Any member of the PLP who aspires to lead the Labour party must vote against triggering Article 50

by Atul Hatwal

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a parliamentary vote that transformed Labour politics. It was July 2015, in calendar terms quite recent, but politically another century. The Labour leadership contest had just begun and the government’s welfare bill was coming up for a vote at second reading.

Only one leadership candidate voted against, the others abstained, saying they would vote against if it couldn’t be amended in committee.

Abstention was what moderates thought was the judicious approach – avoid supporting the bill while depriving the Tories of the ability to paint Labour as free spending, welfare junkies. I’m a moderate, I thought it was the only sane option.

What did we know? We were fighting the last war, the general election. The war to come was to be fought before Labour members and supporters not the public. They wanted passion, clarity and, above all else, full-throated opposition to the Tories.

Jeremy Corbyn’s vote against the welfare bill in July 2015 was the catalyst for a surge that deposited him in the leader’s office.

For the 2015 welfare bill, read Brexit. Squared. Any MP who aspires to lead the party one day should pay heed.

Brexit has utterly transformed Labour’s internal politics in terms of what defines the party ideologically and Jeremy Corbyn’s personal standing.

The common narrative is that Labour is more divided over Brexit than the Tories. This mistakes what is happening at Wesminster for the party in the country.

Certainly there are divisions in the PLP but among members and supporters across Britain, opposition to the Tory government’s Brexit plans is near uniform. There is a level of unity not seen in years.

Two-thirds of Labour’s 2015 voters would opt to Remain if given a choice today and if pared back to those in Labour’s leadership selectorate, the proportion would rise significantly. Add in turnout effects – party officials suggest that voting in the two recent leadership elections has been proportionately much higher in the big cities – and the voters that would pick Labour’s leader in a future contest are hugely anti-Brexit.

The ideological divide between most centrists and the soft left, a gap that has grown for decades, is being bridged by opposition to Brexit. For the first time since the 1990s, the majority of Labour members and supporters passionately believe in the same thing. Stopping Theresa May’s plans on Brexit defines the new right and wrong in Labour.

Leadership hopefuls would do well to understand this, particularly as Jeremy Corbyn clearly doesn’t.

His performance in opposing Brexit is doing far more damage to him in the eyes of members and supporters than anything that the press or his PLP opponents could manage.

Inexplicably, he has placed himself in the position of the other 2015 leadership contenders, on the welfare bill vote. Where once he painted his policies in vivid primary colours, now he is offering a canvass of muddled grey.

The confusion in Corbyn’s response to Brexit, from the morning of June 24th last year when he called for Article 50 to be triggered immediately, to his equivocation over whether there would or would not be a three-line whip in favour of its trigger, is defining a narrative within the party that connects Labour’s atrocious poll ratings with the leader.

Suddenly, for many in Labour’s key internal swing vote group, the soft left, Brexit is the main cause of Labour’s woes rather than conniving press barons or rebellious parliamentarians.

The growing exasperation is even seeping into the hard left. George Monbiot’s recent tweets summarise what many are feeling.

Even the Canary is attacking Corbyn over Brexit.

Owen Smith might have fought a patchy leadership campaign last year, but he was right in identifying Europe as a key wedge issue. It was probably too early in summer 2016, but one year on, its potency is increasing daily.

Losses in the Copeland and Stoke by-elections would almost certainly prompt a leadership challenge later this year, but even with victories, the challenge will likely only be delayed until 2018.

Corbyn himself has apparently told his inner circle that he does not want to remain leader all the way through to 2020 and wants to give his anointed successor – John McDonnell – sufficient time in the role before the general election.

Another leadership contest is coming sooner or later and regardless of what Corbyn’s team might want, it will be defined by the the Labour leader’s record on opposing Brexit. He won’t be the plucky underdog anymore but the leader who has failed to live up to member expectations on the issue that matters most.

When this contest comes, how potential candidates voted on triggering Article 50 will be a key litmus test for members and supporters, just as the vote on the welfare bill was in the 2015 leadership election.

MPs who harbour ambitions of leading Labour and challenging Theresa May should learn the lesson of 2015. Don’t run before you can walk. The electorate that matters, if you want to replace Corbyn, is Labour members and supporters.

Positions can be nuanced after the leadership has been secured. Until then, the people who will determine the success or failure of your career want to see passionate and committed opposition, not equivocation, in response to May’s Brexit agenda.

That means voting against triggering Article 50.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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16 Responses to “Any member of the PLP who aspires to lead the Labour party must vote against triggering Article 50”

  1. Alf says:

    Whether the vote on the third and final reading of the Bill will be whipped or not has not been revealed. My guess is that we won’t know until Labour’s success – or failure – in getting its amendments onto the Bill has been established. So, it’s strange that the Tory-lites are jumping ship ahead of that final reading.

  2. John P Reid says:

    Athletes you must be aware people like my family and Frank field who voted leave, for different reasons all held our noses(excluding me) and voted Owen for leader

    As for this mythical leader you talk of, one from London as even the three other areas which labour could have a leader from Livepool, Manchester and Scotland, would realise not far from them, our core vote wanted Brexit

    I know people who voted Liz Kendall first last time, didn’t vote for Burnham or Cooper second, abstaining from the other, because even though Kendall was a remainer, at least she realized that the working class wanted out

    Yes 2/3rd of our 9 million voters at the last election did vote remain, we also need 3 million more voters to win a election,,who currently vote Ukip, who, voted leave

    Yes it’s hypocritical of him over the three line whip, which he broke so many times, but Callaghan ,Kinnock Wilson, Margaret Beckett ,foot ,all broke the whip, and the view of supporting article 50 with mixed messages from Diane Abbott, isn’t perfect, but many labour remainer from Caroline flint, Lisa Nandy ,Stella Creasy, Yvette Cooper and Emma reynolds have respected we are leaving the single market, so why shouldn’t Jeremy insist in the whip on it

    Yes there maybe a neither leadership election, Gaistkell had two against him in 1960 and 61′ I would guess Clive Lewis in 2019 and if that fails, parachuting Sadiq back in via a by election , late 2019 for a last minute challenge in 2020 ,but I don’t think acorbynistas care, they would get John Mcdinnell in, if Jeremy fell,and that would be much worse, At least ackrbyn is a gentleman, McDonnell is a thug

    Th canary white middle class. Liberals, who fell for the lies peddled by Ava Vidal,Diane Abbott Emily thornberry and Shami Chakrobarti that Brexit is racist, even though, there will be more commonwealth immigration with it, have now to try to save face ,and accept that our core vote up north want Brexit, unless we become a London Metropolitan party, and that Brexit wasn’t racist after all

    Labour isn’t divided over Brexit,what’s divided is our working class Northern core vote and our middle class London liberals

  3. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I detect a flaw in Atul Hatwal’s logic. He wants Labour MPs to oppose Brexit, I get that, but the majority of voters voted for Brexit six months ago. Is this not bad advise for a political party?

  4. paul barker says:

    The events of the last 18 Months have seen Labour split along both a Left-Right axis & for/against Brexit. By far the largest fragment are “Remainers for Corbyn”, they may well be a majority of the Membership. However they are Leaderless & completely disorganised.
    Could a new Centre-Left Labour coalition form around an Anti-Brexit position, uniting both Membership & most of The PLP under a new Leader ? Its possible I suppose but there dont seem to be many signs of it happening yet.

  5. Richard MacKinnon says:

    I have another problem with the main point of this article.
    Brexit is going to happen. It is beyond the credibility of mankind to advocte oppostion to it. Remainers need to accept this. Therefore is it not reasonable for JC to say to his MPs lets get on with it. We will vote to trigger article 50.
    Im no where near as educated as Atul Hatwal on these matters , Atul is editor of Labour Uncut so he most really know what he’s talking about, but his advise to his leader on this baffles me.

  6. Ian says:

    Labour is doomed, it is just a matter of time. The various constituencies it seeks to represent have irreconcileable interests, and the party is divided such that it cannot reach a settled view on any principal issue of the day – not just Brexit, but Trident, airport expansion, name it, Labour is always at war with itself.

  7. madasafish says:

    This article basically says:
    The UK voted Brexit
    We think voters are wrong.
    Stuff the voters

    And then you wonder why people despise politicians, an why Labour is polling badly. Keep on like this and you will lose half your seats in England – the ones that voted Leave.

  8. Tafia says:

    Lets get a couple of facts into the arena here.

    Remain is a middle class/metropolitan option that has no relevance to Labour’s working class core vote.

    The 60% of Labour voters that voted Remain are ‘stacked’ dispropotionately in the south. This means that Labour is more at risk from losing Leave voters than Remain voters.

    The blue collar working class Labour voters that voted Leave are not in the slightest bothered about switching to UKIP or the Tories if needs be. They do not perceive either as a threat. They do perceive Lbour as a threat to Brexit and an end to Freedom of Movement.

    Labour without the blue collar working class isn’t Labour at all – it’s just the Lib Dems by another name.

    Nobody north of Watford gives a flying f**k about London – it can fall off a cliff and sink below the sea for all they care. Did you knw that most people in the north have never ever been to London, don’t have any desire to an never intend to. More northerners have been to places like Spain on the piss than have been to London. I’m 60. Been all over the world – even lived in Hong Kong for three years. Ben to London 4 times, for a day each time (thought it was filthy, litter strewn, insular and far to noisy).

    The majority of Labour MPs come from Constituencies that voted Leave, in the most part on a higher turn-out and with a bigger vote than that which put that MP into Westminster.

    Labour has two choices – represent workers or represent middle class metros. It can’t do both.

  9. Tafia says:

    And all of this could have been avoided.

    All that needed to hapen was for all the party leaders to agree that their MPs – irrespective of how they thought as individuals (bearing in mind they voted as individuals in the referendum itself), voted the way their relevant consituencies did.

    No blame, no shame, no hassle, no dramas.

  10. John P Reid says:

    Some of my ex labour friends who went libdem 10 years ago over Iraq, would like to vote lapbur again, but it until we’re in the middle again, and yes they voted remain, and Apart from Glasman,Frank Field and Denis Healey(A brexiter just before he died) don’t care for many other moderate labour leavers, Tom Harris, John Mann, Christian Wolmar, and certainly don’t like Dennis Skinner or gisela or Kate Hoey

    And labour has to get back our ex labour vote who votes Ukip
    But there’s a assumption that ex labour voters who vote Brexit are over 65′ recall the Soiclally conservative ve party of 47 years ago, skeptical of the permissive society, lie a young Blunkett, or sexist Like Jim Callaghan ,who stuck with lapbur over the next 40 years,even when labour became more obsessed with save the whale and positive desrcimination than , working class trade union blue collar workers jobs.

    But many of the ex lapbur voters who’ve gone to Ukip in the last 10 years, went there as our criticism of Israel was bordering on anti semitism, and the sexism of segregated meetings

    Many ex labour who now vote Ukip would even call themselves radical feminists, interesting in gay rights

  11. John P Reid says:

    And all those ex labour who now vote Ukip ,who up to a few yeas ago wouldn’t tote Tory because if they’re the 60 year old who was a unionist 35 years ago during the miners strike, or maybe a teenager in the 80’s with radical left wing views and supported unionists,during that time to save jobs

    Many of those ex labour who vote Ukip wouldn’t vote tory ,remembering the 80’s .

    well if this article is right ,those ex labour who dislike the Tories who vote Ukip, if ukip collapse they will vote Tory

  12. Mary says:

    But Labour is split on brexit, no one can agree a strategy. There is a lot of talk about short term tactics, but no thought about strategy.

    Just imagine if the next leader of the Labour party had voted against article 50. just imagine what would happen at prime ministers questions, as they were taunted for ignoring the democratic will of the people.

    Then slide into the future and confront reality. Yes project fear was comforting, but just the other day the head of Barclays has said he doesn’t think brexit will make much difference, Mervyn King has said the same. Andy Haldane of the BoE has admitted the forecasts of economic doom were wrong. It’s highly likely that the economic effects of brexit will barely be noticed.

    Then what reason did your new leader have for voting against? apart from that he (or maybe she, though the record isn’t very good on that) think they are cleverer than the voters. But as the economy doesn’t go wrong, then it’s going to start looking like the leave voters were cleverer than the experts.

    Then they will be taunted for not accepting an election result, for being undemocratic, as well as for not being very good at predicting what would happen to the economy.

    It may be the case that the next elected leader will have voted against 50, but in doing so it will be blindingly obvious to everyone that Labour has learnt nothing whatsoever from the Corbyn experience.

  13. Ex-Labour says:

    The Labour party should wake up to the fact that its own mainly Northern working class vote saw the Brexiteers to victory. Atul has got this spectacularly wrong firstly in listening to the metropolitan Guardianistas and secondly advising the party to go against the will of the British people. If the PLP vote against Article 50, Labour are dead in the water…..if they are not already.

    Imagine canvassing on behalf of Labour if this happens as the Tories and UKIP will have all the ammunition to destroy them. Standing on the doorstep in some post industrial northern town asking for the vote of someone who voted to leave…I’d love to see that.

  14. Tafia says:

    Any member of the PLP who aspires to lead the Labour party must vote against triggering Article 50

    I’d say the exact opposite actually. Article 50 is a done deal – notification WILL happen sometime in the next 6 weeks, my money is on within days of it clearing Parliament.

    In 12 months time we will be 50% through the negotiation progress (or if the opening phases encounter an intransigent EU, quite possibly out by then).

    Therefore Labour’s next leader needs to be someone who either supported Leave or isn’t even in Parliament yet.

    To select a new Leader who backed Remain would be suicidal – the press would quite rightly rip the piss out of him/her constantly, the northern/midland/Wales Labour voters wouldn’t take him/her seriously in the slightest, and the Tories would have a field day during PMQs and quite rightly so.

  15. Tafia says:

    Mind you. we are talking a party here that was dumb enough to make Jim Murphy leader of the Scottish branch.

  16. John P Reid says:

    What Mary said

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