Week Three: The Blue Red Herring

22nd November 2019

Manifesto launchLabour Manifesto launch – real change in prospect

This week saw the first head to head TV debate between Tory Leader, Boris Johnson, and Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn.  Inevitably the billing was promoted in the form of a boxing match, Johnson v Corbyn, only lacking a weigh in between the two candidates.  While Johnson was clearly ahead on body weight it was demonstrated throughout the debate that Corbyn was clearly ahead in political weight. On questions of trust, racism, the NHS and housing Corbyn out punched Johnson at every turn.

One area of Corbyn’s game does needs to be tightened however.  Johnson had primed his allies in the right wing press on his main attack line, announcing that he had written to Jeremy Corbyn to ask him which way he would campaign on EU membership, specifically posing the question,

“You are proposing a second referendum on EU membership. In that referendum, would you recommend the UK should remain or leave?”

This attack line was used by Johnson throughout the debate, pressed as an area in which Corbyn was failing and would fail to give clear leadership.

On several occasions Corbyn reiterated the Labour position that a Labour government would negotiate a new deal with the EU and put that deal, alongside Remain in the EU, to a second referendum, in effect a People’s Vote.  It sounded defensive and allowed Johnson to land punches.

It is the policy of the Tories to Leave the EU.  It is the policy of the Lib Dems to Remain.  It is Labour policy to go to a People’s Vote.  Corbyn was simply reflecting the policy of the Party, whether he personally would campaign for a new deal or Remain is irrelevant but Johnson and the Tory press are keen to make this the main issue.

Corbyn has clearly been placed in an invidious position by the Remain camp within Labour, who have pushed Labour into a position that is difficult to pitch positively.  Prior to recent conference decisions Labour had a clear position; honour the outcome of the 2016 referendum, Leave the EU but with a better deal than the Tories.

Many campaigners for a People’s Vote clearly wanted no such thing but saw the process as a vehicle to Remain in the EU.  The opportunist Lib Dems are the embodiment of this position, having encouraged the People’s Vote campaign then proposing to deny the people an option, by committing to Remain without a referendum.

The latest twist in the Lib Dem position is to suggest that they will consider supporting Boris Johnson’s Leave deal if he offers a second referendum alongside it.  Hanging on the coattails of the Tories is once again the Lib Dem position, nothing new there.

Labour’s current position makes life difficult for Corbyn but not impossible.  Given the numbers who demonstrated in recent months in favour of a so called People’s Vote, Labour’s best pitch under current circumstances is to call out that constituency and stress that Labour is the only party offering that option.

Corbyn cold sharpen his position by turning Johnson’s question back on him and asking,

“If your Brexit deal is so good, why don’t you have the confidence to put it back to the people in a second referendum?”

This would offer the possibility to shift the Brexit element of the election debate away from Corbyn’s leadership on the issue and towards Johnson’s democratic credentials.

In spite of the opportunism of the People’s Vote process it is still important for Labour to find its own attack line on Brexit.  Otherwise there is the real danger that the massively positive programme outlined in the just published manifesto, It’s Time for Real Change, will be overshadowed by the Tories and their media cohorts, diverting attention by pressing the ‘leadership’ red herring as the key issue.

The headlines alone in Labour’s manifesto signal a challenge to the assumptions that have persisted in UK politics for almost four decades: a green industrial revolution; rebuild our public services; tackle poverty and inequality; the final say on Brexit; a new internationalism.  The detail beneath these headlines indicates a programme to begin shifting the balance of wealth and power away from the wealthy and the tax dodging elites and towards working class people.

Even though, in spite of what the Tories and their press allies might say, Labour’s manifesto falls far short of being a programme for socialist revolution, it is still a programme for real change and one which offers real hope to the ordinary people of this country.  The Tories, the banks the tax dodgers and the City of London will conspire against it.  The task in the coming weeks, is to make real change happen.



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