No cross-class coalition
The move for a special Labour conference on a ‘People’s Vote’ is designed to smooth the path to a national government, warns Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists
According to The Observer, a motion is starting to do the rounds in “Constituency Labour Parties and affiliated organisations” that seeks to force the Labour Party to hold a “special conference” that would adopt a clear position in favour of a second Brexit referendum.1 We have not seen the full motion yet and have to trust The Observer when it specifies that there would be only one item on the agenda of this conference - namely the following statement:
This conference believes that the citizens of the UK must have the final say through a people’s vote on the deal proposed by the government for leaving the European Union, with an option to remain in the EU on the ballot paper. This conference calls on all members and our elected representatives to campaign for a people’s vote with urgency and vigour.
This campaign, which we presume is the latest in the armour of the pro-establishment People’s Vote, will have some traction in the Labour Party and we would not be surprised if a fair number of CLPs voted for it. There will be increasing pressure to adopt a position for a second referendum, as the government - mired in civil war and behind in the polls - is unlikely to call an election that it is unlikely to win. The call for a general election was, of course, the main demand of the Brexit ‘supermotion’, cobbled together between remainers and leavers at Labour’s conference in September.
But this was only ever a poor compromise. After all, an election cannot actually solve anything when it comes to Brexit. Neither can a second referendum, for that matter. Despite the almost universally shared perception that Theresa’s May’s Brexit deal is a failure and will in all likelihood be voted down by a majority of MPs from all parties on December 11 (at least she is ‘uniting the country’ there!), the public’s opinion on Brexit has hardly changed: it is still split almost exactly down the middle.
Even according to a new YouGov poll commissioned by People’s Vote, just 53% of people “think there should be another nationwide vote if the Commons rejects Theresa May’s Brexit deal in a crunch vote due next month” - which is at least how The Times reports the result.2 The presumption, of course, is that those 53% would then proceed to vote ‘yes’ to the UK remaining in the EU after all. Crucially, among Labour Party voters, 60% would be “upset if the party enabled Brexit”, writes Murdoch’s rag. The rest would presumably be “upset” if he does not enable Brexit. If we bear in mind that results of such commissioned polls are always tilted towards the paymaster, the real division between remainers and leavers is likely to be even closer than this poll indicates.
Should Corbyn come out strongly in favour of a second referendum, he will be punished badly in the ballot box. His position of ‘studied ambiguity’ frustrates those with strong views on either side of the Brexit debate, but it has allowed the Labour Party to take a lead in the polls.
It will be of no political advantage to the Labour Party to push for a second referendum, which could well have the same outcome to the first one. Would a Labour government get a better ‘deal’ than Theresa May if the majority again votes to leave the EU? Maybe, it would have different red lines. A Norway plus deal would also suit big business. But that would amount to Brino. Even if Brexit was reversed this time, with a small majority voting in favour of remaining, that would not really solve the current political crisis and the huge political dissatisfaction with ‘those above’ (which includes the Labour Party) - especially as Corbyn and John McDonnell are insistent on staying wedded to the EU as is and have not even begun to develop a programme for European unity from below.
Those financing and leading People’s Vote - across the different parties - have one thing in common, of course: they (often viciously) oppose Jeremy Corbyn. They have no desire to serve under him as prime minster and are now toying more or less openly with the plan for a cross-party national government that can ‘save’ Britain from the chaos of a no-deal Brexit. Needless to say, there will be no room at the inn for the ‘proven anti-Semite’, Jeremy Corbyn. He therefore does well to stay clear from this outfit. From his point of view, getting behind the People’s Vote would be political suicide, at least in the short term - unless there is massive change in society in favour of staying inside the EU.
It therefore seems unlikely (though not impossible) that the motion for a special Labour conference will gather enough support to force the leadership’s hand. According to the party rules, only Labour’s national executive committee can “convene special sessions of party conference when it deems necessary”.3 Clearly, the idea of the People’s Vote is that so many CLPs and affiliated organisations will vote this motion through (and then leak this to the press) that the NEC will feel under pressure to act upon it. This seems, for the moment, not a very likely scenario. After all, it is not just Jeremy Corbyn - and pretty much the whole current Labour leadership - who are against a second referendum: Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, has also spoken out against it. That should secure enough votes on the NEC.
However, having said all of that, the political strategy of the Labour leadership remains focused on getting into government at all costs. We have only recently seen the political collapse over mandatory reselection at this year’s annual conference and, of course, the NEC’s adoption of the so-called ‘Working definition on anti-Semitism’ published by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, including all of its 11 disputed examples, which labels entirely justifiable criticisms of Israel as “anti-Semitic”.
And it looks as if the pressure is getting to John McDonnell at least. When confronted by the media, he had to admit to a “secret meeting” with Tom Baldwin and Alistair Campbell - the former spin doctors and enforcers of Ed Miliband and Tony Blair respectively, and now leading figures in People’s Vote. According to The Times, he “simply” met them to “map out what options are available to us based upon conference policy, which includes the option of a public vote.”4 But at an event organised by The Guardian on November 28, he explained that representatives of the party had also met with the Scottish National Party, the Liberal Democrats and Caroline Lucas of the Greens: “If we can’t get a general election, People’s Vote is on the table and that might be an option we seize upon,” he reportedly said. It remains to be seen if this is indeed a “shift” in his perspective or just another bit of wishful thinking concocted by The Guardian.5
We also understand that Momentum’s second in command, Laura Parker, attended “a rally this month in support of a new referendum”.6 For the moment, Momentum owner Jon Lansman remains supportive of Corbyn’s purposefully ambiguous position: the recent ‘consultation’ of Momentum’s membership was designed to achieve exactly that outcome - ie, vote down Theresa May’s deal, push for a general election and keep all other options open.7 But it is not difficult to imagine Lansman - along with McDonnell and a few other opportunists in the leadership - collapsing into open support for Keir Starmer’s clear preference for a second referendum.
1. The Observer November 25.
2. The Times on Sunday November 25 - although the result does not seem to be fully available online.
3. Rule III.1.A, page 15, Labour Party rule book 2018: http://labourpartymarxists.org.uk/labour-party-rule-book-2018.
4. The Times on Sunday November 25.