tackling problems in people’s daily lives’ and ‘making the currently better, fairer and more just’. He said that this commitment to back the working class is what drives Labour’s approach to Brexit- to seek a permanent customs union with the EU. However, he said that seeking this is not an end in itself and that Labour must focus on other things, such as environmental policy to make a positive difference for the future.

Some interpreted this as an attempt to shift the focus away from Labour’s Brexit divisions. Ian Murray, a Scottish Labour MP responded that Corbyn was wrong as ‘we can’t resolve these issues with Brexit because Brexit makes delivery of them that much harder. His timing is off. The most meaningful vote on Brexit, the biggest vote in parliamentary history, is next Tuesday. So we need laser-like focus on that, please – and the rest we can deal with later.’. However, this was in fact exactly Corbyn’s point, that a Labour Brexit could merely be a framework upon which a future Labour government could then work to deliver on its commitments.

It is somewhat true that issues such as poverty and the environment have been pushed aside by Brexit. However, since the referendum the media have focused on other issues. The Grenfell tower restarted many debates about austerity; there has been the Windrush scandal and the discussion around knife crime. To say that the issue of climate change has been pushed aside by Brexit would imply that government or media took the issue seriously before Brexit, which they did not. Our climate has never been given the focus it deserves, regardless of Brexit. The media’s coverage of Brexit has been intense. Many events have been said to be crucial and game-changing that have actually had little effect. We currently in the midst of a constitutional crisis, caused by the need to deal with a divisive issue with a deadline in a hung parliament. While reporting every aspect on this may not seem important, the media knows no better than politicians or the public what aspect of the story will finally lead to a solution.

Divisions within the Labour party on Brexit are real, and have led to a very confused policy on backing of a second referendum which is clearly not what Jeremy Corbyn himself wants. Corbyn’s behaviour such as originally rejecting meetings with Theresa May when she finally offered them and walking out of a meeting because of Labour-defector Chuka Umunna’s presence have been unpopular moves politically and unhelpful in trying to find a compromise deal. However, on this occasion Corbyn was right to draw attention to underlying and long term issues which do go far deeper than the current Brexit mess.

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