The Labour Party is in a state of electoral fright. All those who aren’t Corbynites are afraid of what their leader will do to the Party. Those who are pro-EU are afraid of what he might do to the Remain campaign. Corbyn’s advisers are afraid of the reaction from Corbynites if he appears on a platform with Tories. And others are afraid of the reaction from traditional, Eurosceptic Labour voters if the Party allies with the Conservatives, remembering with a shudder what happened to traditional Labour voters when Miliband campaigned with Cameron in the Scottish referendum.
As if that wasn’t complex enough, the Leader is only grudgingly supporting staying in the EU in the first place. His whole career has been spent criticising the unaccountable, undemocratic Brussels club, but his Shadow Cabinet appear to have convinced him that there is a tiny strip of political territory on which they can all crowd in order to agree about the referendum.
Unfortunately, fear and political discomfort aren’t particularly conducive to good politics. As a result, the Labour Party’s EU line is an especially troubled one.
Witness two pieces of evidence. First, Harriet Harman appeared with Cameron, Farron and Bennett yesterday, lined up in front of their red, blue and yellow Minis (and a green bicycle) like the cast of a Top Gear reboot even more disappointing than the actual Top Gear reboot. Her pitch, as agreed with Corbyn, was that leaving the EU would lead to the destruction of workers’ rights.
Let’s ignore the fact that Britain has chosen democratically to implement stronger rights than the EU requires in numerous areas, and often did so before joining. Let’s even ignore the fact that voters are hardly likely to vote away rights that they want and which they believe to be beneficial. What lies at the heart of Harman’s argument is the implicit assumption that she, and the Labour Party, would be incapable of persuading voters in a democratically self-governing Britain to vote for their preferred policies. In short, her case is that the EU delivers policies which Labour could never win elections with in the UK – presumably either because those policies aren’t very good, or that the electorate is incapable of appreciating their wisdom, or that the Labour Party is incompetent at political campaigning, I don’t know which.
The second piece of evidence came from Corbyn himself, unveiling a new Labour (not New Labour) poster this morning in London:
Split down the middle, the left-hand side of the poster lists workers’ rights such as paid holiday and maternity leave under an “In Europe” heading. On the right, the list is crumpled up – a dire warning of what Labour believes could happen to these rights if Britain leaves the EU.
Again there’s that implicit rubbishing of Labour’s chance of ever winning an election again. But there’s also a reallocation going on – now we are supposed to believe that it is Brussels that we have to thank for these rights. These are, in a normal Labour worldview, the crowing achievements of the Labour Party, evidence that a century of fighting at the ballot box has delivered positive change to British workers. And yet now, no less a figure than the Labour leader is saying “Nope, not us. You’ve got Brussels to thank for all that.”
Has no-one in the Labour Party paused to imagine what might happen to it if voters hear the message that Labour is incapable of winning and has never delivered anything of its own accord, and judge the Party accordingly?