Yesterday, the Labour Party decided that its manifesto for the (probably) forthcoming European elections on 23 May will not include an unequivocal commitment to campaigning for a second “confirmatory” EU referendum. Instead, it is sticking to only retaining the idea as an option if the Conservative government doesn’t make changes it requires to its battered Brexit deal.
There are different of ways of looking at this fudge. It can be seen as a simple snub to those many Labour voters, members and MPs who want the party to get fully behind a “People’s Vote”. Others regard it as a bargaining ploy to put pressure on the Tories in the ongoing talks between the two parties to find a compromise Brexit deal that the House of Commons will accept – a ploy some second referendum supporters are confident won’t work, meaning that things have actually shifted a bit their way.
Those maddened by this approach should, perhaps, imagine themselves being in Labour’s shoes. The party’s 2017 general election manifesto promised to abide by the 2016 referendum outcome. That needn’t bind it any more, but it has a policy agreed at its annual conference last year and there’s some obligation to stick to it. And if the party’s “constructive ambiguity” towards Brexit is largely about holding together a voter coalition that includes Leave voters in marginal seats as well as Reamainers in safe ones – plenty of those being in London – well, such considerations, though arguably overstated, cannot be lightly dismissed.
But what does Labour’s stance means for Londoners who want to stay in the EU – of which there were 2,263,519 million in 2016 compared with 1,513,232 million who felt otherwise – and see the European elections as an opportunity to reiterate that view? Should they cast their single vote for Labour, as so many Londoners do in other types of election, or should they instead give it to a party – the Greens, the Liberal Democrats or Change UK – which out and out supports a second referendum and wants Brexit abandoned? Has Labour done enough to deserve their support?
The answer is no, and the reasons are about something more than all that tortuous fence sitting and triangulating. Never forget that Corbyn himself and his coterie of fixers and advisers have always wanted out of the EU. Imagine how different the last three years of UK history might have been had that not been the case. While other major Labour figures, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, campaigned vigorously and conspicuously for Remain, the Labour leader did not exert himself.
Perhaps such a dug in eurosceptic would not have been much of an asset to the Remain campaign, but that just underlines what a dogged old Lexiter Corbyn is. A national Labour leader who had been upfront and passionate for Remain in 2016 might have swung the result the other way. Surveys conducted before the referendum found that around half of Labour voters across the country didn’t know what the party’s view about it was. Corbyn has wanted out from the start.
A further reason for Labour-leaning London Remainers to deny Labour their Euro vote is the party’s list of candidates. Labour has four MEPs at present, two of whom are seeking re-election. They are first and second on the list for 2019 and unless there is a truly massive collapse in the Labour vote, will probably retain their seats. But third on the list is Corbyn’s anti-EU former political secretary Katy Clark, who was reportedly installed in that position by party officials. Do London Remainers want to give her a helping hand?
Following Labour’s manifesto decision yesterday, fully pro-“People’s Vote” parties are using the hashtag #LabourMeansLeave. As things stand, it is hard to disagree.