Labour’s current Brexit policy strikes the only balance that can possibly see them win the next election. I know that is going to be a controversial statement.
Brexit is one of the most divisive issues in modern British history. To back either side will see 30% of the electorate lost, possibly forever. The 30% of Remainers are primarily in key seats in London, the South West, and liberal cities. The 30% of leavers are primarily in key seats in the Midlands and the North. Losing either of these sets of voters will make it incredibly hard for the party to get a majority in future, and voters are not likely to forget that the party went against them on Brexit for a long time.
Labour’s policy is to blur the line. To tell Remainers that they really support remain, and to tell Brexiteers that they really support leave, while telling journalists that they want to negotiate a different Brexit deal that may lead to a referendum that might or might not include a vote that has an option to remain which they might or might not campaign for.
They get away with this because they are not in power. During the next few months this is going to get increasingly painful for them as people cry out for them to take a side. The thing is, they can’t do much about it as the opposition anyway so when the dust settles, they are unlikely to get the blame for whatever happens from the other side unless they explicitly take a side.
Avoiding the blame is the name of the game. As the opposition, they are hoping that they can claim that their position was whatever seems most palatable in hindsight and that the government was alone in their push for Brexit or acceptance of a second referendum. Once the Brexit saga is over, and things start to return to normal politically, it will be Labour who look wise and competent.
Corbyn knows this, and this is what he’s doing. Perhaps it is cynical, but it will probably work. The risk is that it leads to a revolt within the party against him – most Labour members and MPs support holding a second referendum and campaigning to remain, and high profile shadow cabinet members are now saying that. If he holds his nerve, and holds on to the leadership, his strategy might work.