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Time for patience and cold-eyed politicking

I was furious about the calling of a referendum on our membership of the EU.
I was furious when Leave 'won'.
I was furious when Corbyn enabled A50 trigger.

Then I thought a little bit about it.

I had spent goodness knows how many hours arguing with anti-Corbyn Labour supporters who ridiculed his chances in a General election, listening to them crowing in derisory, mocking fashion about the distance between him and May in the polls. I simply held to the view that he deserved, on the back of two leadership election wins in the face of horrendous back-stabbing and collusion among Labour MPs and the media, an opportunity to present a manifesto. Then we could judge him. I even made a bet on the eve of the election with an arch, mocking conservative – the prize being lunch at Musso and Frank's in LA – that Labour would force a hung parliament. He still hasn't booked the flights.

The reason I thought that possible was not just the manifesto, but that Corbyn had not taken the Farron line that Brexit should be trashed and dumped in the bin (as much as I would like that). After the referendum, the narrative was overwhelmingly that northern, Labour working class voters had gone for Brexit big style and the Conservatives were cock-a-hoop at the prospect of nicking all those votes from UKIP. But Corbyn took that away from them by telling those instinctively Labour voters that he would respect their choice in the referendum and that they could now consider the sorts of policies for the rest of society that he was offering in the manifesto. They kept Brexit out of the debate.

Corbyn, like many of us, knows that the kinds of things the Labour manifesto said it wanted on Brexit are only really achievable in the Single Market. It offers a meaningful vote in parliament on the final deal. But Labour have to be in power to have any control of that process. To expect an amendment put down by Chuka Umunna to be supported by Tory MPs (it would have needed their support) is fanciful showboating and silly at this time. Umunna himself recognised, in a piece for the Guardian, that Labour had to consider the concerns and opinions of Brexiters who had voted for them. It is simply not reasonable to expect, as many Remainers now appear to, that Corbyn will openly trash Brexit and offer to kill it, or even to say that he would seek membership of the SM as it is because UKIP and the Tories would once again raise the still hugely emotive issue of immigration. We all know that the immigration argument is ridiculous and nasty, but it still plays well with many of the Labour voters in the country.

The truth is, the Brexit process has moved into a new phase – Brexit will either kill itself or happen in one way or another. No government is prepared to risk being the ones to actively undermine or stop it. The divisions in the country are entrenched but the floaters will be the ones who will signify to Labour and Corbyn how to proceed, but only once they are in government. The one way Labour and other MPs from the other parties, including pro-EU Tories, can get a chance to vote it down after a long (and sure to be humiliating) negotiations process, is – ironically in the case of Tory MPs – to have a Labour government. Should Labour dismiss out of hand the wishes of Labour Brexiters, enough votes would be lost back to UKIP or the Tories to make that impossible. The argument that Remainers would flock to Corbyn from all sides is fanciful. The Lib Dem performance at the election should be enough of a hint that this would not happen and few Tory Remainers will hold their nose and vote for Corbyn; him in No.10 is infinitely less palatable than even Brexit. And a new surge to UKIP from Labour and Tory voters worried that their Brexit is being hijacked would be the end of Labour's chances.

What is needed now is unity and for pressure to be applied to a wobbling government who will undoubtedly make a mess of Brexit, even if they last two years. Umunna's doomed to fail amendment was petulant and pointless. Corbyn was right to show the constituency that he is still worried could move away again, that he will not tolerate anything that seeks to undermine the referendum result. To suggest that Corbyn can ride to the rescue and save us from Brexit in his current position is just simply absurd. We like to think the country is more concerned with Brexit than anything else, but time moves on and people change. I still think it would be disastrous, but not everybody does, even some Remainers. But I know that it will most definitely happen, AND be a disaster, along with all the other aspects of their government, if the Tories continue to be in control of the process.

It isn't even about whether I think Corbyn is anti-EU (I think he is pragmatic in believing we are probably better in, than out). I think he wants to get into government to initiate the kinds of policies he believes in. He won't risk that on EU ideology, one way or another. When the public mood changes unequivocally, then I suspect you will see Labour do the same.

If the Tories are emboldened and secured in government by Corbyn throwing away the trust of Labour Brexiters, we will have the worst of all worlds. We have to remove this government in a new election. We will then have Labour at the table and I know which I prefer. It is time for patience and cold-eyed politics.

Comments

  1. Excellent analysis which I share. Corbs has effectively de-fanged the RW Brexit-nutjob press by saying he respects the will etc. However, this gives him freedom of manoeuvre if it becomes clear that the country wants to pull back from the brink. The man is cleverer than I thought quite frankly, or has at least surrounded himself well.

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