I’m officially ‘confused dot com’ about Labour’s position with regards to Brexit, in the context of a general election to take place at some point either later in 2023 or 2024. In this article, I explore some hypotheses and consequences for this bizarre behaviour.
The will of the people has changed
Public opinion is running far ahead of politicians at the moment, in relation to attitudes towards Brexit, although most politicians remain (no pun intended) frightened to speak its name. Currently, 61% of the population believes that Brexit was a mistake, with the spread of people thinking that we should develop a closer relationship with Europe ranging from 59% to 65%. Furthermore, these figures have begun to creep up more dramatically as Brexit has begun to reveal its many ugly heads. We could see the 61% figure reaching anywhere between 67% and 73% by the time a general election takes place.
Like it or not, with at least two thirds of the population thinking that Brexit was a mistake, the matter will become an election issue, as it already is with the SNP and Green Party. Compared with the other political parties, both the SNP and Greens have exercised leadership on long-term issues affecting people’s lives and livelihoods.
Furthermore, the vast majority of the Labour party membership also believe that Brexit was a mistake, but the executive persists in holding the line that rejoining the EU is neither possible nor desirable. This again is disingenuous. The business case for joining the EU anew can be found in my book Reboot Britain.
My Labour friends tell me to have faith. I’ve had a lot of faith over the last seven years to be honest. They whisper to me that real Labour policy is to join the EU Single Market and Customs Union in the first Labour term. Then the plan is to have a second referendum in Labour’s ‘second term’. They get a bit stuck and slightly grumpy when I ask them about ‘cherry picking’, in terms of wanting all the benefits of the EU without any of the responsibilities. It sounds a little like the English exceptionalism that helped to deliver Brexit in the first place.
They also tell me that now is not the right time to tell the population any of this, as the great unwashed are immature, reactionary and unable to understand that they were lied to, let alone admit that they were gullible. Of course, the need for secrecy and treating the public as fools are entirely fallacious. It is an open secret that Keir Starmer is, and was, pro-European.
Boris Johnson used to remind him of the fact almost daily at the despatch box. Therefore, there is no political capital or news value to be gained by the right-wing press if Starmer were to admit his EU-philia. In accountancy terms, Starmer’s attitude towards the EU is what they call a sunk cost. He may as well own up to the fact that Brexit’s Breaking Britain.
Hung, drawn and quartered
Another hard to hear fact for Labour ideologues is the point that the Labour party must win up to 30 seats in Scotland to form a majority government. This may explain the recent levels of mischief making, in terms of the transition of power to Humza Yousaf, on the part of both the Tory and Labour parties.
Speaking with Gina Miller the other month, we are united in the view that a more likely outcome is a hung Parliament, even with record levels of Labour support in some parts of England. Labour’s current stance in Scotland comes out of the realisation that they cannot win power in England alone.
In terms of Tory strategy, Rishi Sunak is a desperate man and the Conservative party even more desperate. With opinion polls suggesting a landslide victory for Labour, and Sunak weakened by Truss and Johnson, desperate times call for desperate measures in terms of Tory strategy.
With the European Research Group (ERG) in disarray, needing open heart surgery, Rishi Sunak may end up stealing Keir Starmer’s clothes by promising to develop a closer relationship with Europe in order to win anti-Brexit/pro-EU votes and help the Tory party rise like a phoenix from the ashes. He needs not even deliver on such promises in the short term, where a weary public expect politicians to lie to them.
Undoubtedly, the world’s most successful political party will not take defeat lying down and we can expect them to pull some strokes in the coming months. Disruptive strategy is now a hardy perennial in the Tory party in turbulent times and this makes them formidable opponents.
On the issue of strategy, Labour disappoint. I received an election communiqué from the local Labour party, telling me that they were working hard on potholes, street lighting and other parochial matters. I explained politely that my house is on fire (Brexit) but they’re offering to fix potholes further on up the road. They replied almost in denial of Labour strategy by suggesting that I should not confuse local politics with national politics.
In our populist political world there is a sense in which Labour’s strategy is dictated by what is currently in vogue in lifestyle magazines. Strategy cannot be made by reading opinion polls in OK magazine. Keir Starmer has uttered some fine words on getting to the root causes of things, rather than applying sticking plasters to long term problems. Well, Brexit is a root cause of many of the problems that need a complete reboot in Britain; economically, socially, environmentally, politically and legally.
Here is an interview I conducted with Denis MacShane, former Labour MEP, author and strong anti-Brexit campaigner. MacShane treads a careful line as a Labour party member, but does point out that there is a new realism in politics with the presence of adults in the room and the fact that the culture carriers of Brexit are now wholly discredited. He points out that Starmer’s slogan “Make Brexit Work” is an empty promise.
In terms of reforming democracy, there is a considerable push for proportional representation in the Westminster system from grassroots campaigners. Of course, Scotland has better democratic processes than those used in England, such as the D’Hondt system. However, there is a belief within Labour supporters that somehow Keir Starmer will destroy the system that may get him elected in 2024. I find nothing to support the idea that Labour will destroy the binary political system that supports their success, but we live in hope.
A lover’s tiff
Perhaps the stalemate on Brexit between Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak can be best explained as a lover’s tiff. The girlfriend says “I dumped you” and the boyfriend replies “I dumped you first”. Clearly Keir Starmer wishes Rishi Sunak to capitulate on Brexit before he can change his position as ‘the boyfriend’. Yet there is an existential risk for Starmer and Labour in continuing to hold this position as a general election approaches. Their civil service partnership needs to end.