Labour was right about Brexit in 2017 and wrong in 2019

by Kevin Meagher

There was a pretty big irony about last week’s vote on the government’s Brexit bill.

By whipping his MPs into supporting Boris Johnson’s deal, Keir Starmer was making good on a manifesto commitment: ‘Labour accepts the [Brexit] referendum result and a Labour government will put the national interest first.’

Of course, this was from the 2017 Labour manifesto, not the 2019 edition.

That version, influenced by the lobbying of the second referendum mafia, gave a quite different commitment. It promised to ‘

give the people the final say on Brexit.’ After a period of renegotiation, a new deal would be put to the vote, ‘alongside the option to remain.’

It was a lousy policy.

It would have seen Labour ministers constructing a new deal that honoured the party’s red lines around labour market standards, environmental protections, and single market access, only for the party to campaign against it in a fresh referendum, in order to remain in the EU.

Voters are not as gullible as politicians consistently believe.

Right along the Brexit-supporting Red Wall, they smelled a rat, sensing that Labour had no intention of respecting their choice to leave the EU and made plain their displeasure. The rest is, well, history.

So last week’s vote was about earning a fresh hearing with voters. The rights and wrongs of Brexit (mainly wrongs) will have to come out in the wash. There are no votes to be gained in prolonging the agony any longer.

In seeking to modernise Labour after last year’s rout, Starmer will carry on repudiating Labour’s recent past. It is the equivalent of a spring clean, expunging mistakes and decluttering the record in a bid to win a second look from the voters. More often than not, it is an exercise that culminates in a gentle dagger thrust into the last guy’s rep.

In which respect, Keir Starmer was in effect knifing himself last week.

He was the architect of Labour’s policy to back a second referendum in 2019. Jeremy Corbyn must take the overall blame for the party’s various policy, strategy, and presentational mistakes, but he was only trying to keep the peace by backing the muddled Brexit policy that Starmer and others were so keen on.

Perhaps Corbyn should have put his foot down – his policy in 2017 was both straightforward and popular.

Indeed, if the party had stuck with the 2017 commitment – avoiding the impression that they were trying to usurp the voters’ decision about the referendum – there would have been more scope to criticise the final deal. As it was, most Labour MPs ended up voting for a package they don’t believe in and one that Keir Starmer himself conceded was ‘thin.’

Now it is done, Brexit is delivered, and Labour can finally move on. But there will be many other painful concessions to make on the journey towards 2024. Labour still has a mountain to climb and is barely out of the foothills.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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17 Responses to “Labour was right about Brexit in 2017 and wrong in 2019”

  1. Kevin I’m always amazed that so much common sense appears in your articles. In fact it’s rather strange that you write for Labour Uncut as you are so very different to the other regular writers. Yes, Starmer has blood on his hands over the 2019 Labour Brexit policy, and yes of course the second referendum policy was the major difference between 2017 and 2019. Even worse is Starmer’s flip-flopping over the school shutdown which is just the latest foolishness with the lack of opposition to Johnson’s disastrous Covid policies since January last year. History will show that it wasn’t only the Tories who were culpable in the deaths of tens of thousand British citizens, the PLP front bench was very much complicit in them too.

  2. wg says:

    And what of the argument – that Jeremy Corbyn has been a long time opponent of the European Union and that if he had stood by that position as Labour leader, many Labour votes would have remained with Labour.

  3. A.J. says:

    A whiff of shamefaced dishonesty now hangs around the PLP. Still, that goes along with the so-called ‘Conservative Party’ (or, at least, a fair-sized chunk of it) in its attempt to rewrite history. From the beginning, it was the Establishment who were pro-European – and the Establishment was pretty much made up of wishy-washy types who lunched affably together (a reading of Alan Watkins’ enjoyable book ‘Brief Lives’ will confirm much of the truth of this, and not only on the subject of ‘Europe’), reminisced over the good old days at their public schools and Balliol, tut-tutted over the likes of Kim Philby before smiling indulgently and passing the port the correct way around the table. (Attlee is said to have winced at any lapses in this matter).
    These are the same people, half a century on and operating at a lower level, who told Dan Hodges the working classes would always vote Labour because they had nowhere else to go (Labour MPs had been treated with similar disdain by Denis Healey, in the lead-up to the formation of the SDP). As we know, a large number of working class voters – not all, obviously – found Nigel Farage and UKIP. A fair-sized number, though, had always voted Tory – even in places like Jarrow during the 1930s.
    How many potential voters bother to read a manifesto? How many even glance at the rubbish that comes through the door before binning it? Every time he was forced to discuss the EU, Corbyn looked like a man who’d been dragged away from a decent game of football to weed the lawn.
    It was a terrible election: May was useless. ‘Brexit Means Brexit’. It was just like somebody’s parrot. All that bloody woman believed in was her own sweet self. So we got Johnson – Johnson with his simplistic sloganizing and a vacillating Labour ‘leader’.
    McDonnell came across as an opportunist, and the party as a whole was already tearing itself apart over certain unresolved issues.
    Labour, though, have treated working class voters as fools for years: mere cannon fodder. You found that out during Neil Kinnock’s time by going on the knocker. Chaps in their vests and braces were astonished – and annoyed – at being asked (or were simply cheesed off at being bothered with canvassers at all). Tories were often politer and kinder.
    Someone now ought to write a book entitled ‘The Strange Death Of Labour England’. Our relationship with the Common Market/EEC/EU will be probably nothing more than a footnote. But they could mention Douglas Jay. They could discuss the silliness of Shirley Williams and Roy Jenkins. They could bring up the arrogance of Blair, Campbell and Mandelson. Then they could try sticking the boot into Heath – and, yes, the slippery Margaret Thatcher.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Brilliant unfortunately the people who need to read it at lrometheud_junk won’t be reading it
    Ckrbyn was rather held to random in the 2nd referendum for remain
    By Momentum Lloyd Russell Moyle, Alex sobel , Reni Sorry, ash sarker, Polly Toynbee types
    Those of us who wanted that were told firstly the red wall wouldn’t dare vote Tory after thatcher took the Jobs away
    When we said they would we were told to F off and join the Tories and they stitched up vote to get rid of us , and the Alex sobel types haven’t taken responsibility for the defeat either

  5. Dave Roberts says:

    I am afraid that Labour’s situation is more dire than even the descriptions here today. I had expected Tafia to regale us with some of hs excellent analysis of the current state of the polls but maybe he will later. Labour should be well ahead and they aren’t. And they aren’t for several reasons the foremost of which is that their front bench is Starmer and nobody else. They are still in the grip of Momentum which Starmer dare not confront for fear of a split, he is no Kinnock after all.

    Labour is seen as the party of Remain, Political Correctness and taking the knee while the white working class are suffering all of the problems and deprivations that have always afflicted them in terms of job security, homelessness, unemployment and the rest. Labour is increasingly seen as the party of the metro luvvies and ethnic minorities and until it gets back to basics whatever the Guardian leaders and columnists say they are out of power.

  6. Anne says:

    Yes, reluctantly agree with this. Always thought a second referendum was the way to go, but this was not to be – voting for the deal was the only way – better than no deal. There is still the financial services yet to be decided on – if it took so long to work out the trade deal goodness knows how long this one will take. Starmer is correct we will be able to build on the deal – with a Labour government in 2024 – if not sooner – if Johnson doesn’t deliver on his promise regarding delivering the vaccination programme – he really is toast – problem is there is no one in The Tory Party up to the job.

  7. KEVIN MEAGHER says:

    Thanks Danny.

    John – you hit on the central mistake: The assumption that core voters had nowhere else to go. They did and they went there. Look at the results in Barnsley. There would be Tory MPs there now were it not for Farage’s gang splitting the vote.

  8. A.J. says:

    Speaking of ‘Europe’/the EU I’ve just ruined my post-breakfast sit-down by seeing photographs of the freak that calls itself Eddie Izzard (being gushed over by some half-witted luvvie on the box). Didn’t he once do some kind of double-act in Scotland with a now faded Labour politician called Murphy?
    A few photo-shoots featuring Izzard with Angela Rayner ought to guarantee a whacking great landslide for the so-called ‘Conservative Party’ come the next election, even if it’s led by someone as witless and talentless as Grant Shapps.

  9. A.J. says:

    Paul Embery is now all over the newspapers like a rash, telling readers of the ‘Daily Telegraph’, for instance, what was plain to anyone with half a brain at least thirty years ago, that Labour had become very much a middle-class Party. This must be for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t yet twigged that Labour was born middle-class (not just the kind of soppy sociology graduates Harold Wilson despised but really, really middle-class, rich and influential). Even the rather deprived area in which I used to attend branch meetings in between 1984 and 1987 had its fair share of snobbish, often privately-educated members of the Ken Livingstone fan club.
    A ‘mass industrial proletariat’, as Kenneth Morgan termed them, was vital for shoring up a middle-class Labour leadership – but that mass was often highly unionized and in thrall to chaps like Bevin and Arthur Deakin.
    It’s probably that socialist-middle-class/Labour-working class coalition that has unravelled – and there looks to be little chance of it coming together again, at least in the foreseeable future. Embery is only repeating what some of us already knew. Besides, what kind of fool of a Labour MP remained with the workers when there was obviously money to be made?

  10. Tafia says:

    Local elections in England are to go ahead in May. Government has requested that no leafleting or doorstepping takes place and all campaigning is done digitally and leaflets delivered by the post because Covid will still be present. The Tories are adhering to that, Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens re not only refusing to comply, but in the case of Labour and the Lib Dems, despite lockdown being in place, have already started in some places, claiming electioneering can be classed as ‘essential work’.

    Likewise the devolved administrations of Scotland and Wales and again Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP are refusing to comply.

    Utterly shameful and disgraceful and I spit on you. Knock on my door and you’ll be met with a fire extinguisher positioned ready for use and a gob-full oif well deserved abuse.

  11. A.J. says:

    A second referendum was clearly not the way to go. That’s complete nonsense. Enduring a first referendum was bad enough (as the Scots will find out if they insist on holding their second). All any referendum signals is a lack of communication between the voter and the people they have a choice of voting for. Yet they’re soft and safe. Some twit in ‘The Guardian’ (before Christmas) suggested that there might well be a referendum on the restoration of capital punishment this month (January), thus showing that the sophisticates who read ‘The Guardian’ are a good deal thicker in the head than any reader of ‘The Sun’ or ‘Daily Mirror’ (most of my family, I should think). Possibly Sir Christopher Chope has the occasional wet dream, but the majority of so-called ‘Tories’ would quail with horror at the notion of a West or Sutcliffe being topped by the state.
    As for Paul Embery and his fetishization of the working class (following, to some extent, in Owen Jones’ footsteps), he’s in danger of indulging in just another branch of identity politics: suggesting some kind of peculiar virtue in being working class and leaving it at that. It simply won’t do.

  12. Rob Cooke says:

    It was a ludicrous policy in 2019 which was the same as the LDs in 2017.

    Problem is I am sure many of the younger metropolitan ‘woke’ folk will try and fight yesterday’s battle

  13. A.J. says:

    Some rather silly reporting in the ‘Daily Express’. Rosie Duffield – perhaps not the most articulate of MPs – is alleged to have said something about Britain accepting the single currency. Eh? That’s the kind of oddness which, if true, I would expect from former supporters of the SDP like Andrew Adonis or old-school Heathite Tories like Lord Heseltine rather than the likes of Rosie Duffield. As I said, though, it did appear in the ‘Daily Express’.
    I’ve no objection to the Labour Party campaigning to rejoin the EU – none whatever – so long as they accept the likely electoral consequences without a. claiming that they won the ‘moral’ argument, b. that the electorate didn’t grasp what it was voting for, c. that FPTP is unfair and so we should have some form of proportional representation, d. that votes in England are too thick and racist to be taken seriously by the likes of Rosie Duffield.

  14. A.J. says:

    Let the truth be known, Labour only cosied up to the European vanity project because it knew socialism (in one country if you want to put it that way) was no longer attainable. Kinnock and Blair were both early knockers of ‘Europe’ who decided to be a bit less doctrinaire once the likes of Jenkins and Owen began muddying the waters. You won’t hear much talk now even of a Keynsian-style mixed economy let alone proposals for nationalization. The mainstream is more or less Thatcherite, yet throwing a bit of liberal conscience into the mix for good measure. No confidence in Britain, none whatever in socialism.

  15. A.J. says:

    I note that John Rentoul and others in ‘The Independent’ have picked up on Rosie Duffield’s comments. I don’t believe that, within Labour, she, Lord Adonis and others who share their views, should be mocked. If they have a sincere belief that Britain would be better off inside the EU, even to the extent of adopting the euro, then allow them their say. But if Labour suffers further defeats at the ballot box, well, they have to behave like adults (possibly for a change, eh, Lord Adonis?)
    Adonis is not of the Labour Movement. Rosie Duffield would probably be more at home with the Liberal Democrats.
    Starmer may be wondering how to respond, but he should bear in mind that the Jews come first. That problem has not receded. In fact, I would welcome further comment from Stephen Pollard.
    Expulsions should begin ASAP.

  16. A.J. says:

    More rubbish in the ‘Daily Express’ – ‘clickbait’, do they call it? – in the form of a ‘poll’. Labour, upon forming a government, would take us straight back into Europe, adopting the single currency in the process. Overnight. Just like that. Even Michael Heseltine must have a wry smile on his face.

  17. A.J. says:

    Patrick O’Flynn comments that Rosie Duffield’s speech (or whatever it amounted to) will come back to haunt the Labour Party. What does any of it have to do with O’Flynn or any of the mostly right-leaning readers of ‘The Spectator’? (I used to read it myself back in 1985-6 or thereabouts, mostly because I wanted to know what people like Colin Welch and Ferdinand Mount were thinking. I stopped reading it when the likes of Julie Burchill arrived). Rosie Duffield must be allowed to have her say. I admire her honesty. I admire Andrew Adonis’s honesty. Others will follow. History might turn out to be on their side.

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