This election could bring about another Conservative lurch to the right, bringing room for Labour to put forward its ‘jobs-first’ Brexit vision, writes Progress deputy editor Conor Pope
Theresa May called this election hoping to be given a free hand in Brexit negotiations by the British public, and ended up with both tied behind her back. The first few days since the country went to vote have shown that the longer this government continues, the worse it will be for the country.
Believe it or not, many Tories members of parliament believe May has been pursuing a centrist agenda, too influenced by ‘Red Tory’ ideas – and they will look to ensure it is dropped in favour of a more rightwing approach.
Factor in the Democratic Unionist party, and things begin to look even worse. The last few days have been a depressing vision for how the Brexit talks are likely to go down. When faced with negotiations with a party with just 10 seats, the Tories made no secret of how desperate they were. Rather than call in Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds to London and seek to spook them with the great offices of state, Tory chief whip Gavin Williamson was dispatched in a hurry to Belfast. Then Downing Street mistakenly published a statement claiming that a deal was done, only to be rebuffed by the DUP. It is pretty clear who has the advantage. With the start of discussions with the European Union 27 just days away, it has not been a positive dry run.
Before the election, there were suggestions that Labour should form an electoral pact with a number of smaller parties. I wrote at the time that ‘when the idea of an electoral alliance is proposed, we should be wary. The aim of these suggested pacts is not – not ever, not even occasionally – to help the Labour party. It is to weaken the Labour party and help themselves.’ The same is true of the DUP and its influence over the Tories. Given the extreme conservative beliefs of the Democratic Unionists, that is a deep concern for everyone with progressive values.
May’s premiership now appears to be existing on borrowed time, and the two current favourites to take over are chief ‘Leavers’ Boris Johnson and David Davis. While Johnson is considered a more pro-immigration politician, and Davis won some credo among elements of the liberal left in the 2000s with campaigns on protecting civil liberties, neither could be seen as a shift to the centre, and it is likely both would pursue an accelerated Brexit.
However, the fact May lost her majority does seem to throw what kind of Brexit the public want up in the air. All options – bar reversing the referendum result – should be considered once again.
Labour’s decision to whip in favour of article 50 earlier this year was the right call and, while there are plenty of elements of this election that are unclear, it seemed to have helped in neutralising Brexit as a dividing issue for voters. That meant that many traditional Labour voters, unhappy with the party’s referendum stance, found it easier to reconcile with Labour as the Tory campaign began to implode and the hardship of May’s policies became clear.
Now, with even more major uncertainty over what leaving the EU should look like, and the Conservatives’ headbanger Eurosceptic wing seeking to steer May, there is greater room for Labour to start putting forward its ‘jobs-first’ Brexit vision. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have both ruled out continued membership of the single market this week but, intriguingly, new members’ favourite Barry Gardiner left the question open earlier today. It is an area where Labour can really hammer a shaky, unmanageable Tory government, and ensuring that people’s livelihoods are protected above all else is the way to do it.
Conor Pope is deputy editor of Progress. He tweets at @Conorpope
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