I want to say at the start of this article, I’m still a little uneasy about the whole concept of a second EU referendum myself. This is because either result of such a referendum would bring with it major problems. If Remain won, there would be an undoubtable feeling of “the establishment kept asking the people until they gave the correct answer” which may well infect our politics even further; if Leave won again, it may well cement the idea of the nuttiest version of Brexit imaginable being carried out. I say this now so that my critisism of Corbyn can be seen in context; I don’t think it foolish that he is not behind a second EU referendum. It is a perfectly reasonable position to assume. For the right reasons, I hasten to add, any number of which I don’t think apply to the Labour leadership.
I think I understand why Corbyn is so against a second EU referendum: whatever the result, its would be a disaster for him and his leadership of the Labour Party. A second EU referendum would put his Eurosceptic credentials under a spotlight that I don’t think he could withstand. According to a recent poll, eight out of ten Labour members want a second referendum. 87% of Labour members want to remain in the Single Market according to the same poll; 85% want to remain in the Customs Union. This is a really soft to no Brexit group of people.
If there was a second referendum, Corbyn and his bunch couldn’t sit on the fence they have been enjoying for the last 18 months. He would be called upon to take a stand. And if he went with his longstanding Eurosceptic instincts, that could cost him the leadership – particularly if Leave won again and he was seen to have been a co-conspirator in such a result.
However, if he submitted to the whims of the membership and really came out for Remain, Labour could be ripped apart. There are so many Labour seats in which the party taking an explicitly pro-Remain line would be electorally suicidal. Of course, Jeremy could go on the offensive and try and win over Labour voters who voted Leave – you know, show them why Remain is actually better for them in the long run. Sorry, that was me being whimsical.
Corbyn is being tactical here – in other words, he’s being a politician, just like any other. He wants to preserve as much of Labour’s tactical advantage as won in the 2017 general election for as long as he can. I get it, that’s fine. This is what functioning, grown up political parties do. In fact, it is how democracy works – parties that fail to listen to the electorate for long enough end up on the scrap heap of history. All I ask is that we stop pretending this is about anything else other than that.