Labour, Brexit and OFOC

I’ve been meaning to set out my views about the Labour’s position on Brexit and the in my view frequently unfair and very often plain wrong views of it from much of the hard remain community (to which I myself align). Yesterday there was an excellent and civil discussion between Femi of OFOC and Owen Jones who is closely aligned to the Labour leadership.

I am a Labour member who has also funded OFOC but was very frustrated recently by the attack posters they created aimed at Labour shadow cabinet individuals that I felt were highly counterproductive.

The thread is here, you may want to focus largely on Femi and Owen’s comments themselves.

My summary of the key areas of disagreement are:

  1. The extent of the damage any Brexit would do and how it would prevent Labour making their desired changes to the country.
  2. The likelihood of a remain success in a People’s Vote.
  3. The possibility of a People’s Vote triggering a far right surge.
  4. The effect on the path of the Brexit process that Labour coming out explicitly for a People’s Vote would have.

Now on some of these points I lean more to Owen’s view and on others to Femi’s view.

I agree with Femi on both the extent of the damage Brexit, that it would be a devastating impact to the country and hamper any government operating and implementing policies in an ongoing economic crisis and European negotiations over then next decade or more.

On the far right surge I don’t feel well qualified to assess the effects but I think the threat of that is not a good reason to avoid a policy that is better in other ways. We should be facing down these movements not bending to them. I’m sure Owen’s concerns are genuine and this needs monitoring and other grievances of left behind areas tackling because it is the right thing to do.

On the likelihood of winning a People’s Vote I sit between the two positions. I think it can be won for Remain but it is far from a done deal and there is a huge amount of work to do to be sure and it is definitely not a risk free course. Possibly because of geographic, social and social media bubbles there appear to be a large number people in the remain and FBPE community that think a victory in a PeoplesVote is a sure thing, now some may be bluffing to build the case to get the vote but I believe too many believe their own hype in this area (I don’t think Femi falls into this category).

Owen makes a number of good points about the challenges of winning. In my view the polls are still far too close, many remain 2016 voters think the vote should be accepted, many people are unaware of the extent of negotiation mess and upcoming crisis which is obvious to those of us in the remain social media loop and there are few signs of massive defections. Owen also suggests that the lack of support from Tory leadership will make the remain campaign harder, but in my view the anti-establishment factor may counterbalance this effect. There are forces acting in the opposite direction, the greater knowledge about the deal and the true nature of Brexit is also a huge advantage. In 2016 many different visions of Brexit were offered, some outright impossible, others just incompatible; when the deal is done (or not done) the reality will be much clearer it will no longer for Brexit supporters to jump between visions (even mid-interview). It is also likely that there will be closer monitoring (if not restriction on) political advertising online that will also help the remain campaigns. There is also a much larger more motivated population ready to campaign which (if they can keep there tempers under control and work on persuasion rather than harassing) could like Momentum really help on the ground.

From my point of view winning support should be remain’s priority, both to be ready when we get a People’s Vote (I’m optimistic on this as I’ll explain later) and to apply pressure to get the People’s Vote but it can be won.

The part of the debate where I’m completely on Owen’s side is I really don’t understand how Labour switching to Remain now actually helps remain. I’ve seen people tweeting (not Femi) that Labour/Corbyn could stop Brexit right now and I really can’t see a mechanism for them to do that or make any substantial impact until the autumn (and even then only with Tory rebels and/or DUP). I’d love someone to explain to me either here or on Twitter exactly what the effect of Labour backing a People’s Vote now. In my view it would be seriously counterproductive to the cause of the Peoples vote and I’ll set out why.

What if Labour come out for People’s Vote tomorrow?

Several things will happen if the People’s Vote campaigners get their way with the Labour party.

Firstly, the story from the government, leave campaigners and the right wing press will be that Labour is sabotaging the negotiation and is the cause of the bad deal that will happen. Clearly this is complete rubbish but that doesn’t mean it won’t stick. There will be a full on and sustained attack at a level that has not yet been seen and it will be substantially effective.

Secondly, it will make a People’s Vote a policy owned by Labour and that will drive the varied voices now calling for it who are now breaking into the mainstream media will increasingly be pushed aside for representatives of the Labour party rather than having both.

Thirdly, it would cause the split in the Labour Parliamentary to grow in a way harmful to remain. Labour kept all but a very few onboard for the meaningful vote amendment but fifteen voted against the EEA despite the whip to abstain. It is very likely that sort of number could be critical in the final vote at the end and the more that can be done to coax them over the line the better. This is a critical issue I’ve seen none of those pushing for Labour to move for a People’s Vote immediately address. In my view the best chance of bringing them across (and bringing more of the Leave/undecided public) with Labour to the People’s Vote or at least to vote against the deal is to move after October European Council when the deal should be on the table (or the failure to have a deal on the table can be called a failure).

Overall I see Labour moving too quickly as being harmful both to Labour and Remain/People’s Vote. As I said above if anyone can show me a positive possible alternative result I’d be very interested for the moment there seems to be a belief that Jeremy Corbyn has an almost magical power that I really don’t understand.

It is worth noting that there are different groups of pro-Brexit MPs in Labour. There are probably at least 3 who would vote against Labour even if there as a vote of no-confidence in the government, some who are instinctive remainers but in very Leave constituencies who may have made personal promises at the last election, possible 

How will we get a People’s Vote?

In my view the crunch will come in the autumn when the government comes back with a deal (or fails). I think it is inconceivable that there will be a deal which meets the 6 tests that Labour have set out and as opposition they would take any opportunity to bring down the government (and this is likely to be the only one until 2022) so Labour leadership will bring as much pressure as possible. The key issue in Parliament is not the Labour leadership but will be:

 - the number of Tory MPs who will rebel

 - whether the DUP can accept the deal

 - the number of Labour anti-EU rebels

Despite this I think we will get a peoples vote because I can’t imagine the any deal that Theresa May can get from the EU will retain the support of both DUP and all of her party. I may be foolish for this belief but I do think that there must be twenty or thirty Tory MPs who are both aware of the damage that the deal will do and prepared to do the necessary to act in the interests of their country rather than their party leadership when push comes to shove. I can fully understand them waiting until the last minute in the hope that their leader will prevent it from being necessary.

My expectation is that there will be a vote of some form against the deal and that will lead to some chaos. Labour will push for a general election but I expect that the Tories will resist this. It is possible that the government will move for the People’s Vote claiming they are doing what is necessary to deliver the will of the people as originally expressed in the 2016 referendum but in reality it is a win-win situation for the government. By offering a People’s Vote they deflect the need for a general election and whichever way the referendum goes they benefit; if leave win the government are absolved of responsibility (to a large degree) for the results because the public has taken the final decision and if remain win the government can say “shucks, we did our best, sorry Leavers”. Now it might not be as explicit as the government proposing the People’s Vote but they could still let it be know that they don’t mind being defeated on such a vote to a few of their wavering MPs.

My Biggest Fear

Now the real threat may be the government doing a deal that covers only a bare minimum of areas and pushing the real and critical decisions back into the transition period when there is no option to remain. This scenario would I think have Labour resisting (not sure how many would rebel though) but I fear that the not-quite-rebels in the Tory party would fail to stand up. It may also be that this worsens the chance of winning a People’s Vote as the promise of the unicorn may still exist. I think the risk of this may be slightly reduced by the big businesses becoming more vocal in the last week.

I’m not sure what action we can take against this except hope that the EU does not allow a deal that will be acceptable too much of the Tory party and that enough Tories do stand up and do the right thing. I think many will, they know that it will be a historic disaster and won’t want to be part of it although if there is any hope of a good result they will wail.

What I Really Want to Know - Femi, OFOC, FBPE let me know your HOW

How Labour/Corbyn can stop Brexit or even help remain/People’s Vote by acting now is a complete unknown to me. I’m not saying that there isn’t ways that it helps but I don’t see them as important.

My Plea to FBPE

Keep calm, our job is to persuade people that Brexit is bad idea and going badly. The hard line Brexiters can be gently baited but for more moderate people whether Labour, Tory or even UKIP try to win them with gentle persuasion rather than getting angry or abusive. Look to Femi’s excellent example. We need those people. The other action you can take is personal messages to your MP (Best for Britain’s advice).

My Demand for Labour

I don’t need a policy change from you but I do demand that you interpret the six tests that you set out strictly, that you demand that all are passed and and if any are failed you act to block that deal in any way you can. Even if Labour is in power you must not carry through a lesser Brexit at least without a further democratic mandate.