Dan Reast’s message to the Labour NEC on a pivotal moment for the party which will define its success for months or years to come: You have the keys to Number 10 in reaching distance – back Remain, and reject the politics of Brexit.
At the time of writing this, the much-publicised Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to decide on the manifesto for the European elections is hours away. All eyes are on this meeting, to decide on whether Labour will choose to fully back a second referendum, or slump into an ambiguous position. It’s a pivotal moment for the Labour Party – one which will define its success for months or years to come.
The European Parliament elections are now a certainty for political parties to campaign in. A lot of hype and glitz has been created over who is dipping into the custard, with a few ‘big names’ shining out. It feels like the parties are choosing to use these elections as a publicity tournament rather than a legally binding election.
For instance, the South West region is hotly tipped to be akin to the Battles episode of The Voice. Ann Widdecombe will be belting out a loose cover of Cher’s ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ with Andrew Adonis screeching to ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ by Baccara. Carl Benjamin, who is standing for the Utterly Kaput Intolerance Party (UKIP), is being uncovered by the press as a generally nasty man. Turns out if you run for public office, you’re bound to have skeletons forcibly removed from the closet. Or in Benjamin’s case a walk-in wardrobe.
But once again, the country is on the edge of its seat waiting for the Labour Party to make a decision. The fabric on the edge of my seat is getting worn down from the amount of times I’ve sat there. In this case, the NEC will have to finally decide whether it’ll unequivocally support a second referendum, or lie back in its chair and wait for the cinders to cool down. There’s been a visibly frantic effort from Labour Party members to influence this decision to fully back a referendum. Deputy Leader Tom Watson took to Twitter in desperation to ask (perhaps even beg) Labour members to appeal to their CLPs and appropriate representatives.
I attempted, but failed, to compile a full list of people, organisations, and backers who were calling on Labour to fully back a referendum. Going from an article by Labour List back in November last year, 89 MPs had openly declared their backing for a referendum, which included eight shadow ministers. In the second round of indicative votes, held on the 1 April, the Kyle-Wilson amendment which pushed for a referendum was backed by 203 Labour MPs, after the Shadow frontbench whipped in favour. 24 Labour MPs voted against the amendment, 14 chose to abstain. In a letter sent to the NEC, and coordinated by MPs Lloyd Russell-Moyle and Alex Sobel, the number of supporting MPs and MEPs is at 114.
In another pressure point, the International Commission of Labour’s National Policy Forum, an influential committee for Labour policy-making, voted unanimously to demand Labour pledge full support for a second referendum. This is not an insignificant development, as the forum is formed from a wide range of Labour movement sources including trade unions and constituency reps.
On Wednesday, all 22 Labour MEP candidates also voted unanimously to back a referendum. And in a surprise twist, Dave Prentis the general secretary of UNISON, called for any deal to be put to the country. This adds UNISON to a list of other trade unions including Community, the GMB, Usdaw, and as of yesterday, the TSSA. With trade unions forming such an important part of the Labour movement, both politically and culturally, this is an important message to the NEC.
Since the tragic murder of Belfast-born journalist Lyra McKee earlier this month, eyes have shifted to Northern Ireland’s sincerest movement of anger since the Good Friday Agreement. The outpouring of grief from across parties and countries has inspired an effort to rebuild trust, which culminated in formal power-sharing talks being rebooted. On the outskirts of this grief has been a clear message that Northern Ireland cannot be the chips gambled away for whatever Brexit is accomplished. Labour’s sister party in Northern Ireland, the SDLP, is backing a second referendum and former deputy first minister Seamus Mallon called the need for a new vote “absolutely essential”.
Yesterday, the Guardian published an astonishing letter organised by the Labour campaign group Love Socialism, Hate Brexit. The amassed signatories were from over 700 members of Labour, councillors, trade unions, and CLPs. There’s no longer any hiding the fact that Labour is critically ignoring its membership on the People’s Vote issue.
I read with dismay yesterday as the Young Labour rep on the NEC, Lara McNeill, wrote in a personal blog that remaining in the EU should be ruled out as an option. She states she did not mention Brexit in her election manifesto, and still won the position. To be the representative of young people and flat-out ignoring what they want is a hypocrisy I cannot entertain.
Last month, a poll organised by the anti-Brexit youth campaigns OFOC and FFS, found that 74% of new voters would back remain. 87% of those polled said they would take part in the referendum, were it to occur. So, for the Young Labour rep to deny young people a vote on their future, based on a decision they had no agency over, is unconscionable.
This NEC decision will be one which will define the Labour Party for a long time. People are comparing it to Blair’s Iraq War or Clegg’s tuition fees, and rightly so. If the Labour Party decide to adopt a full and unequivocal manifesto pledge for a second referendum, they will not only gain more voters from other parties, but retain the ones they would lose in the event of aiding Brexit. The question is whether the NEC would see this.
If the NEC rule for a muddy and ambiguous motion on the referendum, they’ll lose a mass of grassroots support. The biggest political party in the UK cannot afford to lose that vital geyser of support when election days arrive. And while many are believing the issue to be part of some ideological debate over Brexit vs Lexit, I’m more of the opinion that they face the same old crossroads from 2016: Leave or Remain.
Labour, you have the keys to Number 10 in reaching distance – back Remain, and reject the politics of Brexit.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)