Why offer a “Brexit bribe”? Even Leave seat Labour MPs aren’t convinced

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The government has announced a Stronger Towns fund of £1.6bn. Shot down as “Brexit bribery” by Labour, John McDonnell has said the move “smacks of desperation”. The Shadow Chancellor pointed out that “our towns are struggling… because of a decade of cuts, including to council funding, and a failure to invest in businesses and our communities” and that “stable investment” is needed. May’s offer arrives on the same day that HuffPostUK reveals the extent of the council funding crisis, reporting on how it has pushed local authorities to close down vital public spaces, with some even using those savings to afford further cuts.

The Prime Minister might be thinking that if the fund can persuade a few Labour MPs to vote for her deal and make for good Tory candidate leaflets in key marginal seats in the North and Midlands where Labour is struggling, it is worth it. But the move has annoyed some Tory MPs who want help for their own communities, while opposition MPs have already made clear that this quick cash is not enough. Lisa Nandy, MP for Wigan, one of the target areas, reacted to the news saying that “a one-off payment designed to help the Prime Minister ahead of a key Brexit vote will fail”. Gareth Snell declared: “There is no price on my vote.” Ruth Smeeth described it as “an extraordinarily pathetic amount of money”.

These Labour MPs may be looking for a reason to approve the deal, but a bit of funding that doesn’t even begin to make up for the huge austerity crippling local councils won’t do. They want changes to the political declaration, assurances on workers’ rights, etc (expected to come later in the week). Caroline Flint and John Mann like the Tory fund, but their votes for the deal are basically already in the bag. All in all, it is quite unclear why May has persisted with the idea.

Flint and Mann reckon the deal has a good chance of getting a fair amount of Labour support nonetheless, with guesses that it could attract the votes of 35 MPs or in the “10s, 20s, 30s”. They also say 60 to 70 are strongly opposed to another referendum. A lot could depend on Labour’s whipping operation: McDonnell’s comments on Sky (“I think on this we would see a whip but also you have got to respect people’s views” and “you’d expect the frontbench to support it but…”) suggest that MPs will be whipped for a public vote but a very understanding attitude will be taken. After all, Leave seat shadow ministers rebelling on amendment votes have not been disciplined.

The Brexit plan under consideration by the leadership now – to abstain on the deal on the condition it is put to the people – gets the nod from LabourList readers. 57% of 4,726 respondents to our latest survey gave their approval to the strategy. But will it get anywhere? With dozens of Labour MPs prepared to vote against, and frontbenchers who could be willing to defy the whip to abstain, that looks unlikely. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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