Every day, the Brexit process delivers something more unbelievable than the last. Sometimes this takes the form of living satire, like yesterday when the House of Commons is forced to suspend its sitting because it is literally raining inside. Sometimes it takes a more alarming form. If we weren’t so worn down, the idea that this moment might now be brought to an end in a smoke-filled room, to nobody’s satisfaction and with fundamental rights and social protections under threat, would be a matter for panic.
The idea that Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership might aid and abet delivering a Tory Brexit makes me and millions of Labour voters sick to the pits of our stomach. But my bet is in the end they won’t, because they will see these talks for the trap they are. In 2015 and 2016, Jeremy was elected with the support of hundreds of thousands of members, including me. Jeremy came into the leadership, and will stay there, because of the movement that has been built under him. Fundamental to his vision for Labour is the absolute insistence on respecting the will of members. The fight for genuine internal democracy has been at the heart of the Labour left’s politics for decades.
Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of Ian Lavery, who at 2018 party conference said: “Our members want to transform our party to build an unstoppable movement for change. A democratic, members led party… we must deliver it.” Labour desperately needs democratic reform so that it is responsive to the views of members, and so that it can move on from the system of top down control imposed by Blairism. As an MP, I should be a representative of the labour movement in parliament. But for that statement to have teeth, I need to be accountable and recallable.
At party conference last year, 119 CLPs submitted motions calling for a public vote, more than on any topic in the party’s history. These motions went through compositing, a process that is complex and arduous by design, and were opposed by parts of the Labour hierarchy. But what came out, and what was adopted unanimously by conference, was a substantial shift in the right direction driven by members.
Let’s remember what that composite motion contained:
1. It stated that “if the government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”
2. It said that “if we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.” On February 25th, our policy shifted and we began campaigning for a public vote.
3. A commitment for Labour to vote down any deal that does not meet Labour’s six tests. Given that any deal negotiated between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn would fail these tests, Labour must oppose it – unless, of course, it comes with with the public vote we have been campaigning for.
4. An in-principle defence of free movement – that “stagnant wages, crumbling services and the housing crisis are being exacerbated by the government and employers making the rich richer at working people’s expense, and not immigration.”
5. A commitment to a “Europe-wide struggle for levelling-up of living standards, rights and services and democratisation of European institutions”. If we aren’t a part of these institutions, that’s going to be hard.
The point of having members is not just so that Labour has a standing army of canvassers. Real internal democracy means the right of members to set policy, and hold the leadership to that policy. Our members want a public vote and to remain by a majority of 4 to 1. Our voters will not forgive us if we help to deliver Brexit alongside Theresa May.
So as the negotiations between the Labour and the government drag on, the Labour leadership must remember its duties. But in a democratic party, members have agency and a duty to act as well.
My message to members, and the message of the Love Socialism Hate Brexit group, is simple: make some noise. Get a meeting of your CLP, on an emergency basis if you have to. Propose an anti-Brexit motion like this one. Write to Jeremy and the rest of the leadership. Lobby your local MP and your union leadership. Get active, and get the party active, in the fight against Brexit. The labour movement now must speak with one voice: a confirmatory public vote is our bottom line.