Backing a second referendum will see Labour dig itself even deeper into a Brexit-shaped electoral hole

Backing a second referendum will see Labour dig itself even deeper into a Brexit-shaped electoral hole

It’s a basic law of politics that when you’re in a hole, stop digging. Labour (is it New or Old these days? I forget), finding itself in a hole which it mistook for a gold mine, has decided to bring in earth-moving machinery to dig deeper.

Brexit is the hole. Labour opposed the Maastricht Treaty. When the EU wrote a new constitution for itself, Labour demanded a referendum. David Miliband had to trick us out of that by claiming that the constitution was the Lisbon Treaty (which was exactly the same) and treaties don’t need a referendum.

As a result, UKIP blossomed and began to pose a threat, particularly in the North. So we began to denounce them as ignorant, racist yobs, too stupid to recognise the blessings of the EU. Brexit’s victory in the referendum then sent us into shock. Labour’s regions and people opted for Brexit. So Labour had to support the Withdrawal Bill – how could we do otherwise? It was the verdict of the people.

In that situation it is the job of Opposition to see that Government implements the popular vote, to denounce any incompetence in doing so and to attack delay, dilution or obfuscation. However, several senior Labour figures like Hilary Benn, Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, Chris Leslie and Mike Gapes knew better. They were desperate to keep Britain in the source of all good things, and saw that the EU would stop Jeremy Corbyn doing things they disliked. The bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party backed Remain because Labour had become a middle-class party. As such, it knew better than uneducated working-class louts.

All of which put poor Jeremy in a difficult situation. He disliked the EU – and had always opposed it – but he was leading a party which preferred its comfortable pomposities to the pains of rebuilding Britain’s economic strength and creating a more equal society. So he bent with the wind and the Guardian’s gales and Labour began to pretend it could get a better deal, while in fact undermining any at all.

Now the discovery that this didn’t fool the voters, but actually lost support to Brexit – or, in the case of the Blairites, to the Liberals – Labour is dropping its ambiguities to support a referendum it hopes will kill Brexit without the party taking responsibility.

No matter that a referendum is impossible unless Parliament passes some settlement for the people to vote on. No matter that it weakens the country’s negotiating position and helps the EU to refuse to improve on Theresa May’s inadequate deal. It’s an easy way out of both Labour’s dilemma and its responsibilities.

There is, however, one problem: it makes Labour more middle-class, more metropolitan, and drives away the people and the regions at the party’s working class base. A bit sad maybe, but as far as many at the top of the party are concerned, they are an embarrassment, a nuisance, uninterested in all the metropolitan causes Labour espouses – and very untrendy. They threaten Labour’s new love affair with Brussels. That’s more important than any residual feelings for Grimethorpe or Grimsby.