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…