Saturday, 23 September 2017

The real story of the Commons Brexit vote was the leadership’s disingenuous positioning

“Dennis Skinner…votes with Tories” ran the headline. But the truth is that Dennis Skinner actually voted for what he believes in: that Britain is better-off outside the EU. He only did what Jeremy Corbyn had already done hundreds of times (about five hundred, reportedly): vote with the Tories against his own party. As did six of his backbench colleagues (interestingly, Caroline Flint MP, who abstained, seemed to get more grief on social media than Skinner, who voted for the motion. We leave readers to draw their own conclusions as to why that might be).

Corbyn’s calculation, in contrast, was based on what it usually is: what he could get away with. Does anyone seriously believe that he has changed his opinion on the EU after over three decades opposing it as an MP?

Of course not. The calculation was that he could not get away – either with the public or his own party – with asking the PLP to support the Tories in a hard Brexit, so he allowed Keir Starmer to lead the charge and got out of the way.

And so we ended with the bizarre spectacle of two long-time, hard-left colleagues on opposite sides of the fence: one because he actually believed the same of the Tories, for once; and one because he also believed the same as the Tories, but couldn’t say so.

There was a helpful, complicating factor: that the Tories had come close to overreaching themselves, in insisting on giving themselves a muscular authority over governmental decisions which went so far as to pretty much break the principle of separation of powers between legislature and executive.

This at least provided a welcome fig-leaf for Corbyn: while nominally a champion of Parliament as a check on government in his own country, he happily supports governments (such as Venezuela, or Cuba) which are either currently in the process of removing such checks, or which have done so long ago. And thus he could surf the wave of “protecting our democracy”, all the while desperately hoping that the Tories would win.

Which they duly did.

For Labour, this is a twin disaster: not only have they failed to stop the first step on the road to a hard Brexit, they have failed to stop the government of the day having sweeping powers to amend legislation. That is clearly not governments are for. It’s called separation of powers.

The leadership has failed its party, democrats and largely pro-EU, on both counts. It has failed its supporters in the country, similarly, on the same two counts.

Oh, for a statesman among the Corbynites. All anti-EU. All pretending to be champions of democracy, so as to be able to ride two horses at once. And all failing to realise that the very workers whose rights they claim to represent above all would be failed, and failed terribly, by the dismantling of EU labour protections.

While being in favour of a hard Brexit is a perfectly legitimate political position to hold – albeit contrary to the position of Uncut – it is not remotely compatible with what Labour’s leadership, and their union backers, purport to represent.

And its failure to come clean with the public, wanting hard Brexit while pretending not to, is merely exemplary of the disingenuous brand of politics which the leadership has now made its own.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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