In the summer of 1975, Jeremy Corbyn, a little-known Labour Party council member in north London, voted for Britain to leave the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the European Union.
His reasons for wanting out were simple: Britain was losing its economic sovereignty, and the Labour Party’s key left-wing policies, such as nationalization, were incompatible with the EEC’s aims. Most of his fellow party members – and half of the then Labour government – voted the same way.
In the end, it was only the votes of supporters of Margaret Thatcher’s pro-European Conservative Party that kept Britain in the EEC. The “In” campaign won the referendum by a margin of 2 to 1.
Much has changed since then. Mr. Corbyn, now the leader of the Labour Party, is campaigning for a Remain vote in this week’s E.U. referendum, and it is his party’s 9 million supporters who will likely determine the outcome. But whether they will follow his lead is another matter.
With David Cameron’s Conservative Party tearing itself apart over Britain’s E.U. referendum vote, splits within the Labour Party have received much less attention.