Thursday 21 November 2019

Colette Browne: 'Corbyn's naive attempt to be all things to all people risks handing Johnson a victory he doesn't deserve'

'Labour pretends it can represent those who voted for Brexit and those who voted Remain, when those positions are wildly divergent.' Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
'Labour pretends it can represent those who voted for Brexit and those who voted Remain, when those positions are wildly divergent.' Photo: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

Yesterday in the House of Commons, all of the major political parties expressed a desire to hold a general election - and last night they finally agreed on something and election day is set for December 12.

Even when MPs ostensibly agree on the broader issue, they still find some way to manufacture a dispute and make a mess of everything. If you felt like tearing your hair out watching the latest shambles unfold, you were not alone.

This time, it was amendments tabled by the Labour Party, to Boris Johnson's election bill, that threatened to scupper the first sign of cross-party consensus in Westminster in years.

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Hoping to take advantage of the Conservative Party's desperation to have an election, the Labour Party tagged on last-minute amendments that would have seen 16 and 17-year-olds, along with EU citizens, given the right to vote.

It is worth noting EU citizens do not have the right to vote in general elections, in countries in which they are not citizens, anywhere in the EU. They can, however, vote in local elections and EU elections. So extending the franchise in this way in the UK would be a major undertaking, for which there would be almost no time to plan given a mooted election date of December 11.

Similarly, extending the right to vote to 16 and 17-year-olds is a notable change that should not come about because of some afterthought - a brief amendment tacked onto a one-line bill. It should be a change that is introduced after some consultation, some preparation and some planning. Alas, if there's anything the Brexit disaster has taught us, it is that British politicians don't do consultation, preparation or planning. Instead, it is all schemes, subterfuge, parliamentary games and in-fighting.

Most of the blame for the current impasse can obviously be heaped on the shoulders of the Tory Party, which set the Brexit referendum in motion and whose members now appear to be undergoing some kind of prolonged existential and intellectual crisis. Its latest leader, Mr Johnson, lied and cajoled his way to power and, since gaining office, has broken every promise to the electorate that he made. He is not dead in a ditch, yet Brexit has been deferred to January 31, while his idiotic mantra that he wants to "get Brexit done" makes no rational sense when Brexit is going to be at least a five-year project. Agreeing the withdrawal bill was supposed to be the easy part.

Yes, the Tories are a bunch of incompetents and con artists, but what does it say about the calibre of the opposition when it is the hucksters and the swindlers who are in the ascendency in the opinion polls? One such poll at the weekend gave the Conservatives a whopping 16-point lead over Labour. Indecision has been the hallmark of Labour's response to Brexit, with different wings of the party unable to agree on a coherent and cohesive policy for much of the past three years.

Even the party's position on whether it supports a general election has been needlessly confusing. All along, Jeremy Corbyn said he would enthusiastically vote in favour of a general election when no deal was taken off the table - which, he implied, could be done when the EU granted an extension to January 31.

On Monday, the EU granted that extension, but Labour abstained when it came to voting for an election with the result that the government's attempt to call one failed. Yesterday, Mr Corbyn suddenly decided to change his mind and vote in favour of holding an election when, in reality, almost nothing had changed in the intervening 24 hours.

One rebel Labour MP, Barry Sheerman, took to Twitter to explain the sudden volte face: "A clear majority of our shadow cabinet were against a December election [on Monday] but Jeremy Corbyn has been persuaded to override them after interventions from Seumas Milne and Karie Murphy!" he wrote.

Not so much a principled decision to seek a mandate from the electorate as a backroom heave by Mr Corbyn's consiglieres, who feel the time is right to collapse the government.

There has been much focus on Mr Johnson's ruthless adviser, Dominic Cummings, and his team of "Downing Street sources" who gleefully leak misinformation and falsehoods to gormless political correspondents who publish every line without doing the most basic fact- checking. However, it is worth noting that there is also a team of diehard unelected firebrands who surround Mr Corbyn and who many blame for the dithering and delay from Labour in setting out its position on Brexit. Ms Murphy, for instance, was Mr Corbyn's chief-of-staff when he first signalled his intention to support a second referendum, prompting her to allegedly scream at him: "We're not doing that, we're not selling out our class."

Moved to party HQ to oversee election planning earlier this month, Ms Murphy is believed to be centrally responsible for the failure of Labour to set out a clear Remain position on Brexit early on, allowing the Lib Dems to become resurgent.

In any forthcoming election, marginal seats will be key to determining the make-up of the next government. One such area is Kensington, the richest constituency in the UK, where, for the first time ever, a Labour MP won a seat in 2017.

Yesterday, Conservative MP turned Lib Dem convert Sam Gyimah announced his intention to run for his new party in Kensington - meaning Labour's stunning victory could soon be set at naught.

Labour's insistence that it will seek to negotiate a deal with the EU if Mr Corbyn wins the election, and then have a referendum on his deal or Remain, makes zero sense as the reality, that there is no good version of Brexit, looms large.

Mr Corbyn, bizarrely, still insists there is some magical deal he can extract from the EU that will be just as good as full membership - a blatant lie.

And what is the point of wasting time attempting to negotiate a deal, when most of the party will be campaigning against that deal, and in favour of Remain, in any referendum? Why not just stick to a referendum on Mr Johnson's deal or Remain, meaning Labour could at least retain some credibility during that process by not setting out to trash its own deal, if it even manages to get one, having gone into negotiations with no one believing it actually wants one?

The problem, which has plagued Labour since the Brexit referendum and which persists now, is that it is trying to be all things to all people. It pretends that it can represent those who voted for Brexit and those who voted for Remain, when those positions are wildly divergent.

The lesson that Labour will soon learn is that those who voted for Brexit are not interested in being represented by Labour MPs. But, by then, it will be too late, as Mr Johnson prepares for five more years of chaos and calumny in Number 10.

Irish Independent

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