Expert View

Corbyn can create new news by backing a popular vote

by Denis MacShane | 10.08.2018

Denis MacShane is a former Minister of Europe and was a Labour MP for 18 years.

If ever a party and its leader needed to create new news, it is the case for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, as the damaging divisions over dealing with anti-semitism go into a second month.

He needs a political coup ahead of the charged of autumn when a short parliamentary session in September is followed by three weeks of party conferences. The most obvious way to change completely the frozen political agenda in the UK is for Corbyn to align himself with the growing calls for a new consideration of Brexit by the people.

Parliament is blocked with no majority in sight for Theresa May’s Chequers proposals, nor for a no-deal crash out, nor for shelving Brexit.

There were majorities in the Commons in July against staying in the EU customs union, and against European Economic Area membership. There is no majority for a Canada-style free trade deal without some sort of customs arrangement to prevent a hard inner-Irish border. The only thing that won MPs’ support was to remain subject to EU regulation of medicines, and a full participant in the European Medicines Agency (although it is leaving London).

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So the Commons is completely blocked, with majorities against every proposal but no majority for any proposal. The government is not able to govern, or deliver Brexit, and the Opposition is bogged down in internal wrangling over anti-semitism.

Corbyn does not have to commit fully and in detail to the terms of a new referendum but he can make an offer, as Labour’s way of cutting the Gordian knot of total political blockage on Brexit. Of course, there would be grumblings from Labour MPs who are quite sympathetic to Brexit, and worries that a new popular vote would just confirm the first referendum of June 2016.

But all political leadership entails risk. Corbyn should put himself at the head of the clear nationwide sense that Brexit is robbing the country of good governance. He should state that since May, her Tory ministers and many MPs are not prepared to offer clear leadership, the people should take over and make a fresh decision in the light of an Everest of new evidence, facts, and the clear criminality and money buying votes that the police are investigating.

It won’t be easy.  On Europe, as on Israel, Corbyn has fixed views that haven’t changed in decades. But he has a golden chance to move on from the anti-semitism row and tell the people they are back in charge of Brexit.

The latest YouGov poll showing the Tories four points ahead of Labour is a wake-up call. It coincides with polls showing a clear majority for a new consultation. Labour can change its mind and the nation’s agenda by arguing that so many facts have changed that a new consultation is now reasonable – as happened in Denmark and Ireland when voters changed their minds on Europe.

The calls for a People’s Vote have been often presented as if it were simply a moral imperative. But it is also very much a question of Realpolitik. Business leaders in particular should support a new consultation, as the economic damage of either a no-deal Brexit or the miserable mess of May’s White Paper become ever more clear.

Edited by Quentin Peel

6 Responses to “Corbyn can create new news by backing a popular vote”

  • It is hard to imagine the words “Leader” and “Corbyn” appearing together in a sentence unless it is like this one. He needs to understand leadership and that it involves taking advice from others. It is not demonstrated by dogmatically clinging to old ideas and concepts. Perhaps Corbyn will never be a leader but he has a chance of protecting the country from the excesses of the right-wing of the Tory party and perhaps he can see that as being a greater evil than the EU.

  • Who is keeping this anti-semitism issue on the boil so successfully and what is their end? Whatever and whoever is providing The Tories with a free hand to wreck their ruin on the UK in so many ways and to demonstrate party politic squabbles exist in all parties not just the Tories. Brilliant way to destroy the opposition from within, whoever thought that one up. And Labour is gong for it, hook, line and sinker!

    Time to put anti-semitism on the back boiler to be dealt with when the country is back on its feet and able to do so effectively. Get back to work defending the public and the country from destruction by May and her backers. Wake up about how our future is linked to the EU and make constructive efforts to make it better. Not the destructive practices of Farage and his crew.

  • Corbyn’s views on Israel have not moved on but Israel has to occupy a position that justifes them. The inverse with the EU, his position, just about understandable in 74/75 are idiotic now and he appears to know as little about the EU as Liam Fox. But who is the Manchurian Candidate? (Read the Barclay bros/Mogg slate), May, Corbyn or the political establishment as such? Corbyn actually has nothing to say, because he wants out as much as does Mogg.

  • With Corbyn, I think it is more a case of wanting the Tories to take responsibility for Brexit. It saves him alot of difficulty from his own party members, if he can turn around and say, it was the Tories who delivered Brexit. Once we have passed the 29 March 2019 deadline, he knows it will become increasingly difficult to stop. We will get closer to the point where it becomes more cumbersome for EU members to reverse the process.
    I just hope Labour MPs start digging in their heels more on membership of the Single Market and on the meaningful parliamentary vote, and not least, that the campaign for a Peoples Vote gains overwhelming support amongst them. That may force Corbyn to listen and do something about this unfolding crisis threatening businesses, the economy and individual citizens.

  • Corbyn knows only too well that if he supports the (ridiculous) peoples vote and it actually achieved staying in the EU, then northern (and other) leave areas would flock to anti EU parties – probably UKIP or a more Eurosceptic tory party. I would suggest to all arch remainers determined to overturn what was the biggest democratic mandate ever in this country that they should be very mindful of what they seek to achieve.
    The best outcome is to leave the EU – deal or no deal – as I genuinely believe that there will be political carnage in the event that we don’t!

  • Peter, a bit of me agrees with you but there is real alarm in northern English constituencies now at loss of all the foreign firms that have provided what manufacturing, well paid, unionised jobs that there are. I think people like the chance of voting as they don’t trust May or Corbyn or the London elite. Of course a 2nd referendum runs a risk of confirming the first but with new young voters, British expats being allowed to vote, the BBC having to report both sides fairly, and the Electoral Commission watching like a hawk on the corrupt, criminal money and Russian influence I think the result would to stay in. I think the would be a Nike Whoosh of relief and the country and its political parties could get on with the real business of reforming and modernising Britain which has been on hold for more than 2 years. The Tories could have their debates on future direction of policy as could Labour and we would be all the better for that as Brexit has totally constipated politics with no enema in sight