May’s weakness in the EU creates an opportunity for Labour – but we must be willing to fight on Brexit

12th May, 2017 3:00 pm

James Smith argued on LabourList this week that those who oppose Brexit must get over it. He said “Brexit is going to happen. There is not going to be a second referendum. Bregret is not going to set in”.

He puts this as an explanation for why we lost so many council seats and why we are currently so low in the polls. He pointed to the Lib Dems as evidence by arguing that they failed to capitalise on the anti-Brexit vote.

However, that’s because they have avoided the substance of the issue. They originally had a pro-EU purpose that lifted their chances, but because some council candidates were fighting in strong Leave wards, the party avoided hammering home their stance and lost their distinctiveness. So the Lib Dems suffered not because they backed Remain, but because they failed to back it.

The choice for the electorate has been between a party with a clear message and others in confusion. This is due to luck, not design. David Cameron called a referendum convinced he could win it and sideline a faction within his own party. Only one year ago, his was the divided party.

It’s true that Theresa May now has a united party – but only on the surface. They are deeply divided behind closed doors. Their public unity is only because they have been winning, not due to the brilliance of May but due to a momentum which came about by chance and manifested itself in a coherent message. She has impetus but not purpose. If she had purpose, then how do you explain her Remain statements recorded at Goldman Sachs?

That impetus was created by the incoherence of others on the issue of Brexit. Labour accepts the result of the referendum yet, speaking to the BBC on Tuesday, Jeremy Corbyn declined several times to confirm that Britain would in fact leave the EU if he was prime minister.

It’s very difficult to advance our cause when we don’t have a clear position on the main point of this election.

In his article James Smith described the conviction of people such as myself as “myopic purity politics”. He uses this language in his support of Jeremy Corbyn, but I say it is the lack of “myopic purity politics” that is so damaging to our election chances. Those who have demonstrated the trait include insurgents such as Bernie Sanders and Emmanuel Macron. It’s not a bad thing to have conviction in politics.

It is too late to change tactics during this election but, in future, the way to oppose Brexit is to counter the lies and misinformation. I don’t have a good slogan, but a good mantra would be to tell the British people, “You were cheated”. This is because the promises of power, control, reduced immigration, and retained wealth were illusory. In fact they were mostly downright lies.

I don’t pretend to be unaware of the status quo. If May wins this election she will have five years of power. This is not lost on me. But if that does come about, the way to oppose is to do so fully, passionately, and without taking prisoners. Woolly half-positions will not create a base of support. Only whole-hearted conviction will place us in a position of credibility on this issue.

It’s not over. It’s not even started yet. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, nor has Brexit. It’s almost a year since the referendum and the negotiations don’t even have a start date. And we are already bogged down in rows with our partners and unbridgeable demands on the part of the Leavers.

James Smith has written a good argument but the effect is akin to that of calling for an army to discard their weapons before the battle in the hope that we don’t get slaughtered. From my perspective that’s what we have already done.

If May’s election gamble proves a success for the Tories, then many will argue that we should double down on the existing strategy. I want to remind them that Dunkirk was not the end of the second world war. We don’t want to end the fight, we want to rally others to start the fight. If the polls prove to be correct and we fail to win this election then that needs to day one of the war.

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