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Don’t mention Brexit in the BLP June 23, 2022

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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I’m almost amused by Stella Creasy’s argument as articulated here in the Guardian.

A prominent Labour MP today condemns her party’s self-imposed silence on Brexit, saying it is playing into Boris Johnson’s hands and hampering attempts to tackle urgent issues such as the cost of living crisis and climate change.

Writing for the Observer, Stella Creasy suggests Labour’s defensive approach amounts to a betrayal of those who voted to remain in the EU in 2016.

Labour, she argues, cannot and must not wait until after the next general election to speak out about areas in which Brexit is clearly failing, and the benefits of cooperating more closely with our European neighbours.

Amused because the Corbyn leadership faced precisely the same issue in the late 2010s and had to adopt a not dissimilar position given the deep feelings within the BLP.

Indeed:

Her comments come amid growing frustration among many Labour MPs and activists about Keir Starmer’s refusal to address in any detail the Brexit issue – one on which he campaigned vigorously before he became leader, and was prepared to defy then leader Jeremy Corbyn. Starmer was a leading proponent of a second referendum on EU membership, arguing that membership was indisputably in the UK’s national interest.

Corbyn had a membership that was overwhelmingly Remain and a part of the electoral support base that was Leave. The same situation persists. So both leaderships have had to effectively stay quiet. Now Creasy is not entirely wrong in the following:

Creasy, who chairs the Labour Movement for Europe, adds: “Whether [it is] businesses overwhelmed with red tape, [or] care homes missing staff or rising food prices, the public are asking why such difficulties keep happening – and finding MPs avoiding an honest answer, let alone a solution. To fix something, you first must name it. And that means getting over the myth that talking about Europe is code for re-running referendums.”

As argued on this site at the time of the result, Remain was pointless position once the vote was in. The referendum, whatever one thought of it or how it was run, was a democratic vote which offered a direction of travel and that was out of the EU, albeit not necessarily out of the Single Market. Perhaps had there been more effort by the BLP to try to shape the actual outcome of a Brexit that was inevitable as distinct from having to vacillate between different parts of its support base we might be in a broadly better place than we are now, but that said this was a Tory Brexit and the Tories were in power which limited any opposition party’s options in terms of traction.

Now, however, the Labour leadership – based on its reading of focus-group data – is reluctant to let any of its MPs speak out about closer links with Europe or too favourably about what the EU does, for fear of alienating pro-Brexit voters behind the “red wall”. It also believes Boris Johnson will jump at any chance to attack the party as wanting to rejoin the EU.

Surely the obvious approach would be to state publicly that the British Labour Party does not support rerunning the referendum in the lifetime of the next government in order to assess the situation and how it stands but that it will seek a positive relationship within the European Union. That would be a reasonably principled line. One could construct some sort of tests, perhaps an independent commission that guaranteed places for those who were Euro-sceptic on it, something along those lines so that rejoining the EU would be a good decade away and contingent on the public vote. But one suspects there’s not even the courage to ado that.

No one in the parliamentary party is advocating a policy of rejoining the EU. But there are those who would like to see closer involvement with the single market under a Labour government, and a return to EU free-movement rules, particularly as evidence grows that Brexit is harming trade, and contributing to rising prices.

But that would be possibly poison to some in Labour (and indeed a good tranche of its voters) who remain wedded to Remain. So Labour remains (ahem) caught between the prongs of this fork, on the one side seeking desperately to bring back some of its vote that detached in the last decade, on the other retaining the larger number who stuck with it despite its ambiguous position ever since the referendum.

There’s  certain irony in all this. In a way Starmer is a near-mirror image of Corbyn on this issue. Corbyn was instinctively anti-EU but leader of a party that was instinctively pro-EU. Starmer is instinctively pro-EU but leader of a party that requires pulling back on board voters who are instinctively anti-EU.

The problem being that there is no correct strategy in either instance. Corbyn did the best he could and one could laud him for simply keeping the ship afloat (and make the point that if he wasn’t able to hold on to some of those who detached who would – though there was a clever angle adopted by the Tories of painting him as a metropolitan elitist during the last election). Starmer, rather typically, is doing the worst he can and there’s little point in lauding him for anything. Though somehow the BLP manages to remain afloat and even somewhat buoyant, one suspects despite rather than due to his efforts. 

Perhaps all things considered that is the best that can be hoped for. Not great though, is it? 

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