Figures show Corbyn got it exactly right on Brexit. No, ‘exactly right ≠ ‘perfect’

The SKWAWKBOX has argued – and, I believe demonstrated – over the last couple of weeks that Jeremy Corbyn’s ‘three-line whip’ approach to the government’s ‘Article 50’ bill to trigger the Brexit process was the best available option. He played a poor hand cleverly to win two important concessions from a government that didn’t – with it’s outright majority in Parliament and few Tories likely to rebel – need to offer any. Some Labour members still find it a hard pill to swallow.

Yesterday, the Independent published the results of a ComRes poll on Corbyn’s handling of the issue. The results show that Corbyn judged it exactly right – though (of course) some are still arguing differently.

corbyn brexit poll.png

To get a proper understanding of how he played it exactly right and why, it’s important (and it’s something that Labour remainers who are still agonising over last June’s result often seem to forget) to remember a couple of key facts:

1. Nothing Corbyn did or didn’t do was going to prevent the bill going through.

With no signs of any major rebellion on the Tory benches, the best Corbyn could hope for was to win concessions – and he did.

2. That being the case, Corbyn’s primary responsibility to the country was to minimise electoral damage to the Labour party.

Making hopeless gestures of resistance in a fight you can’t win might be very emotionally satisfying to bruised remain voters. I was one, although by a 52/48 split on a personal level – the EU is a long way from perfect.

But the morning after, you’d just be waking up to exactly the same result and – if you’re a Labour supporter – it would be worse still if you then found the party plummeting in the polls under a (for once substantial) media onslaught of right-wing media hammering the party and aggrieved leave voters in the north turning away from a Labour that had ignored them.

Corbyn did what leaders do. He looked at the big picture:

He took the view – at each stage of the process, nothing was pre-ordained – that he would ‘whip’ MPs toward the vote that would do the least damage to Labour after the vote that they could not win.

Here are the key Comres numbers:


48% of Labour voters do not think Labour should try to prevent Brexit. 39% do. 13% don’t know or don’t have an opinion.

Some object that it’s still fewer than half who don’t think it should be blocked, but it’s substantially more than those who do.

But what the poll doesn’t tell us is how much the 39% care. This is a key factor in understanding polling, but often neglected. In other words, how many of the 39% would not vote Labour because of it?

It ought to be as near to zero as you ever get, because in the EU or out of it, Britain needs a Labour government. But of course, some will defect to the EU, or the Greens, or some other party prepared to make the futile gesture (although the proportion of LibDem MPs who supported the Article 50 bill was about the same as the proportion of Labour MPs who voted against).

But I’d put money on it not being many. People are perfectly capable – for the most part – of wishing for different on one issue and still recognising Labour are the best chance of a better future for themselves and their families than a thieving, lying Tory government can offer.


This is key. 64% of the electorate at large agreed that Labour should not try to block Brexit. If Corbyn chose a strategy – if such a thing existed – that kept every current Labour member and supporter perfectly happy, it would not make enough votes to win the next General Election.

Labour needs votes from people who didn’t vote for it in 2015 – including the huge proportion of the electorate that didn’t vote at all. It’s just commonsense – in a vote that you can’t win – not to alienate 64% of the pool of people you need to support you.

It’s also – in this writer’s opinion – that this pool of people would be more likely not to vote for a Labour party that resisted the deeply-flawed but still democratic referendum decision.

‘Best’ is not ‘perfect

I can hear the screaming ‘but!’ forming in the minds of some readers. And you’re right. It’s not perfect. It’s not what (some of) you want – some ‘left field’ solution or the cavalry riding over the ridge just in time to save us from Brexit.

It’s understandable to wish for that. It’s unforgivable to flush Labour down the toilet as a government in waiting in the hope that ‘something will turn up’.

Of course Corbyn’s tactic hasn’t got us where many of us would wish to be. It’s exactly right, but it’s not perfect.

Perfect would be a country where its greatest achievement, the NHS, was not being starved, dismantled and sold off.

Perfect would be a country where there were no patients in corridors


Perfect would be disabled and disadvantaged people protected and supported, rather than having their meagre lifelines removed to fund tax cuts to corporations and the wealthiest.

Perfect would be an education system that worked equally well for everyone, regardless of income or background

Perfect would be everyone having a secure home and a decent job that pays enough to live on.

Perfect would be a country that didn’t demonise the ‘other’ – the foreigner, the different, the poor, the disabled.

Perfect would be a UK in which UKIP and other race-hate stirrers are a distant, irrelevant memory, like a bad dream you’ve woken from.

Perfect would be human rights enshrined in laws ring-fenced so thoroughly that they could not be overturned.

Perfect would be a country that didn’t drop bombs on innocents.

Perfect would be a country in which the media reported the news instead of dictating it, where people didn’t have to do hours of research to see past shameless propaganda.

Perfect would be a UK we could be proud of for its humanity to its own and others; for its dedication to peace and justice for all; for treating everyone fairly.

Perfect would be a UK in which no Tory government could ever get a grip on the reins of power again, because we’d all seen how things could be and that the right can’t offer it.

Perfect is, of course, impossible in a flawed world. But if you want to get anywhere near it, we need the end of this Tory government – and that means that Corbyn played a poor hand, from a stacked deck…exactly right.

Like a leader.

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  1. Completely agree, I also think those MP’s who voted against whose constituency’s voted overwhelmingly to remain played the same hand as well as they could, Jeremy would have done the same I reckon. What to do with people who think Labour could have stopped Article 50 being started I don’t know, there seems to be a lack of understanding of how Govt works, complaints that Labour is a party of protest not action, all you can do from the opposition is protest and offer up alternatives, last year Jeremy lead the way and forced the Tories to U turn 24 times. That’s action via protesting. He did get some amendments through, not as many as we would like but as you say they had the votes to ignore all amendments put forward.

    1. Hard to tell -it’s in the hands of police forces and they’re not talking. No to the 2nd. I don’t think it makes a difference to the result – it was called, we voted, we lost. We have to fight the current battles, no time for old ones.

  2. Yes this makes sense and a better understanding of what JC did ! Let’s not forget everybody had a vote and an opinion on Brexit be that vote wrong or right we should not scapegoat anyone for our own choice of action !

  3. JC knew he would get slated what ever he did, but would also be aware that Smith’s 2nd referendum stance during the leadership campaign did not win him the election. Many “retainers” like myself knew Corbin would not block Article 50 because he said he wouldn’t, and although I would love to see a second one, I recognise that such a stance would lead to a massive rise in UKIP support & the horror that would bring to the Country.
    I think that’s why May is taking such a ridiculous hard line as well; she needs to keep the Kippers out, and I’m sure that when the disappointed Labour supporters think about it logically they will agree, all be it grudgingly that Corbin had no other choice.

  4. Brexit is going to bring untold harm for our country for generations to come and alienate our closest neighbours, allies and trading partners. So let’s vote with the Tories, against out own convictions and pretend we like it? To hell with that. I’m cutting up my membership card and I’m politically homeless as of now.

    1. Yet again, people forget *that he couldn’t prevent it*. So we face the crap of Brexit with a more-damaged Labour party that can’t fight the effects, or we face the crap of Brexit with a fitter, better-positioned Labour party that actually has a chance of doing something. Those are the choices – preventing Brexit altogether was never on the menu

    2. It felt wrong to me too, but knowing if Jeremy etc had all voted against it would have sent a really bad signal to those who voted out in the referendum, there was no way the vote could have been over turned without a collapse in the Tory vote, only one Ken Clark voted against, so we respect democracy and keep pushing the Tories all the way during the actual process, Article 50 has NOT been triggered yet. It will be during the negotiations that some of the Tories who wanted to remain will vote against deals, so Jeremy etc will have a chance to alter things for the better. My god if only we could ignore a vote I’d start with 2010 election please. Removing yourself from having all be it small a position of influence caves into the Tories, gives them what they want. I’m a remoaner as we are called, but turning away from what I believe in would be like another brexit again, repeating the same thing, you can only change things from the inside like we should have been doing with the EU

      1. OK. Labour have made a choice, a calculation. You alienate remainers and risk losing votes to the Lib Dems and Greens (48%) or Brexiteers (52%) and risk losing votes to UKIP even though you stood on a remain platform. You side with brexit because you think remainers are too weak-willed to make you pay electorally for deserting us. Maybe you’re right. Time will tell. But you can do that without me because this sticks in my throat. I don’t identify with Labour brexiteers, or brexiteers anywhere else. I can’t bring myself to vote Lib Dem. If there’s a Green candidate available I’ll vote for them. Otherwise I won’t vote. It’s like saying “We can’t prevent WW2 so let’s vote for it!” I was always taught to vote for what I believe in.

      2. Absolutely pointless getting killed fighting a battle you can’t win. Marshall your forces, live to fight another day, choose a battle you can win. It’s victory-mindedness instead of a futile gesture. Whatever you wish might have been, anything else simply hands the victory to those least fit to use it.

      3. I didn’t realise WW2 was the subject of a public vote. I don’t want the Tories in govt, neither do many others, we can’t just say ok who ever gets to number 10 first gets to govern, I don’t want to leave the EU but we have no choice whatever way Labour voted, Labour is all about democracy how do you just tell those who voted to leave like those who voted for the Tories nah don’t like it you loose? Article 50 hasn’t been started yet, over the coming two years a lot of things could change, Jeremy got 24 u turns out of the nasty party last year, I’ll back him to get a better deal than they are offering from Brexit too

      4. I’ll back Corbyn to get Labour hammered in the next general election and place us even further away from power. His leadership was weak on brexit, I thought because he’s a closet brexiteer. I’m giving up on Labour until Corbyn has gone.

      5. It is a shame that the msm didn’t show just how hard he worked for remain, in Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has been applauded for the overwhelming vote to remain, yet Jeremy who got just a percentage less of Labours vote to vote remain gets slaughtered, just like he did when caught dancing on his way to the cenotaph only he wasn’t he walking with his guest a dear old gentleman who served in the war only to be cleverly cropped out of the pictures.
        Yes Jeremy/Labour could get slaughtered come the next election, it won’t be from lack of work put in on the ground by Jeremy or his supporters. This is our chance to have a decent honest politician at the helm, who fights fair, unlike some in the PLP who have tried to lie there way (Ms Eagle) into the job.
        The last thing this country needs is more right wing ideologies from the so called centre left in Labour or their friends the Tories.

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