In trying to out-Remain the Lib Dems, Jeremy Corbyn's party has chosen a course at odds with the unavoidable consequences of the current parliamentary arithmeticby Jonathan Lis / October 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
These are not normal times. But the 2019 twist few of us saw coming was one of Labour’s most traditional Eurosceptics attempting to out-Remain the Liberal Democrats.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, now a full referendum convert but who for years adopted a Bennite suspicion of the EU, has in the last couple of days accused Jo Swinson’s party of ‘selling out’ the People’s Vote campaign in order to win power and side with the Conservatives.
If the claim seems outlandish, it is because it is. For all Swinson’s missteps since she became leader, she has not abandoned her desire to stop Brexit—or shown any desire to ally with Boris Johnson. Indeed, Swinson has literally promised to revoke Article 50 if she wins a majority. So what is Labour doing?
A generous reading is that the party is now trying to cover all its bases. The message to Leavers is that the party cannot support a Brexit bill which threatens to decimate workers’ rights and environmental standards. The message to Remainers is that Labour is working harder than ever to secure a referendum, and in fact wants to do so before an election.
The latter, as conveyed through McDonnell’s recent communications, is not formal party policy but represents a major departure. Officially, Labour wants to hold an election, renegotiate Brexit on friendlier terms and then put that deal to the public in a referendum, with the alternative of remaining.
A party in chaos
The less generous reading is that the party is in chaos. Although Labour has been calling for an election for two years, it has now resisted every concrete opportunity to have one—partly because it fears it will lose one heavily. This may or may not be true—we all remember that the party began the 2017 election campaign with similarly dire polling and vastly outperformed expectations—but it is terrifying Labour MPs across the political spectrum.
The problem for Labour is that it cannot hold out on an election for much longer. It was shrewd, at the time, for Jeremy Corbyn to deny the Conservatives an election when they called for one (twice) in September. That would have led to an election in the middle of October and might have precipitated no-deal. (An…