Today, the Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery launched an attack on the use of the term ‘confirmatory ballot/vote’, which has been adopted by Labour’s second referendum campaigners. As a Corbyn ally and opponent of a second public vote, Lavery’s argument has highlighted the continued split in the Labour leadership. Daniel Reast responds.
First published in May 2019.
Something tells me that Ian Lavery woke up this morning, put on his slippers and dressing gown, and found a giant turd on his lounge carpet. It’s the only reasonable explanation. He was so angry and red with rage, that the Labour Party chairman took to WhatsApp to send a tirade of anti-referendum messages to The Independent, who reported his blustering. He must have burst a few blood vessels – as he told the Financial Times as well.
“… it is trying to appease people, trying to flower it, trying to be something it isn’t. It’s a second referendum.”
It is important to note that Lavery is a veteran of being angry over the option of a referendum. In the first and second rounds of indicative votes, held on 27 March and 1 April respectively, Lavery broke the three-line whip to abstain on supporting a confirmatory ballot. A man of principle, he scribbled his resignation onto a Caffè Nero loyalty stamp card, and threw it at Corbyn. But Jeremy was, as ever, the voice of unity and ripped it up along with years of guidelines about breaking party discipline.
The term in question, a ‘confirmatory vote/ballot’ has been birthed from the amendment laid down by Labour MPs Phil Wilson and Peter Kyle, who both strongly support a second vote. Certainly, the term has grown to replace the now ever-so-slightly tainted People’s Vote tagline. If anything, the phrase is more elegant and rational – it is asking the public to confirm Parliament’s decision. Common sense, surely?
Lavery’s criticism of a second vote is based on his presumption that asking the public to vote is equivalent to undermining their intelligence. The people didn’t make the right choice, so as Lavery believes, asking them to double check is an insult to democracy. He justified his rebellions in his regional newspaper, in the North East of England. It is also interesting to note that Lavery ‘accidentally’ voted in favour of a No-Deal Brexit.
I’d argue the complete opposite to what Lavery is suggesting. Giving the public a second referendum isn’t insulting their original choice at all. The results of the 2016 referendum were clearly acted on, and we’ve suffered through three years of political pandemonium to pay for it. But it was still acted on. If Parliament struggles to find a consensus, its role is obsolete as an administrative body. It’s like a printer without any ink. An oven with a cracked window. And the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, is very aware of this. In an interview with The Guardian last week, he made clear assertions that a deal could not be passed without a public vote.
You’ve got to feel sorry for Keir. Ever since he stood on stage at last year’s party conference, he’s been trying to swim up a waterfall. He is right though. And Lavery’s bombast is likely to cause even more difficulties for the scandal-struck socialists. With Thursday’s EU elections looming, Labour is in freefall losing its voters to the Lib Dems and Greens.
According to a YouGov survey published on Friday, the Lib Dems are now narrowly ahead of Labour in the polls for Thursday’s election. A clear message certainly helps, but it has pushed Labour down to third ahead of the Greens in fourth. A more worrying sign for Labour isn’t necessarily this broad questioning, but of Labour’s voters and their intentions.
It is a dramatic picture for both parties, but Labour should be jittering in their clogs seeing nearly half (48%) of their voters from 2017 abandon them for other Remain parties. Starmer was right to be worried. Lavery’s lament over offending the public is going to become much less relevant when voters are putting crosses in other parties’ boxes.
You can talk about respecting the referendum, and keeping an ‘option’ on the table of a public vote all you like. But the table is rickety and falling apart, especially when it is losing its support. I’ve gone through several stages with a second referendum now. On this, I doubt I am alone. But Ian Lavery’s haughty regard for the public is likely to end up cutting him off from them entirely. And in a general election, these problems will come back to bite.🔷
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