Split by Brexit, Labour kicks off con­fer­ence

The Korea Times - - WORLD -

BRIGHTON (AFP) — Bri­tain’s main op­po­si­tion Labour Party be­gins its an­nual con­fer­ence on Sun­day des­per­ately search­ing for a co­her­ent Brexit plan to stem a po­ten­tial drub­bing in a loom­ing elec­tion.

Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn’s mo­ment of truth comes with the cri­sis-torn coun­try hurtling to­ward an Oct. 31 exit from the Euro­pean Union with­out a plan for fu­ture trade.

Yet the same di­vi­sions over Europe that saw Boris Johnson’s right-wing Con­ser­va­tives lose their work­ing ma­jor­ity are also tear­ing apart Labour on the left.

The 119-year-old party’s sup­port base con­sists of cos­mopoli­tan city-dwelling eu­rophiles and tra­di­tional work­ing-class com­mu­ni­ties that re­jected Brus­sels in the 2016 ref­er­en­dum.

Polls show these views have be­come even more en­trenched to­day — a po­lar­iza­tion that fur­ther com­pli­cates Cor­byn’s bid to find a uni­fy­ing stance.

The strongly anti-Euro­pean Brexit Party and the pro-EU Lib­eral Democrats are erod­ing Labour’s sup­port on both flanks, ac­cord­ing to re­cent polls.

Labour of­fi­cials will hun­ker down in a swanky ho­tel on Eng­land’s south coast Sun­day night to whit­tle down their Brexit op­tions to a sin­gle po­si­tion that will be either re­jected or ap­proved Mon­day.

Cor­byn has given every in­di­ca­tion that he wants Labour to stay neu­tral on the defin­ing is­sue of U.K. pol­i­tics.

“No, I am not sit­ting on the fence,” he in­sisted in a testy ITV in­ter­view Fri­day.

He has promised to ne­go­ti­ate a new di­vorce deal that main­tains closer EU re­la­tions and then hold an­other ref­er­en­dum in which re­main­ing in the bloc is the other op­tion.

But he would not say which of the two he would cam­paign for — or whether he ac­tu­ally wants to stay or go.

“The Bri­tish peo­ple will make that fi­nal de­ci­sion,” Cor­byn told ITV.

Ef­forts to keep the peace by ap­peas­ing both wings of his party are not sit­ting well with vot­ers ahead of an early elec­tion that most ex­pect to hap­pen within months.

A Septem­ber YouGov sur­vey showed that just half of self-iden­ti­fy­ing Labour sup­port­ers trust Cor­byn’s abil­ity to “make the right de­ci­sions on Brexit.”

The same poll said that fewer than 10 per­cent be­lieved the 2016 Brexit de­ci­sion was “right.”

And an Ip­sos MORI anal­y­sis found Cor­byn’s net sat­is­fac­tion rat­ing at -60.

No op­po­si­tion leader has fared worse in more than forty years.

“This strat­egy of be­ing all things to all peo­ple on Brexit — it paid off partly in 2017 (elec­tions), but it’s not clear that it’s go­ing to pay off again,” said Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics an­a­lyst Sara Hobolt.

“I think it wouldn’t be right for Labour to have no opin­ion on such a big de­ci­sion,” Labour’s for­eign af­fairs spokes­woman Emily Thornberry agreed.

“Labour should cam­paign for re­main,” she told The Guardian.

The push for Labour to re­ject Brexit is be­ing re­sisted by a eu­roskep­tic core of so­cial­ist Cor­byn sup­port­ers who in­clude his clos­est aides.

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