Labour needs to learn to accept the public’s mandate

by Kevin Meagher

Is it really a surprise that Theresa May intends to press on and trigger Article 50 and begin our negotiated withdrawal from the EU without a vote in Parliament?

After all, June’s referendum was conclusive.

A clear majority of Britons chose to quit the EU. 52 per cent to 48 per cent. 17.4 million votes to 16.1 million. And at 72 per cent, the turnout was higher than the 66 per cent that voted in last year’s general election.

The debate was had. The issues were discussed to death. Both sides made their case. They were well-matched. The Remain campaign lost. Game over.

What comes next is axiomatic, surely? Article 50 is triggered, we negotiate the terms of our exit and future working relationship with the EU and we get on with it.

That’s what the public chose to do. It’s what they commanded ministers to implement on their behalf and the political class to accept.

Yet Owen Smith is standing for the Labour leadership on a platform of offering a second referendum, while Tottenham MP, David Lammy, called Theresa May’s plan to press ahead with Article 50 a ‘stitch-up’.

Going one better in terms of rhetorical outrage, shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, has accused May of trying to ‘diminish parliament and assume the arrogant powers of a Tudor monarch.’

What part of this don’t they get?

The people are sovereign. Parliament legislated for the referendum so MPs have had their say and need to abide by the result.

How does Westminster hold out against the SNP’s demand for a second referendum on Scottish independence – which it would be very likely to win – if MPs do not accept the integrity of referendum results?

It’s the same when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn.

He secured 65 per cent of the vote in last year’s Labour leadership contest. There was an exhaustive three month campaign representing all shades of opinion across the party and he triumphed – convincingly – and on the first ballot. There was no ambiguity about the result.

Whatever you think of his leadership or the leftwards direction he wants to head in, his mandate deserves respect.

The failure to accord it such is to insult the members who voted for him. He won fair and square. And, as with the EU, the implications of his victory were absolutely clear.

That doesn’t mean he goes unchallenged, or that we don’t insist the terms of our exit from the EU are put under the microscope, but what it does mean is that people should stop looking for a tactical ruse to undermine results they don’t like.

The obvious lesson? Fight better campaigns in future. Don’t let issues like Europe or the demands from the grassroots for a more meaningful politics go unheeded again.

Stop assuming the Westminster class has magical powers of persuasion that lets them ignore public opinion in the mistaken assumption that it can be bounced when needed.

Instead, bear in mind that when the facts change, the public change their minds.

The EU might, eventually, react to Britain’s departure as the existential crisis it is for Europe and abolish the free movement of people that – more than any other issue – swung the result for Brexit.

Likewise, in time, the soft Corbynistas, those who simply want their politics to mean something after New Labour’s ideological crash diet, may recognise Jeremy Corbyn lacks a strategy for winning the next election and accept that it is the first duty of a party leader to be able to do just that.

In both instances, time and experience may present new opportunities to re-examine these decisions.

The next two years will be long and hard in British politics.

Perhaps the eventual terms of Brexit will justify being put to the public in a second referendum.

Perhaps a string of poor electoral results will trigger another leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn.

In both cases we will see, but the losing sides have no right to disown the mandates of the victors on a whim.

Pro-European and anti-Corbyn MPs should remember the prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr and ask for the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, the courage to change the things they can and the wisdom to know the difference.

The smart move would have been to have treated Brexit as a genuine threat in the first place and worked much harder to persuade moderately sceptical members of the public about the benefits of continued membership of the EU, rather than battering them over the head with puerile scare stories.

And rather than sulking around on the backbenches, perhaps moderate Labour MPs should accept that Jeremy Corbyn will only quit or be forced out when the soft part of his support recognises the 2020 election is already lost and spend more time engaging with them to explain the alternative.

In both instances, if you don’t respect the decision and the mandate, you don’t show respect to those who made it.

In democratic politics, that’s surely unwise?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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11 Responses to “Labour needs to learn to accept the public’s mandate”

  1. Mark Livingston says:

    Labour’s hard-right rebels really need to get their act together on Europe. They seem to be against Brexit and an early move on Article 5 but, at the same time, they want to hear strong rhetoric from Labour against immigration! (To assuage the Daily Mail perhaps?)

    I think this contradiction shows that, even if the Tory-lites are able to somehow remove Corbyn, the hard right remain bankrupt politically. The members would be quite right to stick with Corbyn in the absence of any coherent policy ideas on Europe from the New Labour diehards.

  2. Sean says:

    Excellent article on the situation faced by Labour. I agree that Labour should move on and pressure the tories on the details of brexit. Small point on the referendum result not being brought through parliament, the UK’s system of parliamentary sovereignty means that the referendum is not strictly speaking binding. Purely as a constitutional point, it would set a dangerous precedent for the PM to use her crown prerogative in this case. I’d still expect the motion to be passed in the houses, as a referendum was the agreed upon democratic device here.

  3. buttley says:

    Only “New Labour” could frame the referendum outcome, as a party issue. Pure cognitive dissonance.

    Party Loyalty had no place in this referendum.

    This was the opening gambit, for the coup, which quickly triangulated into a leadership presentation / competence issue.

    Ironically, the very people who were ashamed to even acknowledge the word socialism, during the past decade, are now busy wrapping themselves in it, like a cloak of honour.

    All highly amusing, but hardly credible, the public are not as daft as the PLP might have assumed.

    From one perspective, which not many are prepared to narrate from, Corbyn has inherited a car crash of a party, burnt out, disingenuous, undemocratic, & not very comradely. Intent on pursuing policies that make a large proportion of members/population come out in hives.

    Corbyn could be said, to be valiantly, trying to fix this problem, whilst the problem itself, still in denial, would rather see Rome burn, than renewal take place.

    In the meantime, members/supporters appear to be backing Corbyn’s initiative in this regard.

    Time will tell.

  4. Mike Stallard says:

    What matters is not right or left wing: it is our country and the people in it.
    We have simply got to get our act together – and very fast. Opening night is NOW.
    First of all, we need to make sure that we are firmly nailed into the EEA. this will keep us trading in Europe without interruption and it will allow us, in committee, to shape our economic policies for the future too.
    Second we must join EFTA. This will put us into a position where everyone can see where we are and allow us to apply Article 50 safely.
    If we do not do these things, we are left with the WTO option which will demand a lot of negotiations with the EU – taking years and years to negotiate – and which will simply cut off our trade with Europe, perhaps quite suddenly too.
    Rather than bellyaching on about more and more hand-outs, the Labour Party needs to get on with Europe. And that very very quickly.

  5. John p Reid says:

    It’s not ‘labour’ that needs to accept it ,37% of labour got the result we wanted.

  6. David Walker says:

    Around the world and throughout history, the left has a much poorer record on democracy than the right.

    The reason for this is simple. Democracy has tended to provide the right with the result it wanted, far more than it did the left.

    If results had gone the other way, we might well look upon the right as being less eager to embrace democracy.

    As for the UK, I guess we’ll never know,unless Labour starts winning more than it’s fair share of elections.

    You could argue that it is the right that is calling foul, over Corbyn’s legitimate victory right now, but this is still an episode that is taking place within the broader left. Those that are looking to oust him are still from the left, it’s only the far-left that refuses to view them that way.

    Labour’s general embrace of the EU, a fundamentally undemocratic institution, is based upon the fact that the body enables centre-left initiatives to be carried out. The ends justify the means, so hold your nose.

    Nobody within Labour (nor hardly anyone in the Tory Party, to be fair – it has become a centre-left social democratic party and not much different than modern-day Labour) wanted to talk about how undemocratic the EU is, during the run up to the Brexit vote.

    People were just told that if we leave the EU, things would get much worse. It’s no wonder they felt so angry and voted as they did.

    All 3 traditional major parties are now to the left of the overall public mood, particularly when you get outside of the major cities. That does not bode well for democracy and I’ll be very surprised if Brexit actually happens, in the near future.

    Some ruse will be afoot, already.

    Brexit would be bad for me personally. I work remotely and spend my time hopping around mainland Europe, enjoying various countries when they are seasonally at their best. It’s a great life and I’m very fortunate, but the vote was clear.

    The British people want out and nobody who calls themselves a genuine democrat can deny them their wish.

  7. madasafish says:

    Well it looks like JC will be re-elected Leader.

    If so, the Labour party should live through some interesting times.

    I hope to live to see the next Labour Government – in 2035.

    Labour basically needs to reconnect with ordinary voters: those who work, and are not rich or students or part of a metropolitan elite..Twenty years should do it.

  8. Martin says:

    The Brexit referendum and Corbyn’s election to lead the Labour Party. Put the two together and we have the most dire prospects for the UK; dire beyond anything imaginable less than a couple of years ago.

    Racism and xenophobia has set the agenda and the main concerted opposition seems to be the SNP, any other opposition is either in pieces or annihilated.

    Even with a post Brexit economy in tatters, the Tories can be confident of control for the next two elections at least and in any case, what other party would want to be left picking up the pieces.

    Here we have an article that basically runs up a white flag, while against all rational odds, a madcap, high-risk gamble with the UK economy is played out, spurred on by bigotry.

  9. James Martin says:

    Martin, you really should consider your words more carefully. As a lifelong socialist I voted Leave. I don’t regret that vote at all as someone who has always loved Europe and hated the EU (even more after what it did to my Greek brothers and sisters). But please do not insult me, and the people in the Lancashire town where I live and who overwhelmingly voted Leave by calling us bigots. In fact we have one of the most integrated towns here where racism is very rare. As for the economy we shall see, personally I think being tied to a sinking and unstable EU was a recipe for future disaster.

    And the SNP, don’t make me laugh, yes these reactionary nationalists have gained temporary success through pretending to be left reformists at Scottish Labour’s expense, but who are they the opposition to exactly, certainly not exploitative employers like Brian Souter that’s for sure!

  10. Tafia says:

    And the SNP, don’t make me laugh, yes these reactionary nationalists have gained temporary success through pretending to be left reformists at Scottish Labour’s expense

    Where the hell did you get that from. You obviously have no idea what you are on about in the slightest. They portray themselves as nordic/north european style social democrats. Which is pretty mush what they are. They are neither left wing nor right wing, nor or the centrist.

    Sturgeon is about to change tac in a subtle way and bang out ther message to all te scots that voted to remain in the EU that it is impossible unless Scotland becomes independent (which is true) and therefore if they want to stay in the EU they must support IndyRef2 as that is the only way. Which means on another level that Sturgeon accepts that the UK will leave and intends to capitalise on it – in short, she has a post-BREXIT strategy with a clear aim whereas Labour hasn’t.

  11. Anna says:

    Martin: much research after the referendum confirms that sovereignty was ahead of immigration as a major concern. It is bigotry to assume that anyone who expresses concern about immigration is a racist. People are simply worried about how they will cope with the housing crisis and depressed wages which, belatedly, Labour MPs like Rachel Reeves are acknowledging are legitimate causes for concern.

    As for xenophobia – look to Europe:migrant hostels burned down in Germany; guns and barbed wire to keep migrants out of Hungary and the refusal to accept quotas by other Eastern European countries who have nothing like the population density that we have here. England is the 2nd most populated country in the EU. We have as many EU nationals here as there are Brits spread over all the other 27 EU countries. If you squash rats in a cage they will fight. The wonder is that there has been so few xenophobic acts – though I deplore them as you do – in a packed country of 65 million people. We are still a remarkably tolerant people, but if legitimate fears are ignored and ridiculed, you foster nationalism and worse.

    I voted, reluctantly, remain, fearful of the economic consequences of Brexit, but nevertheless disturbed that the original idea of peace in Europe through trade and prosperity and a celebration of our shared cultural heritage has been subverted by remote, incompetent functionaries in Brussels. Since the referendum, I have read ‘And the weak suffer what they must?’ by Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, a book that has been widely praised for its grasp of the chaotic mismanagement, lies and corruption at the heart of the EU, and particularly the deceit, deception and criminal manipulation by the ECB. If there is another referendum I will vote to leave this decadent, self-serving and degraded empire that is driving Europe to disaster. Juncker and his minions still insist that we must be punished ‘to deter others from leaving.’ Is this the EU or the USSR? ‘Oderint dum metuant’ – ‘Let them hate so long as they fear’, the slogan of Caligula and tyrants everywhere. However tough Brexit is, it cannot be worse than being bound to this increasingly discredited and disfunctional organisation.

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