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.
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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