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Labour cannot let Brexit divide it

ATTEMPTS to start a war within the Labour Party over Brexit do not help our movement north or south of the border.

They also show misplaced priorities by too many on the left, who are continuing to shadow-box on battle lines drawn by the ruling class when ordinary people have moved on.

Westminster politicians and media pundits assumed, after the unexpected victory for Leave in 2016’s referendum on EU membership, that Brexit would be the issue of our time.

A panicked Conservative government — David Cameron had staked everything on a Remain win and was forced to resign when the outcome became clear — couldn’t believe its luck as Labour MPs decided to blame their own leader for the result and waste an entire summer in a futile bid to reverse the will of the party membership by removing him.

Establishment voices sailed into last summer’s election again predicting disaster for Labour and assuming that voters would divide along Brexit lines.

A super-majority was predicted for Theresa May’s Tories, who shouted from the rooftops that only they could be trusted to carry out the will of the people on Brexit.

The Liberal Democrats, reduced to roughly a tenth of their previous parliamentary size in the 2015 election, saw an opportunity to crawl back from the abyss by hoovering up Remain voters disillusioned with Labour’s supposed lack of clarity on the issue.

As we know, Tories and Lib Dems miscalculated. Labour fought a campaign on economic justice, pledging an end to rip-off privatisations, action on poverty pay and insecure work and more money for public services. It paid off with the biggest increase in vote share the party had seen in seven decades.

That forward movement was discernible in Remain-voting Scotland as well as in Leave-voting England, with a failure, deliberate or otherwise, to properly resource candidates assumed to stand no chance of ousting Scottish National Party MPs depriving the party of an even more dramatic comeback north of the border.

Since then, Labour has come to dominate the national conversation. Its ideas around expanding public ownership and democratic control, responding to the automation revolution that in its current form poses a threat to jobs and creating a new deal for workers through improved workplace rights and stronger trade unions show an ambition and dynamism the Tories clearly lack.

Against this backdrop, a number of MPs continue to snipe at the leadership because of its principled decision to respect the referendum result on the EU.

Nicola Sturgeon might whinge that this is “effectively backing the Tories’ extreme Brexit,” while Vince Cable, the coalition kingpin who privatised Royal Mail and helped the Tories tear up our NHS, might have the gall to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of “collusion” with his former allies in the Conservative Party.

Both are being deeply dishonest. Labour has not backed the Conservative position on Brexit, forcing the government to bring any deal back to Parliament. Corbyn has detailed priorities including an end to undercutting wages and negotiating new, fairer international trade models which couldn’t be further from the free-market fantasies of David Davis or Liam Fox.

In truth, Sturgeon and Cable, like some on the right of the Labour benches, fixate on reversing the referendum or frustrating its verdict because Corbyn’s radicalism frightens them.

Far better a party returned to the Establishment’s neoliberal comfort zone, tied down to the free market principles enshrined in the EU treaties, than one offering a fundamental challenge to an exhausted status quo.

From the SNP or Liberal Democrat perspective, these pot shots make sense. It is disappointing when such attacks come from within the labour movement itself.

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