Labour are the winning voice for ‘remain’

 

Above: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Deputy Leader Tom Watson and Gloria De Piero, former Shadow Minister for Young People and Voter Registration at a ‘Labour In for Britain’ EU referendum rally: Image: BBC News

Since the EU referendum result, Labour, like the rest of the country has experienced a period of shock and deep soul searching. Our leader, Jeremy Corbyn spoke on the morning of the 24th June of the party’s need to respect the result of the referendum and move on. In an interview with the BBC he said, “you have to respect the decision people made”, quickly ruling out the possibility of Labour supporting a second referendum [1]

 

Since June, our new Prime Minister has dazzled the public with her wisdom by giving a detailed, perceptive and helpful commentary that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Four months on and we are nowhere. A series of right-wing cabinet appointments, conferences, meetings with foreign leaders and photo-ops have produced no detail, no plan and no confidence for families and industry.

After the quick death of ‘Vote Leave’ following Michael Gove’s failed attempt to stab Boris Johnson, the victorious politicians are nowehere to question whilst we, the public, are demanding answers from a clueless bunch of  ‘elected’ Conservative puppets who have little to no understanding of the magnitude of what they’re doing, striding into negotiations, blindfolded and full of false confidence.

This is not the ‘steady’ leadership we were promised. Labour cannot join in.

Since the vote, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron risked further electoral ridicule and went against the Brexit tide, emerging as the voice of ‘the 48%’. The result? Massive electoral gains at the 2016 Witney by-election , eating into the constituency’s historic majority and jumping from 7% to 30% of the vote.

The truth is, around two-thirds of Labour members voted Remain, just ten Labour MPs supported the leave camp and a pro-European stance fits well with general party policy. By nature, Labour is internationalist. How can we support Brexit – especially as its main opponents just a few months ago?

This is not like us. This is not like the great political family to which I love and belong.

There are those that say anyone still advocating for Britain to remain in the EU is disrespecting the ‘will of the British people’. I understand this concern. But referendums are not binding and never have been. Throughout the campaign, the leaders of ‘vote leave’ were aware of ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ – the idea that parliament has ultimate legal authority. Michael Gove in particular, emphasised the importance of parliamentary sovereignty as a reason to pull out of Europe. Yet suddenly, when it all becomes a bit awkward, the principle is disposable, a mere obstacle to an unforgiving Brexit agenda.

To ease the difficulty, Johnson, Gove, Fox and Davis all became temperory advocates of direct democracy and yet this is not how our system works. Had their desire to make Britain a more democratic country been a life-long crusade against corruption, political mismanagement and the general political establishment – why have they never in their combined seventy-four years in parliament, put forward a single motion in favour of direct democracy?

Political selfishness and self-preservation.

“This is not like the great political family to which I love and belong.”

It’s clear Britain’s relationship with the European Union will be the defining issue of the next two General Elections. Negotiations could take up to ten years and unlike the past two elections, the Conservatives can no longer anoint themselves as the ‘party of economic responsibility‘.

Fresh faced: A younger David Cameron during the leaders’ debates in 2010, in which he declared the Conservatives as the ‘party of economic responsibility’.

The decision our party takes now must be kept throughout the negotiations. This could be until 2026. Get the decision right and the electoral gains for our party could be significant. More importantly however, the benefit for our communities could be enormous. But get it wrong and our credibility as an outward-looking, compassionate, internationalist, Social Democratic force could be lost for good.

As article 50 is triggered and Britain enters its negotiating period, the apparent unity of the Conservative Party will unravel, causing deep rifts in Westminster. Like the whole referendum, it will be messy, undignified and foolish. Labour would benefit from distancing itself from this. After all, it did not create this mess. This is not who we are.

What is it they say? Ah yes – ‘reap what you sow’.

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Sorry Liz Kendall but “doing a 1997” won’t work in 2020

During this year’s leadership election campaign, it was interesting to hear Liz Kendall speak about Tony Blair’s victory in 1997. Unfortunately, Kendall (the most ‘Blairite’ of the four candidates) incorrectly associated Labour’s landslide of ’97 with the privatisation-friendly small state policies which dominated that year’s election manifesto.
Blair’s project worked because it was a real alternative to eighteen years of harsh Conservative rule. It was led by a young and charismatic man who preferred ‘sofa-style politics’ and would often ask others to ‘call me Tony’. He had slick presentation skills and an agenda of meaningful reform – something which marked a clear break from the days of Michael Foot. But the 1990s was a different era – a time of spin doctors and great acting. This is exactly what the electorate came to loathe and what senior Labour figures failed to recognise.
Since 1997, the Conservatives too have kicked into life and reformed their ways. The seemingly disastrous leaderships (in electoral terms) of William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard forced a review of Conservative electoral strategy. Another leadership election passed and David Cameron emerged as the new and youthful commander with the aim of making the Conservative brand seem more compassionate. Sound familiar? The Tories actually based their 2010 campaign on ‘New Labour’. No wonder Cameron is thought of as the ‘heir to Blair’.  But even then, they failed. Cameron proved that the brand is dead – multiple long-term international wars, a world banking crisis and the expenses scandal ensured that.
Tony Blair was very much of its time. He finely tuned the party to suit the needs of ‘middle England’ and based his manifesto upon a successful neoliberal economy of the pre-millennium.
During his five year term as leader, Ed Miliband attempted to pull the party back towards the centre-left. He did so by making zero-hours contracts, employment and education spending the party’s main priority. There was however, one area which his team failed on spectacularly. The economy.
Between 2010 and 2015, Labour was desperately trying to find an alternative economic policy that wasn’t the well establish principles of Gordon Brown or the politics of ‘change’ during the Cameron coalition.
Between Labour’s election defeat and the party’s special conference in September, Tory Chancellor George Osborne was able to project the idea that Labour was somehow the root cause of the international banking crisis and collapse of the American housing sector. Clearly this is a lie, but for the Tories that didn’t matter. The seed had been planted and it stuck. ‘Labour had wrecked the economy’.
But how were the Tories able to outmanoeuvre the Labour beast? It was simple. They’d done their homework. Over thirteen years, they’d watched Labour transform from a battered protesting wreck into an election winning machine that could munch through marginal seats in their hundreds.
Liz Kendall and those who misleadingly call themselves ‘moderates’ fear Jeremy Corbyn. They suggest that his election marks the end of the Labour party. This is wrong. Instead, Corbyn’s premiership confirms the death of ‘New Labour’.
Over their own thirteen years of opposition, the Tories have built up a complex scheme of how to deal with Labour leaders. Such a scheme involves making Cameron more aggressive in his attempt at statesmanship – an example being his line about ‘terrorist sympathising’ opposition. So far, it’s been easy for them. Until now, Labour leaders seemed to come ready made out of a machine. They were Oxbridge educated, white, middle-class men who had served as special advisors after graduating, worked for various think-tanks and were elected in their early forties. Not that I blame them for being white, male or for having studied at Oxbridge. They’ve just become increasingly predictable.

So what can the Labour Party learn from the events succeeding Tony Blair’s leadership victory twenty one years ago?

  • The Party’s image is never fixed and must evolve over time to match the ever shifting objectives of opposition parties.
  • Miliband’s transition away from ‘New Labour’ isn’t complete. Corbyn has to finish the job.
  • A new leader does not always result in a new party. Ed Miliband was surrounded by too many Blairite aides and cabinet ministers to successfully push through his programme of party modernisation. By 2010, MPs were still dreaming of an impossible 2nd
  • Follow the will of the grassroots party membership – as hard as it sometimes may be – they know best.

Jeremy Corbyn is Labour’s only choice. His approach to daily politics attracts voters who moved towards UKIP, the SNP and the Greens and his ability to listen has doubled party membership in just three months.               Asking the party to retain a regenerated version of ‘New Labour’ is lazy and is an indicator of how party mandarins will not listen to the advice of their own members – the people that campaign on the doorstep – the heart of the party. I’m sorry Liz Kendall, but “doing a 1997” won’t work in 2020.