This is how Corbyn's Labour Party should deal with Brexit

Labour should also remember that, while Westminster might be obsessed with Brexit, the average voter is much more interested in the economy

James Moore
Saturday 29 July 2017 13:52 BST
The Labour Party's contradicting proclamations about Brexit have left many in the dark
The Labour Party's contradicting proclamations about Brexit have left many in the dark (Reuters)

Welcome to the Labour Party’s European Single Market/Customs Union hokey cokey.

It’s a dance you can all do at home. All together now: We might stay in, no we’re definitely out. Now let’s all dance around and shake it all about. We do the hokey cokey and this is what’s true. We really don’t know what to do, do, do.

Yes, Barry Gardiner thinks that Labour is going to leave the Customs Union, only for it to be back on the table again a couple of days later. Then, Jeremy Corbyn rules out Single Market membership until John McDonnell doesn’t. And so it goes on, with still more contradictory statements coming from still more Shadow Cabinet members and influential party figures.

They might not be as nasty as their opponents. But they look just as divided and no more competent (and given the way the Government is conducting itself, that bar isn’t set very high).

It’s time to get a grip, but it needn’t be as hard as it might appear.

Team Corbyn needs to start with the fact that the majority of Labour supporters, Labour members and Labour voters are a long way from being Euro-hating Brexiteers. In fact, the reverse is true. It might also like to consider how it is increasingly clear that the majority of the country favours membership of the Single Market, even if it would rather we had a more arm’s length relationship with the EU proper. The immigration/free movement issue that raises? It might sort itself out given the direction Europe is moving in.

So taking a less hardline approach would win it friends.

However, the Labour Party should also remember that, while Westminster might be obsessed with Brexit, the average voter is much more interested in the economy. For them, it’s living standards. It's their job, and how much it pays and, after that, you can throw hospitals, and schools into the mix. They, all of them, come ahead of Brexit.

The electorate might, therefore, respond rather well to a party that stood up and said: “You know what, we’re going to talk. We’re going to go out there and try and reach a consensus with our European partners. We’re going to be pragmatic and we will put the best interests of the country and its economy first, second and third.

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“We’re not going to listen to those who would have us sailing off into the North Sea, and we’re not going to pretend that it’s 1940 and we’re living in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk. We don’t need to sit and shiver on our island until the Americans arrive to help us biff those Germans when we’ve evacuated our chaps from France.

“We’re for the many and we want to concentrate on building a fairer Britain, with better public services, better jobs, and a better future for the oft ignored young people on these islands.”

A little pragmatism like that, enforced by the whips if need be, would spare Corbyn and his team from having to spell out a rigid position on the Single Market, even if people, like me, would rather they did. It would stand in stark contrast to the rabble opposite them, who also don’t have anything like an established position, but who are actually in Government and so are in much greater need of one.

The Tories have shown that they will put either ideology, personal ambition, and/or their paranoid fantasies way before any considerations of the national interest. As such, they are making an awful mess of things – one of historic proportions.

Meanwhile, the economy is slowing, those living standards are falling, and the British pound is languishing unwanted in the bargain bin. Brexit is playing a role in that, and it’s only going to get worse as the Conservatives continue to make a hash of it. The many are getting kicked in the guts as a result.

A Labour policy reading “pragmatism” and “national interest” would allow the party to concentrate on highlighting their plight and on turning its fire on its opponents, while asking whether the public wouldn’t rather have something better than a family sized tub of Liam Fox’s chlorinated US chicken.

The public might respond rather well to something like that.

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