Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
11 December 2018updated 24 Jul 2021 5:46am

Labour must hold its nerve, not unite the Tories with a no-confidence motion

If you take our position seriously, Jeremy Corbyn should only challenge the government when he can win – no matter what Anna Soubry and Remainers say.

By Dave Ward

I’m not sure how many people watch BBC Newsnight anymore, but if you were one of the few who tuned in last night, you might have witnessed presenter Emily Maitlis calling Anna Soubry the “real opposition.”

Given that Soubry herself said that she would support the government in a vote of no confidence, I must have missed the meeting where we settled on a new definition of the word.

One thing Anna Soubry demonstrated – in simultaneously calling for a vote of no confidence and saying she’d vote it down – is how disingenuous the calls are for Labour to move for a no-confidence motion immediately. With the DUP currently hedging its bets and supporting the government, tabling it now makes no sense at all.

But Anna Soubry is not the only one pushing this line – Ian Murray’s letter that has been doing the rounds on social media, with support from a number of backbench Labour MPs and peers, makes a similar call.

The letter states that it “fully respects” what was agreed at Labour Conference, namely that if Parliament votes down the deal or no deal is agreed, “the best outcome for the country is an immediate General Election that can sweep the Tories from power.”

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

If pushing a no-confidence now when it won’t succeed is ‘fully respecting’ this, again I’m wondering if I missed the meeting where we agreed on a whole new definition of our policy.

Looking down the list of names of those calling for Corbyn to move this no-confidence motion makes me pause for thought. I know these people are not stupid. The likes of Chuka Umunna know exactly what they are doing.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them

Far from regarding a general election and a Labour government as the best outcome, the approach seems to be to get a no-confidence out the way so we can fire up the Remain campaign once again.

All this will do is let the Tories off the hook and give them something to rally around. To state the obvious: if you take our position seriously, Labour should be calling a motion of no-confidence at the opportune moment when we stand the best chance of success.

And I firmly believe this is the right priority for the left and those of us who want to deliver change in this country. Let’s be blunt, we will campaign to avoid no-deal, but in or out of the EU, we won’t deliver the transformative change workers need under a Tory government.

We also need a bit of honesty about the politics here. The referendum campaign in 2016 presented people with two right-wing alternatives and was dominated by voices from the establishment and the populist right. Two and a half years on the debate hasn’t changed, and many of those now leading the charge for a new referendum are offering little more than a re-hash of the last campaign.

The likes of Peter Mandelson and Alan Johnson led one of the worst campaigns in British political history. Now these same voices want to force the Labour Party back into the same position.

Calls for another referendum should respect Labour Party policy. It’s on the table if necessary to break the deadlock, but doesn’t come ahead of the opportunity of transforming the country through a general election.

Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader there have been constant attacks from the mainstream media and New Labour figures, and on many occasions I’ve felt that as his supporters, as people fighting for radical change, we’ve had to hold our nerve.

We were called idiots, told we needed heart transplants for supporting him to be leader of our party and that he would lead us to annihilation. The 2017 general election proved all of these people wrong.

What is at stake now is a Labour government that is serious about radically transforming this country. This is another occasion where we need to hold our nerve.