Thursday 4 April 2019

Spreading the Pain

Would you take Theresa May in good faith? Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me and all that. Yet there hasn't been a peace time Tory Prime Minister in a predicament quite as bad as hers. Pivot to no deal? The party is as good as dead to anyone under the age of 50. Secure a deal with a customs union attached? Major ructions, to the point of MPs defecting to Nigel Farage's bandwagon (or worse, UKIP) or resigning the whip and joining the benches opposite. No wonder May clung to her deal like a Winchester in the hands of Charlton Heston. It was always unlikely to get through the Commons, but it was the best chance she had of holding her party together.

May's career is sat in the anteroom of expiration, but given her party-centred approach to Brexit what could she gain from holding out the hand of conciliation to Jeremy Corbyn? By all appearances and reactions, not a lot. MPs have spent two days calling her every name under the sun. IDS fulminating with a mouthful of feathers should be the only way this odious oaf is portrayed by television. But also check out the state of the twittering and twattering about 'Marxism'. You'd be forgiven for thinking May's diabolism had conjured forth Stalin's shade and beckoned him to gulag the government benches. Yet for all the froth and noise, nothing has happened. No MP has followed Nick Boles across the floor. Instead it appears another day of negotiations - dubbed "detailed and productive" by Downing Street - have come to pass without so much as a ministerial resignation.

One assumes the position being put by Jeremy in these meetings began with that voted down in last week's initial round of indicative votes. i.e. Customs union + single market access + "dynamic alignment" with EU rules. The presence of Keir Starmer at today's talks is a cause for cautious optimism for those still holding out for a second referendum. Nevertheless, given May's stubbornness and rigidity it would be naive for to expect her, despite the desperate straits, to go for this. At a push she might countenance Ken Clarke's all-UK customs union approach (thereby depriving her successor of globe trotting PR opportunities). Taking the pain of a possible split now might limit the generations-long damage the Tories are risking, reasoning that any doable deal is better than no deal as far as future prospects are concerned. However, hoping May would sign up for a referendum is surely phony pony territory.

Corbyn has to negotiate the class politics of this too. As argued previously, for the bulk of the coalition of 2017 Labour voters Brexit/remain does not possess the same gluey properties as Brexit/leave does for Tory voters. Seeing Jeremy Corbyn deliver Brexit with Theresa May isn't good optics, as the politicos say. This has the potential to hive off some voters, but by the same token Tinge 'n' CHUK are well positioned to attract pro-European Tory voters too. Squaring the circle of Labour's conference policy which is simultaneously pro-Brexit and pro-remain (via the second referendum) requires some adroit negotiating. Separating out the two parts of Labour's position might be one way it is done: a vote for whatever Brexit deal emerges, followed by a vote for a confirmatory referendum follow-up. Presumably May would consent to whip the Tories for the first which, with Labour votes, would get over the line. But would not for the referendum vote, leading to it falling. Cynical? Yes. But does it meet Labour's positioning? Yes.

If May is not acting in good faith, then the discussions that have rippled around social media decrying her invitation to talks as a trap are worth paying attention to. If May's game is stringing Labour along to then cancel negotiations and attacking them for betraying Brexit or some such, who will lap that up? Last Friday she goaded Labour into voting against Brexit on what would have been Brexit day. The result was zero effect in real world politics. This would bring us back to the impasse and, perhaps, a final go at getting the thrice-thrashed deal through with no deal looming, or the possibility of a long delay and the convening of a set of European elections the Tories are desperate to avoid.

It seems May's hope is a deal that Labour can support and take a hit for, knowing members and voters are disproportionately remain, will also drag them down with the Tories. This would make it more difficult for Labour to win a majority and make it more likely Corbynism gets strangled by the mess of minority government compromises. Unfortunately, if the party doesn't step through the mess carefully, May's parting legacy to British politics could be the thwarting of the left's ambitions.


Boffy said...

May will not accept a Customs Union etc. Nor will she agree to another referendum, which she knows Remain would win 60:40, now, especially if as now being raised 16 year olds got the vote.

Her aim is to try to avoid holding EU elections, because if she achieves that Britain would have to leave with her deal or no deal by 23rd. May. Even Revoke becomes impossible in that event, because you cannot legally be in the EU, if you have not elected MEP's.

So, if she can use Corbyn as a willing dupe, a useful idiot, given his own support for Brexit, to run down the clock further, she increases the chance of that, hence her letter to the EU.

Labour would be faced with the choice of either continuing to oppose her deal, meaning a No Deal Crash Out on May 23rd., which it has repeatedly said it cannot countenance, or else grudgingly backing her deal, which I suspect Corbyn would not really object to given that his position as stated is no different than May's Withdrawal Agreement, and given that his Morning Star backers have already said that they favour a Moggie style No Deal, which is what will happen anyway in a few months time, if May's deal goes through, when the Brextremists kick out May and install Gove, or Bojo.

May is using Corbyn as cover to run down the clock and trap Labour in a cul de sac. Corbyn is using May as cover to allow the Tories to carry through his long-term goal of Brexit, as a deluded first step towards Social-Democracy In One Country.

Tusk has said, no to May's short term extension, making clear that Britain must hold EU elections. MP's are legislating to the same effect. Members must keep pressure on Corbyn to stop him selling us out, and doing a MacDonald. We need the biggest campaign ever for the EU elections to kill off the reactionary agenda of Brexit. The Newport By-Election gave the lie to the idea that Labour will lose by sticking with an anti-Brexit stance, with UKIP getting just 9%.

Boffy said...

Looking at Newport West, the Labour majority of 2,000, is consistent with the turnout being half what it was in 2017. The Tories were down 8%, as half the UKIP votes they had previously picked up, in 2017, went back home. Yet, UKIP still got less than 9%.

The notable thing is that if you total up the % gains of the clear anti-Brexit parties, i.e. Plaid, Greens, Liberals, Renew, it shows an increase of 11.5%, compared to the fall 12% drop in Labour's share.

That shows the idiocy of Ian Lavery's claim that if Labour is more clearly anti-Brexit, it would lose votes. The exact opposite is clearly the case.

Anonymous said...

You can relax now Boffy, the talks have failed.

As we always suspected might happen, but Labour had to at least be seen to take them seriously. Don't you agree?