Since the referendum, Labour has worked to keep a terrified grip on the party’s existing leave voters. Meanwhile remainers have come second fiddle, with the leadership betting they have nowhere else to go.
Unfortunately remainers don’t just have somewhere else to go, they have gone. Labour voters have switched to parties supporting a People’s Vote in a string of northern towns. It’s further evidence that the Labour vote is majority remain, even in majority leave areas.
And where is the evidence that Labour is set to gain by embracing Brexit more tightly? Labour suffered huge losses in leave-voting Ashfield and Bolsover, but in both cases to hyper-local independents with no position on Brexit. Corbyn’s poor approval ratings might be a better place to look for an explanation.
The bottom line is that Labour’s strategy is not working. The watery Brexit policy agreed at last year’s party conference is convincing no-one, no matter how many times the leadership’s most trusted lieutenants appear on television to repeat it verbatim.
The irony is that Corbyn is guilty of the same triangulation that he blamed for the erosion of the Labour vote under Tony Blair – except this time the rot has set in before we even enter office.
Labour’s insincerity on Brexit is plain for voters to see. They want to see leadership and courage from our party, and a return to our values of internationalism and openness. Instead they are being offered John McDonnell’s meaningless assertion that “we need to get on with sorting this out whichever way.”
Making the argument for an escape from Brexit will be painful, but it is right and it is increasingly urgent. Three years of cowardly triangulation on the issue haven’t helped, but the time to start is now.