Weekend Round-Up -- 8 September 2008

Following Charles Clarke's intervention in the New Statesman last week, the commentariat turned up t

Alastair Campbell used an appearance on Newsnight to call on Charles Clarke to stop acting like a newspaper pundit and rally to the cause of the Labour Party. It may be the case that the former Home Secretary's intervention did not lead to open insurrection, but it certainly led to a flurry of further commentary.

Matthew Parris was devastating in The Times on Saturday. For those of us on the centre-left this is his most cutting paragraph:

And yet even outside the formal confines of the Labour movement - in the universities, in the newspapers, in the broadcast media - where are the voices raised from the Left, prepared to acknowledge this spasm, and distinguish between the failure of an individual, and the failure of an ideology? Is Polly Toynbee almost on her own? Has the whole centre left project lost its self-belief, taking refuge only in days, hours and minutes left profitlessly in office?

Actually those voices are everywhere. As a Tory, I wouldn't expect him to hear them. Perhaps Polly Toynbee is the only person on the left Mr Parris listens to or reads. However, this is an article that everyone on the left should read because it is a challenge to us to help save the Labour Party from the impending cataclysm.
Parris could not have known that Polly Toynbee was preparing another broadside, but she chose Saturday for another full-frontal attack on the Prime Minister. From a woman who treated Gordon Brown as a god when he took over a year ago, this is terribly damaging. The title, "Unseating Gordon Brown may be Labour's last hope", pretty much says it all. This is her killer paragraph:

Soon Cameron's lead will be gold-plated, his succession virtually inevitable. Another year effectively unchallenged by Labour, his contradictions and vacuities unridiculed and unexposed, will gift him an almost unopposed victory. Already at conferences the lobby groups and voluntary organisations hang on every word of shadow ministers, yawning through mere ministers on their way out. Already power, money, glamour, foreign interest and attention flock to Cameron in a political tide whose undertow knocks Labour off its feet with every wave.

On Sunday, Matthew d'Ancona was on form in the Telegraph. He has identified the dangerous return of sectarianism in Labour politics:

In the spirit of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Tony Blair is becoming the Emmanuel Goldstein of today's Labour party, the fabricated enemy, and his followers - or imagined followers - the seditious "Brotherhood". Can it be long before huge tele-screens appear in public places to beam out pictures of the grinning former Prime Minister for the daily "Two Minutes Hate"?

John Rentoul was saying the opposite of what you'd expect (as ever) in calling for a show of loyalty from Charles Clarke and other Labour Party critics.
Today Jackie Ashley couldn't bring herself to call for the Prime Minister to go again. Instead, she suggests the beginnings of a way forward, not just for the Labour Party, but for politics in general:

What is needed is the arrival in the Commons of people who have not learned professional politics, have never served as advisers and have no idea what Populus means. Local parties need to start taking risks - I'm not talking about quotas but about sparky individuals, with the odd skeleton, the occasional surprising view. The media has to celebrate different voices and faces where they appear, and not pick on every unexpected remark as a "gaffe". For all that the mainstream media seized on Alastair Darling's pessimistic assessment of the economy as a stupendous own goal, the general public seem to like the fact he "told the truth".

Perhaps not quite the reassessment Matthew Parris is calling for, but hats off to Jackie Ashley for trying.

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The trouble with a second Brexit referendum

A new vote risks coming too soon for Remainers. But there is an alternative. 

In any given week, a senior political figure will call for a second Brexit referendum (the most recent being David Miliband). It's not hard to see why. EU withdrawal risks proving an act of political and economic self-harm and Leave's victory was narrow (52-48). Had Remain won by a similar margin, the Brexiteers would have immediately demanded a re-run. 

But the obstacles to another vote are significant. Though only 52 per cent backed Brexit, a far larger number (c. 65 per cent) believe the result should be respected. No major party currently supports a second referendum and time is short.

Even if Remainers succeed in securing a vote, it risks being lost. As Theresa May learned to her cost, electorates have a habit of punishing those who force them to polls. "It would simply be too risky," a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Were a second referendum lost, any hope of blocking Brexit, or even softening it, would be ended. 

The vote, as some Remainers note, would also come at the wrong moment. By 2018/19, the UK will, at best, have finalised its divorce terms. A new trade agreement with the EU will take far longer to conclude. Thus, the Brexiteers would be free to paint a false picture of the UK's future relationship. "It would be another half-baked, ill-informed campaign," a Labour MP told me. 

For this reason, as I write in my column this week, an increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). 

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.