Labour Members Involvement in Policy
The question about listening to members is loaded. There is an implication that Labour is not listening to members. The truth is, members are a critical part of Labour policy making and have made their views known. The Labour Front Bench is acting on the agreed position.
Members at Conference decide policy, not mainstream media, polls or pundits. The policy agreed by members at Conference in September 2018 after hours of debate is clear: call for a General Election if the Government’s deal is a bad one. Make it a Manifesto pledge to negotiate a new deal with Europe. That is what members agreed. There is no evidence that members, as a collective, have expressed a different view.
Individuals may have a different view and they are entitled to lobby and campaign for it. But unless members express a different view through a Special Party Conference, we cannot assume their view has changed.
The Limitation of Polls
We have been given the results of a YouGov poll, but Labour members do not express their views via YouGov. Polls are a snapshot in time, determined by the question being asked and who is asking, so cannot be a reliable arbiter of what Labour members want. The Party Conference on the other hand, is an established process through which members are heard through debate. The exchange of views concludes in a vote – a very clear democratic process.
The YouGov poll tells us that Labour would do badly in an election because of the Brexit policy being pursued by the Front Bench. Yet the Leadership is following policy agreed at Conference, the expressed will of the membership.
A recent United Politics poll contradicts YouGov: 75% said they would vote for Jeremy Corbyn if a General Election was called. This was after 4000 votes. A poll currently running on Twitter by @ColinCorbynista with 37 355 votes, 3971 retweets has the following:
Jeremy Corbyn 35%
The European question provokes strong reactions. It splits people who otherwise agree on many things. A young friend told me of her anguish when a friend confided she had voted Brexit – her puzzled comment was “but I love this woman but how can I still be friends with her? How could she vote that way? She was a refugee!” The reality is the European question has been dividing us for more years than we realise. The clamour for the People’s Vote has captured the imagination of the Mainstream Press and the vociferous campaign ignores the fact that different people think differently.
As a Remain voter who is impatient with this constant discussion of a new referendum, I would rather we acted on the result we already have 52%/ 48% and learn to live with the new reality. If we don’t like it, we can knock on the door and ask to be let back in. Perhaps this time round we will be constructive Europeans instead of constantly carping at the European project. I still believe Brexit is a bad idea but, in my opinion, the matter will never be settled until we try life outside the EU .
The reality is, the country is deeply divided on Europe. The Brexit vote highlighted this: 52% to 48%. It would have been sensible to have had a two thirds majority threshold for Brexit. This was a major change after 40 years of entanglement but we were offered a simple majority.
Historic Labour Support for Brexit
Reading Richard Heffernan’s “Beyond Euro-Scepticism? Labour and the European Union since 1945”, I was reminded that De Gaulle vetoed our entry more than once. For a time, Atlanticism, the Special Relationship, Empire and the subsequent Commonwealth was the approach Britain preferred, limiting Europe to a NATO partner.
Fast forward to 1975, 16 of Wilson’s Cabinet voted to stay in Europe with 7 including Tony Benn and Barbara Castle voting against. In order to support a yes vote in the Referendum, Cabinet Collective responsibility was suspended. Labour’s National Executive Committee voted No and a majority at a Special Party Conference voted to withdraw. In a free vote in the House of Commons, the Parliamentary Party split 145 against, 137 for with 33 abstentions. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more it changes, the more it remains the same. The Commons voted 396 – 172 to continue membership in 1975. The Labour Party did not campaign with the Labour Government because their views were different.
The 2019 situation is somewhat different, the Party and the Shadow Cabinet are aligned. Some of the Parliamentary Party have a different view. They can lobby for a second Referendum and their People’s Vote, but the fiction that members support that view should be abandoned. Members are more concerned about Universal Credit, Homelessness, the NHS and Foodbanks. Labour’s 1997 Manifesto said “There are only three options for Britain in Europe. The first is to come out. The second is to stay in, but on the sidelines. The third is to stay in, but in a leading role”. I see it as Brexit, May’s Deal or Remain.
In my view, in 2019, there are four choices:
- we can revoke Article 50 and take a leading role in Europe or
- take the current deal which the Government has negotiated and be on the sidelines, or
- we can crash out and take the consequences or
- we can hold a General Election and let Labour take a different approach, drawing on the Internationalism of the Socialist approach.