Corbyn should listen to his party and force through a second referendum
To borrow a phrase, Jeremy Corbyn is not a stupid man. He is sincere in his socialist beliefs and his patriotism. He wants what is best for the country, just as his opponents in the government do.
Trouble is, he has even less of a plan than they do. Around 10 weeks away from putative Brexit day, Mr Corbyn is either being excessively cagey about his true intentions or he doesn’t know what to do. Perhaps
for that reason, and to camouflage the lack of policy, he projects some sort of enigmatic guru vibe in his public statements, as when questioned on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday.
He seeks to reassure. It is not entirely convincing.
Taking him at his word, the clearest message he has is that he wants a general election, and is prepared to table a motion of no confidence in Her Majesty’s government to achieve it. But when? Such business takes precedence in the Commons, and he could easily have tried to bring the government down before Christmas, when Theresa May ran away from her own MPs.
The chances are, though, that whenever he calls the vote he will lose it. Fear and loathing for Mr Corbyn is the only thing that unites the Conservatives and the DUP, and, bewildered as they are, they are not about to usher a socialist Irish Republican sympathiser into Downing Street.
For many of them, Brexit plus Corbyn equals the worst possible damage to the economy and the national interest. Their majority will be slender, but one is enough.
To be clear: there will be no parliamentary machinations to secure a minority Labour government without a general election. Yet, even if Mr Corbyn did get his election in the cold, dark days of winter, there is no guarantee he would actually win it.
Absent that and, according to official party conference policy, Mr Corbyn can turn to his famous table, upon which “all options” have been heaped, a cornucopia of delicious political possibilities. In reality, though, the table is bare. There are no options left, short of a workers’ revolution, except a Final Say appeal to the people on the government’s Brexit deal.
Mr Corbyn will not have the chance to put his Brexit renegotiation to the people. He won’t have a chance to bring it back from Brussels because he’s not going to be prime minister just yet. Besides, his proposals about the customs union and the single market are illogical and unacceptable to the EU. Brexit on Labour’s terms is a chimera.
Mr Corbyn has the obligation to follow the clear wishes and policy of his party. He has campaigned for greater internal party democracy for 40 years. Now is not the time to dump it.
The Labour Party belongs to its members. They are fond of Mr Corbyn, but also passionate Remainers – “Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit” was a popular T-shirt slogan at the party conference last year. The policy is clear. It is for a further popular vote, and with Remain on the ballot paper.
Sometimes Mr Corbyn sounds like he’d rather ignore his members and his MPs (united for once) and carry on campaigning for his kind of Brexit, the illogical one that doesn’t exist and never will.
He would rather tell people, as he has been trying lately, that the EU doesn’t matter as much as uniting the country – Leavers and Remainers – through a new socialist Britain with excellent public services and a just society, a position that is also not going to be built from the opposition benches.
Europe is the transcendent issue of the moment. Forget the parliamentary shenanigans, Speaker Bercow, the Tory rebels and Dominic Grieve: Mr Corbyn alone has the power to pause Brexit, force a second referendum and put the power into the hands of the people, just as his party requires him to.
It would destroy the government’s remaining authority, with unpredictable consequences, and it is probably Labour’s best chance of getting into power this year. In any event, it remains a democratic imperative, not least for Labour members.
If Mr Corbyn does not score when faced with such an open goal, and defies his own conference policy, then his members may never forgive him.
Mr Corbyn’s historic betrayal would make Tony Blair and Ramsay MacDonald look angelic. The Labour Party might even judge him to have been rather a stupid man, or worse: Hate Brexit, Hate Corbyn.