Labour must change Brexit course before it’s too late

by: Emma Burnell on 28.05.19 | In: Comment
by: Emma Burnell on: 28.05.19 in: Comment

There’s no spinning this – these elections were a disaster for Labour. We bled votes almost entirely to Parties who supported Remain and halved our representation in the European Parliament. That’s ten excellent Socialists who will no longer be fighting on the international stage for Labour values.

Gone Backwards

That’s two elections in a row where Labour has gone backwards when there was no need. And it is clearer than ever that the reason for this is our endless, pointless, self-defeating fudge on Brexit. When a Party are asking the country to give us the opportunity to lead while at the same time not being clear about where we stand on the biggest, most politically defining issue of the day, that party deserves punishment from the electorate.

But our candidates both for the local and European elections didn’t deserve this. Candidates like Open Labour’s Rachael Ward in the South East, Laura Parker in London or Eloise Todd in Yorkshire and Humber worked tirelessly throughout the campaign. Sitting MEPs like Claire Moody in the South West or David Martin in Scotland did so too – in addition to the incredibly hard work they have given to the Parliament. They were clear what Labour’s position should have been. They have been let down by what it was.

The Good News

The good news is that Labour now has the opportunity to turn this around. The better news is that we know we can do that. The best news of all is that we know how.

It was when we were bold and decisive about what we wanted to do on a national scale that Labour turned our fortunes around in 2017. We didn’t fudge, as we arguably had in 2015, but were absolutely clear about the transformative manifesto we have for the UK.

We have to be equally bold now when it comes to the biggest challenge facing the UK: Brexit. Let us be clear – our attempt to woo leave voters has failed because it could never be sincere. We are not a leave supporting party. And as the Tories head at 100 miles an hour towards full-throated support of the most damaging Brexit possible, that will become an ever more positive note in our favour. But simply not really being a Brexit party has proved to be far from good enough for the vast numbers of our voters, supporters and members. We need to give them something now to vote for.

We are a party of internal democracy. Our situation has moved on from Party conference and with the Tories in complete disarray after taking an even worse pasting than we did at the Euros at a General Election with this fudge of a policy is simply not a realistic option. Therefore we need a special conference or members ballot to update our policy from the autumn, to commit us fully to a public vote and vigorously campaigning for Remain when it is held.

Listened and Acted

If Labour do not make this pivot soon, fast and very loudly, those voters who twice recently have broken their lifetime habits of supporting us are going to keep that habit broken. With every day we delay, they get further away from us. This isn’t just about bringing economic and social coherence back to the Brexit process (in sharp contrast to the Tory ‘no deal’ fest). It is about making sure that Labour voters – the vast majority of whom in all parts of the country voted to remain – know that we have listened, that we have acted and that we are on their side, ready to put Brexit behind us to focus on fixing the conditions that caused us to make the decision in the first place.

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