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Confused C4 debate exposed Labour’s Brexit bewilderment

by Denis MacShane | 11.01.2019

Channel 4 News held a debate last night in which the views of young Leave voters were pitted against those of young pro-Europeans. It was a confusing affair in which pro-Brexit views overwhelmed the other side – despite around 80% young people wanting to stay in the EU.

This unrepresentative spectacle can be put down to two things: relentless political messaging from the government, and a total lack of clarity from the Labour opposition whom many young pro-Europeans support.

To get any message across it must be repeated using pretty much the same words, in the same way, said by all senior spokespersons making the case.

That is what the government, its more fluent ministers, as well as business chiefs are doing as they repeat at every possible moment that Theresa May’s deal is the only alternative to crashing out in “no deal” chaos.

This focused messaging could be heard from the pro-Brexit and young Tories, as well as older ant-Europeans linked to UKIP, who were in the C4 debate last night.

They sounded like youthful Jeremy Hunts or Michael Goves as they repeated warnings that rejecting May’s deal was to plunge the nation into meltdown.

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On the other side, there was no such consistency or single-minded sense of message. The young pro-Europeans wandered all over the Brexit park. Some wanted a People’s Vote. Some wanted an extension of Article 50. Some wanted the Norway alternative.

They couldn’t hammer home the simple, crisp message that the deal only extends the Brexit agony. Or that the so-called “Norway option” leaves the UK fully obedient to EU rules, paying contributions but without a voice, vote or veto in EU affairs.

At the heart of this confused cacophony is Labour. Unlike the government, which knows exactly what message it’s putting out, Labour sometimes seems to have as many policies on Brexit as it has MPs.

The party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has not inflected his anti-European views since the 1970s. He still dreams of socialism in one country. Other members of the shadow cabinet appear on television with contradictory messages on the single market, customs union, freedom of movement, or a People’s Vote.

The Labour position is to hold out for a general election. Yet the leadership knows there is not a majority in the House of Commons for one. Labour has only 257 seats out of 650, and other opposition parties, let alone the Tory and DUP MPs, are not about to gift Corbyn a shot at the keys to Downing Street.

Some Labour frontbenchers are involved in useful initiatives. For example, Jack Dromey working with Conservative Caroline Spelman to get more than 200 MPs to sign a letter urging the prime minister to avoid a “no deal”. But they offer no alternative.

In politics you can’t just say what you don’t want. To persuade, you have to have an alternative. The only viable one out there is to ask the people again. But until that case is made forcefully, consistently, with wit and vigour and repeated by senior opposition figures ad nauseam, their supporters – both young and old – will not know what to argue for. That’s precisely what C4 News showed last night.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

6 Responses to “Confused C4 debate exposed Labour’s Brexit bewilderment”

  • David Lammy is your man. Listen to him and share his thoughts which have been clear since the referendum. He knows what Londoners want – and the rest of us/

  • Leavers and Remainers are not happy with May’s compromise deal.
    If her deal is voted down, no change to that is likely in the timescale.
    Therefore as she herself has said, it would be No Deal or No Brexit.
    Brexiteers favour No Deal, managed or not; Remainers – No Brexit.
    So that is the choice that should be put to the public in a new vote.
    The likelihood of getting the required majority for a GE is near zero.

  • I am abroad and did not see this programme. Apart from attacking Channel 4 i0s it not fair to say that the “wandering all over the brexit park” of the “young pro-Europeans” does not augur well for any people’s vote campaign that we may succeed in acheiving?

  • I agree with Denis, do you have to have some repetitive nonsense regurgitated ad infinitum ? These are young people finding their political feet and many of the Remainers were cutting their teeth against seemingly robotic diatribes coming from the Brexit Central well versed Leavers .
    Whilst there does need to be a limited number of responses from the Remain camp that shouldn’t be at the expense of young people exploring the various options instead of ‘parroting’ bullshit that unknowing to the Brexiters will wreck or at least blight their futures severely.

    So in conclusion , don’t jump on the Brexiters bandwagon of thinking this was a gifted opportunity courtesy of C4 but an occasion when youngsters were given free rein to explore the many complexities of the debate . Now to hone coherent and easily substantiated messages that is the real key to counter the consistent ” nonsense ” from the other side

  • I wholeheartedly agree with Steve. I didn’t see or hear this debate either. Nevertheless, despite Corbyn’s reticence to articulate a clear message, here is a warning for the remain campaigners to do better. Remember though, the remain camp has not yet reached the next stage – either campaigning in an election or campaigning in a referendum.
    Only then will a coherent message for remainers become a significant issue. They need to speed up though!