Corbyn and co are practising some good old-fashioned triangulationby Alex Dean / January 25, 2018 / Leave a comment
Last week I spent an hour with Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott. During our discussion I quizzed her on Labour’s Brexit stance, and in particular its position on the single market and customs union. There was something I wanted to get straight. How, I asked, could the leadership push a line on Brexit which its members do not believe in?
And how they do not. According to recent polling by the Mile End institute, an overwhelming majority of Labour members are in favour of continued membership of the SM and CU: 87 per cent would support Britain remaining in the former, 85 per cent the latter.
The Labour leadership’s own position is rather different. It has so far refused to guarantee full membership of either if it wins power. The stance has softened in recent months: Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has left the door more open than it once was. But we’re still a long way off full commitment to both for the long-term.
Something’s not right here. Ever since Corbyn and his team took the helm in 2015, they have insisted that they will represent the membership. Labour Party democracy is their mission. Indeed, when last year Corbyn was 15 points behind in the polls and 172 of his MPs signed a letter of no confidence in him, he pointed to the membership as his main defence: the members wanted him to fight on, which meant he had a duty to do so.
On Brexit, however, the biggest constitutional challenge Britain has faced in decades, Labour has taken a different approach. The membership is not being consulted at all.
So what’s going on? The answer is some good old-fashioned triangulation. Abbott spelled it out for me. “What Labour has to do,” she said, “is balance the fact that on the one hand we represent some of the most pro-Remain constituencies, bear in mind 75 per cent of my electorate voted Remain, and also the most pro-Leave constituencies—Yorkshire, the Midlands and so on.” If Labour came out for Remain in all but name, the logic runs, it would risk isolating its traditional working class heartlands.
Abbott continued: “Jeremy’s trying to hold not just his party but the country together on this issue. It’s easy to go one way or another and he’s trying to hold them together.”
In other words, he is ignoring his membership in order to boost Labour’s electoral prospects. This is a perfectly legitimate approach.
It is intriguing that Corbyn has undertaken it. The Labour leader was meant to represent something different. He has defined himself as someone who does what is right, however unpopular that makes him in the country.
As the months tick by, and he learns more and more about what it means to lead a political party, this approach is changing. He is becoming a very different politician from the one his supporters voted for in 2015. He is rather more calculating now. And rather more cynical.
He is also rather more grown-up.
Brexit Britain: the future of industry is a publication which examines the future of UK manufacturing through the prism of the recently released Industrial Strategy White Paper. The report features contributions from the likes of Greg Clark MP, Miriam Gonzalez, Richard Graham MP and Frances O’Grady.
If you want to know all about where industry is headed in Brexit Britain, you can download the whole Brexit Britain: The future of industry reportas a fully designed PDF document. To do so, simply enter your email below. You’ll receive your copy completely free—within minutes.
When you sign up for this free report, you will also join our free Prospect newsletter.
Prospect takes your privacy seriously. We promise never to rent or sell your e-mail address to any third party. You can unsubscribe from the Prospect newsletter at any time.