UK Politicians

Was Nicola Sturgeon wrong to criticise Jeremy Corbyn over A50 bill?

February 9, 2017

Are the Tories getting away with their EU shenanigans once again, thanks to unnecessary infighting on the left?

Jeremy Corbyn had some prominent members of the Twitterati quite hot under the collar when referring to the government bill triggering the UK’s withdrawal from the EU:

Some notable pro-EU politicians such as Nicola Sturgeon and Caroline Lucas reacted with anger, with Sturgeon even going so far as to call his response “Pathetic” and saying that he had handed the Tories a “blank cheque”.

This line of attack has left Tory commentators rubbing their hands with glee, as they once again get away with far greater sins.

Pro-Remain elements on Twitter were also unhappy, with many saying that Corbyn had either let the opportunity for real amendments pass him by (“shutting the stable door after the horse bolted” was a common theme) or insinuating that Corbyn had never really been campaigning for Remain with any real noticeable effect:

Are these takes reasonable?

It’s understandable that people might be angry with Corbyn positioning Labour in this way; after all, there is still a lot of bad feeling on both sides of the EU debate. Posting on Twitter may or may not be helpful but it is revealing of substantial emotion.

Some arguments have gained popular credence but don’t stand up to much scrutiny when figures are applied to them.

For example, the argument made by Graham Linehan above suggests that if only Corbyn had campaigned more furiously, energised Labour voters could have possibly swung the EU referendum Remain’s way. This ignores the fact that the large majority of Labour voters opted to remain in the EU (72% in fact!),  a clear success for the Labour Party’s official line.

The worst thing about this line of argument is that it actually excuses the Tories for their terrible decisions and the infighting that led to the EU referendum being initiated. It focuses all of the blame on Corbyn (who delivered majority Labour support for EU membership) whilst excusing Tory remainers such as Cameron, Osborne and May (who lost huge amounts of Tory support for Remain with their incompetent and deceitful campaign).

Linehan and other commentators are actually playing into Tory hands with this argument, empowering Theresa May (how much support did she give the Remain campaign when she supported it? Barely anything!) and pushing unfair criticism onto Corbyn, who actually delivered a significant number of Remain’s voters in the referendum.

Why did Sturgeon make such strong comments?

Let’s focus on the criticism that probably holds most weight here, that delivered by Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon is right to point out that Corbyn voted for the bill. He even enforced a three line whip, the highest inducement for fellow party members to stick to a party line. She’s technically right that he didn’t “win a single concession” too. So far, so reasonably logical.

There are issues with her argument, though. For example, she seems to be implying that Corbyn has allowed the Tories to get their way and that if he had only had a little more will or fortitude, concessions would have been wrung from those dastardly Tory leavers!

However, this is actually quite a glib and insubstantial argument, with Sturgeon gaining much from venturing little.

Sturgeon, within her constituency and within Scotland, is sure of pro-Remain sentiment, thanks to Scots backing the Remain campaign with much greater enthusiasm than their southern neighbours.

She has nothing to lose by expressing these sentiments so strongly, with little voter blowback, whilst standing to gain much from any upset Scottish Labour voters who might feel soothed by her argument.

Sturgeon ignores the numbers game

The Conservatives hold the balance of power.

The Tories currently have a majority of 12 in the House of Commons. Without some Tories breaking ranks and voting against their own party line, this means that Labour can’t force through amendments at this stage.

And as yesterday’s vote regarding the rights EU nationals currently living in the UK showed, only three Tory MPs were willing to vote in favour of pro-Remain amendments. These aren’t numbers that bode well for intervention at this stage of the process.

By Sturgeon arguing that Corbyn and Labour handed the Tories a “blank cheque”, she’s misleading people. Giving the impression that Labour could have seriously impeded this issue, even if MPs had been allowed a free vote, is opportunistic and ignores reality.

As Guardian commenter DW5446 succinctly put it:

Parliament voted in favour of holding a referendum by a ratio of 6:1 back in 2015.

With such overwhelming support for a referendum it can hardly not enact the result.

Labour, quite rightly, has therefore backed the triggering of Article 50 (which starts the process of negotiating to leave) but has stated that its aim will now be to hold the Government to account and to get the best deal for the British people – so far as it, as the opposition, can do.

It’s a perfectly reasonably position to take in the circumstances.

So who benefits from this situation?

Firstly, the Tories do!

The bashing of Labour on this is a massive smokescreen. The Tories are getting a free ride despite it all being their fault! They must be wetting themselves. Unfortunately for Labour, they’re stuck between a rock and a hard place given the split in their own support, and given large sections of that support base appear to be coming at the issue from an incredibly narrow, parochial viewpoint: I wanted this result; I didn’t get it; what are Labour going to do? It’s all Corbyn’s fault!

The Tories gain as they aren’t held up as responsible for their actions, even when they are the majority element in government! Blaming Corbyn for the fall out here is “narrow” as a viewpoint, especially as he inherited a minority opposition from the failed Miliband leadership.

Secondly, Sturgeon does!

By condemning Corbyn in the strongest terms and therefore positioning herself as a voice of principle and pro-Remain virtue, she gets to enjoy the political capital amongst eager Remainers (as the ecstactic voices in the feed beneath her tweet would indicate) without actually having to risk a thing politically. A nice day’s work for any politician!

But could Corbyn be doing more?

Labour lost the last two General Elections thanks to its loss of support across the North and in Wales.

When Corbyn took over, he made it a priority to regain support from those traditional Labour heartlands, areas which also voted largely Leave in the referendum.

With Scotland lost to Labour for a generation (thanks to the disastrous Miliband years and the ludicrous leadership of Kezia Dugdale), how could it possibly hope to win the next General Election if it insulted those same areas now?

He could indeed come out as a vociferous supporter of Remain now. He could have whipped his MPs into voting against triggering A50.

But all he would have done is alienate some of Labour’s core voters. They would have been driven into the arms of the Lib Dems, UKIP or the Conservatives.

Corbyn could have tried what Sturgeon said but he would have been brutalised at the ballot bax for it.

Ultimately, he’s made a sensible (if somewhat unsatisfying) political decision to try and keep the Labour Party together  and it’s disparate voting base together electorally.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply