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Analysis

Lib Dem clarity and Labour fudge may be good election mix

by Hugo Dixon | 10.09.2019

Jo Swinson will campaign to cancel Brexit if there’s an election. Jeremy Corbyn will campaign for a referendum between a deal to leave the EU and no Brexit. It’s good they won’t have the same position.

The Lib Dem leader is set to get her party to back a policy of revoking Article 50 at its conference this week. That’s a clear policy which will appeal to pro-Europeans. No fudge or mudge.

It also has the advantage that Swinson won’t be asking the voters to delay the agony. Put her in Downing Street and we stay in the EU. No need to go through the rigmarole of a referendum which would delay the decision by another six months or so. While it would be wrong to cancel Brexit without first asking the people, doing so in a general election rather than a referendum is an acceptable way of finding out what they want.

Of course, it is fantasy to suppose that the Lib Dems will win the election. At most they will form some sort of government with Labour. So it is also fantasy to think that Brexit will be cancelled without a referendum. But that doesn’t stop it being a sensible electoral strategy for Swinson to pin her colours to the “revoke” mast. 

Labour fudge

Corbyn, by contrast, will be stuck with a complex position. It is likely to be something like the one articulated by John McDonnell on the BBC’s Marr Show at the weekend. 

The shadow chancellor said that, if Labour won an election, the party would “confirm” what the EU was prepared to offer as a Brexit deal and then ask the people in a referendum whether they wanted to leave with that deal or stay. There wouldn’t be an option to leave with no deal at all, as the election would just have been fought and won on excluding that.

McDonnell implied that the deal Labour would put to the people was Theresa May’s miserable withdrawal agreement. But various adjustments would be made, presumably in the non-binding political declaration that sketches our future relationship with the EU. Finally, the shadow chancellor said that he himself would campaign to stay in the EU in such a referendum but that other members of the Labour Party would take a different view.

That’s quite a mouthful. It’s hard to reduce it to a soundbite – and it’s easy to see how journalists and political opponents could have fun tearing it to bits. It should, in particular, allow the Lib Dems to peel off some pro-European voters who might normally vote Labour.

Merits of fudge

On the other hand, Labour’s complex fudge has some merit. It may allow it to hold onto votes from “soft Leavers”, especially in its heartlands in the North of England and the Midlands. By backing Labour – rather than the Conservatives or the Brexit Party – such voters wouldn’t be committing themselves to cancelling Brexit. They would know they would have another chance to give their view on Brexit in a future referendum.

Whether Labour hangs onto more votes in its heartlands than it loses to the Lib Dems is hard to say. But the combination of Lib Dem clarity and Labour fudge would deliver a bigger total anti-hard Brexit vote than if both parties had a simple “revoke” message.

The Tories are going to get savaged in Scotland by the SNP, and could be badly hurt in London and the South of England by the Lib Dems. If Labour hangs onto its seats in the North and the Midlands, there’s no way Boris Johnson can win.

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Edited by Rachel Franklin

Categories: UK Politics

6 Responses to “Lib Dem clarity and Labour fudge may be good election mix”

  • I can only hope that the People’s Vote campaign will be able to educate those in the labour constituencies who voted Leave to understand the real issues surrounding the choice of Leave or Remain.

  • Trepidation, no clarity and (mostly) in-educated guesswork all around. Dear oh dear, how did this country end up in such a mess?

  • Still, far too many people saying ‘sick of it, just get us out’ or as I heard on the radio, ‘We should put two fingers up to the EU’. Most people do not follow politics closely and base their decisions on impulse or simple soundbites they hear or read. A poll in Australia found that only 7 per cent had any interest or engagement with federal politics in Canberra.
    Johnson has been defeated six times in Parliament but still manages to project the image of Boris the jolly as he tours the country. Alarmingly, still in the lead in polls. A lot of work still to be done to make people see the true consequences of leaving the EU. Johnson is going to use the five weeks of prorogation to campaign across the country and sell his own ‘we can do this’ line . Hope the opposition do the same to sell the pro EU message.

  • Despite alot of reservations about Corbyn, the fact is the Lib Dems, Greens, SNP and moderate Conservatives are going to have to work closely with Labour if they are to stop Johnson. That’s going to be especially difficult for former Conservatives, but they will have to accept it, if they genuinely want to stop Johnson (possibly working with Farage).
    Otherwise, I don’t think that the Remain Alliance parties will have the numbers when the next election comes.
    It looks like Corbyn will offer a final Brexit vote, and even if we have a government led by him, the risk of economic damage would be less lasting than the damage caused by Brexit. The damage caused by Brexit would not be just to the economy, but more importantly, to our cultural relationships with Europe and our contribution to its peace and stability.

  • People are fed up with Brexit but the answer is not to put up two fingers to the EU, a childish gesture which is rather like defying one’s own family. Neither is the ideal answer another referendum, which prolongs the agony as Hugo says.

    Think back to those happy days before the referendum was mooted, when people could have friendly discussions on politics without falling out, and MPs could walk in the streets without being threatened or even killed. The British public never wanted any referendum, it was foisted on them by Cameron, and the one thing most people agree on is that Cameron has a lot to answer for.

    So the simple answer may be to cancel Brexit, the nearest thing to correcting Cameron’s mistake and returning the country to some semblance of normality.
    I doubt personally whether this is practicable, in fact while the rightwing press have such a stranglehold on public opinion there is little prospect of either avoiding Brexit now or rejoining the EU later. However, one must not give up hope.