The Labour Party conference will this afternoon vote on whether to “keep all options on the table” when it comes to Brexit.
This aspiration, broad and vague as it is, may include the possibility of campaigning for a new referendum. But before any frustrated Remainers get too excited, it’s worth paying attention to the detail. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and is closest allies at the top of the party are no more enthusiastic about the possibility of a second referendum than they were yesterday.
Keeping all options on the table is language of the most non-committal nature. Anyone who would like to truly understand the Labour leadership’s position should pay attention to remarks made early yesterday by shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, who said any so-called “People’s Vote” should be on the terms of the Brexit deal rather than on whether the UK should, in fact, remain part of the EU.
Labour Party members may yesterday have waved banners reading “Hate Brexit – Love Corbyn” but the very most it seems they can hope from the party leadership is support for a referendum which offers a choice between whatever deal Theresa May is able to salvage from the chaos - and a potentially-catastrophic no deal.
Later yesterday, Mr McDonnell adopted the “all options on the table” party line but the truth was already out there. When Mr Corbyn succeeded Ed Miliband as Labour leader in 2015, he promised a new kind of politics but it is becoming increasingly apparent that with increased trade union influence and the centralising of power to a small clique, the modern Labour party is the living breathing example of what we might consider the old politics. And the bad old politics, at that.
Prime Minister Theresa May limps on, politically wounded by treacherous colleagues, humiliated by the EU, and struggling to find a vaguely plausible narrative on Brexit. Add to this unfortunate mix polling which shows growing support to reverse the decision take in 2016, and Labour is presented with the opportunity to seize the initiative, and perhaps even help the UK avert the worst impact of Brexit. Yet still he refuses to show leadership.
Jeremy Corbyn may have convinced his supporters that they all have a voice in his party. Those who do not parrot the leadership line on Brexit should not, however, expect to be listened to.