So, so predictable that today the media, political opposition parties who were never in a position to achieve and change and some Labour MPs and members are making today (yet another) ‘blame Corbyn for everything’ day. The news broadcasters and print media are doing their usual, unprincipled thing, while Nicola Sturgeon, in particular, disgraced herself with some opportunistic, reality-denying nonsense:
The Article 50 bill – which is really not news if you think about it – made it through Parliament. It was always going to and nothing – whether you like it or not – was going to change that, or even disturb its passage. The Parliamentary mathematics made sure of that.
Some people, of course, never let the facts get in the way of a good smear – especially when it’s an opportunity to deflect attention that Theresa May got her backside handed to her in PMQs yesterday, after Corbyn completely outmanoeuvred her on the Surry Council ‘sweetheart deal’.
So today – for the 4th day in the last 9, even though the media know the Brexit bill has always been out of Labour’s and Corbyn’s hands – Labour rebels and Corbyn’s decision to whip the vote are the front-page news of the day.
With the spin that no changes were achieved to the bill – as per Ms Sturgeon’s shameful tweet above.
It’s true that the text of the bill was unchanged. It was always likely to be and Theresa May was always going to be keen to retain that propaganda victory. Nothing Labour could do about that, realistically, but some people can’t stop themselves crying over spilt milk.
But it’s not true that no concessions were won.
Regardless of the text of the bill, Corbyn’s clever tactics actually achieved two major concessions, while also minimising damage to Labour’s standing with the huge numbers of ‘leave’ voters in its non-London strongholds.
That’s quite a feat.
Chances are, you’ve only heard about one of them – and that’s by design. The media know how to spin a story for desired effect. So here are both, starting with the most obvious:
Concession 1: a vote on the final deal
Corbyn’s clever manoeuvre of letting Chris Leslie’s individual amendment lead allowed Tory rebels to get behind it in a way that they would have hesitated to if it was a formal Labour amendment.
This meant that the government, worried that it might face a significant rebellion, offered a sweetener – a Parliamentary debate and vote on the deal it agrees with the EU – before it’s finalised with the EU.
The naysayers are, of course, focusing on the fact that it’s been described as a ‘take it or leave it’ vote, with ‘leave it’ meaning a disadvantageous default to WTO (World Trade Organisation) terms that include tariffs etc – but in fact that puts the onus on the government to make sure its deal contains enough fundamental protections that it will pass in that all-or-nothing, ‘one shot’ vote. Imagine being the government that is so incompetent it brought back a deal so bad that MPs opted for ‘no deal’ instead.
Nobody would claim this is ideal, but given the Parliamentary maths and the fact that the debate is, unavoidably, going to be toward the end of the two-year ‘Article 50’ notice period, there’s nothing realistic and better to expect.
Concession 2: protection for EU citizens
This is the one that nobody is talking about – but it’s major. One of Theresa May’s first actions after she became leader was to make dark, threatening noises about effectively holding the fate of EU citizens as hostage to the negotiations. Treating people as bargaining chips is entirely in line with the Tory psyche, but no less hideous for that.
And, again as a result of Corbyn’s intelligent positioning, the government has put in writing a commitment to protecting the rights and status of EU citizens in this country, in a letter that Home Secretary Amber Rudd circulated to MPs. Here it is in full:
Achieving this – getting May to give away what she clearly considered one of her stronger (but as any reasonable person would say, least scrupulous) bargaining chips is a major coup. Which is probably why the media/opposition/Labour right are quiet about it.
Clearly, the Labour MPs who still voted against the bill last night would not agree that the concessions were enough for them to vote for it – but that’s ok, and it must be said that with the exception of the four front-benchers, those resigning are largely the ‘usual suspects’ who’ve done their best to undermine Corbyn since he became leader, so they hardly represent actual news.
But any media, any right-wing Labour MPs and any from other parties who try to tell you that Corbyn’s approach achieved no concessions – and yes, that includes you Nicola Sturgeon – are lying to you.
It’s simply not true. And while nobody would claim Corbyn succeeded in making a silk purse out of the flea-bitten sow’s ear he was handed, he certainly managed to make a better leather one than anyone had a right to expect given what he had to work with.
And, as Corbyn rightly said, now’s the time the real fight starts – not the barely-relevant, unwinnable Article 50 sideshow the media built up into something it never really was.
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