WR11 Labour’s Brexit Election Spectre at the End of 2018

Jeremy Corbyn’s Guardian statement (22nd December)  that if Labour won a snap election they would carry on with Brexit confirmed that carrying out the 2016 referendum result is the policy of both front benches. The surprise was the belief Labour could get a snap election which Labour would win to carry out the mandate. The failure to move a Vote  of No Confidence in December made both unlikely. However Unite leader Len McLuskie’s article on the New Statesman website on December 19th supporting the front bench strategy particularly on refusing a second referendum- it is of course a third – needs scrutiny as he is a key Corbyn backer.

The article accused critics of the pro-Brexit policy of being people who did not want a Labour victory – either other parties (the SNP and Lib Dems being named) or the Blairites who he claimed devised the People’s Vote. He also argued a vote could imperil the alliance needed to win an election. First things first however-  the issue of the Vote of No Confidence no-show.

McLuskie argues that this was a “premature demand…. there was no sign that such a motion would go through the House\. It was merely a box that some Remainers, deliberately misreading Labour’s conference decision, wished to tick on the way to a further referendum”. (emphasis added. Readers can consult the conference position, set out in full in the Data in Focus Section, DF4). While McLuskie may be right that the motion was unlikely to pass, Stephen Bush on the Statesman website of 17th December argued front bench advisors – not Blairites – were advertising the motion within an hour of it being pulled.

It  was politically vital. It would have allowed Labour to mobilise national opposition against the Toried  – vital to win support across the UK, especially in Scotland. Failing to do this means that Labour’s willingness to fight the Tories is suspect, affecting its chances of forcing a snap election.

As May is not going to call an election, Labour hoped to win No Confidence vote to force her. If McLuskie is right – Labour cannot use this method before Brexit and the timetable undermines McLuskie and Corbyn’s belief that they can dictate terms after winning an election. Legislation commits the UK to leave on March 29th next. Unless the Article 50 deadline is pushed back – the only viable option at this stage – there is no time to hold an election and renegotiate a deal. Certainly the EU has no intention of further negotiations. They might extend Article 50 to allow a referendum on a Leave or Remain basis, but no way will they do so merely for further haggling on how Britain Leaves. No election could be won by promising more talks.

McLuskie rightly argues that to win an election Labour must have broad electoral support and on Remain and Leave “Labour must retain both constituencies of support”. True. But if Labour embraces Brexit, it loses the majority of its support, which is metropolitan in nature. Brexit is for Labour an election losing strategy, which a third referendum is not.

The Third Referendum

McLuskie as with many commentators is unable to grasp the arguments for Referendum 3. Bizarrely he argues that while the Remain option would have to be on a Referendum ballot as “it would be implausible to have a referendum without an option to support the status quo of EU membership, since that view is held by much of the country. Equally, it is democratically impossible to try to set aside a decision made by a clear majority just two years ago”.

No it is not. There is no statute of limitations on referendum and as no super majority rule has ever been made, then like Switzerland referendums can be challenged – the only question is when.  Fundamentally this can happen when the majority no longer exists – as happened after the 1975 EU referendum, which took 40 years.

But there are good grounds for thinking the majority has vanished already, given that the majority in  2016  was provided by aged people – valid, but a wasting asset. Peter Kellner has argued that crossover day will happen in January 2019 – the new voters coming onto the register will outweigh the old voters giving Remain a majority. Clearly other factors apply, notably turnout, and if Leave was sensible it would vote now when it can still win. But in principle the longer the young flood onto the registers the more likely it is that the country becomes Remain.

In dealing with the Unite Union which McLuskie runs, the importance of Youth was made by one of his members, one Elsie Greenwood, who replied on the Statesman website the  same day (19th December) that he did not speak for young Unite members, 57% of whom wanted a further referendum. With polls showing the mass of young even more pro EU than Unite, 73% of 18-24 voters recently polling as Remain, the longer the political class ignore their desires for the future the worse it will be for Labour – and for democracy.

2019 has a bleak winter dawn

The immediate  issue going into 2019 is the strange Labour belief that it can get .an election on a Brexit ticket and win it. The damage  to its electoral base is less immediate than the problems it will face in January as May pushes her line that the choices are her deal or no deal. Labour cannot put forward an alternative deal as it cannot get a snap election unless it can defeat May in the Commons. Which means winning non-Labour MPs to support it.  McLuskie’s parliamentary calculation might be right on the Vote of No Confidence figures, and if so other methods have to be tried.

The Tory rebels certainly will not vote for an election and Labour in power, so the only option is a 3rd referendum which they might vote for. If Labour does not back a referendum, it can only face the”meaningful vote” choice of May’s Deal or No deal with an amendment other parties are not committed to support.

The conference policy of going for a general election and if that fails backing a referendum is running out of time. The Party’s only chance of making that look credible is if it campaigns for and wins an extension to the Article 50 deadline giving it more time.

And as 2018 died, finding politicians in the Labour Party discussing this was the present Santa did not bring

Trevor Fisher  27 12 18