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Originally published in the Independent
Eighteen per cent. Fourth place. There is no positive way to spin Labour’s result in the most recent YouGov poll. The only time our party’s support has ever sunk this low in modern polling was in 2009, just after the economy entered recession at the end of Gordon Brown’s ill-fated government. While it is usually unwise to read too much into one individual poll, other surveys confirm the wider trend.
So did, unfortunately, the results of the European elections just over a month ago with Labour voters switching to Remain parties en masse. The era of two-party politics is over with the vote now evenly split four ways in England alone.
It is no secret that Brexit is the key issue that has shaken our politics up so thoroughly. Three years since the referendum and with consensus far from being reached, the country is more divided now than ever. On the one hand, we have record-breaking marches of millions demanding a final say on Brexit and a chance to end this mess.
On the other, there are hardline Brexiteers – including the majority of the Tory membership – who won’t be satisfied with anything other than a crash-out no deal, even if it tanks the economy and splits up the UK. In this polarised political landscape, those who stand in the middle of the road are being mown down by forces from both sides.
For those of us who wish to remain in the European Union, Labour’s catastrophic polling is nothing to celebrate. Only Labour can get in the way of an unelected prime minister driving the country off a cliff. It’s also desperately bad news for all those who need a socialist Labour government to transform the economy and end the surge of the racist right.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The 2017 general election showed how quickly support can skyrocket. With a strong narrative, inspiring policies and an energised grassroots that was mobilised to deliver the biggest ground operation in decades, we went from staring down the barrel of a historic defeat to securing the biggest increase in Labour’s share of the vote since 1945, depriving the Tories of their majority.
Those who were eager to announce the death of the Corbyn project were proven wrong. They can be proven wrong again, and we can get that transformative Labour government that attacks inequality and builds a society for the many – but only if we act now and change course on the biggest issue of the day.
Jeremy Corbyn has now come out for a fresh referendum on any deal – however, the message is not cutting through, hidden in small print and delivered almost apologetically, and without a clear commitment to campaign against Brexit. For many passionate Remainers, this is simply too little, too late.
With evidence suggesting a boost for Labour if it swings against Brexit, many of my colleagues in the PLP and comrades in the country have come around to the idea of a public vote and campaigning to Remain. If we get it, we could use the opportunity of a Final Say referendum as a springboard for our resurgence.
In such a campaign, we could articulate what we want to do in government – transforming the economy so it serves working-class people and communities, linking up with our European partners to lead a radical “green new deal” that provides hundreds of thousands of secure, unionised, green new jobs, renewing the social contract, and lifting up those communities in both Leave and Remain voting areas that have been left behind for decades by neoliberalism.
For me, it is a no-brainer. Labour needs to lead – lead on Brexit, lead in Europe, lead for the people.