Paul Mason: The Brexit party is great news for Labour

11 May 2019

9:00 AM

11 May 2019

9:00 AM

Multiple copies of a Labour leaflet for the European elections are being shared on messaging apps by horrified activists. Not only does the draft leaflet omit mention of a second referendum, it seems to suggest Labour’s MEP candidates will ‘do a Brexit deal with Europe’ while actually being members of the European Parliament. The leaflet causes a furore among the candidates, is disavowed by Labour HQ as a ‘draft’, and the whole caravan of Brexit chaos lurches forward to its next absurdity.

Game of Thrones means Monday mornings are the new Sunday nights in our household. The battle of Winterfell is as thrilling as it is absurd. If you have seen ballistae on the battlefield, and know they can hit dragons, why deploy trebuchets? Why send the Dothraki, the best cavalry in the world, to attack infantry who cannot be spooked? A week later, when all the plotlines have fallen apart, a Starbucks cup turns up in shot. Maybe Weiss and Benioff, the showrunners, have never read The Defence of Duffer’s Drift. Or maybe sensing they were coming towards the end, and would be minted for life, they lost all focus and belief in their original narrative. If so, maybe they were taking lessons from Theresa May.

This is book launch week. I promised my editors at Allen Lane I would stick to the big themes of Clear Bright Future and avoid trench warfare over Brexit. So I end up on Sky in trench warfare over Brexit with Isabel Oakeshott. She is chipper because Nigel Farage’s new party is on 25 per cent. I am also chipper because, despite my public disagreement with the ‘get Brexit over with’ wing of Corbynism, the bigger picture is becoming clear. If the Conservatives go into any election facing something called the Brexit Party, having delivered a deal that prevents Britain doing independent trade deals, I cannot see them winning it. Sixty-odd key marginals open up for Labour — many in places where Chuka Umunna’s illiberal breakaway stands no chance.

Given Tory strategists can also see this, it remains a mystery why they have not offered Jeremy Corbyn everything he’s demanded in the talks plus a second referendum. Getting Labour’s fingerprints — not acquiescence — on a Brexit deal seems like the only way the Conservatives can save themselves.

Sun Tzu said that if you defend everywhere you defend nowhere. Gavin Williamson’s strategy was to attack everywhere: to send the army in against knife crime, to turn every encounter with a Russian frigate into The Hunt for Red October, to threaten to send an aircraft carrier to the China sea and — according to one civil servant — to prepare the British army to ‘invade Africa’. Naturally, therefore, attack-minded Gavin emerged red-faced from a meeting of the National Security Council, at which May overruled a demand to ban Huawei from the UK’s comms infrastructure, and went on the attack. An attack, unfortunately, that had the same impact as the Dothraki cavalry in Game of Thrones. In a brutal defenestration, it became clear that attacking the security elite of Whitehall is not the same as winning an election in South Staffordshire. The Huawei decision is so clearly the product of a clash between geopolitics and short-term security worries that it’s a shame the deeper issue has not been explored. Russia — our most important long-term threat — is wooing Beijing into a global alliance against the West. British strategy towards China has been to ‘hug it close’ economically and damp down any worries about human rights. But that strategy isn’t working. Trotsky used to say the British ruling class thinks in terms of ‘centuries and continents’. The Williamson affair is evidence that, at present, they are thinking in ‘weeks and leadership bids’.

The local election results show how close we might be to the fragmentation of the British party system. From the inside, Labour looks like a fractious coalition. Nine years, meanwhile, seem to have erased the stain left on the Lib Dems from tuition fees, while the Greens, who took 1.1 million votes from Labour at the 2015 election, might easily do so again. We on the left, perennial students of Conservative history, can see clearly what kind of leader the Tory party needs amid all this: one who can embody the values of liberal Britain, face down the xenophobes, reverse austerity and call time on the MoD’s neo-imperial fantasies of global reach. Surveying the parliamentary parties, both Labour and the SNP contain a rising generation of politicians who look exactly like this. The Tories’ problem is that they do not.

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