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Labour must recapture the anger of working-class Leave voters

IT IS hard to see anything positive arising from the cross-party talks on Brexit.

For Labour’s soft Brexit tendency the chimera of a single customs union acts as a talisman. It is unlikely to bring Labour the good luck it needs.

Too much hinges on what this elusive concept might mean — the actually existing EU customs union, a new bespoke customs union? Or some other thing confected from Keir Starmer’s imagination? 

It matters not. A gaggle of now-departed Tory Cabinet ministers has told the Premier that there are not enough Labour MPs available to compensate for Tory opponents of a customs union if it goes to a vote.

Theresa May has totally lost it. It is clear that she cannot command the loyalty of her present Cabinet members, let alone the warring tribes that make up the parliamentary Conservative party.

And, playing a poor hand with great skill, Jeremy Corbyn will have already divined that there is a vanishingly small chance of corralling enough Labour MPs to vote for any deal that might emerge from the cross-party talks, even if he felt inclined to.

It is a quite unique situation in which the British electorate finds itself.

Usually, elections to the European Parliament are widely ignored. Participation rates are pathetically small and range from just under a quarter of registered votes to just over a third.

This reflects, in roughly equal parts, complete indifference to what goes on in that toothless body or, absolute hostility to same, with such voters who can be motivated to cast a ballot variously doing so out of residual party loyalty or to make a protest.

As the joke has it, if you know the name of your MEP, you are your MEP.

If the turnout goes up next week it will not be a triumph of democratic participation but an imperfect expression of polarised opinion, driven by Parliament’s anti-democratic subversion of the popular will.

At a stroke the Brexit vote of Britain’s popular masses rendered Nigel Farage political road kill and Ukip an utter irrelevancy. Now he has arisen from the undead astride an electoral vehicle so shorn of any democratic or participatory encumbrances as might awake envy from such Blairites who still dream of a continuing career in politics untroubled by the democratic impulses of working people.

The rising index of voters signifying their intention to vote for Farage’s Brexit business entity is the direct consequence of the failure of our deeply unrepresentative parliamentary system to give effect to the Brexit vote and, more directly, it is the product of a deepening reservoir of contempt for mainstream politicians.

The most recent You Gov poll has the Brexit Party on 34 per cent with Labour on 16 per cent, Lib Dems on 15 per cent and the Greens on 11 per cent.

The Tories have tanked but this provides little comfort for Labour. A proportion of Labour voters, and indeed members, will vote for the Greens or nationalist parties — all have which abandoned their criticisms of the EU some while ago.

A few, mostly on the way out of Labour politics, will vote for the Chuka club. The Lib Dems will pick up defecting Tories and some Labour voters.

The Labour Party’s big losses are among people where the Leave vote signified working-class anger.

This is not a healthy situation. Labour needs to recapture its insurgent spirit and find a shared language with the millions of people it needs if it is to form a government.

These are among the millions who seem unprepared to vote for its candidates in next week’s election.

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