The Labour leader has won an important victory against many high-profile opponents who wanted Labour to be the party of remain. He must now bring them back into the fold
Jeremy Corbyn is cherished by many delegates in his party. He is not held in awe by them. The membership has twice backed Mr Corbyn overwhelmingly as leader despite their views being far more pro-Europe than his own. On the conference floor in Brighton on Tuesday they did so again, putting their trust in Mr Corbyn over their affection for the European Union. It is a sign of his grip on the party that the margin of his victory was so large that the conference votes on Labour’s Brexit policy did not need to be counted. Mr Corbyn’s policy appears smart: it aims to bridge the divide between leavers and remainers by offering them a final say on Brexit in a plebiscite. The trouble is that it is also too clever to sell easily on the doorstep. It is hard to see a pithy way to explain to weary voters how Labour will win an election, get a new deal, decide whether as a party to back it and then get a referendum to offer voters the option of either leaving on Labour’s terms or remaining in the EU. This is an issue of political signalling and sloganeering that Mr Corbyn must urgently solve.
The Labour leader’s policy is not completely satisfactory. Referendums, as our bitter experience has shown us, can be divisive, their campaigns studded with lies and open to manipulation by hidden interests. Mr Corbyn says he is offering voters the final right to decide. The Labour leader wants to emulate Harold Wilson’s approach in winning the referendum on British membership of the Common Market in 1975. Mr Wilson was criticised for offering his party an “agreement to differ”, but this strategy was successful. As Mr Wilson said, it “fulfilled my very confident prediction at the time … that the party would come out of that campaign not weaker but stronger, not divided but more united”.
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