As an exercise in political strategy, in which thought is taken for the medium-term, Jeremy’s Corbyn’s latest Brexit gambit makes no sense. He would be unlikely even to clear the first hurdle: namely, his installation as Prime Minister in the event of Boris Johnson were the latter to lose a confidence vote.
If he did succeed in vaulting it, he would then either face a general election while his party lags in the polls, or a vote of no confidence in the Commons if he tried to delay it.
If he leaped this third bar, and regained office as Prime Minister in the wake of that election, his Brexit policy would be, in so far as it is comprehensible, first to negotiate a “Labour Brexit” that would in all essentials be almost identical to Theresa May’s “Tory Brexit”, which he opposed.
If he overcame that fourth obstacle, he would then seek a referendum offering voters a choice between his “Labour Brexit” and Remain. Parliament might not approve it – since although Corbyn, in this circumstance, would be Prime Minister, there is no guarantee he would be governing with a majority.
If he mastered fence number five, he would then have a win a referendum majority for the “Labour Brexit”. Harold Wilson pulled off a similar stunt in 1975. But he was supporting the status quo – Common Market membership. Corbyn would be offering a more partisan proposition. If he lost, it would surely be curtains for him.
But rather than continue to list further hazards for Corbyn’s plan, let this Conservative site concede that although it makes no sense if pondered strategically, it makes quite a bit if viewed tactically. For a start, it gets him on the front foot again, for the first time since the European elections. The Labour leader is making the news again.
“Look,” he is saying to opposition MPs in other parties, “you all say you’re opposed to No Deal. Well, put me in Number Ten and I’ll stop it. Furthermore, I’ll call an election once that’s done – so you won’t be putting me in for five years. And if I win it, then you can have your Second Referendum. What’s not to like?”
Now it will be said that a second referendum would go down very badly with voters in Leave-voting Labour seats. True indeed. But what else is Corbyn expected to do? Sure, his wheeze doesn’t work strategically, as we say. But the key point here is that there is no Brexit policy that works strategically for Labour at all.
Its London, Scottish and University seats generally went for Remain in the referendum. So did most cities. But the Party’s small town provincial constituencies were mainly for Leave – though Labour voters in them tended to be for Remain, a view which Labour members usually hold more strongly. Complexity is piled on complexity.
In a nutshell, London, a winner from globalisation, is going one way while its provincial heartlands – usually losers from the process – are going another. This loss of the industrial working class is a problem for socialist countries across the western world. It is one to which Corbyn has no answer.
But in the meantime he can at least turn the screw on the Liberal Democrats. If his main concern is to staunch the flow of votes from Labour to them over Brexit, then this latest initative might just be helpful, and then a bit. It is already working with the SNP and Plaid Cymru.
Corbyn will make less headway with others – such as the Independent Group for Change, of course. (Remember them?) The likes of Mike Gape and Chris Leslie left Labour precisely because they don’t want Corbyn as Prime Minister. They are scarcely likely to put him in Downing Street now that they have left it.
Some other independents, such as Frank Field and Ian Austin, are in the same space. However, others may not be. Meanwhile, Jo Swinson has backtracked on her dismissive response to Corbyn’s ploy, and is now offering to meet him for talks. As are some Tories, including Dominic Grieve and Oliver Letwin. Guto Bebb is supportive.
But if Corbyn is gaining some ground, Boris Johnson occupies more. To understand why, stand back from the plots and schemes, and look at the landscape as a whole. It is true that a majority of MPs in this Parliament have voted against No Deal, the Prime Minister’s option of final resort, and as far as can be seen continue to oppose it.
However, they can’t agree on an alternative policy. Some still want the Withdrawal Agreement. Others back Corbyn’s “Labour Brexit”. Others still hanker after a Norway-type option. Others want a Second Referendum. None of these options have succeeded in Parliament, either.
Even more to the point, the anti-No Deal crowd can’t settle on alternative people – that’s to say, on who would form this so-called “government of national unity”. Some want Hillary Benn. Others, Harriet Harman. Or Ken Clarke. Swinson’s public position is that she herself can be Prime Minister. Corbyn wants Corbyn.
The Commons may not be sitting, but text messages are fizzing from one sunny clime to another, for all the quiet in the Palace of Westminster. Where’s Yvette Cooper? Find Rory Stewart. Could David Miliband come back? Do you have John Major’s number? Egos are being stroked; options floated; schemes hatched.
But on the one hand we have a cross-party with no leader and no policy, and on the other a Government with both. Johnson may not have a majority, but he has a case to put to the British people and to wavering MPs, roughly as follows.
“You have a choice, my friends. It’s either my Government with a clear policy that will honour the instruction you gave us to leave the EU. Or this divided and disorganised rabble who agree on one point only: namely that, rather than listen to you, they will stick two fingers up instead
“Government of national unity, my foot. What they’re trying to cook up is a Commons coup – a government that would shut out all those who believe, however reluctantly, that we must stop shilly-shallying around, and deliver Brexit. Theirs would be a government of national disunity. Don’t let them get away with it.”
Now you may think such an appeal would work, and you may not. But either way, the Prime Minister has an advantage over his opponents. He is prepared to embrace No Deal – do or die, it seems.
Corbyn says he opposes it, but won’t make way for someone else in order to stop it. Swinson certainy does – but not, apparently, to the extent that she would try to halt it by keeping Corbyn in place. Both put their own parties and positions first. They are saying one thing but doing another.