The People’s Vote campaigner in me welcomes any move by anyone towards the position that says there should be a Final Say referendum on Brexit. Labour would appear to have taken another step in that direction. But frankly so much time has elapsed since the referendum; so many lies, crimes and misdemeanours have been revealed, so many broken promises exposed, so much learned about what Brexit means in practice, that it would be profoundly undemocratic for there not to be a Final Say referendum.
The Labour member in me (subject to a review of my expulsion that is currently ongoing with the details of who, what, where and when very vague, to put it politely) worries that the road has indeed been so long, so winding, and doubtless with more twists and turns to come, that the political gains that might have accrued from the latest shift may not be forthcoming.
A lot depends on the conviction with which the position is now put across. As canvassers and campaigners found during the European elections, lack of clarity leads to suspicion either that the policy has not been thought through, or that the party wants different people to think different things depending on what they think already. The passage of time has eroded whatever benefits such constructive ambiguity might once have brought. Hence the result of the European elections. Hence, I assume, the latest attempt to appear to be moving to the right place.
But though the Brexit elephant in the room has shrunk over time, it is still there, in the form of this question: so if we have no deal or a Tory deal, we back a referendum and fight to Remain, but if we get a Labour government that delivers a non-Tory Brexit we fight to leave. It says a lot about Labour’s confidence in delivering an acceptable Brexit that they think they can do such a deal with 27 other countries in days and weeks when it has taken them months and years to get a single party of opposition to the position Jeremy Corbyn announced today.
Let’s wind back a little more to an earlier fork in the road. When the plan was to set tests for the Tory Brexit, reject it if the tests were failed, which they were, then demand an election and if that failed to campaign for a referendum. Campaign. You would be hard-pressed to define the party leadership’s stance since then as campaigning.
Of course it is difficult, when the Tories are in government and they are electing a new leader who becomes prime minister, to break into the noise that such a contest creates. Yet because of the leadership’s general indifference to the most important issue facing the country, other than as an inconvenience that has to be managed, Labour have been missing something of an open-goal route into that very debate.
It’s supposed to be about taking back control. It’s supposed to be about parliamentary sovereignty. It’s supposed to be about democracy.
Yet the Tories are deciding the next prime minister, and with it our future at this crucial moment in our history, based on the views of 0.25 per cent of the population, most of them men, most of them elderly, most of them white, most of them in the south.
It is a democratic outrage especially when set against the argument used by both contenders and most of their supporters that a people’s vote, in which all of the people get a say in whether they wish to proceed on whatever basis Brexit is finally put forward, is somehow an affront to democracy.
Why did Jeremy Corbyn have nothing to say about that in today’s letter announcing his change of policy to members? Why not campaign on the very theme that the Brextremists have taken as theirs – democracy?
How can this farce of a Tory leadership election be seen as democracy but a people’s vote not? And why has Labour not been all over this like a rash throughout the whole contest?
As they arrive for their ITV debate hopefully Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt will catch sight of the activists from the People’s Vote campaign with their banners and T-shirts proclaiming their membership of the 99.75 per cent has denied them a say. It is one thing for the 48 per cent to be sidelined in the debate, as they have since Theresa May became prime minister. It is quite another for the 99.75 per cent to be ignored in the hugely important choice of who takes over.
Labour should be at the forefront of that campaign. A letter to members and a press release after weeks of yet more tortuous deliberations across the party does not of itself constitute a campaign. It constitutes a position. It is better than what went before. It is probably better than some around Corbyn wanted to have.
But with a new prime minister and the threat of no deal getting ever closer, the time for all the tortuous deliberation is surely over. It is time to campaign. Time to lead. Time to be honest with the British people that there is now no Brexit on offer that is better than what we have, and that any Brexit is now so far removed from what was promised that it must, whatever the outcome, go back to the people.
Doing the right thing and adopting the right politics will then happily coincide. And provided the party campaigns properly it might yet not be too late to gain the political dividend that has been staring them in the face for so long.
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