Last week Labour’s shadow Chancellor John McDonnell got a bit of flak for admitting Labour had “wargamed” an attack on the pound.
What this means is, Labour has prepared for the hypothetical scenario of a drop in sterling following Labour winning the next General Election. They want to be ready for it.
So let’s run with this wargame idea…
On the one side she’s got the hard Brexit faction of her own party. Around two thirds of Tory MPs want hard Brexit.
On the other side she has the EU, the DUP, and the Northern Irish border. Hard Brexit would mean erecting a hard border in Northern Ireland, which the EU and more importantly the DUP don’t want.
She can’t make everybody happy. Pushing for a soft Brexit would lead to a Tory rebellion and her head on a spike. Pushing for a hard Brexit will ultimately lead to the DUP abandoning her, among other tricky consequences.
Her solution is to muddle through – push for an extra couple of years’ “implementation period”. And hope the problem gets easier.
She’s on a narrow ridge. One misstep and over she goes.
So let’s do a wargame. Let’s say May disappears off the edge, and one month later the Labour party is in power. What does Labour want from Brexit?
Power to Labour members
Corbyn is saying exactly what you’d expect from someone in his position: he’s being vague and somewhat contradictory. That’s because, as Theresa May is discovering, specific positions on Brexit tend to make people very angry. The luxury of being in opposition is that you don’t have to be super specific if you don’t want to be.
Corbyn’s internal party dynamics are about the exact opposite of May’s.
The Conservatives have pushed May to a harder Brexit than she wants; but Labour is pushing Corbyn towards a softer Brexit than he wants.
Corbyn has a well-documented scepticism of the EU. He thinks it’s a force for global capitalism, privatisation of state assets, and against workers’ rights. That’s part of the reason why he’s been making noises about a hard Brexit.
But his position is at odds with his party’s. According to a July poll of Labour party members, more than 8 in 10 think the UK should stay in Europe’s key trading blocs. The Telegraph reported:
“Almost 70 per cent of members polled said they thought Britain should definitely stay in the trade bloc while a further fifth of members answered “more yes than no” to the question and just four per cent backed leaving the arrangement entirely.”
And the same poll showed that the majority of Labour members want a second Brexit referendum.
On Brexit at least, Corbyn has more in common with the Conservatives than he does with his own party.
Would Corbyn cave?
It’s 2019, and Prime Minister Corbyn is dealing with Brexit.
He’s got the same voices pushing for a soft Brexit, or none at all – the exporters, the service industries, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU.
And, added to that, he’s got the majority of Labour MPs, and the majority of Labour membership. Remember, Corbyn believes in increasing the power of rank and file Labour members relative to MPs.
In that scenario, what do you see PM Corbyn doing? Does he negotiate an economically crippling… slow and difficult… and internally unpopular hard Brexit?
Or does he cave, and do what almost everyone will want him to do?
He’s never been one to cave in the past.
But it’s fun to think about, all the same.