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Editorial: What are Labour's prospects in cross-party talks?

LABOUR may want the focus of tomorrow’s crunch talks with other opposition parties to be bringing down the government, but its potential allies will be intent on any solution but that.

It seeks to use the prospect of departure from the EU without an agreement on October 31 to corral parties — and some Tory rebels — into backing a vote of no confidence and forcing a general election.

It’s a disgrace that Theresa May was not forced into an election when she was declared in contempt of Parliament for refusing to publish the government’s legal advice on Brexit last year.

It’s a further insult to the British people that she was able to step down without thereby triggering a general election — leading to our current Prime Minister being selected by the shrivelled remnants of the Conservative Party.

Labour has called for an election ever since it became obvious the government was incapable of getting a Brexit deal through Parliament.

But terror on the Tory benches at the prospect of a Jeremy Corbyn-led government combined with the unprincipled manoeuvring of the Lib Dems and Change UK, who indicated they would support May in no-confidence votes in order to avoid a general election, meant that the parliamentary numbers weren’t there.

Nor was there any significant pressure from outside Parliament to force an election onto the political agenda. Too much of the labour movement prioritised calls for a second referendum over the immediate need for an election, weakening Corbyn’s hand and strengthening elements in Labour determined to force it into a pro-Remain position.

Given that backdrop, Labour has now calculated that the looming Brexit deadline may finally spook more cowardly political forces into backing the long overdue no-confidence vote. But the risks are considerable.

Deep fear of the radical potential of a Corbyn-led government, even in a “caretaker” capacity, continues to haunt the Lib Dems and the Scottish National Party. On the eve of talks, both were continuing to stress their preference for stopping “no deal” by anti-democratic means.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson’s refusal to commit to supporting a no-confidence vote if it would make Corbyn PM has met widespread derision.

It shows up this yellow Tory — who, when in coalition from 2010-15, voted with the Conservative whip more often than leading Tories such as Michael Gove or Jeremy Hunt — for the toxic anti-socialist she is.

But she has stuck to her guns, calling on the Labour leader even now to step aside for a “national unity government” that would have no democratic mandate and whose only policy would be to overturn the biggest democratic vote in Britain’s history, the vote to leave the EU. 

The SNP’s Ian Blackford wants the talks to focus not on a no-confidence vote but on legislative trickery to stop “no deal.”

The only plausible way to do this, since Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on October 31 and there is no majority in Parliament for any particular deal, would be to revoke Article 50.

It seems unlikely that there are the votes in the Commons for that, and Labour would be ill advised to support a move that would be seen across the country as the cancellation of a democratic vote by privileged and out-of-touch MPs and help Boris Johnson pose as the defender of the people’s will.

Labour must have strategies in Parliament for defeating the government, but not at the cost of abandoning its socialist programme.

The party should also be aware that the strength of the Corbyn project lies in its ability to mobilise people outside Westminster; in Parliament itself it remains weak.

The road to power does not lie through parliamentary deals. A mass campaign for a general election would be worth more to our movement than any number of meetings with the Liberal Democrats. 

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