Labour's Second Referendum Shift Couldn't Come Sooner For Young People Like Me

While Corbyn’s Brexit homework has been vastly improved, it’s not A-grade just yet, Labour activist Cathleen Clarke writes
Peter Nicholls / Reuters

After weeks of “open listening”, backroom chats and leaked notes from internal party meetings, this morning I, like 500,000 other Labour Party embers, received an email from Jeremy Corbyn re-defining Labour’s Brexit policy. With the country set to wake up on July 22 to an unelected Boris Johnson premiership, now would have been a perfect time to define and clarify Labour’s Brexit position. Unfortunately we weren’t so lucky.

For us Labour party bookworms, the past month has been absolutely fascinating. We have sat back and watched key teachers of the ‘Corbyn School of Thought’ lean into a refreshed Brexit curriculum. This was captained by the Unite leader, Len McCluskey, who on the top political news show of the week, backed the British people having the final say on Brexit. Ripples began to spread as the Brexit policy was finally set to change. Corbyn brought democracy back to Labour Party members when he became leader, and it seemed like he was finally going to put the interest of his members above his own Bennite judgement.

While there is no doubt an ambiguous Brexit policy proved useful on the campaign doorstep in 2017, other parties have since changed with the times and Labour looks like the child left behind. The recent local council and European results proved what Labour commentators and supporters feared: Labour’s lacklustre, confusing and stagnant Brexit policy was failing both its members and the electorate. As a direct result of this, the Corbyn project seemed to be in tatters. The ideals and values that engaged young Labour members like myself started to become faded and frail. Despite a record number of motions at conference, endless letters by MPs, a million people marching on the streets and record low election results, the once-loved leadership appeared ambivalent; both about Brexit and the majority of members that wanted a change in policy.

But while so many disenfranchised Labour Party members seemed disheartened, it was nothing compared to what millions of young people were and still are experiencing. A recent study released by the children’s charity Barnado’s has found that 62% of young people aged 18-24 thought Brexit was the most important issue facing our country in the next five years. Furthermore, a report by The Young Women’s Trust found that the most commonly cited reason for young people feeling anxious were fears about Brexit. With young people’s trust in their representatives 50% less than last year, the Labour party should have provided solidarity and support for them – instead it offered fudge after fudge and expected consistent loyalty and votes.

Given the dismal state of affairs, the party’s most recent shift towards supporting remaining in the European Union couldn’t come any sooner. Offering a public vote on all types of Brexit available is something to be celebrated, not scorned. Fighting for Britain to remain in a transformed European Union is something the Labour Party can unite around. Protecting workers like me from a disastrous Tory Brexit should be a top priority of the Labour Party: whether in government or opposition.

Corbyn hasn’t been clear what a Labour Alternative Brexit Plan would entail, which leaves us in the dark again. Unless Labour comes out as the party of remain and transform in all circumstances, voters won’t know for what we stand – or what we will fall for. While Corbyn’s Brexit homework has been vastly improved, it’s not an A-grade yet. I would salute the MPs, advisors, activists and staffers who have so far worked tirelessly to push this shift in policy. It’s remarkable to see what they have done for their party for a cause they believe in. But we aren’t there yet. Going into the next election, Labour will need to have clear lines and strategy. ‘Rebuild Britain and remain in Europe’ must be the rallying call come September – or we face failing a test with dire consequences.

Cathleen Clarke is a Labour activist and campaigner with Our Future Our Choice


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