Hope for workers, Despair for Remainers – My take on the Labour Conference

Hope for workers, Despair for Remainers – My take on the Labour Conference

It was inevitable that Brexit should be a highly contentious topic at the Labour party conference reflecting the debate that’s going on in the country. At the end, the losers by a long mile have been those calling for a People’s Vote and a re-run of the 2016 referendum. With massive media exposure and seemingly unlimited funds from the financial speculator Soros and that other fashion millionaire, all they managed was a couple of thousand of people, bussed from all parts of the country to march in Liverpool with a rally that failed to fill up the relatively small Georges Square. Their attempt to bounce the conference into supporting a second referendum failed.

The Brexit composite that was agreed by conference kept all options, including the kamikaze option of a public vote, on the table, giving the leadership a free hand in managing the political landscape of the crucial next few months and since Corbyn has no suicidal tendencies, Labour will not force a second referendum through parliament.

The failure of People’s Vote was fully exposed when Keir Starmer had to smuggle the much quoted ‘nobody is ruling out remain as an option’ sentence in his speech (it was not included in the text that was distributed to the press) having not been successful in including it in the composite. The stunt backfired. It did receive a very noisy welcome by a relatively small number of those present in the hall. One third of the delegates stood and applauded; the majority remained in their seats completely unimpressed – whatever happened to the poll that claimed 86% of Labour party members in favour of a second vote, a poll that was trumpeted by the media at every opportunity through the conference.

With dignity and calm, delegate after delegate dissociated themselves from Starmer, directly as in the case of a delegate from Unite or indirectly as in the case of a delegate fom the North East of England. The latter rejected a People’s Vote and challenged remainers in the hall to come to his constituency and tell workers why they should vote remain and escape in one piece; he was rewarded with a handshake and a pat on the back from Jeremy Corbyn.

Starmer is fully compromised. As a potential negotiator on behalf of the UK, he is discredited. His position is as untenable as that of a union leader, who, in advance of entering into negotiations on a claim agreed by members, declares that, in case negotiations fail, he is willing to go back to his members and ask them to withdraw their claim altogether. Workers will see this as nothing short of sabotage. And just as that employer will have no incentive to budge on anything, so it is with the EU. A union leader behaving in this way would not last five minutes in his job, neither should Keir Starmer.

Corbyn, aware of the damage done by Starmer and others who assured the media that Labour will oppose any deal that PM come back with regardless of its merits, offered her an olive branch: Labour will support a deal that includes a customs union (the components of which remain unspecified) and protects workers’ rights and jobs. Gone are the infantile six tests conjured up by Starmer. This was no stunt by Corbyn and May will do well to take it seriously. It’s an offer that should have been made earlier in the process.

While it’s legitimate for Labour to attack the mishandling of the negotiations by the government, they should also direct their fire on the EU for its intransigent attitude and its hostility to the democratic decision of the British people with some demanding that the referendum be re-run.
Also legitimate is Labour’s call for a general election; all opposition parties do. But having a general election is one thing; winning one is quite another. A Brexit-induced general election in whatever form would not necessarily result in a Labour victory specially if Labour is seen to be obstructing our departure from the EU.

Calling those cabinet ministers who were engaged in Vote Leave liars, as French President Macron did, is not the attitude of a friend or an ally but an adversary and the sooner the government and the opposition realise this and act accordingly the better. The idea expressed by Labour politicians that the cause of the impasse in negotiations lies in the strident posture of Theresa May and her red lines is facile. If anything, the PM has not been hard enough refusing all along to use the UK’s military cover for most if not all EU countries as a bargaining tool in negotiations. She may come to regret it. People will ask how is it that the UK funds a large share of the ‘defence of Europe’ yet it gets a slap in the face by the very countries it is ‘defending’.