Labour's referendum rift and the battle for control of the party

While Theresa May contemplates her looming humiliation in Thursday’s local elections she can enjoy, for a brief moment,  Labour’s turmoil over Brexit .

Labour’s National Executive Committee meets this morning to agree the wording of its manifesto for the European elections.

This is proving a challenge for Jeremy Corbyn as it requires him to make a decision he has long tried to avoid.

Until now the Labour leader has prevaricated on whether to endorse a second referendum in all circumstances, partly because of his own conflicted stance on Brexit but primarily because Labour’s ambiguity has served the party well.

If given the choice the leadership would far rather park Brexit altogether in order to focus on the domestic agenda – a strategy which worked in its favour at the general election where its anti-austerity message resonated with many voters.

Gareth Snell MP warns a second vote will alienate traditional Labour voters

This luxury is no longer available when the European elections demand the party adopt a position.

Labour MPs’ views on the merits of a second referendum tend (though not exclusively) to reflect the demographics of their constituencies.

Those representing seats in the post-industrial heartlands warn the failure to deliver Brexit is eroding trust in politics and alienating traditional supporters.

Those in remain voting seats say they are haemorrhaging party members because of the party’s refusal to back explicitly a second referendum.

Stoke MP Gareth Snell sets out  the arguments against a second vote here  while Sedgefield’s Phil Wilson, who represents a Brexit voting seat,  makes the case for a referendum here .

This being Labour the question is not solely about the advantages and disadvantages of being in favour of a second referendum.

The issue is part of a wider power struggle which has pitched the pro-referendum camp of  Tom Watson, UNISON, the GMB and Usdaw against the leader’s office and Unite .

Unison’s Dave Prentis is backing calls for a second referendum

The dividing lines are not clear cut. 

For instance, many Momentum members are in favour of a second vote as is Manuel Cortes, the Corbynite leader of the TSSA.

If not carefully handled the row risks further inflaming tensions within the union movement as the various general secretaries battle for influence.

The most likely outcome today will be some form of fudge aimed at cooling tempers and saving faces. 

A form of wording will be devised which acknowledges Labour’s conference decision to back a second referendum but only on a Tory Brexit rather than one devised by Labour.

Today’s agenda:

9am – Theresa May chairs Cabinet.

10am – Louise Casey and Vicky Foxcroft MP give evidence to Home Affairs select committee on knife crime.

10am – Jack Straw and William Hague give evidence to Public Administration committee on Parliament and the authorising of military action.

11am – Labour’s NEC meets.

11.30am – Greg Clark takes Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy questions in the Commons.

What I am reading:

William Hague in the Telegraph (£) on how the Remainers have blown their chances in the EU elections


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