MITCH BENN: We’re winning this

PUBLISHED: 15:00 28 September 2018

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte flees the pursuing allied troops after he is defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, 1815. An engraving from an original work by John Gilbert. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte flees the pursuing allied troops after he is defeated at the Battle of Waterloo, 1815. An engraving from an original work by John Gilbert. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

2014 Getty Images

We’re winning this, writes MITCH BENN, and Brexit will ultimately meet its Waterloo.

This year’s Labour conference was, you’ll note, in Liverpool, my birthplace and boyhood home; this is slightly ironic for reasons which will become apparent in a few paragraphs’ time.

There was a very well attended pro-People’s Vote march there on Sunday. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been hosting People’s Vote events all over the UK these last few weeks; I did offer my services for this one but the organisers explained that since this was a march aimed specifically at making the case for a vote to the Labour membership and executive, it was better that the speakers be ‘Labour People’, which I’m not (although I have voted Labour in the past, and it’d be nice to think I might again some day).

At least this year the party seems willing to engage with the issue; last year, you might recall, they refused to schedule any debates on the subject of Brexit, on the laughably-spurious official pretext that “we debated it last year and the resolutions we came to still stand” (since, apparently, no new information came to light in the 15 months after the referendum) and the unofficial, privately-expressed, altogether more believable but worryingly Stalinist rationale that “it might cause disagreements in the party” (because of course a ‘debate’ is when a bunch of people with identical opinions meet in a big room to agree with each other).

The reluctance of the Labour Party to properly tackle the Brexit issue head-on has been explained, or rather excused, in many circles with reference to a quote tentatively attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte: “Never interrupt your enemy while he’s making a mistake” (Barry Gardiner and Billy Bragg both trotted this one out on Twitter). The thinking being that the Tories are making such a spectacular visible-from-space cock-up of Brexit that it’s better to sit it out and let them embarrass themselves.

Two points come to mind: firstly, while Napoleon won a lot of battles, he was ultimately deposed and vanquished twice and died in exile being slowly poisoned to death, according to some accounts, by his own wallpaper. So perhaps he shouldn’t be regarded as an infallible source of tactical wisdom.

Secondly, better for whom? The applicability of the quote rather depends on who your enemy is and what mistake he’s making. Gardiner and Bragg’s tweets were responded to by Hugo Rifkind and James O’Brien respectively, who came up with differently worded but similar replies to the effect of actually, you should interrupt your enemy if he’s at the wheel of a bus with all your loved ones locked inside and the “mistake” he’s making is driving it at speed towards a cliff edge.

The Conservative Party is indeed making a hideous mess of Brexit (although the whole enterprise is so ill-conceived it’s hard to imagine what else they could have done) and I’m sure many Labour faithful are salivating at the thought of the Tory humiliations to come. But the point – surely the point, if you’re on the side of the disadvantaged, as the Labour Party believes itself to be – is that by then it will be too late. Yes, the government will be in ruins, but so will the economy. So will society. So will the NHS.

This is why it’s ironic that these discussions are happening in Liverpool. There are two questions I usually answer with the simple statement “I’m from Liverpool”. One is “Why won’t you audition for this advert for the Sun?” and the other is “Why won’t you get behind Corbyn’s Labour Party?”

Back in the mid-1980s Liverpool was facing complete public services failure because of a stand-off between the Labour (or rather Militant) city council and the Thatcher government. It became apparent to many of us living there at the time that both sides had decided that their most profitable course of action was to let the city fail, then blame the opposition. That’s why this Brexit situation feels horribly familiar to me, and many Scousers of comparable vintage. We’ve been here before, and unless one side or the other snaps the hell out of it, it doesn’t end well. If Labour is willing to sacrifice the welfare of working people for electoral capital, then what is the point of the Labour Party? What is Labour for?

The party has, at least, come out nominally in favour of – or at least, not against – a final deal vote. This is a massive achievement for our movement, but it’s not enough.

There’s still no clarity on which circumstances would trigger such a vote or whether it would even include an option to remain. A final deal vote without such an option would be like the crew of the sinking Titanic offering the passengers the choice of sitting in the red or the blue deckchairs while they smash all the lifeboats.

But we’re not done yet. Keep the pressure up on the Tories and especially on Labour; remind them that simply believing that you’re The Good Guys is not enough; you actually have to do the right thing.

We’re winning this. Keep resisting.

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