While a Brexit bonus is a lie Peter Kenyon checks out progress and sees opportunity at this year’s Labour Annual Conference
This is a long shot. But some brothers and sisters in Britain’s trade unions, some affiliated like TSSA (the Transport Salaried Staff Association) and others not like the Royal College of Midwives are backing another referendum on the Tories’ Brexit deal with Brussels. Public opinion according to latest opinion polls is in favour. Chartist has been equivocal. We would prefer a General Election with the Labour Party positioned to offer the country an opportunity to vote for hope, not despair over the Tories’ bungled Brexit.
The omens are not encouraging. An early General Election seems illusory. The public, having been suckered into the Tory civil war over Europe, voted Leave (maybe shock horror encouraged unwittingly by Russian gold). Revelations that there was no contingency planning for a ‘Leave’ vote have left Leave voters desensitized to the impact of their decision – post 29 March 2019. Labour MPs representing Leave constituencies appear to have been administered the largest doses of Brexit bromide. A recent conversation with a northern Labour MP who shall remain nameless told me proudly that what his constituents needed was a Labour government and its proposed National Investment Bank. Quick as a flash, I said: “Wouldn’t it be great if the European Investment Bank could back this urgently needed source of additional capital in the UK’s neglected regions?” Lordy, lordy, his reaction was very dismissive. “That’s not possible,” he asserted, “We are leaving.” I smiled.
Mounting interest in a People’s Vote offers Labour an opportunity. This needs to be cast as a referendum on the Tory mess. Any such referendum would be contingent on Parliament deciding that would be appropriate in the event of the May government losing a ‘meaningful vote’ in the House of Commons opposing whatever deal the British government is able to secure in Brussels. At the time of writing it looks as though the Government will be defeated over this issue in the House of Commons. So Parliamentary sovereignty over Brexit may be asserted. All that remains is for the Government to conclude a Brexit deal, which looks less likely as each day passes.
The choice(s) for Labour are continue to depend on parliamentary manoeuvres led by Brexit shadow secretary Sir Keir Starmer or broaden out its attack lines by inviting the wider Labour Movement to inform future policy. That could be linked to parliamentary and extra-parliamentary action as well as providing a fresh focus in the event of an early General Election.
Recent sessions of Prime Minister’s Questions show the Labour front bench is ready to take on the Government over its conduct of the Brexit negotiations. Piling on the pressure to fix the ‘Brexit – Tory mess’ idea in the electorate’s mind would be a valuable preliminary to an Annual Conference debate in Liverpool in late September.
Corbyn’s readiness to risk appearing to deliver Brexit has created a running sore both inside the Parliamentary Labour Party and in many parts to the Party of the ground, particularly among younger members. But it appears to have kept many Leave voters on Labour’s side, so far.
Those inside the Labour Party bewailing ‘a lack of leadership’ or ‘a lack of vision’ or ‘gifting Brexit to the Tories’ ought to be asking themselves how will voters react to Labour reneging on the outcome of the EU Referendum. Similarly those inside the Party demanding Brexit ought to be asking themselves is it going to deliver better prospects for jobs and investment.
Feeding the groundswell of discontent with the Tories – and it must be the Conservative Party as a whole that is targeted – should be the leitmotif of Parliamentary Labour Party activity until a Brexit deal is delivered, whether dead or alive. Voters need reminding repeatedly – there is no Tory Brexit bonus – it was a lie. There are no alternative trade deals under the Tories – it was a lie. National sovereignty will be surrendered with a Tory Brexit, and so on.
This will not be achievable in current circumstances. Too many of Labour ‘s elected representatives in Parliament are Brexit bromide dependents. For Labour’s electoral ratings to enjoy another major uptick, Labour MPs in so-called Leave constituencies need to be working over the summer wising their voters up to the realities of the Tory mess – surrendering our right to have a say, continuing to pay into the Brussels budget, accepting European Court of Justice rulings. We should be relaunching that old rallying cry from across the pond – no taxation without representation – to justify the Remain option, when the time is right.
Constituency Labour Parties have an opportunity to table so-called contemporary resolutions to Party conference.
Chartist editor Mike Davis has tabled one for his local party:
Labour & Brexit –
*British households are £900 worse off following the vote to leave the EU;
*the economy is now 2% smaller than forecast before the referendum;
*a rise in racist attacks and abuse since the referendum;
*an almost 20% devaluation of the Pound in relation to the Dollar and Euro;
*a relocation of many businesses to European states;
*the threat to the peace process and Good Friday Agreement with the introduction of a hard border in Ireland;
*the HMRC estimate of a cost of over £20b to leaving the EU in addition to the £39b settlement:
*Trump’s election and declaration of a protectionist trade war:
This BLP/Conference further believes the Tories will either exit with no deal or manage a bad deal that will not protect jobs or workplace rights or safeguards for environmental and human rights including full citizenship rights for EU citizens in Britain.
This branch/BLP/Conference resolves to:
Call on the party in parliament to reject any deal which fails to sustain these current rights and conditions.
Support the proposal to negotiate for as long as it takes to secure these terms, through a transition period for continued membership of a Customs Union and single market.
Campaign in a general election for the option of retaining membership of a reformed EU.
To work with our European partners for:
– an end to EU austerity policies with
– a European recovery programme for jobs, rights, benefits and economic security that the British
and other European peoples deserve, after ten years of austerity, worsened employment, reduced pay and welfare deprivation.
The affiliated trade unions also have rights to table such resolutions. In the face of mounting evidence of the job losses in the UK arising from Brexit uncertainties, it would seem negligent in the extreme if they did not link staying in the EU Customs Union and possibly the Single Market to Labour’s ambitious and necessary anti-austerity programme for jobs and investment. What is certain is they will not seek to embarrass Labour’s leadership. Nor should rank and file members, but that is an idle wish. As long as Labour has dropped any pretense of negotiating a ‘Better Brexit’ or delivering a Brexit bonus, an open debate at Conference can only help seal the idea in the electorate’s mind that ‘Brexit means a Tory mess’.