Labour’s pro-Brexit front bench is more of a problem than Corbyn

by Trevor Fisher

For any blog site commenting on current developments, the latest headlines define the agenda. The opening days of April provided many, but if the Livingstone saga is ignored as driven by one person’s private attempt to stay in the headlines, there are two underlying themes that make Labour’s future increasingly grim. The first is the Party leadership abandoning Party policy to appease right wing interests, and the second is the short sighted belief that the battle for Party dominance is what defines party politics. Both major factions, Old Left and Modernised New Labour are paddling these canoes with no sense that the public is moving elsewhere. The first of these two problems is now coming to a head.

The major political issue of our time is Brexit, and the dominant forces in the PLP have abandoned defence of the EU for acceptance of the hard right agenda on splitting from Europe. The party policy passed by the 2016 conference, still  holds that while it “noted” the TUC decision to accept the majority vote, it would reserve its position including not triggering Article 50 and stated that “The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through parliament and potentially through a general election or referendum”, which remains feasible, most crucially through another referendum.

But the PLP leadership, from Corbyn to Mandleson, abandoned this with classic short term thinking. The principled reasons for defending Europe were abandoned once the vote came in, but it was not only Corbyn who demanded total obedience to Brexit.  Miliband’s speech to the Open Labour conference was that a soft Brexit was acceptable and Labour would get this, with no reference to the actual results of this policy. As I have already argued, there is no soft Brexit and to accept the Tory agenda as Corbyn did by putting a three line whip on Article 50 was folly. However  the electoral argument is currently top priority. The Corbynistas still claim that they can win the next election, arguing it will take two years to turn the party round.

This has to be measured against the reality of Labour’s actual election results. At both the February by- elections, in Leave constituencies, the vote for Brexit candidates outnumbered the pro-Brexit parties, but by accepting Brexit Labour is said to have held on to Stoke Central, despite losing Copeland. The result was clearly the result of UKIP splitting the Brexit vote. This was a poor outcome in a Leave seat, and there is no answer from the Party leadership on what would happen in pro-Remain constituencies: the threat to Labour’s north English seats was enough to ditch party policy. However the double thrust of losing Remain and Leave seats is now looming. SNP and Lib Dems are as much a threat, in Remain constituencies as UKIP and the resurgent Tories are in Leve seats.

To add a twist of pure stupidity, the Times reported on April 6th that Peter Mandelson is arguing the UK should pay £50billion to release the UK from the EU, at which point negotiations on a trade deal could begin. The idea that paying £50 billion wins votes is a non-starter. The Leave case rested largely on stopping monies being paid to Brussels. Paying large sums to them would trigger a backlash from the Right and is so far from reality that Mandleson has entered the realms of delusion.

The same day the paper reported that internal Tory polling showed the Lib Dems likely to win back seats in South London and the South West they lost in 2015, but due to the strength of their local organisation not the call for a second referendum. This will be put to the test in the vote Farron has called on May 12th, but at least means that a snap election is impossible for the Tories to call, so Labour has time to assess what is to be done about its Brexit favouring leadership.

The grim failure to grasp what accepting Brexit involves was most sharply pointed up by Ed Miliband – of the Speech of Retreat at the Open Labour conference on March 11th  – and Hilary Benn, now risking becoming the member for voting with the Tories, jointly writing in the Guardian on 2nd April.  What stood out was two experienced politicians arguing that Labour can build national unity but “we don’t do it by appearing to write off the 52%”, a statement not merely political nonsense but hypocritical since they belong to a party elite which ignored the growing alienation of the working class voter as Labour failed from 2001 to hold its core vote.  It is dangerously patronising to second referendum supporters. These know they have to pay close attention to people who voted for the Tory hard right and win their support. This is very different from seeking to appease people who Labour now fears will vote against them in the future. The Labour leadership has lost any credibility by flip flopping over Europe and the strategies and tactics needed to hold on to and develop Party policy will not come from the compromised politicians on the front bench.

Inevitably the progressive alliance will come into the debate, but it must be rejected. I argued before Xmas it might be possible in by elections, but the failure of the Lib Dems to make any gestures to the Greens for standing down in Richmond damaged the strategy, and while the Lib Dems and SNP are gaining support, elections will be run on conventional lines. Nevertheless, though the Lib Dems are on a roll, Labour remains central to progressive politics as the Lib Dems cannot achieve enough support to make a difference unless there is a political earthquake. Labour has to build on its existing anti-Brexit policy by marginalising a compromised front bench which is now a much bigger problem than simply removing Corbyn.

Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007. He was a member of the Compass Executive 2007-2009

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12 Responses to “Labour’s pro-Brexit front bench is more of a problem than Corbyn”

  1. NHSGP says:

    Mr Racist and Mrs Bigot, I’m the Labour candidate for the upcoming general election.

    Can I count on your support?

    Yep, its going to go down like the bucket of cold sick.

    On the 60 bn. That’s the 11.5% share of the EU’s debts. Why does remain think the EU’s great when its accumulated massive debts, that the public are forced to pay?

    They kept that quite.

  2. John P Reid says:

    It’s a problem to you Trevor with your daft view that he public aren’t now. Taking Brexit as happening,

    Peter amandlesin ive always admired, noe he’s gone to far that, by trying to throw as much negative aspects of cinceding, we pay for leaving the aeU it will make it a disaster is actually trying to wreck Brexit and let the lsbour leadership, takethe blamr,he should either shut it,or go from the party,
    As for the rest of the front bench going along with Brexit, guess what they’re trying to make the best of it,as 90% of them live in seats where the majority of labour voters in those areas voted leave,

    As for Hilary Ben, when we ever get a new labour governement and it turns out some of the Tory policies are good ideas, then he can say he was right,

  3. the factual issue as it hs been since New Labour started is appeasing the right for electoral reasons. Its not politics to say that we will reverse our views because the majority of voters don’t agree with them. Had that been the case then Labour would never have got started. You have to win your argument.

    In the Leave seats, a majority of voters voted leave but there is no evidence that the labour voters did. In Stoke Central the majority was for leave but labour won. And now claims this was because the line shifted, though only privately. In Copeland the line also changed, and Labour lost. Its not a vote winner.

    WOrse the line now loses in Remain seats. On a strictly electoral basis, though there is more to it than that, Labour now is not trusted in Leave or Remain seats and in Scotland it is poised to go down the pan as the SNP and Tory party have clear positions and Labour flip flops whenever a new poll appears.

    The era of appeasement started by Blair and Brown in 1995 is now over. EIther Labour sticks to what it believes in and fights and wins or it has no credibility at all.

    Labour fought as a remain party, its policy at 2016 conference was a remain policy, and Mandleson is being consistent – reverse the policy and line up with the TOries. It no longer works even as an electoral tactic.

    As for the EU, it was made very clear what the debt is. What the Leave campaign did was claim there was money coming back from Europe. They never mentioned the bill for leaving. Do you remember the big red bus? And the money up front is only the start of the economic costs.

    At present Britain could pay the bill. Not when Brexit kicks in and major banks shift out of the country. Fingers crossed this will not happen.

    Or a war with Spain as the Sun and others seem to want.

    Brexit Wrecks it. Its not a difficult slogan

    Trevor FIsher.

  4. Alf says:

    Let’s not go back to New “Tory-lite” Labour. Hell, no.

  5. John P Reid says:

    “Appeasing” is going along with something for fear of something worse, if right wing electoral reasons ,is fear that ex labour voters will go to the BNP,over immigration, apart from th fact controlling immigration isn’t a right wing thing,
    Th public let labours secret change the demographic of the country with immigration 18 years ago t get extra votes because we were doing a lot of good on other things and when the at least 3rd generation blue collar working class, saw huge demographic changes in EU immigration, labour could afford to lose a few working class in suburbia, as our plan to get the middle class in swing seats in rural areas saw us win under FPTP
    As for new labour reversing its views we scrapped a lot of Tory welfare views as soon as we came in,in 97′ twigged they were right, reversed it and by 2001 were redressing them, same as the Tories scrapping some of labours law and order policies saw crime go up,and now are backing their own versions of them,

    There’s no evidence that labour voters voted leave in leave areas, lol, tell. That to the labour councillor s in Essex,who all of a sudden hwve become born again leavers, Jon Cruddas backing remain, while sitting on the fence then twigged most his core vote, voted leave, he’s now the biggest Brexiter, nearby a Tory Remainer Shaun Bailey is a born again leaver when he saw the working class, voted leave,and he wants those labour votes to exit the Labour Party and vote for him.

    You’re entitled t fight for what you believe in, it wasn’t this labour are anti racist voting lewveis racist,let vote remain,ans even though the wo in class disagree,and there’s no proof they’re racist, if we keep saying it enough, it’s not as if Blair, Richard Branson want cheap EU immigration they can employ to under cut the market,as that wouldn’t be a labour value would it..oh wait,no it’s not a socialist value.

    Th cheap jibe at the sun wanting war with Spain, was flippant,but again snobbery of claiming prejudice at the ao king class,as too why they voted leave,you’re entitled to your view, but it won even be guardian readers it’ll be just Shami Chakrobarti, Ava Vidal, Diane Abbott, and Emily thirnberry sneering at the white wo in class, hoe about getting some of them to canvass ,in working class leave areas,see how that goes down with labours core vote.

    Regarding losing labour remain votes as I put on the other thread, labour will be a Inner London, inner Manchester, inner liverpool party, I have friends in the first two inner areas,and they don’t hold with the metropolitan elite, it’s amazing how some former corbynistas, like Tom Copley on the GLA are born again Blairites F@@king hell!

    I admired Peter Mandleson helpbkinnoxk fight militant, but his view letting the EU have all the money on leave,is him trying to wreck it from inside and is disgraceful, if that’s the best you’ve got to ,to stop Brexit,by sniping at the sidelines,I pity you,

  6. Blair says:

    Trevor In Stoke Central the majority was for leave but labour won.

    PMSL. There and in Copeland and in several other places where there have been votes in Labour held seats at various levels, the Tory share plus the UKIP share has beaten all the others combined.

    In the Leave seats, a majority of voters voted leave but there is no evidence that the labour voters did.
    Christ on a rubber cross. Have you not read any of the anlyses – let alone what individual Labvour MPs have said? Perhaps you wouyld care to explain how the Leave vote in ultra safe Labour seats dwarfed the Labour vote from the last election?

    Just my seat (which is marginal Plaid/Labour with one holding the Assembly seat and t’other holding the Westminster seat), the Plaid/Labour/LibDem vote tops 80% combined. It voted Leave on a similar turnout.

  7. Tafia says:

    and major banks shift out of the country. Fingers crossed this will not happen.

    It will happen but not because of BREXIT – although they will probably use that as a partial excuse. And it won’t just be London – it will be right across northern Europe. My daughter works in international banking and works for a major bank in their Luxembourg offices. Since the ‘crash’ all the major banks right across the EU have been planning to relocate to the far-East. They intend to do this by first relocating to Spain (using the excuse that they can get all the skills they need at a quarter of the wage – a very good corporate solicitor will only cost €25k pa for example), then a few years down the line relocate to Thailand/Singapore/Philipines (where a very good corporate solicitor will cost less than €10k pa).

  8. John P Reid says:

    are there any council elections in manchester,next month, seems like a by election, just if outer Manchester doesn’t vote labour itll be a sign to labour that outer London wont vote labour in 2018

  9. paul barker says:

    Over most of the last year Labour support in the Polls has been falling at a steady rate of around 1% every 2 Months. The polling average for The Libdems has been rising by about 1% every 3 Months. The Political balance is shifting with glacial slowness but its enough, without any “Political Earthquake”.
    If the changes over the last year were to continue The Libdems would pull alongside Labour in 20 Months time, around Xmas 2018. All thats needed is that things go on as they have been, no Earthquake required.
    Of course The Libdem recovery may stall, Labour may recover…..

  10. NickT says:

    @John P Reid

    “trying to wreck Brexit”

    Brexit already is a wreck and the sooner the Leaver fools understand this, the sooner we can start making policy on the basis of economic reality rather than the self-pitying racism of the UKIP pub bore combined with the weak, self-serving stupidity of Theresa May and Corbyn.

  11. Tafia says:

    NickT – you’re precisely why Remain lost and precisely why Labour is now an irrelevance and will remain so.

    And calling Leave voters fools is so counter-productive it’s becoming comical.

    Incidentally, UKIP are not racist – if you think they are, it is your duty as a citizen to report it to the Police. You have reported it yes? Or are you just spouting garbage.

  12. John P Reid says:

    NickT, I didn’t say,’trying to wreck brexit’ I said trying to wreck it from the inside, if you find ukipper boring in the pub, don’t go to the pub, I’m sure you could talk to some remainers snobs, in a wine bar, who want cheap ex immigration,to drive down wages, which meant as we had so much EU immigration the only way the last labour/Tory gov’ts could stop immigration was less commonwealth ,immigration,which was three real racism.

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