This is urgent. Labour must embrace staying in the single market and the customs union or face haemorrhaging members and taking a battering at the polls.
That message is coming through from both members and supporters. We are stuck at 40 per cent in the polls because Labour has failed to take a position on Europe, which many of the 48 per cent are willing us to do. And, I suspect, some of the 52 per cent too.
I spent the whole of January knocking on Labour members’ doors and there was one issue that was their clear concern. “I am worried about the leadership not standing up to the Tories over Brexit”, “I am thinking of leaving the party because Labour is not opposing Brexit” and “Why isn’t Jeremy standing up to the Tories on Brexit?” were three typical responses. Brexit crowded out all the other issues, whether it was housing, crime on the streets or even austerity. Brexit was the cause they want Labour to rally around.
You might say, but this was a central London seat and therefore unrepresentative of the country at large. What about all those seats in the North? Of course there are more Labour supporters in the North who voted for Brexit. I only found one on the doorstep during my campaigning!
However, even in Leave constituencies, it is highly likely that most Labour members and even most voters realise that exiting the European Union will solve none of the problems that influence their vote in the referendum. The evidence is coming through daily about the damage that Brexit will cause – damage that will affect disproportionately those who are most likely to vote Labour.
Ultimately, voters in the North, as elsewhere, will not thank us for having stood by while their jobs disappear and their incomes fall. They will not vote for a party that deserted them when they needed it most.
At the last election, muddling through on Brexit was the right strategy. We were forced to face both ways as the referendum had taken place just a year previously and there was so much uncertainty about the effects of leaving the EU.
This is no longer the case. Theresa May lost that election as people did not want here vision of a hard Brexit. The result was a clear message that Labour now has to take on board.
Part of the role of politicians is to reflect the views of the electorate. But at times politicians have to lead and be brave, taking a difficult issue full on in trying to people to their cause. This is precisely such a time.
Of course there is some scepticism about the EU. Several senior figures in the shadow cabinet have never wholeheartedly accepted its value. However, as evidence mounts of the complexity of departure and of the damage that will be caused to many industries, remaining in the single market and customs union is clearly preferable to any alternative. The rock is preferable to the hard place. Moreover, if we leave the EU, we will have no influence over it, and yet we will be affected by its decisions.
It is time for the leadership to listen to members and embrace the EU. We need speeches on why the EU is important and on its achievements. The fact that we have had peace in Europe for 70 years and the EU has become a huge economic power base would be a start.
Christian Wolmar was the candidate in the Richmond by-election in 2016 and was recently narrowly beaten for the selection in Cities of London and Westminster.