Wednesday 23 October 2019

The Logic of the Labour Leavers

When it comes to Labour MPs, it's wise not to place too much hope in them. This way you'll never get disappointed. So when I glanced over the list of Labour honourable members who voted with the government to give Boris Johnson's new Brexit deal its second reading, the red mist stayed well clear. It was more a sense of world weary disappointment. Nevertheless, as cathartic ranting away on social media can be, it's not entirely helpful. For one calling Labour MPs who, you hope, will eventually end up voting the right way isn't going to speed their journey to the side of the angels. Shouting scab and traitor won't make them wake up and think "you know, that @corbynmania2676491 has made a fair point." Still, I'm not about to alibi them either. This is not a counsel for shrugging the old shoulders and walking away. They need to be held to account, and as the trigger ballot process hasn't gone swimmingly that means we need to challenge them politically.

There are three hills our Brexit-enabling comrades are choosing to die on. The first is their fidelity to the 2017 manifesto. How many times have you heard Caroline Flint, someone not averse to crapping on the class she came from, utter words similar to this? Yes, in 2017 Labour did say it would honour Brexit by seeking a sensible deal. Fast forward to now, it mustn't have escaped Caroline's notice but there is a Tory government in office, and the deal Johnson has negotiated with the EU reflects their priorities and interests. We also have a better idea what the cost of a no deal Brexit would be, and what Johnson's deal means for workers' rights and the NHS. Why else remove them from the legal document, placed their by May, to the airy fairy rhetoric of the political declaration? When the facts change, minds should change. Not only is Caroline saying Labour MPs should support the government as it kicks our people in the teeth (nothing new for her), but she's also suggesting we must ditch our electoral coalition too. Thanks, but no thanks.

The second, and most popularly cited, is obeying the will of their constituents. Remember, it wasn't very long ago that the most beloved of all Labour-held constituencies, Stoke-on-Trent Central, was deemed the capital of Leave and attracted no less a figure than the be-tweeded clown prince of Brexit, Paul Nuttall, to the Potteries. A fair enough (but wrong) argument if putting one's constituents first comes from a principled place. But let's have a look at the list again. On there we see Lisa Nandy, Melanie Onn, Jon Cruddas, Ruth Smeeth, Dan Jarvis, and a number of others who supported Owen Smith's leadership campaign in 2016. As going for a second referendum was the central plank of his pitch scant weeks after the EU referendum vote, where was the precious will of their constituents then? It's a wonder these clowns can even spell the word 'principled'.

But the meat and gravy against this argument is in most cases, despite their constituencies voting leave, the Labour vote was much more remainy. Therefore we're in classic triangulation territory, but one much more likely to end up in their defeat than victory. For instance, the process of corrosion in Labour's so-called traditional seats has been long-term and persistent. It is a structural characteristic exacerbated by years of having their loyalty taken for granted, and one blanket campaigning cannot fix. Again, as the Stoke Central by-election demonstrated with its reduced majority and a plurality for the parties of the right - the Tories and UKIP. One of the key drivers is the collapsing composition of the old class loyalties and the communal solidarities they engendered, exacerbated by the individuating consequences of being a pensioner. In all essentials, a de-classing and petit-bourgeoisification of the outlook of millions of retirees. You knock on their doors and they'll say they've always been a Labour voter, but this often means not for the last three or four general elections. These people are lost, and aren't about to award a Brexit stand made by their Labour MP by voting for them. Meanwhile, as Labour's awful EU election result showed, our support largely stayed at home and those who didn't lent their votes in protest to the Greens and the LibDems (the LibDems!). Not all these voters will pay close attention to the Brexity antics of their Labour MP, but enough of them might and in tight marginals this is support Labour can't easily dispense with. If this bears out, and I suspect it will, locally Crewe will return to the Tories and for the first time in its history, Stoke-on-Trent might become an entirely Conservative city.

And the final argument is one that cropped up again during "Super" Saturday and last night's second reading vote: Johnson's deal must be supported if it means avoiding a no deal Brexit. Lo and behold, despite grumblings and a bit of will-he/won't-he from the centrist hero in the Élysée Palace, Johnson's request to extend Article 50 to 31st January is virtually certain to be granted. As Donald Tusk, Michel Barnier, and Jean-Claude Juncker have intimated enough times, no deal will be the UK's choice, not the EU's. Why? They want to see continuity and stability, and are allergic to the ERG fantasy of the world's greatest tax haven arriving on Europe's doorstep. The no deal excuse for backing any old bobbins Johnson brings to the table doesn't hold water. It's less an argument and more a body swerve, an ostentatious ducking of the politics of their consequences by pleading urgent pragmatism. Cynical in some cases. Dismal in all.

Would pushing these arguments in your local CLP meeting change your MP's mind? Probably not. Their course is plugged in, and for those who've sailed through their trigger ballots they can effectively forget about pleasing the membership. But it helps raise the level, as they say, of the political understanding of everyone present. Much better this than angry ranting. And it also reminds the MP they might not be triggered now, but they do need a campaign team. If they carry on in this vein, many of the members could choose to spend their election campaigning for Labour candidates elsewhere. If a Labour MP can't stand up for our people during the Brexit process, what use would they be in the future?

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Speedy said...

The only reason a Labour MP can support a Tory Brexit is because they care more about their careers than their constituents.

Although I have always opposed Leave, I can see a principled argument for respecting the referendum result. This is not it.

The next GE will be fought solely on Brexit. Flint et al may save their skin, but will be Labour only in name. Without a Lexiter Labour leader they would have already have had the whip removed and should have been bunged out of the party.

Interestingly, Labour does not want an election now, or ever really, given its awful polling. It wants to string out Tory chaos for as long as possible, although this does not do much to improve its own polling as voters also blame Labour for prolonging the pain.

It's a sort of death spiral, really. Two political parties past their sell-by-date locked in a deadly downward embrace. Grimly fascinating...

Given this, No deal still may be on the table for a parliament unable to decide or go to the electorate. The Freudian 'return of the monster' - the inevitable price a dysfunctional nation has to pay for suppressing reality for the past... 70 years?

Boffy said...


Well I'm glad that you at lest now seem to be on a journey back to the side of the angels. However, I see no reason to be amenable to the scab Labour MP's that saved Johnson's bacon.

Their excuses for doing so are duplicitous, as you have set out. There is no chance that Johnson was ever going to push through a No Deal, because he knows it would be catastrophic and bring down his government, destroy the Tories for a generation at least, and be the end of Brexit for good, as Britain got an emergency reentry to the EU.

Labour should withdraw the whip from these MP's, thereby forcing reselections, even where they have managed to have got through the trigger ballots. These scabs are not going to come back to a principled position, and labour needs to start showing some principle and discipline itself if it is going to have any chance of winning the election when it comes.

That means a clear commitment to revoke Article 50 as the only way of bringing the Brexit nightmare to an end. Otherwise it simply drags on for at least a decade. It means Labour committing to reentry if by any chance Johnson takes us out, for the same reason. It means we need a General Election Now, fought on that basis, and for a progressive social-democratic agenda for Europe.

Anonymous said...

If you support Tory-lite Labour MPs through the trigger process, you get Tory-lite MPs to represent you. It's not difficult.

George Carty said...

Why would revoking Article 50 bring the Brexit nightmare to an end, given that the Tories (with their membership now radicalized by the Brexit press) would surely adopt a policy of re-invoking Article 50 as soon as they won another General Election?

You'd have to keep the Tories out of power for a decade or more, until the heavily pro-Brexit boomer generation has mostly died off.

Anonymous said...

People want their MPs to be something they are not. The projection of qualities on to another due to their perceived status. MPs looking after their own self- interest ( it's a good job!)- weak support of party whip.

Boffy said...


It brings it to an end, because if Labour wins an election on that basis, the whole Brexit debate about the future relation to the EU ends, which it does not with any form of Brexit.

True the Faragists will want to continue to raise the issue of Brexit, but what's new. They raised it continually for 40 odd years after 1975 without effect. The truth is that no one was exercised about the issue of Europe before Cameron called the referendum to resolve an internal Tory Party problem. Prior to then, the EU ranked only about 7th in voters list of priorities.

No doubt those hardline Leavers will continue to want to press the issue as they did ever since 1975, but they are an ever dwindling minority as they die out, along with the rest of the hardline Tory support. The opposite is not the case. The hardlione support for Remain comes from young people. The biggest loss of support for Corbyn comes from people in the 18-25 age group, who feel betrayed by his failure to pursue the opposition to Brexit they expected from him.

That sense of betrayal is not going to go away, and nor is their commitment to fighting to reverse the Brexit vote, which will only gather momentum. Look at the million people who have turned out to oppose Brexit now on two occasions, the seven million that signed the petition to revoke. The Brexiteers have not been able to mobilise even a hundredth of that kind of active mobilisation and support.

A Labour government with a working majority that scrapped brexit, and began to implement a radical social-democratic programme would simply move the agenda on. Brexit would become a distant memory, echoed only in the cries in the wilderness by a few increasingly aged dinosaurs.