Labour would have lost Peterborough by promising a new Brexit referendum

The by-election result shows that Labour must cut through Brexit and refocus people’s minds on austerity, the NHS, and the other profound issues facing our country and their local communities. 

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The pundits were so sure that Labour was headed to defeat in Peterborough that the bookies even suspended taking bets on the Brexit Party winning the seat.

In the run up to the by-election in this heavily Leave-voting constituency, Jeremy Corbyn was being urged to forcefully commit to making Labour a party of Remain no matter what. His critics accused the leadership and those around him of being blind to the fortunes that backing a second referendum would offer.

I can tell you now that Labour would not have won in Peterborough if that had happened. Coming out, all guns blazing, for a referendum to keep us in the EU would have been a gift to the Brexit Party and deflated Labour’s turnout operation. So if we had taken their advice, we would have lost a Labour MP in Peterborough and been forced to roll out the pomp and ceremony of parliament to some far-right Brexit Party fraud.

And Peterborough is not alone in this situation. Across England and Wales there are hundreds of seats – just like Peterborough – that Labour must win to secure a majority in parliament at the next election. It certainly will not do that if it ends up nailing its colours to the idea of overturning the result of a democratic referendum which the political class promised it would respect.

Labour won in Peterborough because it was able to cut through the Brexit issue and refocus people’s minds on the other profound issues facing our country and their local communities. Our NHS is on its knees after years of neglect and damage from Tory austerity. Police numbers continue to collapse and youth centres have nearly disappeared from communities as knife crime continues to rise. Our schools are crumbling under the pressure of ever deeper funding cuts and our teachers are fleeing the workforce as they feel undervalued and completely overstretched. All of this has a knock-on effect on people’s daily lives. It is on that basis that they voted for Labour in Peterborough.

Labour’s strategy now must be to take this message to every single community in the country. Particularly on the issue of the NHS. With Donald Trump and the far right circling their private healthcare wagons around our national treasure, we need to mount a vigorous defence of the principle of universal healthcare. The Tories have already done much to open the backdoor to privatisation, and the people of this country will not stand for the degradation of our National Health Service.

Brexit is an important issue and it is an issue that needs solving. But it should not receive every ounce of political attention when our country is currently struggling to simply tick along. Labour’s victory in Peterborough is a sign that there is life beyond Brexit and that the British public are more than ready to listen to Corbyn’s hopeful vision of a better Britain.

Dave Ward is General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union (CWU).