As I See It: Terry Murden
Labour’s opponents have pointed to the chaotic scenes at its annual conference as proof that it is a party without a clear vision for running the country. On the contrary, the decision to leave the door open on its Brexit stance until after the General Election may just prove to be a Jeremy Corbyn masterstroke.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that it “beggars belief – from a practical and principled point of view – that Corbyn thinks he can go through a General Election without saying if he backs Remain or Leave.” Well, no it doesn’t. Mr Corbyn has, by accident or design, acknowledged that his party – like the Tories and even the SNP – is divided on the Brexit issue. By referring the decision back to the voters, he’s given hope to every Labour supporter that his or her opinion is still being heard and may still win the day.
The Remain campaign made a noisy attempt yesterday to have the party commit to staying in the EU. But Mr Corbyn, the biggest waverer among all the party leaders, knows that nailing his party’s colours to the Remain mast would be potentially a vote loser.
He knows that he must satisfy the two wings of his party – Latte Labour (essentially Remainers) and traditional working class Labour. Polling organisations say 30% of Labour voters voted Leave in the 2016 referendum, many of them in traditional Labour seats in the north of England. Their voice is often overlooked amid the noise of the twitterati, but the Labour leader knows he cannot afford to lose them.
He may have been accused of lacking leadership by adopting what The Scotsman referred to as a “fuzzy” position, but leadership is also about embracing those who might otherwise feel left out.
Crucially, by parking the Brexit decision until after the election, Mr Corbyn will see it as an opportunity to win votes from Remainers and Leavers in other parties, not least the SNP. Ms Sturgeon declares at every opportunity that Scotland does not want to leave the EU, but she has a habit of speaking for all Scots with only infrequent references to those who do not share her view, including those in her party.
Yet Mr Corbyn’s biggest task in Scotland is not so much the battle with the SNP, but how he reconciles the UK party’s newly-adopted “neutral” position on Brexit with Scottish Labour’s commitment to Remain. Scottish Labour may have a degree of semi-autonomy, but that should only be applied on matters of Scottish interest. It is fanciful for Scottish leader Richard Leonard to argue that Labour can promote opposing positions on UK issues.
Voters are now more divided on Brexit than by party lines. While Mr Corbyn may be hedging his bets in England, his party is creating confusion in Scotland and Wales which could determine his chances of reaching Downing Street and making any of it matter.