May is trying to pre-empt Brexit difficulties – it could backfire!

Theresa May has sprung an early election, breaking her earlier pledges not to, for three reasons:

  • She knows the Brexit negotiations will very quickly cause her problems, as the unpalatable choices she has to make will alienate many voters and elements in her party – better to have the election before that begins to bite!
  • She is unsure that she would get the Brexit deal (the Article 50 “divorce”  agreement) through the House of Commons, and she hopes to increase the size of the currently small Conservative majority
  • She wants to take advantage of the perceived disarray in Labour

She should beware. The last Tory PM to call an early election on a single issue while ahead in the polls was Edward Heath – and he lost.

But for this to happen again will require that Labour gets its house in order. If May is placing  “full steam ahead to Brexit” at the centre of her strategy, Labour must visibly oppose it – not just in the name of the 48% who voted to remain, but on behalf of those who voted to leave but who now have doubts about the “hard”, costly, economically damaging Brexit that the government has chosen to go for.

Labour has been perceived as sitting on the fence on this issue, or wanting to avoid it. Our dismal showing in last week’s polls – 21% behind the Conservatives – shows our current hedging over Europe is not working. It is not the only problem, of course, but it is an important one. A key way to stop a hemorrhaging of Labour votes in the next few weeks is for the party to come out firmly and say that the hard Brexit that Theresa May is offering is not what people voted for, and that no Brexit is better than a bad Brexit.

May’s assertion on Easter Sunday that ‘there is a sense that people are coming together and uniting behind the opportunities that lie ahead’ is pure fantasy. Every day sees another sector – manufacturing, healthcare, finance, transport, universities, farming and others – raising major concerns about how Brexit will affect them. More generally, inequality is rising under Tory austerity policies and disquiet is rising about the grip that the right-wing has over her party.

Further, it beggars belief that May can claim ‘this country is one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future’ when we consider that the union is more threatened than it has been for decades, with a demand for a second referendum in Scotland and the very real possibility that Northern Ireland may look south of its borders for a more European future.

Within days of her triggering of Article 50, May has had to roll back on several of the demands of her negotiating position – on immigration, on the timetable and on considering a longer transition period. Daily there are examples of the long-predicted complications across all policy areas – the relocation of the European agencies out of London, banks and industry looking to move jobs and headquarters to Ireland or other European cities, a stalling of investment in the UK during this period of uncertainty and price rises in basic goods pushing up inflation due to the fall in the value of the pound, being just a few of the most recent stories.

The campaigning choice for Labour is obvious.

Two thirds of Labour voters supported remain, and many of those who didn’t will still vote Labour either because they now have doubts about Brexit or because they don’t consider it a sufficient reason to change. But on the other side, many relatively centrist conservatives are sufficiently unhappy with May’s hard Brexit to consider not voting for her. There is all to play for.

Recent by-elections have shown that the threat to Labour from an increasingly shambolic UKIP has not materialised. We have lost more votes to the Lib Dems. They and the SNP have a clear pro-European stance and are benefitting from that – but neither is able to lead the opposition charge in the election.

And let’s not forget that the Labour Party Conference last September voted unanimously to keep open the option of remaining in the European Union:

“[Conference] … believes that unless the final settlement proves to be acceptable then the option of retaining EU membership should be retained … The final settlement should therefore be subject to approval, through Parliament and potentially through a general election or a referendum.”

The Conservatives intend to make this election all about Brexit. It is beholden on Labour to oppose it. To stand up for the 48% ignored by the Brexiteers, to stand up for those among the 52% who have doubts about May’s hard Brexit, and to prevent the country making a mistake that will damage our economy and our standing in the world for years to come.

 

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17 Comments

  1. Spot on Richard.

    I’ve alreadytoday emailed Jeremy Corbyn to tell him I will only support Labour MPs who openly oppose Brexit, and to emphasise again that his (Corbyn’s) current position is contrary to LP Conference 2016.

    PLUS, Labour MPs should certainly not vote for the PM’s GE plans tomorrow (19 April ’17). They should instead force her to have a vote of No Confidence in her own Government, if she still wants to trigger the GE.

    PS I see that Stephen Dorrell (ex-Tory Minister, now Chair of European Movement UK) has just emailed to urge people to select Remain GE candidtes for support. He’s right. This is about more than party politics.

  2. I just emailed Jeremy corbyn with exactly the sane proposal including an anti-Brexit alliance with the Lib Dens, SNP and Sinn Fein (in Westminster!). I expect he will not do this and lose horribly personally, politically and for the entire country. Please press him on this!

  3. First time ever I cannot vote Conservative – a party I have actively supported all my life. A REMAINER as well as being vehemently against the Right I will probably vote Lib Dem. Labour with Corbyn is a NO – he has no direction and I blame him for the Brexit vote. There is no centre party! Extreme left or too right! At least the Lib Dems have direction and sense of purpose. They are fair minded. Labour anti Jewish stance is troubling.

  4. No brexit better than bad brexit. Good and memorable way of putting it. Labour, Libs & Greens must back winnable seats with pro EU candidates and not run against each other.
    Labour seems weak by backing GE instead of making May show her brexit hand.
    Where are the tacticians and strategists?

  5. Not going to happen.

    Labour won’t get its house in order. Corbyn is more stubborn than a mule and both him and his followers think that the disaster that is going to be Brexit will allow them to bring True Socialism to the UK. That won’t happen, either. Once the problems with the negotiations appear evident and people start suffering even more economically (have you looked at the price of petrol from right after the referendum result?), they’ll just blame the EU and immigrants as they’ve done so far. They’ll have The Daily Mail and The Sun to help with that.

    Just accept it. This is a lost battle for this country. You have the worst possible man at the helm of the opposition and May knows that by calling an early election now she gets to bank on that. Labour will be obliterated and the Tories will pretend they won because the country backs Brexit now.

    Will of the people. Enjoy going back to being Europe’s sick man.

    • Corbyn has to go. I advise everyone reading to engage in tactical voting: only vote Labour if a) the likely winning candidate will either be Labour or Tory. Otherwise Lib Dem* b) if the MP in question promises, in writing, to stand by a pro EU stance and defy Corbyn’s whip if need be.

      *yes I know the LDs past. It is irrelevant now – they have a new leader and a stronger sense of what they want to do. And before you bring up Farron’s statement about a future coalition, he said he wasn’t ruling out one with a Tory government in the future. He did NOT say he’d partner with May’s one. As for tactically voting LD: many places in the south have always been contests between yellow and blue. Labour have rarely done well down here, especially in West Country region. Desperate times call for desperate measures, okay?

    • I agree with you Teresa. When people suffer, nowadays, they don’t turn to True Socialism but to the True Right, blaming the EU and immigrants.
      This applies to France as well. Corbyn is the brother of Mélanchon and (partly) of Hamon. Let’s hope Macron will be the next president. He won’t bring true solutions but a… delay! And he is clearly pro-UE. We ALL need Europe. Not for ourselves but for our children and grand-children. Do we want a war in Europe for them?
      My nightmare? A second round in the French election Le Pen versus Mélanchon aka Corbyn; the very best chance for Le Pen. aqnd I can’t say “That won’t happen”.

  6. When I read the comments I can see there are some wise British people… Let’s hope there will be more than a handful.

    Mind, being French, I’m not saying that there are more wise people in France! We’ll see on Sunday evening….

  7. The really big reason why Theresa May has been forced to call a General Election is the possible prosecution of as many as fourteen Tory MPs and/or their agents over the expenses scandal of the last General Election. Mrs May could see her majority more or less wiped out, and face more than a dozen damaging by-elections.

    It is becoming apparent that the Tories did not win the last election by legal means. They should not have had a majority in this Parliament and the Brexit referendum was therefore arguably illegal. If the CPS announces prosecutions of Tory MPs during the next month or so, I for one shall be writing to the European Commission to request that the notification of intent to leave the EU, according to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, be rejected as illegal.

  8. Thank you for providing such a clear and measured analysis of this. I do not think that Corbyn can win on his platform; but perhaps enough Labour & otherremain MPs can be elected to form a government to get us out of this mess.

    It seems that for the moment we carry on, as we have for 10 months, being a group of remain activists in search of formal political grouping. Perhaps that is going to actually work better for us. I refuse to give up hope.

    Theresa May is showing disturbing controlling behaviour, which surely must worry many who are otherwise not bothered by the brexit debate. The official stance of the Labour party ignores a herd of elephants in the room.

    Given all this, it is reassuring to remember that there are sensible & intelligent people in the Labour party who do understand what is happening, and what is likely to happen, if the madness continues.

    Thank you for being one of those people. Your support of the EU remainers is appreciated.

  9. Thank you Richard for your wise words. I have been a life long Labour supporter but have felt let down by the leaderships confused attitude to Brexit. At present I cannot see myself voting labour unless they field a candidate that will come out and support Remain. Brexit is the most important issue in a generation and we need candidates and MPs that will support Remain irrespective of which party they come from.

  10. “LOOK BEFORE YOU LEAP – THEN DON’T LEAP”

    Lord Melbourne advice is a sound one.

    UK has not yet leaped : it has two years to “look into the dark precipice” .

    Good luck for an eventual anti-brexit coalition. JGGiraud

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