Responding to Labour Remain

Recently a friend and Liberal Democrat activist showed me an email from Labour Remain — formed in the last few weeks and claiming significant support. This comes on the back of a survey showing that 78% of Labour members disagree with Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to a referendum on the terms of Brexit. How should we respond?

Brexit is a profound threat to British values, the economy and the very integrity of the United Kingdom. In that sense it needs us all to pull together.

The country is in a crisis. We have been so intertwined with the rest of Europe, for so long, that the referendum result has had a deeply destructive effect on public life. Parliament seems paralised. Andrew Adonis has written of a Brexit-induced “nervous breakdown” in Whitehall. The Conservatives and Labour seem massively dysfunctional. There are stories of moderate councillors in both parties being de-selected. Most of the pro-Remain majority in the Commons is silent or vanquished. My excitement over the formation of Labour Remain is more than a little tempered by the lurch to the Left in their recent National Executive Committee elections and stories of MPs being threatened with de-selection. Faced with Brexit, this has all the wisdom of re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We need to think differently.

For us, the enormity of the task can make us escape to the local. That’s always been important to the party, but it can become a displacement, making us fail to engage adequately on the ground with Brexit and its consequences. That short-changes the nation, deep principles in the party, and the many people who have joined us since the referendum. It’s worth remembering that a recent poll put support for Remain at 55%.

In some parts of the country this will be sounding so obvious that it doesn’t need saying. But there are many places which, a few years ago, would have struggled to campaign in more than a handful of wards, but have seen their membership increase three or four-fold since 2015. This makes all sorts of things possible in addition to that targeting.

If we were going into a General Election, there would be the inevitable need to target. Instead, faced with the slow-motion car crash that is Brexit, it’s time to help shape the resistance. That means putting the case for a referendum on the terms of the deal, and also helping people through the painful realisation that the Brexit they voted for is not what is emerging.

We can have the biggest impact in places where people will be surprised to hear from us. This is about making a difference — directly, by swaying opinion, and indirectly by putting pressure on sitting MPs.

It can be a shock to a local party that’s used to thinking of itself as small and now finds it has 400 members, but on those numbers, a typical constituency would need each member to deliver little more than 100 leaflets and contribute a couple of pounds to the printing to reach every door. It’s a powerful statement of conviction on Brexit to be delivering regularly in constituencies we are unlikely to win.

Going alone like this is not to undervalue Labour Remain, but it does avoid getting sucked into Labour’s struggles. The best way to put pressure on Labour and the Conservatives is to stick to our values and push against Brexit, helping to turn the tide of public opinion that will bring those parties with it.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at

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  • John Marriott 18th Jan '18 - 5:55pm

    Mark Argent exhorts the Lib Dems to “stick to our values and push against Brexit”. What values would they be? Ignoring a free vote to leave, whether or not people knew what they were voting for?

    You see, for many people, nailing all your colours to one mast and seeming to ignore everything else, might smack of hubris. What if, at the end of it all, we typically manage to muddle through?

    The present, largely self inflicted ‘mess’ some would have you believe we are in is a direct result of taking the electorate for granted for far too long. Some of us were warning for years that the march towards a kind of federalism, which ran counter to our nation’s island history, whilst logical to some, was a step too far for many people. We also said that immigration would prove to be the stick with which those excluded from the kind of wealth generated particularly in the Southeast would set on the elites. What about a democratic Europe for its peoples instead of a Europe for the Multinationals? “How do you see the EU in ten year’s time, Mr Clegg?” Nick; “More or less the same.”

    OK, the Leave campaign told some porkies; but the damage was done way before the Referendum campaign began. Thank you, Mrs Thatcher, for positively encouraging the move to expansion as a means of watering down the influence of France and Germany. Thank you, Mr Blair, for waiving those transitional arrangements when the former Warsaw Pact states were allowed to join. Thank you, Mr Cameron, for pulling your Tory MEPs out of the main Christian Democrat Grouping in Brussels.

  • paul barker 18th Jan '18 - 6:35pm

    I hope no-one allows themselves to dragged off topic by the inevitable comments from Brexiteers, they are best ignored.
    The best way we can help Labour Remain is by taking Votes & Seats from Labour in May.

  • John Marriott 18th Jan '18 - 7:22pm

    Dear Mr Barker,
    If you think I am a Brexiteer you are under a misapprehension. As someone who speaks French and German, who has studied in France, lived and worked in Germany and travelled extensively in Europe since the 1960s I think I have a pretty good idea of what is at stake. I voted to stay in the EEC in 1975 and to remain in what had become the EU in 2016. If given the chance I would do it again, provided it didn’t involve being part of a United States of Europe.

    By encouraging your colleagues to ‘ignore’ those people who dare to challenge the present direction of travel of the EU you are succumbing to the kind of hubris I mentioned earlier. It is this hubris that might very well thwart any attempts to bring a modicum of realism and sanity into a debate that is far more nuanced than the simple binary choice you would have it be,

  • Harriet Haggerstone 18th Jan '18 - 8:21pm

    You refer to ‘the enormity of the task’; could you please explain why you consider preventing Brexit to be wicked?
    Or do you mean ‘magnitude of the task’? Two extremely different things.

  • John Marriot.
    The reality is that mass immigration has very little support anywhere in Britain. It’s nothing to with “left behinds” or the white working classes nor is it supported the mythical “prosperous south” where most of the tory vote and therefore most of the leave vote is actually concentrated. It’s over 70% of the electorate according virtually every survey and this includes over 50% of the Remain vote. The reason I keep pointing this out is because so many people on both sides of the debate try to turn the issue into some sort of proxy class-war when in truth wanting to lower immigration is the bog-standard mainstream middle-of-the-road view of the vast majority of the electorate.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Jan '18 - 9:03pm

    I don’t often escape to my local, preferring to have a glass or two at home instead. (Sorry, Mark!) Splendid piece, quite agree with you. We haven’t 400 members locally, but I also have urged my Executive to challenge the 100 or so we do have each to deliver 100 leaflets, and at our next meeting we must just decide how best to put the message which is so clear to us across to the local voters.

  • Brian Warner 18th Jan '18 - 9:14pm

    All the party can do is keep repeating the obvious: brexit is a disaster, and that neither the Tories nor Labour have any realistic answer.
    I wish we’d never had this ridiculous referendum- but we did, so now what? Well, if the government continue sleepwalking through the negotiations as they have been, and Corbyns Labour continue to offer no meaningful alternative…..I would hope that, at some point, enough reasonably intelligent leave voters will realise that they’ve been conned and reconsider. Failing that, an acceptance that although the public voted to leave the EU, we could at least ameliorate the worst by staying in either the single market or the customs union… The SNP have stated.

  • John Marriott 18th Jan '18 - 9:23pm

    What you say about immigration is so true. As someone, who has been an immigrant himself at one time or another (three years working in Canada, one year working in Germany, plus several study periods in France and Germany when at university) who am I to be anti immigrant? When I hear languages other than English spoken on our streets I find it enriching BUT that is clearly not the view of many of my fellow citizens, whose only experience of ‘abroad’ may only have been a couple of weeks per year on the Costa Brava. But who is to say they are wrong, when they feel overwhelmed or even ill at ease?

    I can put myself in their shoes even though I do not share their sentiments. The fact that not enough people tried to get them to think differently – or didn’t see the need to do so – is why we are where we are now. Living on an island whose inhabitants have often preferred to explore and exploit some of the more remote parts of the world rather than those and their inhabitants next door, no wonder the majority of people here have found it harder to assimilate other nationalities than their neighbours on the european mainland where over the centuries borders have been far more fluid and where populations have been far more mobile.

  • The LibDem national party is still too weak and timid on anti-Brexit. They should be firing all cylinders and taking as much of the sizeable Labour Remain support as possible.

  • John Marriott 19th Jan '18 - 6:57am

    Well, Mr Red, didn’t they try that in last year’s General Election and where did that get them?

  • As a campaigner you need massive optimism and massive realism!!! Which is often a hard combination to pull off!

    We have seen since in the past 30-40 years things that people said would never happen!! With both the Tories and Labour above 40% in the national opinion polls, I would caution against local parties spreading their resources too thinly! But also doubling, trebling, quadrupling their efforts in target wards.

    And for every pro-remainer to go and help their local Lib Dems with local elections as every seat we win will put pressure on Labour to be pro-remain and embolden and strengthen pro-remainers in their party.

  • With his comments on public service contracts Corbyn has effectively put paid to any chance Labour will support reversing Brexit. I agree with Paul Barker that taking seats off them is the key. Anyone who wants to remain needs to be attacking Labour on the EU and appealing to those young voters who do not want to leave. The sooner it is made abundantly clear that Labour statist, protectionist policies will allientate us from our EU partners the better.

  • Being a remainer is not about ignoring the referendum vote. Just as being a Lib Dem is not about ignoring the General Election result that saw a Conservative Government.

    I don’t want a Conservative government and I don’t want Brexit.

    It would be useful in this country if we had greater rules about referendums – say so many signatures triggers a referendum or a vote on holding a referendum in Parliament. Personally I support an increase in direct democracy instead of the elected oligarchy that we have at the moment.

    There are of course issues about a “nevereferendum” but the British people will get a vote on Brexit. Unfortunately it will be confined to 650 MPs and 800 peers. Surely it should be expanded?

    Immigration and centralisation of powers are enduring themes in politics. There is a strong strand of euro-scepticism in continental Europe. It is mirrored in the US with politicians campaigning against the “evils of Washington” and for Trump’s wall. There is also quite significant support for Californian independence. Throughout history in the UK many people have been hostile to incomers – it is understandable – from Mosley and the Blackshirts to Enoch Powell. I am very much pro-immigration but I do react a bit against the increase in things like Polish food shops – but people come to accept and indeed like the changes that immigrants make such as a curry houses and Chinese takeaways!

    We surely also recognise the importance of valuing our national heritage and want the greatest possible devolution. We also must recognise and not ignore those that have concerns about national identity and centralisation because we share them.

    But the role of the Lib Dems must surely be that of a strong voice for tolerance, internationalism and co-operation amongst countries.

  • Mick Taylor 19th Jan '18 - 9:48am

    Michael, we don’t need rules about referendums, just no more of them. They are the tools of populists and dictators and are completely at odds with our parliamentary democracy. We elect parliament to make decisions on our behalf after deliberation. Decisions cannot just be reduced to yes/no questions, it’s much more complicated than that.
    As for not supporting the will of the people. In 1975 we voted to remain in the EEC. Yet the brexiteers refused to accept the result and campaigned against it for 40 years. I see no reason why doing exactly the same now is anti-democratic. Anyway, in a democracy, people can change their minds and the Lab/Con alliance is refusing to see this.

  • Paul Barker, Steve Way….

    More of the usual “attack Labour” by some LibDems…Aesop’s fable of the Frog and the ox comes to mind…Making a monster out of Labour and trying to outdo them will only harm us…

    The REAL enemy are the Try party who, in case you have forgotten, are the ones digging the hole that is Brexit…

  • @expats Labour is now lead by a man who is intent on getting the hardest possible Brexit. As someone whose family is in real risk of being forcibly split up by Brexit, I see zero difference between the Hard Brexit Labour Party and the Hard Brexit Conservative Party – both are just as xenophobic, isolationist, nativist as each other. Both are enemies.

  • Corbyn and McDonnell are effectively alone. If they were in power tomorrow, even with an absolute majority of the seats, how would they proceed?

    If they put their A-team (Starmer, Thornberry, Gardiner) in charge of Brexit, those would sabotage the project by actually listening to Barnier and stopping to lie publicly about the complexity, poor prospects and high cost of the exercise. Remain would suddenly have a strong authoritative voice. So Corbyn would have to cave in or sack them.

    His true Brexiteer C-team (Field, Hoey, Skinner) is unpresentable and would make the Tory B-team (Davies, Johnson, Fox, who have so far just upheld the illusion of an ongoing process without achieving anything of substance) look like stars. Barnier would mercyfully not even receive them.

    So Corbyn and McDonnell would have to try themselves. They have no international experience, no bandwith, no energy. And, deep down, not the iron will. This lack of capacity in combination with the chaos of their first months in office while the Brexit-clock keeps ticking would somehow quite factually bring Brexit to a grinding halt. Formally stopping it just before the cliff-edge will become imperative.

    The spending- and renationalization-part of his agenda will encounter similar practical obstacles, and is a partly necessary experiment that would happen anyhow.

    In reality, he would need LibDem- and SNP-support for anything anyhow.

    So, if you really want to stop Brexit, hold your nose and bring them in power ASAP.

  • @expats
    Not anti Labour, simply highlighting that they are persueing a hard brexit.

    Prior to Corbyn I would have leaned towards them rather than the Tories if it came to choosing bedfellows.

  • Expats.
    Don’t get bogged down in this arguments. According to whichever post is being answered hard remainers and dogmatic party loyalists will claim the EU is not block renationalisation or visa versa. Equally, the young care more about tuition fees, housing and other domestic issues than being in the EU. This was obvious in the last election and people like myself had endless arguments about the folly of the coalition and the compounding follies of subsequent election strategies. No doubt I’ll get some long answer, but the thing us naysayers have been proved right.
    The point is that you cannot have a viable political party based on one issue. You have to have attractive boring old day to day policies because the big punch probably won’t land and even if it does it probably won’t be a knock out.

  • Glenn 19th Jan ’18 – 3:23pm..
    My reasoned response to posters has been removed…But it seems ‘one liners’ are acceptable…

  • Expats
    It happens.
    My apologies. Two finger typing (actually at the moment one finger typing as I’ve damaged my other typing finger), poor eyesight and posting before I read things through. Again my apologies.

  • Jayne mansfield 19th Jan '18 - 6:43pm

    @ Martin,
    Et tu Martin. I expected better of you, especially as you are involved in education.

    As a member of a party that claims to be researched based, you must be aware of the association between Brexit and educational attainment across all age groups. And yet, you take a hoity toity approach to those who offer their views in less than perfect English.

    May I say to those Brexiteers who post on here, there is a difference between educational attainment and being ‘thick’ and of course there will be those who have been fortunate to gain high educational attainment and still voted Brexit.

    The elderly may have been the demographic that are held responsible for the vote for Brexit. But that is only part of the story, they are they demographic who were least able to access higher education because of social conditions that pertained at the time..

  • @ Arnold Kiel & Co : Well, unless some of the posters on here are going to settle for a Tory Government in perpetuity, they better get their heads round the fact that there is likely to be a Labour Government and that a great many radical Liberals will welcome that as the lesser evil.

    To think the Lib Dems can jump from 12 MP’s to a majority government at the next General Election is stretching the elastic to the point of incredulity.

  • Jayne Mansfield
    I actually have a degree in history of art. I’m just a terrible typist these days. I don’t need other people to defend me.

  • Martin.
    I’m going by the vote in the last election and the less than convincing fortunes of the LDs since. I think the EU thing is very high on the news agenda, but much lower down out amongst the general public and that includes young people. There is just more to the world than the EU.

  • Jayne mansfield 19th Jan '18 - 7:42pm

    @ GLenn,
    No, but there are other who do .

    I obtained a degree in the History of Art thanks to the OU., when I officially retired.

    I still work for NGO’s that will take me in difficult situations, and as a volunteer for friends I met during my time working amongst them, hence my need for a pseudonym, my nickname.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the course.

  • Peter Watson 19th Jan '18 - 8:41pm

    @Mick Taylor “Michael, we don’t need rules about referendums, just no more of them. They are the tools of populists and dictators and are completely at odds with our parliamentary democracy.”
    Given all of the referendums that Lib Dems have promised in manifestos over the years and delivered in coalition government, that is a pretty damning indictment of the party.

  • The only person I trust to prevent a hard brexit is Keir Starmer. His holding of DD to the “exact same benefits” promise is clearly the smart long term strategy.

  • David raw: No-one is thinking that the Lib Dems are going to “jump from 12 MP’s to a majority government at the next General Election”. Least of all Lib Dems themselves. In contrast, the hubris of many Labour supporters, as expressed by your assertion that “there is likely to be a Labour Government,” could well lead to disappointment at the next election. Lib Dems have been there: the hubris in my party’s ranks following Cleggmania in the 2010 election campaign led to party campaigns team essentially abandoning targeting and adopting a ‘one more heave’ strategy, which resulted in the party performing much less well than we had hoped in the election.
    Labour’s current strategy seems also to be ‘one more heave’ and to refight the last election campaign. This seems to them to be a winning strategy because they performed “better than expected” at the last election. Well yes, but they still lost, and against the worst Tory campaign in living memory. And the Labour surge was unexpected, with neither Tories nor Lib Dems prepared for it. No-one thought Corbyn was a serious contender for Prime Minister, so he got, as Nick Clegg put it, a lot of abuse but little scrutiny, Next time it will be very different for Labour.
    I think we’ve reached Peak Corbyn and it’s unlikely Labour will win an overall majority at the next election under his leadership. Largest party maybe, but then he’d need to find coalition partners. And given the attitude to the present party leadership to inter-party co-operation, they are likely to find this difficult. The Lib Dem position on coalitions is likely to remain the same — we won’t countenance it with either main party under their present leaders.

  • Alex Macfie 22nd Jan '18 - 1:30pm

    Glenn: Ah yes, the old “82% of voters voted for pro-Brexit parties” chestnut. Except that they didn’t. Young people who voted Labour did so because they thought Labour would stop Brexit, despite all the signs that Corbyn is actually a staunch Brexiter. It remains to be seen how long Labour can continue to pretend to be anti-Brexit when its leadership and policy is pro, just as it will not forever be able to pretend to be a Scandinavian-style social democratic party when it is hiding a hard-left core.

  • Peter Hirst 22nd Jan '18 - 1:34pm

    The strategy must be to ridicule Labour as an unprincipled, power hungry mob. There are probably some sane people in it though the rest are too short term to really understand politics. Their internal structures are designed to keep their activists active and we must encourage their disintegration.

  • Peter Hirst 22nd Jan ’18 – 1:34pm…………..The strategy must be to ridicule Labour as an unprincipled, power hungry mob. There are probably some sane people in it though the rest are too short term to really understand politics. Their internal structures are designed to keep their activists active and we must encourage their disintegration…..

    That, in one short paragraph, says why this party will remain on the fringes of serious politics for the foreseeable future…

  • Alex Macfie
    Where did I say anything about 82% of people voting for Brexit parties? I said the issue appears to be less important to young people than student fees , housing and other policies. I know a lot of young people. They voted Labour because Labour offered more and fought from the left. The LDs are now down to 6%. If the strategy of concentrating on the EU is so effective, why is this? IMO, eventually the LDs will have to find a way of living in a post-EU British political scene. I don’t expect anything I say about this to change yours or anyone else’s mind.

  • Glenn: It’s the implication of your post. The Lib Dems’ low national opinion poll ratings are principally due to the national media narrative of a “return to two-party politics”, resulting in them doing their best to freeze us out of the discussion. Where people hear about us, they are often inclined to vote for us; this is one reason we are doing better in local by-elections than the national polls suggest.

  • Alex Macfie
    I don’t imply things. I say what I mean. I think people vote for all kinds of reasons and that Brexit is an issues, but not the only issue.

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