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Now he’s safely in charge, Starmer’s backing Brexit

Whatever happened to ‘Remainia,’ asks SOLOMON HUGHES? Remember the rallies, the articles and the millions (of pounds in dodgy corporate cash)? Dropped like a bad habit: the real aim wasn’t to stop Brexit — it was to stop a Labour government take power under a socialist leader

HERE we are, approaching Brexit — maybe even a “no deal.”

Ministers say they are ready to break the law. Yet the huge political movement that “fought Brexit” has just disappeared.

The well-funded “people’s vote” organisations that put on stunts, churned out commentary and spoon-fed opinion polls to a very supportive press have gone quiet.

It feels like when the get-rich-quick scheme you bought into crashes and you turn up at the office of the guy who sold you the shares — only to find it is empty. He’s quit town. No forwarding address. Was it all — you wonder — a bit of a scam?

Best for Britain, one of the two main “people’s vote” organisations, has just published its latest accounts, so we can get some idea what was going on.

In 2019 it spent £3.9 million on the “people’s vote” campaign.

That’s big money — and we don’t know where 90 per cent of that cash came from.

Lots of people have rightly tried to figure out who funded the right-wing Brexit campaigns, calling unknown funding “dark money” — but there were dark money millions in “people’s vote” campaign too.

We do know where around 10 per cent of the cash comes from — and it is not pretty. Company rules say donations from directors have to be listed.

One Best For Britain director, Stephen Peel, put £342,000 into the campaign.

Peel is a private equity millionaire. He is also a director of a private intelligence firm called NSO Group, which his fund partly owns.

NSO sells “spyware” that can hack into mobile phones to repressive regimes, including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Kazakhstan.

Human rights groups say spyware from Peel’s firm was used by these dictators to trace dissidents — and was possibly used to track activist Jamal Khashoggi before Saudi agents murdered him.

WhatsApp is suing Peel’s NSO Group because its Pegasus spyware gave dictators access to dissidents’ WhatsApp messages.

So money in the “people’s vote” comes from very ugly sources. This should have been enough to make Labour people suspicious of the campaign.

Funded by private equity millionaires or lobbyists like Roland Rudd, the corporate-financed “people’s vote” used its cash to hire a great many people who absolutely hated Labour’s new left-wing leadership.

Many of the Labour HQ officials who tried but failed to undermine Jeremy Corbyn from within left the party to join the “people’s vote” organisations.

Big New Labour figures who also wanted rid of Corbyn, such as Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, were in charge.

No doubt they all wanted us to stay in the EU. But this was part of a bigger desire for politics to go back to “centrist” normal, rather than the current polarisation.

So they seemed unable to resist focusing all their pressure on Labour: the “people’s vote” paid for stunts at Labour events, accusing Labour MPs of “backing Brexit,” but held no national mobilisations in Leave-voting areas.

The were fighting for leadership of the opposition rather than trying to persuade those who voted Leave to change their minds: indeed they made Leave voters even more keen to vote for the Conservatives, who promised to respect their vote.

The “people’s vote” also vigorously opposed any “soft” Brexit — so they have that Pyrrhic victory.

There were real grassroots groups that wanted to overturn Brexit. But they would have remained a small, active fringe.

The “people’s vote” came to dominate Labour politics because the big money, corporate-dominated organisations, Best for Britain and Open Britain, had the cash and the media access.

They drove the obsessive focus on trying to change the Labour opposition.

This led to a reversal of Labour policy. In the 2017 election the party did better than it had for years, by focusing on core labour issues like taxing the rich and investing in public services: however, “people’s vote” pressure sadly convinced many ordinary Labour Party members.

And so the party abandoned its 2017 manifesto plan to respect the referendum and try for a better Brexit.

Instead it made reversing the referendum — a huge task, with an undemocratic look and unrelated to basic Labour values of better deals for working people — central to the 2019 manifesto.

The result was disastrous for Labour, which crashed in the polls and equally disastrous for the supposed cause, as Boris Johnson’s big victory guarantees a “hard” Brexit.

Yet mysteriously the “people’s vote” gang now seem very quiet.

Another of of the biggest groups, Rudd’s Open Britain, actually closed itself down in November 2019, just before the election.

And although Best For Britain’s accounts say it still has £1.3m in the bank, it seems to have stopped campaigning.

Perhaps because their focus on opposition has paid off: while Johnson and Brexit won, Labour’s loss finally broke Corbyn’s grip and put “sensible” Keir Starmer in charge.

How’s that going? Sky News says Starmer is now a politician who wants to “Get Brexit done” himself.

Starmer told Sky: “The arguments about Leave and Remain that tore us apart for years are over” because a deal is now “in the national interest … We need to get a deal and we need to move on.”

A “senior Labour figure” told Sky: “This was our Brexit detox,” as “we are now the party of getting on with Brexit.”

Sky agrees, saying: “Sir Starmer is attempting to rehabilitate the Labour Party with swathes of former Labour-voting Brexiteers.”

So Starmer has dug up Labour’s Brexit policy from the 2017 election of trying to get the best Brexit deal rather than overturn Brexit — after he helped bury it in the “Overturn Brexit” policy which put off “swathes” of 2019 voters.

He is “detoxing” the party wounded by his own toxins.

Starmer used the “people’s vote” to jockey for Labour’s leadership. It helped the party crash in the 2019 election, but gave him the chance to become leader. Job now done, he is jettisoning any talk of “fighting Brexit.”

His defenders will say the votes in the 2019 election have changed his mind. But there were already even more votes for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

What to do when you are scammed? It’s hard not to dwell on the details of how you were fooled — after all, I’ve spent some time doing that here.

But it is better to learn the lessons: we know next time a corporate-funded campaign led by dubious lobbyists and backed by opportunist politicians comes along, it is probably not your friend.

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