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Editorial Labour's focus on forcing an election is paying off

LABOUR’S relentless focus on forcing a general election to break the Brexit deadlock has been paying off.

Revelations last week that nine government ministers had instructed their constituency associations to prepare for an early election — four of them naming February 28 as the day — show that Labour’s strategy has been working.

The approach in Parliament has been to maximise difficulties for the Prime Minister by exposing divisions in the Conservative ranks and make it clear that a government that cannot get its most significant piece of legislation through the Commons has lost its mandate and must step down.

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey has confirmed that the amendment Labour proposed last night — which would give MPs a vote on whether to hold a referendum on any deal agreed by Parliament — does not amount to the party backing a referendum: “It is not stating that the party supports a second referendum in any way.”

Even so, the manoeuvre seems a risky one. Labour appears to be taking a step towards backing a rerun of the vote (as CWU leader Dave Ward wrote in the Mirror this week, claims that a people’s vote is anything other than a rerun of 2016 in the hope of getting a different answer are unconvincing).

The People’s Vote machine claims Remain would win such a vote, citing various polls (though polls showed Remain winning before the last referendum, and one commissioned by Best for Britain that was leaked last week indicated that Labour support would fall if the party backed a second referendum). Less tastefully, it argues that enough elderly voters from 2016 have died to alter the outcome, based on the surmise that the old voted for Brexit and the young against it.

Its confidence is misplaced. A second referendum could go either way. And the process itself would be disastrous.

This newspaper takes the view, explained last week by Jonathan White and reflecting the criticisms made of the EU over many years by socialists including Bob Crow, Tony Benn, and in fact Corbyn and John McDonnell, that EU treaties such as Maastricht and Lisbon amount to a “capitalist constitution” that would severely restrict a socialist government’s ability to plan the economy in the public interest.

Many on the left disagree, as evidenced by TSSA leader Manuel Cortes’s article in tomorrow’s paper. What is clear is that appearing to back staying in the EU will make it much harder for Labour to win a parliamentary majority — the blog Stats for Lefties has demonstrated that the seats Labour needs to win to form a government are overwhelmingly Leave-voting.

Being subject to EU competition law would provide big corporations with a whole raft of legal mechanisms to challenge a Labour government’s nationalisations, procurement policy and more. That might not be the end of the world — we know a Corbyn government will face institutional hostility at every turn in or out of the EU and that only a mass movement can overcome that. 

But obtaining that government in the first place means reaching out to Leave and Remain voters alike. Every nod towards the possibility of reversing 2016’s decision turns the former away in droves.

Corbyn’s efforts to reunite the working class, as in his Wakefield speech earlier this month, stand in stark contrast to the division promoted by the Tory right, the Prime Minister and the People’s Vote campaign. They reinforce the fact that he is the only major party leader with any idea of the scale of the problems facing the country and any notion of how to address them. A general election is obtainable and necessary — we can’t let up the pressure.

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