Today, the Labour campaign for the EU elections was officially launched, and Jeremy Corbyn finally showed that Labour was committed to delivering Brexit. However, this tactic of playing the room will have disastrous consequences for the beleaguered party. Daniel Reast reports on Labour’s gamble.
It finally happened. Commentators, journalists and political analysts alike have been waiting for today’s speech by the Leader of the Opposition. By announcing that Labour is a pro-Brexit party, it has vindicated many who for months have held cynical judgements over the party’s Brexit policy. Remainers have hoped and prayed for Labour to see the light. Alas, the tactics are far from affable.
Jeremy Corbyn repeats his Brexit policy like a broken record, with very little in the way of concrete policy. A permanent customs union, single market ‘alignment’ (whatever that means), and protections for the environment and workers’ rights. The speech today however read more like a chance for Corbyn to flex his muscles on a domestic agenda rather than the issue of Brexit and the EU. There was plenty of ‘Tories did this, Tories did that’, but not a lot else. Is Labour seriously expecting voters to cross their boxes for Labour when they don’t really understand what they want with Brexit?
And yet, if you read the Labour manifesto for the EU elections – it’s actually not bad. It highlights the successes that Labour MEPs have previously made, and adapts central policy into a wider model for operation on EU level. It’s surprisingly well-written and would grab some votes. But it hides the now-undeniable truth that Labour is aiming to deliver Brexit, which would make most of the policies in the sleek manifesto completely pointless.
Corbyn has attempted to balance both sides of the Brexit fence, whilst hurting himself from sitting upon it. His party is made up of Remain voters by majority. A YouGov survey conducted over Christmas suggests that 3 in 4 Labour members want a second referendum. In the same YouGov poll, 70% of Labour voters would back Remain in a referendum. There are multiple external groups who are in favour of Remain and still loyal to Labour, namely ‘Labour for a People’s Vote’ and ‘Love Socialism, Hate Brexit’.
Labour is a Remain party, led by a Leave leadership.
There has been a great deal of analysis on Corbyn’s Brexit position. Critics are keen to cough up his history of Euroscepticism, along with that of John McDonnell. At the heart of this criticism is a near-conspiratorial accusation against Corbyn’s Director of Communications Seumas Milne, who some see as a shadowy influence. Personally, I see this as overly critical and unfair to the Labour leadership who are juggling principles, marginal constituencies, and electoral victory, against the great ogre of Brexit. Between the choice of steak or fish, Corbyn’s gone for the lasagne.
Stephen Bush is right in this statement. Labour was always opting for that Brexit position, however concerted the effort was to push for a confirmatory referendum. This position satisfies no-one and will lead to Labour receiving another disappointing result at an election. The Leave half of Corbyn’s gamble is a milky mess which Brexit supporters aren’t going to accept. The rhetoric over no-deal is now too loud for any compromise option to appear acceptable. Basically: if voters wanted Brexit, they’d vote for Brexit – literally. Why would a Leave voter opt for a party with a ‘get-out clause’ and a subpar outcome?
As for Remain voters, they’re leaving Labour in droves. According to an Opinium poll from the 9 April, 26% of Labour’s Remainers have switched their vote for the EU elections to back other parties such as the Lib Dems, the Greens, or Change UK. Those passionate about staying in the EU or wanting a People’s Vote would consider their Labour vote wasted, as they’d be backing a failing hybrid.
The fact is that this election will be make or break for Brexit. Farage’s party with its simplicity is going to be unchallenged by a large enough Remain force to make a dent. A victory for the Brexit Party could see parliamentary efforts to stop Brexit scuppered.
Both Labour and the Tories are hurtling towards a brick wall – and Corbyn’s not hitting the brakes.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)