I had a chance encounter with a Labour Councillor the other day whilst at gay pride in Rochester. We know each other from many years back and I like and respect him as a solid campaigner for Remain within the Labour party. He approached me because he recognised me from behind, as I had my ‘offensive swimming bag’ with me, pictured below.
After a brief exchange of pleasantries, he raised the issue of Labour’s strategy for Brexit. Here is what he told me:
“In our first term we will join EFTA.
In our second term we will have a referendum to rejoin the EU”.
Here is my analysis of this strategy, based on a much fuller treatment of the issue in my book Reboot Britain : Strategies to change minds on Europe and Brexit.
He claimed that Kier Starmer could not argue about ending Brexit at this time, due to his need to hold on to red wall seats at an election. I dispute this position:
If Kier Starmer continues with the strategy of ‘making Brexit work’, he will be accused, quite rightly, of being a liar after being elected. This is the very thing that he has accused Boris Johnson and the Conservative party of doing and is therefore morally bankrupt.
Everyone knows that Starmer is a Remainer and therefore there would be no great loss if he were to remind us of this fact. Boris Johnson reminds Keir Starmer of his EU / Remain credentials on a weekly and sometimes daily basis in parliament, so there is very little currency in the Daily Excess, Son or Maul revealing this ‘secret’. Opinions about Brexit are changing rapidly, with Lord Sugar the latest person to call for Brexit to be reversed.
The Labour Party seem to be terrified of the right-wing media, yet they themselves have a media machine. Therefore, they ought to be able to put up a valid defence of his position if they needed to. The Labour party somehow believe that their own media machine is inferior to the Tory party’s. Perhaps Labour need to read my books as well.
My sense is that Keir Starmer is even more scared of the hard left element of his own party than the Conservatives and that this is driving his avoidance of the Brexit issue. You have gotta love Mick Lynch’s ability to stand up and speak truth to power, but let’s not forget that Lynch is also a relic of the militant tendency from the 1980’s in terms of his wish to shut the borders and return us to Little Britain via Brexit myopia.
Let’s suppose that Starmer decided to ignore the hard left in his party. It is indeed possible that he would lose some votes in red wall seats. Let’s guess that this may amount to 10% losses of seats in those areas. However he stands to gain anything like 20 to 40% of Conservative seats in other areas. Labour are allowing the militant tendency to dictate their strategy for re-election and this makes them no better than the bluekip Tories. I cannot recommend that any remainers vote for them under these circumstances, except where their candidates have a more enlightened view about Brexit.
My Councillor friend put it to me that Starmer simply cannot say the Brexit word at this time. Respectfully, I say this is horseshit. He can say that Brexit isn’t working and has not delivered what was on ‘the brochure’ in 2016. He can also point to clear evidence to support such statements at this time, coming from UK in a changing Europe and our own work at Reboot Britain. The Labour Party has fallen into the trap of believing that a poll in OK Magazine or the results of the latest focus group should dictate party policy. This is not leadership. Silence is assent and Starmer’s position is a clear demonstration of putting party before country, what Tony Blair describes as putting ideology before pragmatism. I expected better from a clever man and I must conclude that, like the Tories, there are people who they are afraid of behind the scenes.
As regards Labour’s long-term plan, there are many flaws with this:
The EFTA countries are a small club of nations: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland who value collaboration over competition. It is unclear as to how such a club would wish to invite an aggressive competitor with a track record for wanting ‘cake and eat it too’ from its relationships with other trading partners. Brexit Britain has demonstrated a complete lack of regard for the role of international law, breaking deals made with others and riding roughshod over nations that it considers to be inferior to itself. These are hardly the kinds of elements of a compelling psychological contract to join a new trading bloc. Joining EFTA also means accepting the four freedoms of the EU. How will this be put to the knuckle dragging red wall Brexiteers?
The assumption of a second term in office is also questionable, particularly if it becomes apparent that Starmer lied to get into power. This makes him equivalent to Johnson and the mainstream media would certainly weaponise this. The second doubtful assumption is that another referendum would be desirable or indeed practical. Brexit has divided the nation and I very much doubt that the nation will look back on 2016 and want to repeat the exercise with all that it has brought. It is entirely possible that, by this time, many people will have forgotten most of what Michael Gove glibly called ‘bumps in the road’ and will not wish to open up the debate again. The longer we leave this question, the more difficult it becomes, as divergence will be complete and the damage to lives and livelihoods will be complete.
My friend assumed that the binary ping-pong politics model remain resilient into the future. This itself is questionable. Brexit has of course unleashed a disruptive influence on British politics, with a number of parties now standing for anything but the current system. Within the next few years we will see the emergence of Gina Miller’s True and Fair party, the possible resurgence of the Lib Dems in the South, the departure of Scotland from the United Kingdom and the emergence of other single-issue parties such as the Rejoin party. Under such circumstances, I’m doubtful as to whether ping-pong politics will remain the norm. My friend tried to deal with this with me by saying that if I didn’t vote Labour I would get the Tories. My reply was simple. I stated that I cannot vote for a Brexit party and that Labour must do better than this.
I am not sure whether the Labour strategy was given to my labour councillor friend in order to appease him or for him to use to appease me. Although miracles are sometimes possible, the strategy he presented has more holes in it than a piece of Swiss cheese banned by Liz Truss. He is a very good chap and I wanted to believe him. But I ended up with the feeling that he himself may well be hanging onto unicorns and trying to ‘believe harder’.