LIKE the political establishment that is still struggling to define the ‘Brexit’ that the country voted for on June 23, 2016, or the true meaning of the Chequers proposal still being put forward by Theresa May, the same also applies to Labour’s position.
Content – until now – to oppose the Government for opposition’s sake, days of toing and froing appear to have ended in a classic compromise which is also open to numerous interpretations. And this was borne out by the barnstorming conference speech delivered by Sir Keir Starmer, the party’s Shadow Brexit Secretary.
Appearing to deviate from the text of the speech that had been approved in advance by Labour’s high command, Sir Keir said – to a standing ovation from delegates – that “nobody is ruling out remain” if there’s a second vote. This was a clear contradiction of John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, who appeared to suggest earlier in the week that any referendum choice should be between any agreement that Mrs May strikes with the EU or no deal.
And while Sir Keir’s stance will cheer Labour’s more youthful supporters who still feel betrayed by the Brexit vote, panoramic TV shots revealed the splits in the Opposition’s ranks. Longstanding EU opponents like veteran MP Dennis Skinner were unimpressed. And David Mallon, a delegate from the North East, was embraced by party leader Jeremy Corbyn after opposing a second referendum and describing the EU as a “capitalists’ club”.
This matters. With the views of pro-Brexit activists in Labour’s heartlands in the North at complete odds with the views of Remain enthusiasts in metropolitan London and elsewhere, Mr Corbyn will have to bridge this divide when he makes his keynote leader’s speech today. It will be an early sign about whether he has any chance of making more headway on Brexit than the embattled Mrs May.