As we enter the second day of Jeremy Corbyn’s talks with Theresa May, what will happen next is very unclear. Corbyn’s own intentions remain remarkably inscrutable – nobody really knows if he is the same Bennite Brexiter he was in 1975 and 1983, or if he is actually a ninth dan master of constructive ambiguity who is going to come out of this game of three dimensional chess with both a second referendum and the keys to No.10 in the bag.
Salford’s own Rebecca Long-Bailey (blurred in the above photo) is a key part of Labour’s negotiating team. What Northern Labour MPs think, and what they perceive Northern voters think, is a really important part of what happens next.
Northern Umbrella’s take on it all is simple: let Corbyn cook up any deal he wants with Theresa May, but whatever it is, PUT IT TO THE PEOPLE. The ‘Kyle-Wilson’ compromise would be the simplest given the extreme lack of time we have – vote through Theresa May’s existing deal, which we know the EU will agree to, on the condition that it is put to a ratification referendum, with Remain as the alternative.
The real danger is that May and Corbyn will agree on some softer form of Brexit (all the Labour bullshit of ‘a’ customs union, as opposed to ‘the’ customs union), conspire to sell it as a happy compromise between the extremes of Remain and No Deal, and rush it through before the EU’s deadline of 12 April.
Why would they do that? There is no such thing as a ‘jobs-first Brexit’: all forms of soft Brexit deliver a worse deal with the EU than the one we already have, and would be a stupid, pointless throwing away of Britain’s seat at the EU table. People propounding soft Brexit only ever make the case in terms of respecting the 2016 referendum vote, they never make the case in positive terms of what it offers the country. Nobody even bothers to ask them to.
The problem with soft Brexit is that it only unites the country in the sense that nobody wants it. So why would Corbyn and May go for it?
One argument in its favour is that it drives the hard Brexiters nuts. The only enjoyable thing coming out of the latest twist in the crisis is watching the charlatans, clowns and disaster capitalist crooks of the Tory ERG lose their shit as they realise they have lost their control over what happens next.
But the argument offered here is that what both Corbyn and May share is a vested interest in keeping Westminster’s undemocratic two party, first-past-the-post-in-single-member-constituencies duopoly system intact.
They both fancy their chances in a Westminster General Election, while both deeply fear having to contest the European parliament elections in June, run under a proportional representation system*, when the real state of support for their two parties would actually be revealed. (*A very bad version of PR, the so-called party list system, cynically chosen by Tony Blair to discredit PR.)
Think on, Rebecca
But if Labour would just stop and think for one minute, they would never do anything as mad as push through soft Brexit in cahoots with Theresa May, without a ratification referendum.
If Brexit is any one thing, it is a crime by the old against the young. The statistics on the age breakdown of the Brexit vote in 2016 are astonishing. The old – with many honourable exceptions of course – wanted to leave and the young wanted to stay. And things have got even more polarised since then.
The most amazing fact about Brexit voters is that not only are they much more pessimistic about the future than Remainers, but also that they do not expect Brexit to change that. Brexiters think Britain’s best days are behind it, full stop – even after Brexit.
The most amazing fact about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party is that he would not have won the leadership, and he would not have hung on to it against a vicious backlash by the Labour party establishment, without the enthusiastic support of the young.
If Corbyn and Rebecca Long-Bailey secure a confirmatory referendum as an outcome of these talks, then they will be walking on water as far as the young people of this country are concerned. One million marchers and six million signers of the revoke petition will become a young and enthusiastic doorstep army to win the referendum, and they will probably then move on to put Jeremy Corbyn into No. 10 too.
If they conspire with Theresa May to deny a referendum, then their support from the young will evaporate overnight. Furthermore, and quite rightly, the young will turn against Labour and the dream of a reforming Corbyn government will be over.
Labour’s high command must have thought through the arithmetic, and if they come out against a referendum, they must believe that Brexit voters in the North are the crucial factor in their chances of winning a general election. They would be making a gigantic strategic mistake. Alienating the young and siding with the past against future is no way forward, in the North as much as anywhere. Assuming young remainers have nowhere else to take their vote would soon be proven wrong: they are a lively lot and would create somewhere else to take their vote, and Labour as a dynamic and forward-looking force would be finished.
The Northern Labour MPs holding out for hard Brexit are a mixed bag. Some, like Caroline Flint, are compromised by spending too much time in Annabel’s with Andrew Neil and the dark alt-right netherworld he is a gateway to. Some want to represent what they feel their constituents are saying to them. Some just worry about getting re-elected.
But most, like Ronnie Campbell, are nice enough guys but at the end of the day are just living dinosaurs: yesterday’s old party men whose best days are well behind them and have given up on offering any kind of hope or future to the young people of the North of England.
Brexiters are now a clear minority in the country. As they attempt to deny this, it is worth asking: if they represent the will of the majority as they claim to do, why are they so afraid of putting that to the test of a referendum?
The hard Brexiters, the crooks and the charlatans, cannot be compromised with. They can only be confronted and defeated. Meanwhile the “just get on with it” brigade, the pensioners who read the Daily Express, and believe the shit fed to them in it, should be sympathised with, but we can’t allow them to crash the car with all our kids in it.
Rebecca Long-Bailey could be a good leader of the Labour party some day. She should consider: does she really want to side with the past against the future?
[UPDATE]: 25 Labour MPs’ letter urging Corbyn to reject a referendum
So 25 Labour MPs have written to Jeremy Corbyn urging a quick compromise deal with Theresa May “to avoid fighting the European elections”. They say that Labour party policy is that a “deal that secures jobs and rights at work… does not require a confirmatory ballot”.
Of the 25 MPs, 20 represent Northern seats, and all apart from one represent seats in the North or the North Midlands. It’s a broad group of Labour MPs, men and women, old and young, from different wings of the party – it’s not just limited to the dinosaur brigade. What links them is that they all represent seats that voted heavily for Brexit. It’s long and depressing list of ex-mining and manufacturing towns that are in a bad way:
Trying to get a better future for places like these is why Northern Umbrella exists. So it is right to respect that this letter comes from these towns’ elected MPs and represents a genuine point of view.
However, we are entitled to ask these MPs to make clear what their ‘Labour Brexit’ deal would actually do to make their towns a better place. Because they have nothing to say on this. All they can say is that making Brexit happen “respects the result of the 2016 referendum”.
All of these MPs will be fully aware of the well-known issue that Brexit will hammer the areas that voted for Brexit hardest. Sure, soft Brexit won’t be as bad as No Deal Brexit, but it will be bad. To be aware of this problem, and not to show leadership in their communities on it, just for the sake of avoiding bother, is shameful.
Of course respecting democracy is important, and this is why it is a travesty of democracy to deny the people a confirmatory referendum on the actual Brexit proposal, as opposed to 2016’s blank sheet of paper that nobody cared to define and nobody understood (and was lied and lied about, in a Leave campaign that broke the law).
The real reason they don’t want a referendum is because they know they will lose it, and lose it quite badly. A soft Brexit deal they claim can “bring leave and remain voters together” if put to a referendum would likely do just that – it would bring them together to reject it, and would struggle to get 30% of the vote.
It would be a particular travesty of democracy to ram through a hurriedly lashed-up deal without scrutiny, just so that the Labour and Conservative parties can avoid having to face the genuinely democratic test of a European election.
In fact, holding the European election is a great democratic opportunity to find out what people really think about Brexit, and what they want to do next. It’s a PR election where votes properly count, and so a range of parties that actually reflect the range of public opinion will be able to set out their stall, and people will be able to vote for the platform they like best.
Contrast this to a general election where questions of much more vital importance to voters than Brexit need to be settled. We have had a taster of this with the Newport West by-election tonight, won by Labour with a 1,951 majority over the Tories in a campaign in which “neither Labour nor Tory focused on Brexit”.
We need a general election, and we need to settle Brexit. But a general election is not a good means of settling Brexit, in fact it is a very bad one. And a British general election least of all, with our unfit for purpose, first past the post, single member seat system that turns our general elections into such a rigged, fundamentally undemocratic and depressing occasion. Polls are saying 80% of people don’t want a general election now.
There has to be a suspicion that these MPs want the two party duopoly Westminster system, and their safe seats within it, more than they want to make sure they are doing what really is best for the country.
Let’s be charitable and say that this suspicion is unjustified. In that case, we need to make the time for them to present their case, and for it to be debated. To do this, we are going to need a long extension to the Brexit deadline, a breather so that everyone can calm down, and then return to a more reasoned debate.
There is only one way to bring the Brexit debate to an end so that we can move on to solving the North’s actual problems. We must engage seriously with those who have reached for Brexit as a panacea for the serious problems of neglect and austerity, whilst at the same time confronting the No Deal Brexit fantasists and fanatics, and democratically defeating them. The Labour MPs who can’t see that are part of the problem, not part of the solution.