Some first thoughts on the news of Labour’s shift on a second referendum:
- For the truth, read the whole story, not just the headline. Predictably the headlines are all that Labour will support a second referendum. The full news appears to be that Labour will support a second referendum if their own alternative Brexit proposal is rejected. That proposal will be rejected, of course, so the effect is the same, but the timing is later – bearing out my expectation that Labour would voice support for a second vote as late as possible, and preferably once they believe it is too late to actually hold one.
- For the political logic, just read the headline. It’s obvious what they’re doing this for – they reason there are votes to scoop up and discontented supporters to retain. In Corbyn’s ideal world, by supporting the idea so late on it will become a permanent and unfulfilled gripe for those voters to whom it appeals. Moreover, it serves their overriding strategic aim of intensifying and extending the Government’s suffering as much as possible.
- Can Corbyn out-Europhile The Independent Group? Last week’s resignations created somewhere other than the Liberal Democrats for disgruntled EU enthusiasts to go, which evidently upped the pressure on Labour. This is the Opposition’s response, but will it necessarily work? Trying to out-UKIP UKIP was often pretty fruitless for the Conservatives, as many of the voters being fought over reasoned they might as well opt for the real, undiluted thing. Even when Cameron made Eurosceptic noises, they judged it was largely for show. It will be interesting to see if the same applies to Corbyn here.
- How will TIG up the stakes? Presumably, to continue the analogy, we’ll now hear Umunna and co start to mimic Farage, pointing out that Corbyn has dragged his feet, is only moving because they put pressure on him, and can’t be trusted. This might strain their relationship with the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign somewhat – attacking in response to news which the rebranded Remain campaign will presumably welcome.
- Are unhappy Labour MPs willing to ignore antisemitism and stay in return for a second referendum? While the three ex-Conservative TIG MPs made clear that they were primarily motivated by dislike of Brexit, their ex-Labour colleagues gave two general accounts of their reasons for quitting: opposition to Brexit, but also deep opposition to the rise of antisemitism. Team Corbyn are making the calculation that giving some ground on the former will assuage the likelihood of further resignations due to the latter. Is that really a trade that MPs are content to make?
- This has been facilitated in part by the Government’s talk of delaying Brexit. Not only does talk of a Brexit delay give succour to people hoping for a second referendum, it might have given some cover to Labour to soften their line in this way. Various Labour MPs are rightly worried that Leave voters will abandon them if they or their party is seen to be trying to go back on its word with a re-run – that’s still a threat, but if they are able to reason that the Conservatives are also alienating Leave voters by mulling postponement of Article 50 then it will take the edge of their worst nightmares.