Conference is here and – for the second year running – Brexit is once again front and centre of events. Recent developments in Labour policy have been very welcome: a public vote on Brexit is not simply an option on the table as it was last year. Jeremy Corbyn has rightly said that the Brexit issue can only be resolved by putting it back to the people, and Labour is now clearly and openly a party in favour of a public vote.
However, while senior colleagues such as John McDonnell and Emily Thornberry have stated that they would campaign to remain in the EU regardless of what a potential Labour deal with the EU looks like, there is still a very real risk that Labour goes into a referendum campaign without officially taking a stance on Brexit. Brexit is the biggest political issue of the day, and for our party to not take an official stance would be tantamount to exiting the battleground at the most crucial moment.
What’s more, with the Lib Dems voting at their conference to revoke Article 50, political space has opened up for Labour to be much bolder and seize a new political common sense. Yes, we want to remain, but we are democrats, and we understand that the 2016 referendum cannot simply be overturned without a vote. This is an increasingly uncontroversial position that would resonate with a large and diverse coalition of voters up and down the country at a general election. Now, with 90% of Brexit motions submitted to party conference calling for an unequivocal Remain stance, we have an opportunity to win this bold new direction.
While we must seek consensus wherever we can at conference, if consensus cannot be reached we must force a vote on a clear Remain stance. As a democratic party, Labour must back the members regardless of whether the leader or any other senior figure decides to stay neutral or not. And if we get that referendum, the Remain vote that 90% of party members support would need the mighty Labour machine behind it – with all of its resources – to win.
But it’s not just about party democracy and being members led, it is also about our electoral prospects. To win a general election, Labour needs to communicate a clear message – one that can enthuse its base, energise its army of activists and cut through the media noise. This also means a commitment to taking a side on the most important political issue of the day.
Members of the public are still confused about Labour’s position, even as it has moved in the right direction. A recent poll put the Liberal Democrats ahead of us. Even if that is just a conference bounce, it indicates the very real challenge we’ve had of communicating effectively in a political environment so shaped and polarised by Brexit over the last 18 months or so. 2017, politically, is long, long ago.
Clarity and straightforwardness are the remedies, and that’s what we’ll be arguing for at conference over the coming days. Coupled with a bold domestic agenda – re-energised by the movement for a Green New Deal – Labour can go beyond 2017, win the coming election and transform the country.
Love Socialism is a group of socialist Labour MPs fighting to stop Brexit. We will be writing a column for LabourList every week until the Brexit crisis is over. You can find out more about us here, and follow us on Twitter @LoveSocialism.