The Labour Party have spent the past two years saying as little as possible on the issue that has consumed almost the entirety of political discussion and debate during the past two years, Brexit.
As the negotiations to the UKs withdrawal from the European Union draw to a conclusion, the official opposition were obliged to say something a little more substantial than their meaningless mantra of ‘meet our six tests’ – which have as much chance of being agreed by the EU, never mind parliament, as Everton have of winning the Premiership.
So, this week Jeremy Corbyn wrote a letter to the prime minister outlining what his demands would be in exchange for his support. It was described by ‘Remainer’ Labour politicians as an offer to the electorate that says ‘Vote Labour, get a Tory Brexit.’
The leader of the opposition is, I think it’s fair to say this now, happy to see the UK leave the EU. He knows that many Labour members and supporters do not share his view. Having showed his true colours, he is banking on one thing for potential Labour voters -TINA – There Is No Alternative.
Labour pollsters know that the overwhelming majority of Labour voters want to stay in the EU. A majority want a ‘peoples vote’. Despite this, Corbyn has taken a calculated gamble of going against their hopes, and indeed against the spirit, if not the letter, of an agreed conference motion, on the EU.
His hunch is that, however cheesed off those supporters are with his position on Europe, they have nowhere else to go. They will not vote Tory and the other parties are not seen as credible challengers to the government.
For his gamble to pay off, he will need another snap General Election. If Theresa May decides to leave the stage post-Brexit, the Conservatives appoint a ‘caretaker’ rather than a leader for the long-term, his gamble could backfire badly.
Because a ‘caretaker’ would have the job of healing party wounds, restoring some faith and credibility to the Tory brand, and waiting for a candidate that the Conservatives can unite behind for an election two or three years from now.
If that happens then a breakaway Labour Party isn’t just possible. It is inevitable. The only question would be how many MPs would desert? How many party members would join them? And how many trades union leaders would take a serious look at helping a new party financially, given their frustration at the influence, some would say dominance, of Len McCluskey and Unite on Labours leadership.
A new centrist party, which would attract Tory ‘wets’ too, would be a strong pull for those who Corbyn needs to win. I doubt ‘new party’ could gain enough seats in parliament to win a General Election. Our electoral system mitigates against a ‘Macron moment’. It would, however, prevent Corbyn from entering ten Downing Street as the keyholder. Interestingly, it may also see some council’s and mayoral positions change hands.
Jeremy’s letter to Theresa might just prove to be what Labour’s 1983 manifesto was to Michael Foot – a suicide note!