Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has pledged allegiance to a second referendum after a recent election defeat. To stop the defections to the Brexit party, he must think twice.
After a disappointing European election outcome for the Labour party, it seems the once Eurosceptic leadership is caving into to pressure from their People’s Vote counterparts. Although a second referendum, with the option of remain and a parliamentary-approved deal on the ballot paper, is overwhelmingly popular – Labour’s official pledge for one is problematic.
The Labour party, since its inception in 1901, has consistently held onto unwavering support from the northern industrial belt of the United Kingdom. These Labour seats voted to leave in the 2016 referendum as a significant clap back to the establishment in Westminster. The hard-working, ordinary people of the northern regions sent a clear rebuke to the capitalist ethos that formed the European Union. A neoliberal and institutionalized bloc was not working for many who have faced a social and economic decline in areas that were formerly manufacturing hubs. Therefore, Jeremy Corbyn and his staunchly hard-left team must appease the voter base that vociferously defended his party for decades.
The 2016 referendum on whether to leave the EU was polarising, and a plan to find a consensus amongst the electorate was never going to be smooth. Of the 12 million or so voters who supported Labour in the 2017 snap general election, 8 million compared to 4 million voted Remain and Leave respectively a year prior. It is not hard to fathom that an overwhelming number of Remain voters want Corbyn to adopt a second referendum vote, as they make up the majority of the party’s members. However, it is absolutely vital that Corbyn does not succumb to the ambush of a liberalized metropolitan elite from the South East. Although controversial, Corbynite MP and critic of a People’s Vote, Ian Lavery’s comment was one worth noting. He blamed “left-wing intellectuals” for “sneering at ordinary people”. This hyperbolic language was not to ease internal tensions, but to instead highlight the pressure the party faces from non-traditional Labour voters.
Corbyn’s constituency of Islington North sits in the heart of affluent north London. His recent pledge to adopt a second referendum on any deal has been blamed on his rapport with his own constituents. Yes, Labour has a huge Remain demographic, but if it wants to capture votes from other parties it must look elsewhere too. The Brexit party helmed by a populist saw Jeremy Corbyn hemorrhage Leave votes in the north that were once on board with his fight for a socialist government. Furthermore, Corbyn was an unfaltering Eurosceptic throughout his thirty-year career as a backbench MP. He rallied behind an EU withdrawal referendum in 2011 and launched a scathing on the bloc’s involvement in the Greek financial crisis of 2015. His decision to vote for Remain in 2016 shocked many of his key allies, so it is not wrong to question his hesitation on whether or not to deliver Brexit.
It is certainly justified as to why Corbyn regularly speaks with his local constituents. But he must not forget his leadership is not for a cabal of Islington North liberals anymore, but instead for a national democratic socialist party. Labour must tread carefully if they do not want to become a pro-EU party that is affiliated with the capitalist centre ground. To bring back the confidence in his own voters and ones that were poached by Brexit, he should pivot in a different direction. Although scoured by many party members, the Labour shadow cabinet must continue to deliver Brexit to champion its traditional working-class base. If not, the party should adopt a remain-and-reform approach, whereby Labour offers to form a government by remaining in the EU by promising to dismantle its capitalist and free-market heritage.
The Labour party, once the voice of the average British voter angry with the elite, will flounder and lose its history if a second referendum become its official and only policy to move forward.