At last Jeremy Corbyn has announced that Labour will back a second vote on EU membership. It has only taken the Labour leader two years and eight months (approximately one thousand days) to declare his stance.
Years of uncertainty over Labour’s Brexit position have combined with the Tory’s ineptitude at delivering Brexit to leave the country confused and leaderless. In many ways, Corbyn is snatching at victory from the jaws of defeat. It is, however, doubtful that this will change the country’s mood, though it may be too soon to give up all hope.
Only a month ago, Corbyn told ITV that Labour is “not supporting or calling for a second referendum on the UK’s EU membership.” Back in 2017, Labour’s election manifesto read: “Labour accepts the referendum result.”
What is really behind Labour’s sudden and swift reversal on a people’s vote, will it be enough to rescue Corbyn’s reign and can it be entirely blamed on the Prime Minister’s dangerous no-deal option?
Corbyn has persistently ignored calls from MPs and supporters to back another referendum and yet he has also wavered on what kind of Brexit he wants. Although Corbyn campaigned for remain back in 2016, his efforts were weak in comparison to the passion he has shown for other policies. Only recently has Labour publicly backed a soft Brexit, prior to that it was anyone’s guess what the party line was.
Young voters have been growing increasingly impatient with Corbyn’s inability to address the biggest political question in Britain’s 21st-century history. The slogan ‘if you’re with us, we’re with you’ has popped up amongst young Labour supporters who have relentlessly campaigned for their leader. Figures show that 91 per cent of young Labour voters would now vote remain. Corbyn is famously backed by the young, but on this issue, he falls short.
Labour’s ambiguity has cost the party some voters, but it has also seen a rise in membership. Whilst Corbyn is vague on Brexit, he can appeal to both the liberal Labour ‘remainers’ and the Labour heartland leavers. His silence has been a tactical move to build up support on both sides of the referendum divide. This interpretation props up the image of Corbyn as a power-hungry Stalinist leader, who will cling onto power with little regard to the cost.
In September, the Labour Party Annual Conference voted for another say on the referendum if the Prime Minister does not reach a deal, but back then remain was not to be a ballet option. Today, the party moved towards a people’s vote with three options, May’s deal, no deal, or remain.
So why has Corbyn suddenly changed policy?
It has been barely a month since eight Labour MPs left the party to set up The Independent Group and they must be feeling the power of their actions with this major change in Labour’s Brexit direction. Each MP who quit cited the party’s poor Brexit policy, so whatever Corbyn says, he does appear to have listened to their concerns.
Since the formation of the new party, sporadic headlines about Labour and antisemitism have increased. It was a historic moment for British Jews as the hounding of a Jewish MP led to her resignation. Labour supporters around the country are trying to make amends for antisemitism in the party, but with that, more stories have been dug up, antisemites have been let back into the party and headlines are only getting worse. Corbyn and his team have had the PR week from hell.
Until now, headlines about antisemitism were keeping the attention away from no-answer-Corbyn’s Brexit policy. Perhaps growing anger about antisemitism amongst his supporters has reached a stage where even Brexit is preferable to antisemitism, or maybe he just wants to keep the antisemites distracted.
With mere days to go until the auspicious date of departure, the possibility of the United Kingdom crashing out of the EU with no deal seems worse than ever. Finally, Corbyn has acted to break the impasse prolonged by him and May. Whatever the reason is for Corbyn’s shift, hopefully, this marks a step up in his leadership
Image Credit: David Holt via flickr.com