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NO sooner had Parliament shut down for Christmas than “Operation Attack Corbyn” leapt into operation, opportunistically and cynically exploiting very real and important fears about a Tory Brexit to try to overturn Labour’s democratically agreed Brexit position.
Some press coverage manufactured outrage based upon supposedly “new” comments from the leader of the Labour Party that were in fact reiterations of Labour’s conference policy.
Other articles included sensationalist interpretations of surveys of party members’ view of Labour’s handling of Brexit.
One piece offered perhaps the clearest statement of intent with the headline that “To stop Brexit, Labour supporters will have to revolt against their leader.”
Such a press campaign — whatever its aim — let a bitterly divided Tory Party off the hook and seemed to want to turn a Conservative crisis into a crisis for Labour.
Of course, the history of the trade union and labour movement involves a range of views on, first, the European Economic Community and then the European Union.
But despite these different traditions, and the different results in the referendum across the diverse range of seats that Labour represents, a policy was agreed at Labour Party Conference which ensured unity and a common — and common-sense — Brexit approach.
As Parliament returns, and as no doubt the operation in the anti-Corbyn media intensifies, it is worth reminding ourselves what the Labour Party conference policy — agreed unanimously — actually says.
It states: “Should Parliament vote down a Tory Brexit deal or the talks end in no deal, conference believes this would constitute a loss of confidence in the government.
“In these circumstances, the best outcome for the country is an immediate general election that can sweep the Tories from power.”
It adds that “if we cannot get a general election Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote. If the government is confident in negotiating a deal that working people, our economy and communities will benefit from they should not be afraid to put that deal to the public.”
Given this, the democratically agreed policy of our party and its sequencing are clear.
First, it states that Labour should seek to vote down the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. Now of course that requires Theresa May to actually put her botched deal to the vote, something she has run scared of doing so far.
Instead the government has been running down the clock in a desperate attempt to blackmail the country into backing her flawed deal.
As I write, the TV screens are filled with the farce of rehearsed traffic jams of lorries in so-called “no deal” preparations.
Vast sums are being squandered — be it on ferry companies with no ferries or fridges for the NHS to stockpile medicines — that would be much better being properly spent on our public services.
Second, the policy states that once May’s deal is voted down, as is seemingly inevitable, Labour should then focus its campaign on attempting to force a general election.
We have an unwritten constitution in this country, but precedence shows that a government that can’t command a majority on its major policy really should step aside and allow a general election.
Many commentators state that a general election is impossible but over the past few years the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the strong performance of Labour at the last general election, the Brexit referendum result itself, and even the disastrous election of Donald Trump in the US were all dismissed in advance as being impossible.
Should a general election not be secured then Labour’s conference policy is clear that a further public vote and all other options need to be seriously considered. Nothing is ruled out.
But for now the priorities are clear: vote down May’s botched deal; prevent a no-deal scenario which would severely undermine the economy; and push for a general election as the preferred option.
That is the right path to unite the country which has become more divided following the referendum. A general election that leads to a Labour government would not only allow a much needed better deal with Europe.
As well as defeating Tory Brexit, it would usher in a truly transformational socialist-led Labour government which will set about achieving a fundamental shift in wealth, power and control in favour of “the 99 per cent.”
For us, “For the Many, Not the Few” is not just a slogan — it is a principle and a promise which guides our actions in opposition and will guide our actions in government, where the elites that support the status quo of a rotten system will continue to attack us.
Only by securing a Labour government of that kind can we introduce alternatives to end austerity policies which have undermined living standards and transferred wealth to the already wealthy.
Only by securing such a radical Labour government can we tackle the housing crisis, create a national education system that will offer opportunity to all, restore the NHS to being the envy of the world and rebuild our communities that have been left behind for far too long — and which undoubtedly contributed to the Brexit vote in many Labour areas.
The coming weeks could shape the futures of millions of people for years to come. Labour’s conference policy outlines how from the Tory-created crisis we can secure a new deal not just on Europe but a new deal for all those struggling under this cruel Conservative government.
Uniting behind that policy and behind our vision for a better society can help secure a government in 2019 that is as transformative as that of 1945.
Richard Burgon is shadow justice secretary and MP for Leeds East.
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