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Editorial: It's high time the Labour Party took its lead from its leader

BORIS JOHNSON’S letter-of-the-law missives to European Council president Donald Tusk expose the basic weakness of current parliamentary strategies to prevent our leaving the EU.

An unsigned letter dryly requesting an extension to Article 50 means the Prime Minister has not broken the law.

Keir Starmer might call his second, signed, letter informing EU chiefs that they ought not to grant such an extension “childish,” but it was predictable.

Labour turned down an opportunity to unseat the government in a no-confidence vote last month.

Developments since have only reinforced the argument made by the Morning Star and others on the left at the time that this was a mistake.

You cannot leave a Conservative administration in office and expect to somehow make it do what you want it to.

Labour’s rationale for delaying an election was to ensure Britain did not leave the EU without a deal.

A similar rationale was put forward for supporting Oliver Letwin’s amendment to Johnson’s deal over the weekend. 

Starmer is now busy introducing new concerns about “a trapdoor to no-deal at the end of 2020” (that is, at the end of the transitional period) and saying Labour would support an amendment forcing a referendum on Johnson’s deal, though this directly contradicts what his party leader Jeremy Corbyn said a week ago.

The government insists it still has the votes to pass its deal by October 31, and this may be true, since Letwin himself and a number of others have said they will support it.

Trusting in Lib Dem or ex-Tory allies like Letwin, who started his political career in Thatcher’s policy unit, was never going to pay off for Labour — whatever their differences with Johnson, a shared class interest in maintaining the status quo was always likely to emerge.

The same goes for the EU’s own leaders. They have now thrown their weight behind the deal agreed with the Tory government.

The EU stands with Johnson in urging Parliament to accept the deal, an awkward fact its Westminster fan club finds hard to accept.

Unfortunately continually pressing for delays both to Brexit and to a general election exudes a dispiriting defeatism that is unlikely to win Labour votes.

As Crewe and Nantwich Labour MP Laura Smith pointed out today, demands for an exit deal imposing complex requirements on future British governments appear to be “basing our policies on losing elections … my version of beating the Tories doesn’t involve them winning future elections and us relying on Brussels.”

Starmer’s “trapdoor no-deal” scenario either assumes that the Conservatives will still be in power at the end of 2020 — kicking an election even further into the long grass or presuming Labour is going to lose it — or it’s an attempt to bind the hands of a future Labour government. Neither approach is helpful.

What a contrast Corbyn himself made addressing a packed-out rally in Liverpool at the weekend.

There was no cowering at the prospect of endless Tory governments and no bizarre belief that the EU might somehow protect working people from them, when the bloc has not only watched the last decade of Tory attacks on our communities with complete indifference but has actually imposed such policies on member states including Italy, Ireland and Greece. 

Instead, there was confidence, a focus on Labour’s commitment to act on the climate crisis and pressing social and economic questions, and a declaration that the party is ready and willing to fight a general election. 

It’s high time the Labour Party took its lead from its leader. His judgement has proved sounder than that of many of his colleagues.

His approach is the only one that can extricate Labour from convoluted parliamentary compromises and put it at the head of an insurgent mass movement for radical change.

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