The Week: The Politics of Having Your Cake and Eating it

Labour Wants to Have Its Cake and It Wants to Eat it

Twenty-three months after the Brexit vote and the government does not have a clear position on its customs options. Ten months until Brexit Day. The clock is ticking.

Labour’s problem is that it is still fudging its position on the ESM and to a lesser extent the Customs Union. In Starmer's words, Labour wants a “strong Single Market relationship with the EU that hardwires the benefits into the future agreement.” This essentially meaningless. Retaining the benefits can only be done by staying in the Single Market - which Jeremy Corbyn has rejected, and many Labour MPs who have fears over freedom of movement.

Soon, after the local elections that showed Labour struggling to make headway in Brexit areas, Labour is trying to keep its coalition together. The question is, how long can it do for?

Tick tock.

Corbyn Rinses May at at PMQs
“When the Prime Minister wrote at the weekend that she wanted ‘as little friction as possible’, was she talking about EU trade or the next cabinet meeting?”

Ouch.

To be honest, the Prime Minister never recovered from Jeremy Corbyn’s first question. She tried to condescend to her opposite number but only met with a barrage of laughs when she said, “The government has a policy -”. Somehow pointing out the inconsistencies of Labour’s policy does not cut it.

After a vow of silence on Brexit that can only be described as monastic, the Labour Leader went on Brexit for a second week, and succeeded in making May look weak and shifty on EU negotiations. When Corbyn sticks to a script, he’s OK. The trouble is, having got her on the back foot, he went too far in calling for her to resign. He does it so much, it has become meaningless. Worse, it lets her off the hook. 

There has been a lot of speculation about Corbyn’s PMQs strategy, but this seems firmly aimed at Remainers. Perhaps he’s realised that he might not be able to convince the public on Brexit, but he can chip away at his opponent’s advantage.

Thornberry 'Defends' Assad (Again)

Oh dear.

We live in curious times when a Labour spokesperson is criticised by Amnesty International.

It caps what has been a terrible few weeks and months for Labour, and Thornberry personally. There is little doubt that Corbyn’s equivocation on Russian involvement in the Salisbury attack started the decline of his personal poll numbers, then his party’s.

Thornberry has previously twisted herself in knots to support him when parroting Russian lines on the chemical weapons attack in Douma. 

Now, in an interview with Prospect magazine, she has said: “I think there is a depth and breadth of support for Assad that has been underestimated.” She also refused to condemn Russia for blocking inspectors.

Let’s be clear, it is perfectly honourable to say, “I believe that Assad attacked Douma with chemical weapons but I do not believe Western retaliation will help the people of Syria.” That is a position that requires ownership of the problem.

Thornberry is blurring the overwhelming truth in order to have a cake-and-eat-it policy: we should not act because we do not know the truth. It flies in the face of the evidence.

Voters, your choice for Foreign Secretary in 2018: Boris Johnson or Emily Thornberry. What a world.  

MoggWatch

Not since Theresa Gormley has a Conservative backbencher’s every whisper become the subject of frontpage news. The rise of Rees-Mogg alone makes Brexit a consummation devoutly to be avoided.

This week he was slapped down by May in a Downing Street meeting when he blithely suggested that the Union would win out in a border poll in Ulster. “She got him on facts,” said one backbencher. To be a fly on that wall, eh?

The Prime Minister has been meeting backbenchers to go through the post-Brexit customs options. Rees-Mogg has called May’s plan for a New Customs Parternship (crudely) ‘cretinous’, and ‘unworkable’. On the latter he might - all things are possible - be right. The trouble is Michel Barnier has called the Brexiters’ preferred “Max Fac” solution unworkable as well.

The stand-off is probably the greatest threat to May’s leadership since the first days post-general election. The question is who will blink first? And how do hardliners confront the fact that they do not have the numbers in the Commons for their deal.

The assumption against an early poll has been that no sane Tory MP would vote for one. We might be about to find out how many sane Tory MPs there are.

One consolation.

Mike Smithson from Political Betting thinks we might have passed Peak Mogg. Small mercies.

Grayling Backs Down on East Coast Rail

Labour has had a lot of fun with this one.

In 2009, Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis brought the East Coast railway into public ownership after National Express threatened to hike prices. In 2013, the Coalition Government not only put the line up for tender but banned the profitable public company Adonis created from bidding for the franchise.

A £2bn bailout later, and now Chris Grayling brought the railway back into public ownership. Embarrassing. Yet he has defended the government, claiming the parent company “got their sums wrong”.

The Conservatives can certainly be attacked for an ideological decision. This is their mess.

The successful company Adonis created was not a mini-BR. Labour should be cautious: nationalisation is not a panacea, something to which anyone who witnessed the decline of the UK’s railways under Britain Rail can attest.

Labour is committed to renationalising the railways. How they have not yet said. A less ideological and more social democratic solution might be a mixed market approach where public competes with private to keep prices down like in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark.

That’s the myth. Europe’s railways are not wholly nationalised: recreating British Rail is not just bringing Britain in line with Europe.

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About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

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