Labour will rip up British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan, but respect the referendum result. The benefits of the single market and the customs union will be on the table. European Union (EU) nationals will be protected from day one. Human beings won’t be bargaining chips. The great repeal bill will be scrapped; Labour will introduce a EU rights and protections bill instead. All workers’, consumers’ and environmental rights will be protected. Much of Britain craves unity: Labour will offer it. A “Brexit that brings people together,” not a “reckless Tory Brexit”. MPs will get a final say. If they reject the deal, Labour will return to the negotiating table.
These are Labour’s key lines on Brexit, unveiled on Tuesday by Keir Starmer. They now have to be repeated ad infinitum: Preferably in a pithier, snappier form than above. What the Tories get — particularly under the ruthlessly effective Lynton Crosby — is message discipline. If you want a message to cut through, you have to repeat it, over and over and over and over again, until your opponents are pleading with you to shut up. If you don’t define yourself, you’ll be defined by your opposition. We all know Tory lines off by heart — clearing up Labour’s mess, long-term economic plan, that kind of thing — as do voters, who often repeat them verbatim on the doorstep. The Tories clearly define both themselves and their opposition.
Labour would understandably dearly like this election to be about other pressing domestic issues, not just Brexit. After all, while the economy, tax, health, education and public services largely unite Labour’s natural supporters, Brexit does not. But while Labour must have a clear position on all of these issues — again, backed up by message discipline to make sure it gets through — avoiding Brexit just isn’t a runner. That means respecting the referendum result – that’s where most of the country are at, however they voted — but emphasising a distinct message. It was Ronald Reagan who said: “When you’re explaining, you’re losing.” He was right. This is a time for sharp messages.
It would be ironic if Labour lost support under Jeremy Corbyn because they were deemed to be too similar to the Tories. On Brexit — or indeed any other issue — they’re not. That hasn’t so far cut through. That can only change if — across the airwaves and newspapers — Labour MPs and supporters stick to the same script. No contradictory messages: A tedious, committed focus on the same lines.
Yes, I’m even going to suggest stealing a line from former British prime minister Tony Blair. I hardly need to repeat my objections to aspects of Blair’s legacy here, but he’s on to something with his suggestion of “no blank cheque”. A vote for May is a blank cheque for a Tory Brexit that will damage jobs, the economy and living standards. Only a Labour deal will prioritise jobs, the economy and living standards: that has to be the approach.
A minority of Remainers are undoubtedly being seduced by the Lib Dems. Outside the south west, a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for the Tory Brexiteers. Labour MPs who will vote for a different sort of Brexit will lose their seats. It will be the Tory Right — who overrun constituency associations now planning to grab the seats of Labour MPs — Left dictating the terms.
A distinct Labour offer has now been unveiled. It’s up to the party now to make sure they get it across to voters — and finally stop May defining the debate.
— Guardian News & Media Ltd
Owen Jones is a columnist and the author of Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class and The Establishment — And How They Get Away With It.