How Rebecca Long-Bailey has come full circle on her Brexit views

PUBLISHED: 21:40 22 February 2020 | UPDATED: 21:40 22 February 2020

Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey leaves after the Labour leadership hustings in Nottingham. Photograph: Jacob King/PA.

Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey leaves after the Labour leadership hustings in Nottingham. Photograph: Jacob King/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

STEVE ANGLESEY on how Rebecca Long-Bailey wants to change Labour’s Brexit stance - but not a lot else.

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Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Hackney, London. Picture: PA Wire/PA ImagesLabour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Hackney, London. Picture: PA Wire/PA Images

"I've been on a journey, to be honest, in relation to a public vote or a referendum," said Rebecca Long-Bailey just four months ago, breaking with Jeremy Corbyn to back holding one before a possible general election if necessary.

The Salford and Eccles MP's odyssey now appears complete after she told Andrew Marr it would be "absolutely disastrous to go into the next election advocating a position of rejoining the EU". What a long, strange trip it's been for her, back to square one.

Long-Bailey's latest campaign video features her being questioned by a couple of sixtysomething Leavers who say "the Labour party didn't listen to us over Brexit". How will she fix that? "We've got to move on and offer a vision of what Britain and what Salford looks like outside the EU," she says. "And that has to be positive because people don't vote for negative politicians, they don't vote for someone who's going to tell them how terrible their life's going to be. They only vote for someone who tells them how good life is going to be." In other words, never mind the detail when it's unicorns and sunlit uplands all round!

Long-Bailey hardly sounded like much of a Remainer to begin with. On June 13, 2016, she was tweeting, "EU far from perfect, needs reform but Tories would use OUT to destroy our workers rights and more + excuse for more austerity".

That was pretty much the half-hearted message Jeremy Corbyn took to the people so half-heartedly during the referendum. A look at RLB's Twitter timeline from the periods immediately pre- and post- that vote certainly give the impression that she cared as much, if not more, about securing Corbyn's job as Labour leader after the vote of no confidence in him on July 28, 2016, than she did about securing thousands more jobs along with Britain's place in the European Union.

Then began Long-Bailey's long trek from Brexitshire to Remainia, there and back again, always in step with her silver-haired cheerleader John McDonnell. The Gandalf of Great Yarmouth, as vociferous a Brexit opponent as Steve Bray just eight short weeks ago, now says Labour should drop the whole issue for a generation.

This is extraordinary stuff from Labour's Marxist man of principle, suggesting that McDonnell had forgotten to tell us the Marx he had in mind was Groucho. He famously said, "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others."

Long-Bailey's own campaign website quotes her as saying that Labour needs "a leader who sticks to their principles and has the record to prove it." That's quite a contrast from her retreat on Brexit, and the revised verdict on freedom of movement which she gave to Marr.

"My own personal view is I am in favour of free movement, but we've got to be pragmatic and realise the position we're in," she said. Isn't this the kind of passive thinking which led to all the things Corbynism was meant to sweep away - the awful "controls on immigration" mug, the abstentions on the 2015 bill which cut welfare spending by £12 billion?

Meanwhile, though Long-Bailey is convinced Labour must change on Brexit, she's not keen on changing much else. "We must not go back to the politics of the past," says her website, and she's still backing the risible free broadband offer, the four-day week and other manifesto pipe dreams which helped deliver the worst election result since 1935. Somehow, she rates Corbyn's leadership as 10/10.

Still, if all that's required are a couple of presentational tweaks and a new Brexit policy of not mentioning Brexit, Labour are set fair to return to power in 2023 or 2024.

Never mind that 70% of Labour voters picked Remain in 2016. Never mind that the 2017 surge was built on Remainers flocking to Labour (the campaigner Matt Zarb-Cousin, now Long-Bailey's head of campaign communications, liked to say that Brexit "never came up on the doorstep" until a British Election Study report showed it was the key issue among those who switched to back Corbyn).

And never mind the internal Labour report on the December 12 debacle, which showed that the party lost 2.6 million voters between elections, with around 750,000 moving to the Lib Dems (presumably because they were more explicit in their opposition to Brexit) with 650,000 going to pro-Brexit parties, mostly to the Tories. The other 1.2 million simply stayed at home, presumably turned off by Mr 10/10 and the raft of daft non-Brexit policies which Long-Bailey now defends.

The call to arms on Long-Bailey's website ends by hailing her as one of a "new generation of socialist leaders who can unite all of our heartlands from Blyth Valley to Brixton."

It's a nice line, but she might just want to check the stats from 2016. Yes, Blyth Valley might have come in 60.4% for Leave. Brixton's home borough of Lambeth, however, went 78.6% Remain. Meanwhile a poll of all voters in the supposedly more Brexity north puts her 26% behind Keir Starmer.

If Rebecca Long-Bailey fancies another journey, where to begin?

Steve's selection:

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PRITI PATEL

The home secretary added to her reputation for gaffes by telling Kay Burley@Breakfast on flooding: "The whole of government is working and empathising with the individuals that rightly have been affected." This was the least successful attempt at empathy since the 1992 US primaries, when George Bush went into a debate being told to sell the message that he cared, and said: "Message: I care".

Patel was mocked earlier in February after insisting she would lead a crackdown on "counter-terrorists". She repeated variants of the phrase four times in a Sky News interview, promising: "Tomorrow we will also be announcing some fundamental changes to deal with counter-terrorism and counter-terrorism offenders."

- COLIN BROWNING

This previously unknown Brexiteer caused Remainer delight with his tweet about a trip to Amsterdam: "Absolutely disgusting service at Schiphol airport. 55 minutes we have been stood in the immigration queue. This isn't the Brexit I voted for."

Naturally, this turned out to be yet another example of Leavers blaming Europeans for stuff that isn't their fault, and Browning later admitted: "I wrongly tweeted without knowing the facts. Schiphol have since clarified why the issue occurred and I apologise to them for my outburst."

Less amusing is the rest of the content of Browning's Twitter timeline, which features wisdom like "Give it five years and Sky Sports will be women, blacks & queers only presenting", and "God created Adam & Eve not Adam & Steve".

- MARTIN DAUBNEY

The blue-suited chump who gifted the EU parliament with the same dignity and intelligence that he showed as editor of Loaded believes the next country to exit the European Union will be… Germany.

"If we can forge it on our own, we can go ahead and strike out and become a huge international force without the EU, (it will be) the Germans," he told the Daily Express.

"When they see the evidence that you can stand outside the EU, I think the dominoes are going to start toppling."

Good luck with that, Martin. Last month a poll showed Remain leading Leave in Germany by 72%-28%.

- DOMINIC CUMMINGS

The Saj toppled! A racist superforecaster hired and let go! Yet more tea cosies worn as hats! It's been another crazy week in the world of Classic Dom and there looks to be more to come.

A BBC documentary about Boris Johnson's brain is planning to feature CBI man Colin Perry, who claims that two decades ago Cummings "seized me by the collar and tie, slammed me against the wall and raised his fist as if to hit my face."

And what brought on this alleged attack, which Cummings denies (he says the two men just "stumbled into each other")? Perry claims it happened when he accused Cummings of wanting the UK to leave the EU entirely, which Dom then called a "lie". Perish the thought!

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