Not all pro-Europeans think Keir Starmer got his position wrong on the Brexit deal.
Desmond Fitzgerald (Letters, TNE #226), thinks that Starmer should be ashamed for whipping Labour MPs to vote for the Brexit deal, but I think Starmer was right:
1. The vote wasn’t Leave or Remain, it was between a bad deal (terms already fixed) and, by default, a much worse no-deal.
2. Voting for no-deal, even by default, would have been economically irresponsible – not something a potential PM should do.
3. Voting for no-deal would also have been politically unwise because it would have enabled Johnson to say that Labour was voting against Brexit and thus betraying the (2016) will of the people.
4. While Johnson can’t say that Starmer was voting against Brexit, he can say that Starmer was backing the deal – to which Starmer will reply that he wasn’t backing the terms of the deal but was making the responsible choice between a bad deal and a much worse no-deal. Johnson would, I think, have preferred Starmer to have voted against the Bill.
Starmer was faced with a choice of two evils and, in my view, he made the best choice.
I disagree with Desmond Fitzgerald. Starmer’s decision to vote for the trade deal was correct. Of course he would have been aware that the Conservatives will accuse him of supporting the deal whenever he seeks to criticise it, but to abstain would have opened him up to the even worst criticism of sitting on the fence, something that did so much damage to Jeremy Corbyn.
Furthermore, Starmer made the argument that by abstaining, those who disagreed with Brexit, and in particular no-deal, were refusing to support the one thing that would prevent a no-deal in the hope that a no-deal would not happen because others would vote for the deal. Abstaining would have been ‘virtue signalling’ and political posturing of the very worst kind. Starmer showed real leadership and I respect him for it.
I share Desmond Fitzgerald’s concern about Starmer’s gumption and policy-free performances. However, I struggle to comprehend where “policies to meet the challenges and needs of the country in the 21st century” will come from if not the Labour Party. He cannot surely expect the Tories to be converted to properly regulated financial services, the ending of privatisations, the introduction of a basic universal income, fully funding the NHS and schools and ending the shameful shambles that is social care.
Moreover if the Tories were the architects of austerity as a calculated strategy to torpedo the welfare state, make ordinary working people pay for the bankers’ mess and create the precariat in the process then the Lib Dems were their willing accomplices and as such were the midwives who gave birth to austerity.
They knew what the consequences of supporting the Tories in coalition would be. The truth is they are Tories in sheep’s clothing as victims of the bedroom tax, the tripling of HE tuition fees and those who rely on local authority services can testify.
Imperfect as Starmer is he is the least worst option that we have. Let us hold him to account together. Deluge him with mail until he tells us what he stands for.
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