By Ben Chako
The EU’s decision to hold off on a decision on an Article 50 extension until it sees whether British Parliament will vote for a general election in December will prompt a wave of eye-rolling throughout Britain. MPs have had three years to implement the outcome of the 2016 referendum, a referendum the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties all voted in favour of.
Polling by Cardiff and Edinburgh Universities published this week found a majority of voters, whether they supported Leave or Remain in 2016, thought a risk of violence against MPs was “a price worth paying” if it led to their preferred Brexit outcome. This is an alarming finding and, three years on from the horrific murder of Labour MP Jo Cox by a fascist, not one we can afford to be complacent about. But MPs would themselves be complacent if they blamed this growing polarisation on “fake news” or tabloid newspapers. Public anger is rooted in a deeper malaise.
Campaigns like the People’s Vote’s patronising drivel about Leave voters being “duped” has increasingly limited the space for respectful dialogue between the two camps. Attempts to overturn a public referendum in the courts have weakened trust in democracy and a decade of savage austerity imposed by the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats has fed the bitterness and resentment this grim polling has exposed.
Government and opposition are playing games in Westminster. Johnson’s pitch that Labour is standing in the way of Brexit glosses over his own contortions — withdrawing his Withdrawal Bill rather than allow it to pass with amendments on two occasions in the last week. Nonetheless Labour is continuing to suffer from its refusal to back an election last month. Some supporters of Labour’s stance say that Johnson’s failure to deliver Brexit by October 31 as he promised will weaken his appeal.
That seems optimistic. Johnson was forced by MPs to seek an extension beyond Halloween. He very publicly undermined his own request for an extension in order to make that crystal clear. Labour is far more likely than Johnson to take the blame for delays to Brexit, especially as the endless mantra about “no deal” needing to be taken off the table looks absurd now Johnson and the EU have agreed a deal. Labour’s advances in 2017 rewarded an election campaign that prioritised its socialist policy vision over Brexit.
Today its policy programme is better — both bolder and more comprehensive — than in 2017. This week shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey announced details of its plans for action on climate change that show it is the only party with the vision and will to tackle this pressing crisis, as well as its plans to take on big pharma on the supply of life-saving drugs to the NHS — just two of a growing arsenal of inspiring policies.
With an engaged mass membership and a well-planned campaign it still has every chance of winning a general election. But there are reasons not to delay. The longer Brexit drags on, the more problematic it will be, if only because Brexit is the only issue on which the Tories have a popular narrative that can challenge Labour.
The longer Labour refuses Tory offers of an election, the easier it is for Johnson to portray the opposition as scared of the electorate and the more the confidence and enthusiasm of Labour’s membership is undermined. And within Labour itself, those insistent on delaying an election are also those least enthusiastic about electing a Corbyn-led government.
The left in the party risks ceding the initiative to a right which remains determined to crush Labour’s socialist revival. The left and labour movement need to stop the drift, and fast. That means asserting our need for a general election to remove the Tories as fast as possible, and maximum pressure on the parliamentary party to vote for one. (IPA Service)