Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies in the mass media want to cause trouble by exacerbating differences within his front bench. Such divisions are real but can be handled democratically. But there is no reason to prolong the agony of keeping voters guessing about whether the next Prime Minister wants to stop the Brexit clock. He has to. The sooner the better. Prevarication over this damages him and all his supporters. Why?
In the first place, unless Labour is willing to let Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg secure their no deal Brexit it’s inevitable that MPs need more time to dig themselves out of the hole Theresa May has dug. I argued at the time that it was a strategic mistake for Labour to help trigger Article 50 given that the reins would be in the hands of our enemies: Tory Prime Minister Theresa May. The left can say no one could have foreseen what a mess she would have made, but I could and I did. I’m not too diplomatic to say I told you so. The last two years have been wasted but the EU is likely, unanimously, to grant British MPs time to fix this mess, so long as the extension is asked for. But the longer it takes to ask the more chance their bureaucrats will not lift a finger to help.
Secondly, if there is no extension of the Article 50 timetable, we will crash out of the EU, and FBPE trolls will blame us even if voters would be happy to blame them as well as us. Let them take responsibility for behaving recklessly. We are not so childish. We’ll do the right thing despite it requiring compromises we may feel we shouldn’t have to make. We will be rewarded by the electorate when we eventually do get a general election even if we can’t get it as soon as we’d like. Heads we win, tails we also win. Only the timing of our reward remains in doubt — provided we play our cards right.
Thirdly, a debate is not just something Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters are scared of. On the contrary, we thrive on it. The cut and thrust of debate sharpen our polemical tools, weapons, whatever. This puts us in an even stronger position come the general election when we finally get it.
Fourth, other things being equal MPs are unlikely to vote in sufficient numbers for an early general election. However, we can appeal over the heads of today’s MPs to the electorate. We can convince them in ever growing numbers that this is the best way to stop both Boris Johnson’s no deal Brexit as well as Theresa May’s even more unpopular Vassal State version which means we’re run by Europe without having the benefits of being in it and so lacking any democratic control over the rules it sets for us.
Every single version of the Peoples Vote introduces new and, to be frank, quite serious problems, with several proposed versions being considerably more lethal than the crippling disease it’s intended to cure. Nevertheless, if we can’t get a general election we’ll opt for the least bad version available to us. And this doesn’t necessarily mean whipping Labour MPs to vote for a dodgy second referendum: given that it would simply swap one group of problems with a new set – albeit potentially a less serious one and, much more importantly, problems that gives us more time to fix – Labour’s front bench could simply abstain while allowing FBPE trolls on their own backbenches to take responsibility for any problematic ‘Peoples Vote’.
Fifthly, by winning most voters to our position we pile pressure on MPs to do what their voters demand: vote for a general election rather than a problematic referendum that could, in at least one version, simply provide Boris with a democratic mandate he doesn’t yet have. Additionally, we may not simply increase the numbers of MPs voting for a general election due to anxiety their constituents will deprive them of their well-paid jobs; we could actually win some round by the force of argument. In other words, not all MPs currently backing a Peoples Vote have necessarily thought things through. At least some of them can be convinced that those who screwed up the last referendum would be extremely likely to screw up a second one; and that could be one providing the extreme right wing with a ‘democratic’ mandate for crashing out of the EU, something the FBPE trolls don’t want anymore than we do. And that’s why in my humble opinion Labour must vote against any proposed referendum that allows no-deal Brexit to appear on the ballot paper. If Jacob Rees-Mogg wants his racist ultra-Thatcherite dystopia, then let him secure one via a general election calling for it; the left can then laugh as we wipe the smile of his face, which would be the cherry on top of Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory.