Rik Worth argues that the Labour Party leader’s position on a second referendum might be honest, but that it leaves the public open to more propaganda and lies.
Jeremy Corbyn has set out his (and therefore the Labour Party’s) position on a second Brexit referendum.
In short, he’s neutral. He will not be campaigning for Remain or Leave or any specific change to what should be on the ballot paper. Instead, he will trust the Great British public to make the correct call and make every attempt to carry out their will.
Like Corbyn himself, at its core, this is a well-meaning plan. It goes some way to reinstating a sense of democracy while the Prime Minister seems to be doing everything he can to undermine it and Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson maintains that she would chuck out the results of the (admittedly advisory and non-legally binding) previous referendum.
Being neutral is tantamount to doing nothing. Not only is that politically dangerous, it’s dangerous in a way that real people could get hurt.
It also allows Corbyn to maintain a level of personal, moral integrity. Corbyn’s well-documented Euroscepticism won’t be compromised by him holding up his hands, free from dirt in this case, and saying “look, you know I can’t win for trying, so I’ll let you decide”.
It’s the compromise of “I’ll do whatever you want to do” and could be seen as the cutting of the Gordian Knot of Labour, torn between Remain and Leave: the south and the north. That idea though has never taken into account that most northern cities voted to remain and polls show that Labour’s heartland has dramatically shifted to Remain.
Neutrality and Lies
Neutrality, it seems, is very on-brand for JC. But here is the problem. The facts of Brexit aren’t neutral and Corbyn’s opponents aren’t playing fair. Being neutral is tantamount to doing nothing. Not only is that politically dangerous, it’s dangerous in a way that real people could get hurt.
Our Prime Minister is a liar. Only this week, Boris Johnson (in front of the press) told the father of a sick child that there was no press present. During the Vote Leave campaign, he stood in front of a massive lie about the cost of EU membership on the side of a bus and the nation is currently waiting on the Supreme Court’s ruling as to whether or not he misled the Queen.
Johnson will say whatever he likes to get what he wants and people will believe him. YouGov currently has his popularity at 11% higher than Corbyn’s, despite the Labour leader being considered more honest.
By remaining neutral, Corbyn is going to allow Johnson’s dishonesty to rampage through a second referendum practically unchallenged. A balance on the pros and cons of EU membership is one thing, but the potential success of a post-EU Britain against the disastrous effects of Brexit is an entirely different thing. Corbyn might be indifferent to what we have for dinner, but he has to care about how we cook it.
Corbyn’s position on Brexit has actually been consistent but caveated. Whether through an unfriendly media or Labour’s lack of getting that message through, it has come out as confused with the electorate. Perhaps it’s as simple as this: that the Leader of the Opposition should oppose the Government rather than adopt a non-committal position?
Johnson’s clear lack of Brexit negotiation and the impact of the details listed in the Operation Yellowhammer papers shouldn’t go unchallenged, nor would any challenge be neutral. How could it? But without a challenge, Johnson would be free to bluster and obfuscate to his goal – a goal that his Government admits could lead to food and medicine shortages, a lock on trade and riots.
Of course, Corbyn, like the rest of us, could be thoroughly enjoying Johnson’s disastrous yet deeply satisfying tenure as Prime Minister, hoping the Prime Minister will kick his own head in without Corbyn having to do too much. But again, this is when the Opposition should be striking.
Jo Swinson knows that. It’s accepted wisdom that the Liberal Democrats will not win an upcoming election and it’s easy for the party to promise pie in the sky policies because they will never have to carry them out. The idea of them taking power is ridiculous. Right up until the moment it isn’t.
The Lib Dems don’t even have to take power to become kingmakers. It’s happened before and it can happen again. And by running on a platform of revoking Article 50, they’re as likely to steal the votes of ardent Remain Labour supporters as they are the more politically aligned conservatives.
Yes, there are other things that Labour wants to focus on. Yes, we’re all sick of Brexit. But sitting out this last part is a huge risk that is consistent with confusing voters and letting promises and lies be the deciding factor in Brexit rather than the truth.