Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Labour and a People's Vote

In spite of their somewhat fudged decision the Labour Party has done us a favour in keeping the idea of a People's Vote on the Brexit deal (if any) in the headlines for several days. Not only that, but it has been clear that the impetus for second thoughts comes, not from a disgruntled establishment elite,but largely from young people, including the Momentum pressure group who are so enthusiastic for a reformed and fairer society.  Many of these enthusiasts would have been too young to vote in 2016.  Clearly they see continued membership of the EU as part of the new world order they crave.

Not surprisingly, Jeremy Corbyn would still prefers a general election to second vote on Brexit.  Well, he would, wouldn't he?  Like his Tory counterparts, he puts party interests above the national interest. But, for we Remainers, , a general election would be no help.  First, general elections called on a specific issue rarely remain glued to the issue.  In 1974 prime minister Edward Health called an election on "Who Governs Britain - him or the miners?"  The electorate decided neither -  it would be Labour under Harold Wilson.

 Presumably Corbyn hopes for something similar, but, even if Labour won, his  policy of "negotiating  a better deal than the Tories" would prove a chimera.  We'd still be outside the EU, and there is no better deal that we already have inside it.

My arguments against  a People's vote have been spelled out in an earlier post
and I stand by the view that the best solution to our problems is a free vote in parliament. The Guardian published a letter from me* to this effect yesterday, but, in my view, edited out part of the reasoning,  which I highlight:

 A second referendum currently has the most traction as a means of trying to avert a Brexit calamity, but it is not “our best shot” as Jonathan Freedland claims. (We now need a people’s vote.   22 September).  That would be to take the party whips off and allow a free vote in parliament.  After all, it is our MPs who got us into this mess: David Cameron by proposing a referendum in order to protect his party from haemorrhage to UKIP;  both Lords and Commons indulging him by approving this device alien to our constitution;  MPs and Peers of all parties being too lax or complacent to insert routine precautions such as a super-majority; the approval of all constituent parts of the UK,  and provisions to avoid excessive distortions of the truth in the campaign.  So it is up to them to get us out of it.

A free vote could put an end to what most of MPs know is national self harm, and it could be done before Bonfire Night.  Genuine support for Brexit would probably be limited to fewer than 100 extremists in the Commons and a handful of peers.  Maybe a few MPs whose constituencies had large Leave majorities might eventually lose their seats if they voted with their consciences.  But surely that is a small price to pay for saving the nation from folly.  The hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War reminds us that many have paid a much higher price for the sake of the nation.

Be that as it may, thanks to the Labour Party Conference for highlighting the view that leaving the European Union is by no means a done deal, and that it is the young who are leading the crusade to stay.

*On the same page on the same day the Guardian published another letter from me, arguing that student  tuition fees do not leave students with an unbearable "burden of debt," as is so glibly claimed by critics of the Coalition..  Two letters on one day from the same writer is probably not unique but is certainly unusual.  I was and am rather chuffed. On the following day a correspondent  from Liverpool commented on the over-representation of the views of Yorkshiremen.

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