Labour vs the Lib Dems: Who has the right position on Brexit?

As Article 50 looms, two left-wing positions have emerged


Have a read of the following analysis of Labour’s position on Brexit, from a senior figure in British politics:

“Labour has got to build out from the remain vote and reach out to those that are persuadable in the Leave camp.

It would be a fundamental strategic error to end up trying to go to the Leave camp, and then trying to build out across the other way.

Then you will end up not persuading the Leave people, and alienating the Remain people.”

This has the ring of plausibility about it, with the last sentence borne out by recent polling and byelection results, along with the qualitative evidence of just talking to people.

Adopting positions designed to win over Leave voters does not appear to be working, while Labour’s acquience over Brexit – whipping MPs to back the Brexit Bill, not fighting for amendments, etc. – has angered many Remainers, some of whom are turning to the Liberal Democrats.

At their Spring conference over the weekend, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron hammered this point home, continuing his defiant pitch for disgruntled Labour and Tory voters with a robust pro-EU and anti-hard Brexit message.

It’s not a hard message to express, and has at least a 16 million strong market. Here’s Farron speaking at a rally on Saturday:

One of the many things that wasn’t on the ballot paper last year – but which apparently we now need to just accept without question – is that if you narrowly lost, you had to just shut up, dump your principles and become an accomplice to the new nationalism.  

Now, Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer clearly did get that memo!  But I’m afraid I didn’t!

The emperor is wearing no clothes and I will keep on saying so.

When did you last hear anyone from Labour talk like that? It’s staking out a clear alternative position to the government, and with a different constituency in mind.

And it’s what many Remainers, along with Leavers who don’t want to lose the single market or kick out EU nationals, are longing to hear from an opposition party.

What we’re seeing then is an experiment play out with two centre-left parties, both of which campaigned to keep Britain in the European Union, heading down the two routes outlined in the first quote above. Neither path is very pallatable, and both involve a leap of faith.

But the logic of the opening quote’s deliniation is hard to escape, even if it was said by Tony Blair.

Adam Barnett is staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

See: Heseltine sacking shows Theresa May has zero tolerance for dissenters on Brexit

7 Responses to “Labour vs the Lib Dems: Who has the right position on Brexit?”

  1. Michael WALKER

    Sorry but this article is naive.
    Many of Labour’s own supporters in Labour held seats voted to Leave.
    Suppose Labour did adopt a “a robust pro-EU and anti-hard Brexit message.”
    What would those who voted Leave think?

    They would undoubtedly feel a sense of betrayal. Maybe strong enough to vote UKIP or even Tory.

    So the Leadership is sitting uncomfortably on a horse where the front wants to go forwards and the rear backwards.. Nota happy or easy position to go anywhere.

    To suggest there are any easy options is I suggest naive.

    IF Labour had a competent thoughtful and adaptable Leader, things may be different. But they voted for Corbyn and so they suffer the consequences.

  2. Boffy

    Even in heavily Leave constituencies like Stoke, the proportion of Labour voters who voted Leave was only around 40, as against around 60% who voted remain. What is naive is thinking that its better to piss off the 60% to assuage the 40%. Moreover, the more important question here, besides the question of standing by the principled position of opposing Brexit, rather than the opportunist position of simply seeking short-term popularity, is the question of how important the Leave voters see it compared to other issues, and how important the Remain voters see it as opposed to other issues.

    The fact, is that the Labour voters who voted Leave, did not suddenly arrive at the bigoted views which stood behind their vote overnight. Remember Mrs. Duffy was a long standing Labour voter. The fact is that many of those Labour voters who voted Leave have held bigoted views against foreigners, immigration, homosexuality, gender equality, environmentalism and so on for decades, but those views never stopped them voting Labour. Partly that’s because they are older voters who have voted Labour on a tribal basis, partly its because they have always seen issues connected with Labour such as the NHS, jobs, wages and so on as more important than the EU, or immigration. These latter two issues only become significant if they are separated from the other issues, and they are given a specific vote on them, separate from the question of jobs etc.

    In other words, it is quite possible for Labour to meet the needs of retaining the support of the large majority of its members who voted Remain (65%), without losing the support of the 35% of its voters who voted Leave, whereas the opposite does not necessarily apply, as the loss of membership, and of voters since Labour adopted the stance of English nationalism behind the Tories, has shown.

  3. Michael WALKER

    The fact, is that the Labour voters who voted Leave, did not suddenly arrive at the bigoted views which stood behind their vote overnight. Remember Mrs. Duffy was a long standing Labour voter”

    So You think those who vote leave are bigoted?

    No wonder Labour are losing with views like yours: intolerant of the views of those who disagree with you and publicly rude .

  4. Mike Diboll

    Labour’s position on Brexit has been an utter disgrace, and a strategic blunder of the first magnitude. I say this as somebody who joined Labour to vote for JC, which I did twice, and until late last year defended him vigorously. But over Brexit there has been NO OPPOSITION from Labour, just a sordid de facto Labour-Tory-UKIP alliance. And please nobody tell be about him being ‘between a rock and a hard place’. If you want to read about real crisis leadership in a like-or-death rock-and-a-hard-place, go read a good biography of Lincoln.

  5. Rebecca Taylor

    @Michael Walker – the idea that a majority of Labour voters in Leave voting seats voted Leave is incorrect. Professor John Curtice from Strathclyde University has found that even in Leave voting Labour seats in the North of England 58% of Labour voters voted Remain (a greater % voted Remain elsewhere). See this article:

    So by chasing Leave voters in those seats, Labour is for the most part chasing voters who don’t and won’t vote Labour anyway (they have other far more Brexity parties to vote for) while alienating existing Labour voters who chose Remain. Or as a Labour source was reported saying about Sleaford “Leave voters saw Labour as Brexit backsliders, Remain voters saw Labour as sell-outs”. The party of the 0%.

    You’d think as a LibDem, I’d be really happy about this. I’m not because first of all, the future of this country is more important than political tribalism and secondly, Labour’s current weakness is extremely helpful for the Tory (Torykip?) party. Even if the LibDems win back 20-30 Tory seats at the next general election (far from impossible), this may not deprive the Tories of a majority if Labour cannot avoid losing seats to the Tories. I reckon that’s what May is gambling on i.e. that her party will gain more seats from Labour than it will lose to the LibDems.

    Tim Farron had a great line in his speech at conference “Even if you agree with Brexit; the government needs a decent opposition”. Corbyn has turned the Labour party into a bunch of Tory Brexit cheerleaders, making a cliff edge destructive Brexit far more likely. That kind of Brexit will lead to steep cuts in public services as tax base falls, job losses, weaker employment rights and environmental protection etc etc, all developments which the Labour Party fundamentally oppose, yet are helping to bring about! So it’s about Labour’s position on Brexit, but it goes much deeper.

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