Thursday 30 January 2020

Labour's Impossible Election Choice

As the UK's formal departure from the EU is imminent, it's worthwhile briefly returning to the one thing that determined the outcome on 12th December more than anything else: the timing. Readers might recall a minority of Labour folks (me included) who argued for the party to hold firm in parliament and resist Boris Johnson's goading the opposition into a general election. The major reason was Johnson's strategy from the moment he entered the Tory leadership race was to bulldoze Brexit through regardless of the squealing and the costs. That was his path to cementing his premiership, provided he could get the Brexit preliminaries done quickly.

Having spent the summer fulminating against those who would thwart Brexit and promising to die in a ditch over extending Article 50, Johnson was eventually forced to do just that, rhetoric about disobeying the courts and flouting the rule of law notwithstanding. Once forced into this humiliating climbdown we saw the theatrics and the hysterics about challenging the remainer parties to an election. With the SNP and Liberal Democrats hopping on board the bandwagon, and groundswell among party members - eager to repeat 2017 - getting too much the leadership embraced the opportunity. We know what happened next.

Yet if Labour had held firm and said no, what then? Well, I suppose the question is what would the delays be for. While the parties cooperated well in late August and early September against Johnson we saw earlier in the year how the indicative votes didn't realise majorities for anything except a no to no deal. The second referendum'ers went for bust rather than countenancing a much softer Brexit, and so saddled us with a hard landing. Given the line was thin when there was disagreement over what objective the united forces of the opposition should push for, then Johnson was right: parliament was logjammed. With Johnson bringing back the election time after time and the other parties turning it down, he reasoned support would drain away from them as Brexit blockers and preventing the Commons from discharging its business. In this scenario, Labour would cop most of the blame, most of the pressure, and the disunity in the parliamentary party would likely have bubbled over into tabloid-friendly infighting as Brexity MPs took to the airwaves. The Tories would be shielded from the pain and when the election would finally come, Labour would have been in an even worse position to mount a decent challenge.

Alternatively, despite all this, if Labour held out to the point where Johnson had ask for another extension beyond 31st January, then the more difficult the Tory position would be to maintain. And perhaps then, to limit damage stemming from the paralysis from getting too extensive, in all likelihood he'd have to try and come to some sort of arrangement with the other parties - the very process which triply exposed Theresa May's ineptitude and finally put paid to her career. This would undoubtedly have dealt Johnson a severe blow, and the Brexit Party poised to go from torpor to the hungry devourer of the Tories' right flank. And Labour? Thanks to remain running riot in the party without even token resistance from the top, in this situation it's difficult to see how Jeremy Corbyn could have mustered support from enough of his MPs for a Labour Brexit, let alone be in a fit state to negotiate anything with Johnson. And even if that was possible and a deal reached with Tory and Labour backing, whenever the election came the LibDems and Greens would have been in the perfect position to make extensive inroads into Labour's support.

There is then no comfort or smuggery for those who argued against accepting Johnson's election. Take the chance before Brexit and get hammered, as per what happened. Or stick it out and either end up with a worse starting point when the election is eventually accepted, or strike a deal with Johnson that would heavily damage the Tories but wreak catastrophic destruction on Labour, possibly to the point of completely detaching the new and consolidating base, and we're left with an impossible position. Sadly, Labour lost this election in 2017 when the leadership failed to drive home its hegemony in the party, especially with regard to Brexit. And that meant when it finally came to the crunch there was nothing in front of the party except damaging options. Though, as incredible as it may seem, it's looking like Labour took the least worst.


Suzy O'Shea said...

However, what if Corbyn had used the stronger of the opposition parties to form a temporary coalition government with Margaret Hodge as interim PM, to hold a 2nd referendum, which was mooted and nixed by Corbyn. Then sufficient support for reversing article 50 might have been gathered and Brexit blocked. Once this had been achieved the temporary coalition could have gone for an election then and been voted into office by all the grateful Remainers. That would have booted Bleazie Boris onto the opposition back benches!

Boffy said...

Labour on its own could not have prevented an election. The problem was not Labour resisting the call for an election it was the basis on which it fought the election, and the pro-Brexit position it held in the previous three years.

Labour should have been demanding an election, but should have been demanding it having spent the previous three years opposing the reactionary Brexit decision. It should have gone into an election as the clear party of stopping Brexit, having mobilised a mass social movement around that position, and opposing the Tories in the previous three years. It had done none of that, and so was in no position to mobilise any sizeable social force for anything.

It should have demanded an election to get rid of the Tories and to get rid of Brexit, adopting the same position the Liberals did of saying it would revoke Article 50 if elected. After all, 78% of Labour's Remain voters supported that position, and even 25% of its leave voters found it to be an acceptable position. It could not work for the Liberals because no one thought they had a credible chance of forming a government!

The more important question is what now. Labour MP's might want to focus on domestic issues, but they remain inextricably tied to Brexit and Britain's relation to Europe. Moreover, the opposition to Brexit is not going away, it will only grow louder. Unless labour responds to that growing opposition it will make itself unelectable in coming years, as the young electorate form an increasing proportion of voters.

After 1975, the Brexiters did not stop arguing their case. Labour continued to have an anti-EEC position through to 1987, and the Eurosceptics in the Tory Party grew stronger during the 1980's and 90's, leading to the disastrous position we are in now. They were all in a small minority during that period. But, today, there is a clear majority against Brexit. Even the general Election showed that, with around 55% voting for parties that were opposing Brexit, or calling for another referendum.

As the clear consequences of brexit become manifest, as the old Tory Brexiters die off, and as the young anti-Brexiters grow in importance in the electorate this fight is set to continue to dominate. Labour should commit now to exposing the true nature of the Tory Brexit, and say that if elected it will reverse Brexit. It should harry the government through the next year of transition period, and attempt to get that period extended as far as possible.

Shai Masot said...

@Suzy O'Shea.

Agree. Margaret Hodge would have made a first-class PM.

Boffy said...

"Margaret Hodge would have made a first-class PM."

perhaps she could take over from Netanyahu, so as best to pursue her main interest.

Kriss said...

Margaret Hodge is a completely divisive figure. Margaret Beckett would be top of my list for interim PM. However, it's all moot now.

Dipper said...

Pretty sure I called this a few months ago, that the price for stopping Leave was too high for the various Remain forces to pay, so Leave would win.

The thing that is obvious, from here on the right, is that to win you need to put together a coalition. That means members of the coalition have to be prepared to give up stuff that is important to them to others in the coalition, and it needs a leader who can carry the coalition with them. Corbyn was a weak leader who showed no sign he could do that, and the solid bloc of party members who put Corbyn in power have shown zero interest in sharing power with anyone who disagrees with them. They (ie you) are politically toxic beyond belief.

One young person of the Dipper clan has already cast their vote for RLB. Not because they support RLB and her policies, but because that would guarantee a Conservative win at the next election.

BCFG said...

To those reprobates (and that is what they are) who voted for Brexit it doesn’t matter that Johnson backed down, they only see a man fighting on their behalf against the odds. When Lady hale was being trumpeted for stopping the proroguing of parliament those who voted Brexit were spitting blood at the injustice of it all. The actions of the remainers have done everything to cement positions and I believe helped deliver a Tory majority.

The trade negotiations will follow a similar path, if Britain doesn’t crash out of the EU that will mean only one thing, Johnson has accepted all the terms of the EU! It is difficult to estimate what will happen at this stage. I suspect Johnson simply wants to accept all the terms but the dogs are running and he may not have a leash string enough to hold them. Maybe the BBC will start churning out propaganda t o attempt to get the dogs back in their kennel?

But it isn’t all about Brexit I am afraid, Corbyn was a genuine socialist and in the laughably called labour heartlands, mostly populated by illiterate ignorant and deeply unpleasant bigots (I should now as some of them are my friends), they simply couldn’t stomach that and voted Tory instead.

What Corbyn did was to bring out the true politics of England and show that despite all the identity politics baloney, England is a deeply nasty, bigoted and ignorant shit hole.

Blissex said...

«the indicative votes didn't realise majorities for anything except a no to no deal.»

That was purely electoral politics: all MPs realized that there was a large chance of a snap election, which eventually happened, and therefore they were terrified of voting *for* anything, because whichever way they voted, they would lose a chunk of their supporters in their constituency. So to "Leavers" they could say "I voted against remaining and soft-exit" and to "Remainers2 they could say "I voted against hard-leaving and against leaving", in various degrees.

But as many expected eventually it turned out that rightist "Remain" voters were more loyal to their parties than (supposedly) leftist "Leave" voters to Labour.

«The second referendum'ers went for bust rather than countenancing a much softer Brexit,»

They went for bust and won: they eliminated Corbyn, which was clearly the real goal all along, as proven by the disappearance of the 2nd ref campaign the moment Corbyn was done for.
Countenancing a much softer Brexit was far less divisive and was Corbyn's position too.

Anonymous said...

«a temporary coalition government with Margaret Hodge as interim PM»

Such an inspired bit of trolling! Very funny. But perhaps she is a bit too much on the left for New Labour MPs, I would think David Cameron would have been an even better suggestion. :-)