Brexit – the issue of our times which has consumed and divided our country; ever since 23rd June 2016, the direction our country is headed has never been more blurred. We have an incumbent government which spent more time negotiating in its own party rather than with the European Union, the pound falling to dangerously low levels, other important issues in our country being put aside and the prediction of yet another recession as the outcome of a possible no-deal Brexit. Trust me, the list is endless.
With all of these failings, you would expect the opposition to be capitalising on this on an industrial scale, however that is not the case. The most recent poll (at the time this article was published) puts the Conservative Party at 40%, with the opposition Labour Party at 36%, thus giving the Conservatives a four-point lead. This may be a small lead, but it is far from insignificant. Labour’s lack of opinion poll success can be accredited to factors such as the anti-Semitism allegations, however, I believe that Labour can make one policy shift that will avoid the possibility of decades of Conservative rule – that policy shift being to fully support a second referendum on Brexit, or a People’s Vote.
Labour’s Brexit policy has always been up for debate in the party – the party’s willingness to pursue Brexit with a Customs Union agreement has not been met with unanimous support; the party’s position is one of the reasons why 9 MPs have left the party, with 8 of those MPs forming the adamantly anti-Brexit Independent Group. But that isn’t the prime reason why this position could be incredibly dangerous.
Although the no-confidence vote in the government did not pass, the possibility of a General Election is still sky high. Polling expert Sir John Curtice has said that the move by the three former Conservative MPs to join the Independent Group could “precipitate” another no-confidence motion, which could result in a General Election. If this prediction is correct, a General Election takes place and Labour emerges victorious, it is likely that Labour will pursue their current policy – with Jeremy Corbyn’s recent meetings with EU officials making me believe this. Now we come to what could keep the Conservatives in power for decades to come.
In the past, the Conservatives have heavily capitalised on economic events that have occurred while Labour has held the reins of power, a prime example of this being the financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the recession that followed it. The same can also be said vice versa when the Conservatives were in power on “Black Wednesday” in 1992 when the UK crashed out of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Both events leading to the opposition winning election after election following it. If Labour win a possible General Election, extend article 50 in the hope of reaching a deal and end up not reaching one, or alternatively repeat the incumbent government’s act of getting a deal which is substantially rejected, then it would be an open goal for the Conservatives, likely producing a Conservative victory at the next election.
This could be made a landslide majority if there is a no-deal Brexit followed by a recession or significant economic downturn; it would be the 1997 that every political party longs for. As history has shown us, it could be multiple elections before the opposition could have a chance of power again. So Labour must not and cannot make this detrimental mistake.
So how would the advocation of a People’s Vote save the country from prolonged Conservative rule? Well firstly the way Brexit is executed, or if we even do Brexit at all, would be decided by the people. If Labour took the reins of power, they would have a mandate to remain in the EU, try and get a deal or even pursue no-deal – it wouldn’t be down to Parliament votes whether we endure the repercussions of one of those results, but the people would have decided. Labour would also be acting on what the people wanted, making it the party that is truly democratic and listening to what the people want (which it already is, but it would assert it). Therefore, the Conservatives would not have a platform to criticise it, doing so would make them look undemocratic.
Many people believe a second referendum would be a betrayal of the “will of the people”, but was the will of the people for the government to waste 2 years by negotiating with themselves, instead of using it practically with the EU? Was it for the economy to become the slowest growing in the G7? Was it to face a possible recession, as predicted by the Bank of England, if we were to face no-deal? Was it for the pound to tumble to dangerous lows? Was it for even more significant issues (like Climate Change) to be shoved aside, as background damage is done? I very highly doubt it. We now know the repercussions and the possible repercussions of Brexit, which we were not knowledgeable of back in 2016. We can now make a more informed decision about the future of our country.
A common misconception about the cause for a second referendum is that it has little support, the antithesis of this is the reality. The most recent poll (at the time of publishing) puts the support for a second referendum at 41%, a lead of five points. This lead may be small, but that does not mean it can be taken out of consideration. Support in the Labour Party is even higher. The latest poll of Labour members (again at the time of publishing) is at 86% – that is certainly not negligible.
The view that Labour would be betraying Brexit voters in the northern Labour strongholds is also incorrect; in August 2018, a poll of voters in the North-East put support for remaining in the EU at 50%, changing its mind about Brexit. In 2016, the only North East area that supported remain was Newcastle – now, the tide seems to be changing.
So, the choice is clear. Either Labour pursues the option that could possibly confine them to the opposition benches, or back the only way out of the current Brexit impasse. John McDonnell has said himself that the party is moving towards a People’s Vote.
Clause IV states that power should be in the hands of the many, now’s the time for Labour to countenance that.