britain, miserable britain

Starmer prepares to reopen old Labour wounds over Brexit deal vote
Heather Stewart, Groan, Nov 28 2020

Keir Starmer is preparing to risk a party rift by throwing Labour’s weight behind a Brexit deal if last-minute negotiations succeed in the coming days. In what he hopes will be a signal to red wall voters that the party has heard them, multiple Labour sources said Starmer, and Cabinet Office shadow minister Rachel Reeves, who has been liaising with backbenchers on the issue, are minded to impose a three-line whip in support of a deal, subject to the detail. They have rejected the idea of abstaining or giving MPs a free vote, fearing it would suggest Labour has failed to absorb the lessons of the pasting it took in last December’s general election. Brexit deal negotiations are in their final, make-or-break few days, with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier returning to London on Friday to resume face-to-face talks on Saturday despite his threat to pull out earlier in the week. If a deal can be done, the prime minister is expected to bring it to parliament before Christmas, most likely by tabling the future relationship bill which the Cabinet Office has been working on for several months. That could potentially allow Labour to signal its lack of enthusiasm by tabling amendments, though these would stand little chance of passing. Boris Johnson’s majority of 80 means the deal would be highly likely to go through even if Labour abstained, but Starmer and his team believe the consequences of a no-deal exit from the transition period would be too dire for the party to stand on the sidelines. One shadow cabinet member with knowledge of Starmer’s thinking said:

If you want something to happen in parliament, the best way to go about it is to vote for it.

However, they are likely to avoid language such as “supporting” the deal. Starmer is also expected to make a speech setting out more details of how Labour sees Britain’s future place in the world. Even many of those MPs who fought hard during the 2017-19 parliament for a people’s vote are expected to fall in behind the leadership, fearing the dire consequences of a no-deal exit on Jan 1. But some MPs fear Starmer’s team, led by former former Darlington MP Jenny Chapman, is too focused on “fighting the last war” by aiming all their political messaging at disgruntled Brexit voters in the red wall. They worry that supporting a Johnson deal will leave Labour unable to hold the government to account for Brexit’s economic consequences, and damage the party in Scotland by allowing Nicola Sturgeon to lump the “Westminster parties” together on the issue. “The SNP will be cock-a-hoop,” said one Labour insider. Starmer’s allies reject the idea that they will be blamed if Brexit is economically disastrous, however, pointing out that while Labour supported entering the European exchange rate mechanism (ERM) in 1990, it was the Tory government, and not John Smith or Gordon Brown, whom voters held responsible when the UK crashed out two years later.

A different concern is expressed by members of the Love Socialism, Hate Brexit group of MPs, who made the leftwing case for revisiting the 2016 referendum in the last parliament, and were recently addressed by Reeves in a zoom meeting. Some of this caucus are worried about the idea that the deal will set the pattern for future trade deals for the next decade and beyond, triggering a race to the bottom on rights and regulations. Norwich South MP Clive Lewis, who resigned rather than vote for article 50, said:

It’s likely to be a framework deal, which means there will be massive holes in it. That’s in effect a near blank cheque, and it potentially ties Labour’s hands for 10-15 years. It’s not just about our relationship with Europe, it’s about regulatory realignment and whether we end up with a neoliberal US-type economy, on workers’ rights, on the environment, on food standards. For people like me, it’s a point of principle.

Several members of the group, recently relaunched under the name Love Socialism, in recognition that the chance of stopping Brexit has passed, have junior roles on Starmer’s frontbench including Alex Sobel, Marsha De Cordova and Rachael Maskell. Meanwhile, the irony of Starmer, who systematically dismantled Theresa May’s Brexit deal with his “six tests,” now whipping MPs to back a deal that will put the UK outside the single market and the customs union, is not lost on some of his Labour colleagues. One former red wall MP who lost their seat in 2019 said:

I’m thoroughly pissed off that the same group of people who were putting through clever technical bills a year ago are now the same people saying: ‘It’s very important that we support a deal.’ When we were advocating a much softer deal, we were basically hung out as Tory sympathisers.

Barnier, ahead of his return to London , briefed EU ambassadors that “he was clear that things are entirely stuck,” said an EU source. Barnier’s travel plans appeared to be “driven more by a wish at the highest levels of the European commission to negotiate until the bitter end than actual progress on the ground,” the source added. In turn, David Frost, who is leading the UK’s negotiating team, offered his own downbeat assessment in a statement on social media, as both sides sought to extract a final deal-making concession. Frost tweeted:

By Voting Fort Johnson’s Brexit Deal, Labour is Playing A Risky Game
Mike Buckley, Byline Times, Nov 27 2020

Mike Buckley is director of the campaign group ‘Labour for a European Future’

The Labour Party has indicated that it is likely to vote for Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. Its argument is that it can vote for the deal in a display of ‘grown-up politics.’ Labour MP Hilary Benn argued:

If there is a deal the public will expect Parliament to vote for it, including Labour. This won’t prevent us from criticising the adverse consequences. After all, we opposed Brexit as not being in the interests of the country.

The danger for Labour is that its majority pro-European base could hear its vote for the deal more loudly than any criticism that accompanies it. The public tend to take parliamentary votes as a clear indication of where a party’s true values lie rather than its words. Think Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats and tuition fees or Andy Burnham’s abstention on the Welfare Bill in 2015, which arguably propelled Jeremy Corbyn into the lead in the Labour leadership election. Labour believes that it will create a reset with Leave voters, but they may be more nonplussed than won over by a party that so strongly opposed a hard Brexit suddenly deciding to vote for it. Just as voters were unconvinced by Ed Miliband’s ‘austerity lite,’ pro-austerity voters stuck with the party that authored it while those who wanted change were demotivated by Labour’s failure to oppose, the dwindling number of Brexit supporters are likely to stick with the Conservatives. Labour is arguably lagging behind public opinion. Negotiations are going badly, fear of the economic harm to come is on the rise. As a result, record numbers believe that Brexit was a mistake and public support for the EU is at a record high, numbers likely to increase as Brexit damage kicks in. Labour risks voting for the deal just as Brexit becomes truly unpopular. The net result could be that Labour fails to win back Leavers while losing large numbers of Remainers.

Labour does not have time to play the long game. The local elections in May 2021, those delayed by the pandemic plus those already scheduled, mean that the whole country will get to vote on representatives at a devolved, mayoral, council and police and crime commissioner level. Labour needs to do well in these, not just to maintain its regional presence and power, but also as evidence that it is in recovery and a government-in-waiting. Wales has been majority Remain for some time. A poll in mid-2019 gave Remain a 10-point lead. Scotland alone should give Labour pause: Labour backing for Brexit there would be seized on as proof that the only way back to European engagement is to vote for the SNP in Holyrood and for independence in a second referendum, should one be granted. In England, three of the four mayoral contests Labour needs to win are in the ‘Red Wall’, regions that will be disproportionately affected by Brexit even with a deal. The recent ‘Manufacturing in the Marginals’ report argues that 2019 Conservative gains could easily be reversed by job losses or the uncertainty to livelihoods caused by Brexit. In Bury North, which the Conservatives won from Labour by 105 votes, there are 4,500 people in manufacturing jobs, with many in the chemical industry, a sector at risk from Brexit. But Labour will find it hard to make the claim that it opposed the harm coming to these constituencies, and the industries and jobs they are home to, if it votes for the deal that causes it.

Voters have form for abandoning Labour over its Brexit stance. Its refusal to back a second referendum with Remain as the preferred outcome cost Labour in all three 2019 elections. Labour lost councillors in May as the pro-European Liberal Democrats and Greens made gains. In the European elections, its vote plunged to 24%. One voter wrote:

I am a Labour voter who voted Lib Dem in the local elections to register my anger at and disappointment in Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to back a second referendum.

The same dynamic harmed the party in the General Election. Labour lost Leave votes to the Conservatives and Remain votes to the Liberal Democrats and others, around a million of each. Labour needs to ensure that it loses no more.

The strategy of the Labour Leader Keir Starmer is a good one. He is right to build support among groups Labour lost or never had but, in doing so, he should be careful not to lose voters he still has. He should recognise too that Leavers are not the only group he needs to win over. Scotland must be addressed for Labour’s hopes of returning to government and for the future of the Union. There are three million Conservative Remainers who last December feared a Corbyn government more than a hard Brexit, who could be won over by a more moderate, pro-European leader. This Parliament will be dominated by the economic fall-out of Brexit, which means that Labour needs to get its response right. It does not have the luxury of letting Europe go because of its central place in building a viable economy. Labour will do well to let the Conservatives own the Brexit damage which will unfold. Abstaining would allow Labour to let the deal pass, avoiding any risk of a ‘no deal’ due to a rebellion by the Conservatives’ European Research Group of MPs, but leaving Labour free to criticise the harm that will become all too real next year. As the damage kicks in, the country will be looking for an alternative. Labour needs to be in a position to offer it.

More than 1,300 wrongly told they have Covid after Test and Trace lab error
Press Association, Nov 27 2020

More than 1,300 people were wrongly told they had coronavirus due to a lab error with the government’s Test and Trace service. The Dept of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said 1,311 people who took a test from 19-23 November across the UK were incorrectly told they received a positive result. It said there was an issue with a batch of testing chemicals which meant their results were void. A DHSC spokesman said:

Swift action is being taken to notify those affected and they are being asked to take another test, and to continue to self-isolate if they have symptoms. This laboratory error was an isolated incident and is being fully investigated to ensure this does not happen again.

The DHSC did not comment on whether the error affected regionalinfection rate figures. Duncan Larcombe, whose daughter received the wrong result, told the BBC it was “more than an inconvenient mistake”. The PR company director, from Maidstone, Kent, said his 14-year-old daughter had not left her bedroom for four days, with meals being left outside her door, until the family learned the result was void on Thursday. Test and Trace has been beset with issues, with figures earlier this week revealing about four in 10 contacts of those who test positive for the virus are still not being reached.

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