Why Corbyn Won’t Take Brexit Sides

As part of our regular “Remember their Audience” series, we examine Jeremy Corbyn’s promise of a People’s Vote – alongside his refusal to come out on one side or another of the remain/leave debate – something that is frustrating some party members and remainers.

The background: There is an election coming and Labour Party Conference is about to start. Labour has been on a long road since 2016, seeking to respect the result of the referendum but increasingly reflecting its large remain-prefering base while trying not to upset a significant leave-prefering base too. After two years of members pushing for Labour to back a referendum on any deal, that is now Labour policy, though the party leader is not picking sides.

The claim: “A Labour government would secure a sensible deal based on the terms we have long advocated, including a new customs union with the EU; a close single market relationship; and guarantees of workers’ rights and environmental protections.”

So said Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party. He then added: “We would then put that to a public vote alongside remain. I pledge to carry out whatever the people decide, as a Labour Prime Minister.”

Who he isn’t talking to: (Almost Anyone Motivated by Brexit)

As usual in this series, I now take the opportunity to remind you that many things in politics are misunderstood because most of us think we are the audience when in fact we rarely are. And as I have said previously, that is perhaps more true of Jeremy Corbyn than anyone else.

Some months ago we reported on Corbyn’s attempts to cast remainers and leavers on the same side against the challenges people face in daily life. More recently we reported on his speech focusing on workers’ rights rather than brexit. This latest “reveal” needs to be understood in the same light.

Most people highly motivated by brexit already know Labour has a formal policy of a referendum on any deal. It has been policy for some time and large numbers of those same people – both leavers and remainers – see it as the wrong policy either because it puts brexit at risk or is not sufficiently remain.

His latest announcement is likely to quell neither objection, though in fairness if our twitter feed is anything to go by, a reasonable number of motivated remainers are willing to accept the people’s vote as reason to vote tactically for Labour where true “remain” parties cannot win.

So who is he talking to: (Non-Brexit-Motivated Voters)

As we’ve said before, and as seen in 2017, the public are not as easily fixated on brexit as politicians sometimes expect. Labour in 2017 convinced millions of leavers to vote for the less brexity Labour Party (compared to the Conservatives) because at an election domestic policy motivated many of them more than their preference on brexit.

The Labour position is all about repeating this. By acquiescing to the will of the people and returning an eventual decision to the people, Labour is nullifying the accusation that it is ignoring the will of the people. By not backing remain or leave, it is also being explicit that it will give both leave preferrers and remain preferrers their fair chance.

In return, Labour likely hopes that is sufficient to keep those “preferrer” voters willing to give Labour a fair hearing on other (usually domestic) matters that they are motivated strongly by – be that the NHS, housing, welfare or anything else.

Whether that works remains to be seen. What matters is that this, not the response of voters highly motivated by brexit, is key to understanding Labour’s position.

Wry Additional Note

This writer would like to note without accusation that the Lib Dems and Labour appear to be segmenting voter groups rather efficiently between them. Lib Dems moving to unilateral revoke, and Labour firming up its move to “People’s Vote” without preference, positions both parties in different but tactically aligned positions.

Both offer a “remain outcome” for tactical voters, Lib Dems activate their highly remain-motivated target audience, and Labour are positioned as pragmatic and “will of the people” against the Conservatives who would deny the public a referendum even on “no deal”.

The Rebel Alliance could not have planned that better – not that we would suggest for a second they planned it.


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