John McDonald is one of those politicians that I tend to respect even when I disagree with him. He gave an excellent speech on the need to invest in our neglected communities and rebalance development across the regions of the UK. But he let himself down badly on the idea of a second referendum. He put out a statement saying that if Labour reversed Brexit then there was a real risk that a sense of betrayal would empower the far right. So, he thinks that we have to go through with leaving the EU to avoid that happening.
Has there ever been a dafter argument from an intelligent person? Essentially what he is saying is that we have to pursue a nationalist fantasy in order to fend off nationalism. He is arguing for giving in to the far right in order to prevent it getting stronger. That never works. It is entirely possible that if the British people rejected Brexit in a second referendum that we would have to face down a far right backlash. That cannot be allowed to give the far right a veto over choice. It is every bit as likely that if Brexit goes through we’ll be faced with an empowered far right who believe they have won one major victory and want another. The best way of defeating them is a thumping majority rejecting their vision of the future in a second referendum.
That brings me to the second argument that is being used against the idea of a People’s Vote. Len McCluskey from the Labour Party has said that if there is to be a second referendum it must exclude the option to remain in the EU because voters have already chosen to leave. What this means is that he thinks people should be allowed to express an opinion about what politicians’ promises they prefer but once the facts are known about the real deals on offer they cannot express their opinion. Winning the referendum gave Brexiteers the right to try and deliver on all those good things they had promised. They have utterly failed to do that. Instead they are offering us the chance to leave without any deal at all or the chance to take all the rules of the EU without any say in making them. During the first referendum campaign we were told again and again that this would not happen. When politicians fail to deliver on their promises we get the chance to kick them out at the next election. Since Brexit has failed to deliver the simple easy solutions we were promised we need the chance to vote on reality and to kick out that failed policy.
Picture the choice that Len McCluskey wants to offer us. He thinks we should be given the chance to decide whether we want to leave with no deal or leave with whatever deal Theresa May comes up with. What kind of choice is that? Opinion polls are regularly showing that the majority of people now want to call the whole thing off and remain. Because of deaths of elderly electors by March the majority of those alive who voted in the referendum will have voted to remain. Yet Len wants the choice that a majority of electors currently support to disappear from the ballot paper. That isn’t a referendum. It is a manipulated plebiscite. The people of the UK deserve a chance to vote in order of preference for 1. Leaving with no deal, 2. Leaving with the negotiated deal, 3. Remaining.
The reason leavers don’t want that kind of vote is very simple. They are convinced they would lose that vote. If it was the right thing to do to ask the British people what they wanted to do when the facts weren’t known and they had to rely on speculation, why isn’t it right to ask them what they want to do now we know a lot more?
All of which leads me to the position of Jeremy Corbyn. After months of refusing to consider granting a second referendum he has finally got round to announcing that if the Labour Party conference votes for that then he will respect their vote. How he will respect their vote and whether he’ll back a free and fair choice between leaving and remaining isn’t entirely clear. What is clear is that he hasn’t exactly led the campaign against Brexit and gone all out to back a second referendum. Just as he didn’t exactly go all out to campaign against Brexit in the first place. Where would we be now if Labour had spent the last 18 months telling us that Brexit was a dangerous fantasy that had to be opposed? Instead we’ve been told by Corbyn again and again that he can deliver a better Brexit that will be a jobs first version. How? In what world does leaving the biggest trading block on your doorstep cost jobs if it is done by a Conservative government but magically preserve them if it is done by a Labour one? In what world does being exposed to the coldest winds of international free trade without the protection of the EU enable a labour government to subsidise UK industries and not immediately face tariffs in retaliation for unfair trading practices from our neighbours?
The latest polls show an astonishingly high proportion of Labour Party members want to stay in the EU. The pressure from those members might just succeed in forcing Jeremy Corbyn to half heartedly back a second referendum. Where has the brave leadership been that has championed that cause? I have lost track of the number of times I’ve been told that Labour is now a different organisation led by sincere people who stick to their principles and fight for what they believe in. Where has that fight been when it has come to the huge issue of Brexit?
If it wasn’t for the Green Party and the SNP promoting the idea of a referendum on the final deal the idea would have gone nowhere. The Lib Dems then started to pick up on the campaign and to their credit have pushed it hard. It has taken months of work to get the Labour leadership to even admit that the idea is possible. That is not leadership. That is not inspirational change. That is reluctantly responding to pressure. The hundreds of thousands of people who have joined the Labour Party in the last couple of years in the belief that it was going to offer them a different kinds of politics deserve better. So do British voters.