Why it’s not enough for Theresa May to buy the Brexit support of Labour’s “Inbetweeners”

The PM suddenly has cash to spare, but her deal still needs the backing of either the Labour leadership or her own MPs.

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Money well spent? Labour is having a public row about Theresa May’s plan to splash the cash in Labour constituencies to win over the votes of what LabourList calls the party’s “Inbetweeners”, Labour MPs who backed Remain but whose constituencies voted heavily to Leave.

Anna Turley, a Labour MP whose Redcar constituency voted heavily to Leave but who is an ardent second referendumer (she forcefully explained why for the New Statesman this week), described herself on Newsnight as being “absolutely horrified” at the idea that the government would contemplate the plan or that MPs might accept it. On the same programme, Frank Field, a longstanding Eurosceptic who now sits as an independent but who generally follows the Labour whip, said that MPs should be “fighting him to the front of the queue” to accept the money, saying that is how politics is done. Also making sympathetic noises to the idea is John Mann, another committed Labour Brexiteer.

Of course, none of those people are Inbetweeners or anything like it. But the trouble with May’s funding plan is that the problem that Labour MPs in heavily Leave seats have, as one of their number put it to me, is that their voters want them to back Brexit and their members want them to oppose it, and neither group is going to be feel better disposed to to them if the reason they give for backing Brexit is that they were bought off. Meanwhile, giving Field and Mann money to vote Brexit is a lot like giving me money to have bad eyesight: I’m happy to take it but I’m going to do it anyway for free.

It’s good news for Downing Street that most MPs in that group have been silent rather than out-and-out hostile, though many feel that the financial offer is unhelpful and counterproductive, overshadowing the real legislative concessions that the government is planning. But while there are enough Inbetweeners to scupper a second referendum, they can’t, on their own, pass May’s deal. Some support from elsewhere, whether from pro-Leave Conservatives or from the Labour leadership, is going to be required as well.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.