MITCH BENN: Labour have given the Lib Dems an early Christmas present

PUBLISHED: 09:28 28 September 2019

The audience at the 2019 Labour Party Conference. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The audience at the 2019 Labour Party Conference. Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

2019 Getty Images

Labour's message on Brexit is fooling no-one says MITCH BENN.

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And so, we pass the autumn equinox and soldier on into the last bit of the year. There are two things which happen around this time of year with a maddening predictability: firstly, Christmas stuff will start to turn up in the shops despite it still being more or less summer weather-wise; secondly, people will start complaining about the Christmas stuff turning up in the shops earlier every year (it doesn't; it's been turning up in September for as long as I can remember and I can remember a fair old way back these days).

However, if you've got anything to do with the Liberal Democrats you could be forgiven for thinking that Christmas had come earlier than ever this year, because in your case it pretty much has, courtesy of the Labour Party, who this week presented the Lib Dems with the entire pro-Remain vote and more or less the whole of the centre and centre-left of the British political spectrum, done up with a big bow on the top.

The only explanation I've seen for the utterly bizarre spectacle which unfolded at the mercifully curtailed conference was proffered by actress and campaigner Tracy Ann Oberman on Twitter, who said that a couple of political journalists of her acquaintance had told her that the modern Labour Party is utterly unconcerned with how it looks to the country at large and stages and manages conferences purely in order to appeal to the membership.

And since the membership now is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to consist almost entirely of hardcore Corbynistas, what you get is the 'We Love You Jeremy show' for a straight week; hence the bizarre attempt by Jon Lansman, the Momentum founder and member of Labour's National Executive Committee, not to get Tom Watson fired or voted out but to abolish his deputy leader job out from under him, the "Ooohhh Jeremy Corbyn" chanting and the insane triangulation - still - on Brexit (a case now not so much of re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic so much as convening a special debate on what colour the deckchairs should be while smashing all the lifeboats).

The logic, Tracy says her journo friends explain, is that it only matters what the membership thinks, because the voters - the people - are too bovine and complacent to notice what goes on at conference and are "too busy watching Strictly".

Leaving aside that, if true, it's really not a good look for the party which has made sticking up for 'the people' its raison d'être since its inception to be dismissing 'the people' as too dim to notice or care how it behaves, I think that if the Labour Party genuinely thinks this, they're wrong, and they're about to be proven disastrously wrong.

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Let's take that 'position' on Brexit: remaining 'neutral' until a general election, then convening a special one-day conference to decide - after the election - which way to campaign if there's another referendum.

In other words, you vote for them, because reasons, and then, they will decide retroactively what you've 
voted for. So the message from Labour is: If you have any position either way on Brexit, whatever you do, don't vote Labour, because if you vote for them as a Remainer they reserve the right after the fact to count your vote as a vote for Brexit, and vice versa.

The truly insane thing is that the Tories are more vulnerable now than at any time since they first (sort of) got back in in 2010, having foolishly purged all the MPs they had with any sort of cross-party appeal, leaving the centre ground - where elections are won and lost - wide open.

And rather than seize that centre ground, Labour has decided that the smart move is to purge, undermine and alienate its own most moderate and rational figureheads. Meanwhile, that centre ground lies unclaimed, just waiting for someone to come along and slap a big yellow rosette on it.

Labour's big problem here is one we've discussed before: They believe that anyone progressive - anyone who opposes the Tories, basically - has a duty to vote for them, and if you choose not to, then that's you failing in your duty to 
support Labour, and never the Labour Party failing in its duty to win your support.

They don't make a positive case for voting Labour; they genuinely don't believe they have to, because if you don't want the Tories in, who else are you going to vote for? Eh?

Ask Scottish Labour how that attitude worked out. Labour doesn't have the right to anyone's vote; they have to convince, and persuade, and win over. Right now the Lib Dems are within a point or so of them in the polls. Labour takes its place in The Big Two for granted at its peril.

Apart from anything else, it's a pointless distraction. I haven't even had room to mention the fact that Boris Johnson is still refusing to provide any answers on the subject of that nice blonde lady whose flat he spent all that time in and who received £126,000 of public money. Maybe next week (assuming another of Boris's unusual friendships hasn't come to light in the meantime, and that's he's still prime minister).

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