The Labor Party should be standing on the brink of a historic opportunity. Instead, it stands ready to squander it.
Of course, one makes electoral predictions with great risk. The pundit class has been proved hopelessly wrong byJeremy Corbynbefore. There is certainly time between now and whenever an election happens for everything to change, but it is not to make a false prediction to say the party is currently in a hopeless mess.
The leader’s acolytes have begun the party conference bytrying and failing to topple the deputy leader. Mr Corbyn hopes this conference can be the launchpad for popular policies that will resonate with the general public, just as happened in 2017. But Andrew Fisher, his policy chief and the author of almost all of Corbyn’s popular policies,quit on the eve of the conferenceand launched a devastating, personal attack on Mr Corbyn’s office as he did so.
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All around Brighton, the party’s most senior figures, includingEmily ThornberryandSadiq Khan, areopenly contradicting party policy, piling pressure on Mr Corbyn to take Labor in an explicitly Remain direction, something he has thus far refused to do.
Party discipline is completely out of control. Arguably, Mr Corbyn’s policy of advocating a second referendum after a general election is not just smart politics, but morally commendable too. At some point, the country has to come together. Having a party that both Leavers and Remainers can vote for is admirable. But it is not working. Remainers are deserting Labor for the Lib Dems and the Greens. For Brexiteers, other electoral options are available.
In television interviews in the build-up to the conference, Mr Corbyn has consistently refused to say if he personally is in favor of Leave or Remain, and will not say what side he would back in the second referendum he himself is offering.
Such interviews have made for painful viewing. The idea that he can hold on to a position of neutrality during a long general election campaign is fanciful in the extreme. The other idea – that he can negotiate a better, softer Brexit deal, one that is more closely aligned to the customs union and the single market – is also highly questionable. And even if it is correct, the kind of voter that Labor is losing to the Brexit Party will not be placated by it. For these voters, the current deal is already too soft.
In 2017, Labor surprised itself and others. Its success was in no small part down to its popular policies that had nothing to do with Brexit.
When the election eventually comes, it is difficult to see how a similar policy platform will cut through, when the policy of constructive Brexit ambiguity will be so desperately unavoidable. ) ******
Thus far, one of the Labor leader’s stock answers to the unanswerable question has been that it is a democratic party, and that the party will decide the position on Brexit, not him.
If that is the case, all of the available evidence intimates the time for the party to make that decision must be now, this week.The policy of ambiguity has expired in its usefulness.