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A Scotland sized elephant in the room (with a Northern Ireland sized slightly smaller elephant too)… May 13, 2021

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Reading this from Larry Elliott in the Guardian which arrived just ahead of the BLP’s disastrous electoral outing last week, and took that party to task for being insufficiently enthusiastic about Brexit, was interesting. There may be some truth in the idea that the BLP’s rather vague position of Brexit hasn’t exactly been masterful. But then again the idea that is what has holed it under the waterline is rather open to question.

Elliott is of the view that the ‘remainer’ membership – whatever that term means in this post-Brexit era – should essentially shut up and go away or just get with the Brexit programme. I don’t know if I quite agree with that. I certainly don’t think that a remainer position was tenable once the referendum had had the outcome it did in 2016. But it’s a long time since I was a member of the BLP and therefore am leery about proscribing what actual members should think, let alone what they should do.

And surely Elliott realises that this isn’t the way politics works. But then his framing of the whole issue is a little strange…

The political pattern has now been turned on its head. It will be five years next month since the UK voted narrowly to leave the European Union, and the Tories have accepted the result and moved on. Labour now says that it is reconciled to a post-Brexit future, but its predicted defeat in the Hartlepool byelection suggests the new approach has failed to convince.

But the Tories never had to ‘accept’ the result given they – or most of them – were driving the process. And Elliott’s outline of how Labour has proceeded seems to reify ‘remainers’ in ways that don’t really tally with the actuality. For example, he talks about the ‘remainer left keeping up the fight’ But doesn’t point to any specific instances where they’ve shaped the narrative or even been particularly apparent.

But this all feels a bit expedient when one reads the following:

Labour’s future now lies in the hands of its remainer supporters, because they have to decide whether their strategy is to work for Britain to rejoin the EU, or whether they want to help develop the policies that will help make Brexit work.

Given that ‘Brexit working’ is almost beside the point, since the default position now is Brexit and the space for any move back towards the EU is limited in the extreme. Though note that he doesn’t actually list off any intermediate positions – for example a bespoke agreement to participate in the common market.

Nor does he really demonstrate that it is ‘remainers’ that are damaging Labour with voters. He does say “A series of political blunders has made it much harder for Labour to piece together the electoral coalition it needs to win.” But the evidence is scant.

In fact it is easy to piece together a counterfactual. That those sections of the working class not voting Labour were very similar to those who didn’t vote Labour during Thatcher. That far from all this being particularly new as a phenomenon Labour has always had to contend with this cohort being open to the right. That it was other groups in addition to those sections of the working class (which isn’t of one mind on Brexit) who stayed with Labour who supported the party during the Corbyn period, that it was Brexit itself which damaged the BLP. That the vagueness of the Starmer programme, the seeming inability to fix upon any specific set of values, the willingness to jettison the best of the Corbyn period and to alienate those who worked hardest for the party during those years, which has alienated yet more voters from the party.

But there’s another angle to this, one which is enormously telling. There’s not one mention of Scotland or Northern Ireland, nothing about how Brexit is not a done deal but rumbles on, nothing about how the working class in Scotland has largely gone over to Scottish nationalism, how Northern Ireland is riven by the conflicting demands of the referendum and the GFA/BA, nothing about how a Labour Party which has lost Scotland is permanently on the back foot. How the arguments have now moved on from leave or remain to how the union itself is under novel and unprecedented pressures.

That’s a near incredible set of areas to ignore in the context of 2021.

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