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Editorial: Parliamentary pacts carry grave risks for Labour

NIGEL FARAGE’S offer of an election pact with Boris Johnson if the PM pursues a “no-deal” departure from the EU arrives just as opposition cross-party talks on stopping just that reach agreement to push for a “legislative approach.”

If the two emerging blocs continue to coalesce along these lines, the left could enter any autumn election in poor shape to win it.

It is hard to see the outcome of the cross-party discussions as a victory for Labour. The party dwarfs the Lib Dems and Scottish Nationalists. It’s the only plausible vehicle for defeating the Conservative Party at a British level.

Yet its preferred strategy — to spark a vote of no-confidence and then form a caretaker government which would hold a general election — has been placed “on the back burner.”

Labour has held out against the pernicious Lib Dem demand that a national government be formed, but has accepted the proposal of the SNP that Parliament legislate to prevent no-deal. Corbyn has now written to over 100 Tory MPs asking for their help in doing that.

This seems calculated to feed Johnson’s narrative that Labour is at the head of a conspiracy to prevent Brexit going ahead.

Under intense pressure from forces that never accepted the 2016 result, Labour has retreated. From talking of rejecting a bad Tory deal but committing to negotiate one that gave Britain freedom from EU competition and state aid laws, the party shifted towards proposing a deal that would actually have kept more of the EU’s anti-socialist regulations in place than Theresa May was proposing. 

That didn’t satisfy the Remainers, who applied further pressure until Labour said it would commit to backing a second referendum on any deal; next, that such a referendum would include a Remain option, with the bewildering background music of shadow cabinet members saying they would then campaign for Remain against a deal Labour had itself negotiated. 

This is a dangerous strategy electorally when most polls indicate that attitudes on both sides have hardened, not shifted, since 2016. Worse, many of those driving it have demonstrated their hostility to electing a Corbyn-led government.

Opting to use the threat of no-deal to bring down the government always carried risks, since it would allow Johnson to pose at the next election as the champion of the Leave majority.

Farage’s offer of a pact makes that danger greater, potentially uniting large numbers of Leave voters just as Labour is alienating them. But Corbyn was correct that it was the most democratic way to prevent no-deal, once that was the goal. 

And it had the saving grace that the Labour leader — whose recent Corby speech showed he is still keenly aware that Brexit talks are distracting the country from the pressing need for a political, economic and social revolution — would, if elected, have been able to negotiate from a position of strength at the head of an insurgent socialist movement.

Any attempt to use EU regulations to derail plans for public ownership and investment in new industries could have backfired on the bloc while talks were ongoing.

If the Lib Dems and SNP can’t commit to backing a no-confidence vote in the government because it might bring Corbyn to power, Labour should call their bluff. 

Participating in legislative trickery to evade a departure from the EU that Parliament has had more than three years to settle encourages popular mistrust of MPs.

It puts Labour’s entire radical mission “on the back burner” and subjects the socialist leadership of the party to the priorities of its political enemies. 

We need grassroots pressure on Labour to stop retreating and lead a mass democratic challenge to the government on the streets to force and win an election. Years of deadlock have proven that the sitting Parliament is no part of the solution to Britain’s political crisis.

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