This year’s Labour Party conference is arguably the most important until the next General Election, which is scheduled for 2022. Jeremy Corbyn and the party’s hierarchy are facing huge pressure to support the majority of their members’ opinions and support a second EU referendum known as the “People’s Vote”. Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell obviously don’t support the policy, as they have been Eurosceptics for 20 years prior to their careers in front-line politics. However, based on opinion polls, as well as common sense and logic, if they were to endorse a People’s Vote, then they would have practically zero chance of winning the next General Election.
At the conference, Labour members are to vote on keeping “all options on the table” regarding Brexit. Members of the party have been campaigning for the front bench to change its position on Brexit for over a year. The media are reporting that a meeting, chaired by Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer, lasted 5 hours because of the decision-making process on whether their should be a vote at conference, and what the specific wording would be. Corbyn knows that if his party were to officially adopt the People’s Vote policy, it would seriously damage them in the polls, as well as insult many of his own party members who voted to leave.
Despite Labour considering endorsing the calls for a second referendum, the front-bench are taking a cautious approach to the potential policy. John McDonnell told the BBC that he believed another second referendum should be about Theresa May’s Brexit deal rather than having the option to remain in the EU. Furthermore, Jeremy Corbyn on the Andrew Marr show this weekend said that he “recognised that over 30% of leave voters also voted Labour”. Using simple Maths, it isn’t difficult to see why the Labour leadership are so worried about the potential negative impact it could have on their progress.
However, this is where democracy causes a problem for the Labour Party. Corbyn has accepted that he will be bound by the outcome of the vote in Tuesday’s conference motion. Moreover, Sir Kier Starmer has contradicted McDonell in an interview saying “nothing, including remaining in the EU, is off the table”. Regardless of these contradictions, the final draft, which will be put to Labour members on Tuesday, is “If we cannot get a general election, Labour must support all options remaining on the table, including campaigning for a public vote.” This motion is the most open question possible, and the Labour front-bench have done this on purpose to ensure that they can say anything to the media, without contradicting official party policy.
If Labour were to back a People’s Vote, then it could be catastrophic for them. Consistent polling in recent weeks has shown the clear majority of leave supporters have not changed their mind. People that campaign for a second referendum fail to acknowledge that nearly half of those who backed remain, don’t want a second referendum. After 3 major national votes in 3 years, people are getting fed up of politics and politicians. Therefore, a People’s Vote would all but destroy people’s faith and belief in democracy.
Moreover, Corbyn knows that supporting a second referendum would be a tactical disaster. Many Labour areas voted heavily for Brexit, such as Peterborough and Grimsby. Working-class voters want to see radical change, and a second referendum policy endorsement would only deter these voters from backing Labour. The Conservative Party will be secretly begging the Labour party to support a People’s Vote as they know electorally this would be fantastic; as it would split the Lib Dems vote whilst attracting leave-Labour voters back to them. Labour need to remember that they lost the last election, and are still over 50 seats behind the Conservatives.
Jeremy Corbyn’s third party conference as Labour leader could be more divisive than we originally thought. The party’s front-bench are obviously not supportive of a second referendum, which could see us potentially voting to return to the EU and becoming an international embarrassment. Moreover, Labour’s election strategists will be watching closely to the vote on Tuesday as well as the reaction from the general public. It would be very surprising if Labour kept achieving over 37% in the polls after their vote, and Jeremy Corbyn knows this. The Conservative Party will be quietly hoping that Labour endorse this policy, as it will mean electoral failure. A People’s Vote is not what this country needs, and for Labour to endorse this policy could mean another failed leader and another 10 years of waiting to be in government!