On Tuesday morning, new polling for YouGov showed a serious problem for the Labour Party. My party – of which I’ve proudly been a member for six years – has spent the last three years sitting on the Brexit fence.
And it shows.
A massive one in four voters ‘don’t know’ whether the Labour Party is pro or anti-Brexit. A further 20% say it is neither, whilst 61% of Leave voters think the party is anti-Brexit and only 28% of Remain voters think the same. Political triangulation can work, or it can annoy all parts of your constituency equally.
Unfortunately, at Tuesday’s National Executive Committee at Labour HQ, we did little to bring further clarity to our members, voters and supporters.
The reality is that Labour’s position ‘to support Labour’s alternative plan, and if we can’t get the necessary changes to the government’s deal, or a General Election, to back the option of a public vote’ is the bare minimum the party could have done to support a People’s Vote.
We scraped a pass in just about supporting a confirmatory referendum in some circumstances, but not all.
The problem we continue to have is that everyone involved in this Brexit mess knows that the ‘other circumstances’ are simply not going to come to pass.
We know that the Prime Minister – even if she was minded to (spoiler: she’s not) – doesn’t have the necessary clout to make any substantive changes to her party’s Brexit position.
We also know that there is no magic alternative Brexit, that delivers all the sovereignty in the world whilst somehow not undermining our rights or undercutting our economy.
There isn’t going to be a General Election either – too many MPs across the house are rightly terrified of the public’s verdict on their behaviour over the last two years.
So all roads lead to a People’s Vote, they just refuse to say they do. Perhaps they are hiding under ‘the table’ that everyone keeps talking about.
Ultimately, it’s just about enough – coupled with the overwhelming majority of Labour MEP candidates openly supporting a People’s Vote – to not massively demoralise members and activists. But it doesn’t give us any clarity.
It allows Gloria Del Piero – a known Leaver – to tweet that ‘Labour manifesto for the European Parliament will not contain a pledge to hold a second Brexit referendum’. And for Wes Streeting MP, a long time supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, to be ‘glad the NEC has made the right call and confirmed that a public vote will be in our manifesto for European Elections.’
So far, so good party management.
Allowing different wings of the Labour Party’s Parliamentary Party to claim victory is an important part of holding it together during the tumultuous months ahead.
The problem however, is that party management exercises are what got us into this mess, and the public know it.
With Nigel Farage’s hard right Brexit Party on the rise, it is exactly the wrong time to risk losing support from activists and long time members, and to try to sit out the Brexit debate. Clarity of purpose is one of the reasons why Farage is currently riding high in the polls.
Labour members, such as myself, will take this as permission to actively and openly campaign for a public vote on any agreed Brexit deal.
We have no reason not to, because the overwhelming majority of Labour voters, supporters and members back a public vote.
That’s particularly true of young members and is why so many young Labour members are part of the cross party campaign, For our Future’s Sake. We’ve spent the last year lobbying Labour MPs, and were instrumental in influencing the change in Labour Party policy back in September at our annual conference.
Labour’s NEC once again proved masterful at doing their best to sit on the Brexit fence. I can only hope that on 23 May – and beyond – we don’t get splinters.
Harry Bishop is a Labour member, President of Welfare and Community at Falmouth and Exeter University Students’ Union, and a supporter of For our Future’s Sake