Okay, I admit that Labour is going to have a bad day on Thursday. My suspicion is that the Conservatives may have an even worse one but that’s not important. As I understand it, Labour is being criticised for not having a clear policy on Brexit, for not supporting Remain, and for having Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
Jeremy Corbyn has been additionally attacked as being the wrong choice of leader although he was democratically elected. He is considered to be too left-wing, pro-Palestine, an international ally of radical left-wing movements and anti-Semitic. At one time, it was thought that he would use his influence as leader to drag the party further to the left and allow left-wing elements to oust sitting MPs so as he could consolidate a kind of Stalinist grip on the party. Momentum was imagined to be the parallel of Napoleon’s dogs in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, hounding and destroying those who opposed him.
So, let’s start with Brexit. Labour does have a clear policy on this which started from a decision to honour the referendum result, shared across Parliament before it took place, so that the issue, it was thought, could be put to bed for ever. Labour cannot be blamed for the existence of the referendum which was David Cameron’s fault entirely. As we know, the referendum was lost and despite the fact that the campaign was corruptly funded and many lies were told Labour agreed to respect that result as it had committed itself to do.
It is sometimes argued that if Jeremy Corbyn had campaigned more vigorously the referendum would not have been lost but it was difficult for anyone in the Labour Party to share platforms with the Conservatives who instigated the thing, who thought they would win easily and would come out of it with David Cameron smelling of roses. Labour did not make it a political party issue but Labour MPs did go out and support Remain in large numbers. In hindsight, some people think that was a mistake but it wouldn’t have been an easy option at the time with the Conservatives desperate to find splits in Labour support which their media friends could amplify so as to cover up some of the gaps in the Conservative Party.
David Cameron went and Theresa May’s government came into power and set in motion the departure of the UK from Europe – again supported by virtually all of Parliament shortly after the result. It should then have been a foregone conclusion for the government to do the deal, or whatever version of the deal it wanted, which would have flown through Parliament, whether or not it was necessary for it to do so then which is questionable, and we would have left Europe some time ago.
Then, Theresa May made a decision to call a snap General Election, a decision which turned out to be almost as stupid as David Cameron’s. Labour fought a strong campaign on achieving social democracy, a better departure from Europe than the Conservatives were promising and with a radical manifesto.
Labour did much better than the media ever expected, perhaps because the media viewpoints, and particularly those of the BBC and the Guardian which might have been supportive, were informed by a constant campaign to destroy Jeremy Corbyn encouraged by disaffected Labour MPs. These people tried to suggest that there were deep splits over nuclear deterrence, to imply that Labour’s foreign policy would be pro-Soviet and that Momentum and Seamus Milne would run the country. In practice, no MPs were deselected but the constant tabloid headlines and the stream of criticism had the effect of reducing the Labour vote. Without that, it is more than probable that Labour would have won the election with a workable majority.
Labour then developed a policy on the Brexit negotiations which was, essentially, to achieve a result which still respected the referendum while maintaining a customs union and free-market, workers’ rights and conditions and UK control over its industrial investment policy. If this could not be achieved, Labour would want a General Election and, failing that, some kind of second referendum. This was considered to be a surprisingly clear policy at the time and many people were surprised – imagining that the arch anti-European Jeremy Corbyn would not want such a deal. The assumption was that he must have been defeated following some internal strife but the reality is that this was a policy worked through from the bottom ranks of the party and well supported at the time.
While negotiations were going on, there were still attempts to discredit Jeremy Corbyn over links with Palestinian organisations and for failing to root out anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. There is no evidence to suggest that the Labour Party is more or less anti-Semitic than society at large but it is more anti-Israeli and the attempts to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism have continued for some years. There has been evidence to show that there’s been an organised campaign to discredit the Labour Party on this basis probably in the interests of the Israeli state and funded by it as well. It has been a success as well and a difficult and problematic diversion for the Labour Party. When a handful of its MPs left to form Change UK it was one of the reasons they put forward. This is all worth mentioning because it shows how readily the media could have jumped on anything Labour said which appeared to be any sort of reversal, betrayal or indecision.
It is also worth noting that the Conservative party with the help of the Ulster Unionists still had a majority. It is only because the European Reform Group faction rebelled on certain issues that Labour has had any influence whatsoever on events.
However, there are plenty of people around who think that Labour could, somehow, have changed its policy and become a Remain party and this is, somehow, Jeremy Corbyn’s fault that it hasn’t because that is what everybody else obviously wants. In practice, the only way to do that would have been to call a special conference which would have revealed substantial splits in Labour, maybe quite reasonably because of the view that there was a strong Brexit vote in some Labour heartlands which ought to be respected. You can also imagine the media firestorm and political rant which would have accompanied such a conference and because Labour is a democratic party, you can appreciate it would have ended with a compromise quite similar to that already achieved.
To come up to date, it is nice to recognise that Labour has achieved a significant series of defeats for the government on Brexit issues but also necessary to understand that Parliament has only agreed on the issue of No Deal. It is clearly understood even by its supporters that there is no majority for a referendum to be rerun, even with a Labour whip.
However, Labour has used its influence and the ‘discussions’ to gain significant concessions on workers’ rights, a wider acceptance of the notion of a continuing customs union and, more recently, the idea of a confirmatory referendum. This would not be a rerun of the original referendum but would instead offer the choice of a negotiated deal and remaining in the EU.
Finally, we need to underline that the decision to hold European elections is nothing to do with the Labour Party but it is an outcome of Parliamentary indecision and the incompetence of the government. Labour is following its established policies in the manifesto even if it is seen as sitting on the fence when, allegedly, it could change its mind and support staying in Europe. Instead, it has maintained its position which seems a fair choice given the history and even if you don’t agree with it personally.
Where does it all go next? Possibly, the best option would be another defeat for Theresa May and a confirmatory referendum with the options as above. Worse ones include Boris Johnson as Prime Minister reigning with the help of a triumphant European Reform Group or a general election where the continuous carping against Labour creates a situation where right-wing fascists hold the balance of power.
That’s why, whatever you think about Europe and whatever you think about Jeremy Corbyn, you ought to go out and vote Labour on Thursday and encourage your friends and relatives to do the same. If you were planning not to, at least think again for five minutes about what the consequences might be and if you still won’t all I can say is that I tried and you might regret it later.