Are Labour inching towards a People’s Vote?

Corbyn's team may be softening on People's Vote as second referendum gains traction with pro-EU, pro-leadership figures.

There is an interesting generational divide in and between the Corbynistas and the so-called moderates about their attitude to Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Communist theorist who died, after many years in a fascist prison, in 1937.

The older moderates – veterans of fights on the left in the 1980s – are generally well disposed to Gramsci, his advocacy of building alliances in society and a flexible approach to politics and societal change. The older Cobynites, who lived through the same period, generally detest the Italian Marxist for the same reason.

The younger Cobynistas, many of whom take to Marxism like it was a revealed religion that only they have ever truly understood, love Gramsci’s ideas about a “war of manoeuvre” and the idea of a cultural conflict as the basis of making socialism the “common sense” of the age. The younger “moderates” have no time for any Marxist, revisionist or otherwise, and see only the horrors of the Soviet Union in the adoption of any rigid ideology.

Gramsci argued that the party – in his case the Communist Party, which he came to lead in Italy after Stalin removed his Trotskyist predecessor – should be the “modern prince”: in other words he was a literal advocate of Machiavellian politics – to the point of caprice in taking political positions and in finding allies.

The last few days have suggested that the Gramscians in Team Corbyn are winning and that the party leader’s team are willing to adopt the ideas of the “People’s Vote” they spent much of the summer seeking to resist, even in the face of overwhelming and enthusiastic support from many of their own allies on the left.

In recent days Rachel Maskell, shadow transport minister, who is both enthusiastically pro-Corbyn and pro-EU membership, told her City of York CLP that the party leadership now recognised that a further referendum was the only game in town if they did not secure another election.

Labour, she said, would not campaign in that referendum as part of an umbrella group (it seems the only time Corbyn is willing to share a platform with people from other parties is when Israel-Palestine is on the agenda), but on its own “remain and reform” agenda.

Whether that is any more realistic than current claims that Labour could negotiate a brilliant new Brexit deal that would unite the whole country and get it ratified in Parliament and Europe by end of March remains to be seen.

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