Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Travelling away from their roots

According to this report yesterday, there are up to 10 Labour MPs willing to follow Boris Johnson into supporting a no-deal Brexit if the only alternative to that is to remain in the EU.  And we already know that there’s a whole host of other Labour MPs regretting that they didn’t vote for the only deal that was ever on the table while they had the chance. 
It’s a position that I could understand if they seriously believed that Brexit would actually benefit the people that they represent, but I’m not sure they do.  There are, of course, some people in the Labour Party who genuinely believe (no matter how many times the idea has been debunked) that the EU is an obstacle to creating the sort of economy that they want to see, or that, freed of the EU’s economic rules (and equally blatantly running contrary to all the available evidence), the UK electorate would vote to pursue socialism in one country (not an idea with the most encouraging historical precedents) with a vengeance.  I might disagree with their conclusions, but the objectives are at least honourable in principle, and based on the idea that such an approach might serve the best interests of the people they represent.
I’m not convinced that they all share such motivations, however.  Some are clearly motivated by the idea that, having asked the opinion of the electorate on the issue at a specific point in time, and with a majority having voted to leave (and accepting all the problems of definition involved in such a simplistic statement), ‘democracy’ demands that the ‘will of the people’ be implemented.  Whilst I can understand why they might draw that conclusion, or even believe that having promised to honour the result of the referendum they are duty-bound to do so, I do not understand how members of a party founded to pursue the interests of working people can feel in any way duty-bound to trash those interests and make those people worse off just because some of those people were misled into believing that the opposite would happen.  The Labour Party was founded to lead, not to follow; to set out a vision of a better future and work to bring it about, not to blindly follow where public opinion might lead at a point in time.  It would be bad enough if the ‘majority’ opinion that they were following was a majority of the people who voted Labour, but it isn’t; all the research suggests that the majority of those who voted Labour voted to remain.  In insisting on following the ‘majority’ those Labour MPs taking this stance are giving more weight to Tory and UKIP voters than they are to Labour Party voters.  It’s a very curious stance for a party founded to represent working people to be arguing that it is more important to represent the opinions of every other sector of the population instead.
But even that stance of supporting ‘democracy’ doesn’t explain the stance of some of those Labour MPs minded to support Johnson’s rush to the cliff edge.  As one of those taking this stance put it, “if it comes down to no Brexit or no-deal then I would go with no-deal because the consequences mean that Labour will not be in government in the future and we will lose seats. For me that is a far worse scenario than any Brexit outcome would be”.  In short, following the opinions of people who have never voted Labour, and wrecking the economic prospects of many of those who have, is a preferable outcome to the possibility of losing that minority of Labour voters who supported Brexit by being honest about the consequences.  They would, in short, prefer to have a Labour government struggling (and probably failing – why would anyone believe that they could be more successful than the Tories in this endeavour?) to deal with the effects of Brexit on the livelihoods of the people they represent than act to avoid those effects in the first place.  They’ve travelled a long way since their party was founded – and not in a good way.

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