“Are Labour trying to block Brexit?” That was the subject line of an email from Brandon Lewis to Tory supporters last night. The party chair pointed to Labour’s new amendment as proof that the opposition is moving towards another referendum. “One thing is for sure – they simply can’t be trusted to keep any promise they make to respect the result of the referendum,” the email reads. Of course, many in the Labour Party wish we were trying to block Brexit, but that’s not what is happening. As detailed in yesterday’s email, the amendment isn’t as cheering to ‘People’s Vote’ supporters as it might at first seem, and Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t backed a fresh public vote.
We can make a fair assumption that Lewis’ email foreshadows Theresa May’s strategy at PMQs today. Week after week, the Prime Minister has accused the opposition leader of trying to stop Brexit, even though making claims to the contrary would do a better job of exploiting divisions within Labour. John McDonnell’s praise on Newsnight for the “sensible” amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper, which aims to extend Article 50 unless a deal is agreed by the end of February, will probably feature in this afternoon’s attack lines. By supporting Cooper’s move, the Labour leadership risks playing into Conservative hands, but the gamble could pay off. Amber Rudd has warned that there will be ministerial resignations unless May offers a free vote.
Just as Labour Remainers protest that 2016 Leave seats have turned, and the Labour votes in those constituencies come mostly from Remainers anyway, there are doubts among Tories over their strategy on Brexit. ConservativeHome has looked at the electoral landscape and concluded that a snap poll could see them shed former Remain voters – perhaps retaining just one seat in inner London – without gaining many new Leave voters nationally.
Moreover, party chiefs at CCHQ have told The Sun that an election now will put Corbyn in No10 because they are “woefully underprepared” to fight one, with old data and a demoralised grassroots. This leak may well be an effort to put the fear into Tory MPs and coerce them into voting for May’s deal next week, but the concerns don’t paint a pretty picture for the Conservatives in the not unlikely eventuality that we do get a 2019 election.
At the most recent meeting of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) yesterday, members of the ruling body discussed election prep, from choosing all-women shortlists to selecting in non-marginals. The community organising unit is reportedly working with prospective parliamentary candidates and local parties now. Labour has its own worries – namely that an impassioned People’s Vote campaign could distort any nuanced messaging on Brexit – yet Corbyn’s party has more than a fighting chance of winning. And how long can a party that cannot govern stay in government?
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