Let’s assume that you’re looking to buy a car. You go to a car dealer who has a variety of cars available, some of which have the features you want, some of which don’t, some of which are in your price range, some of which aren’t. So, you’re negotiating with the dealer, trying to get the best package at the best price and then you blurt out ‘of course, I have to buy a car today, and you’re the only dealer open’. Now, do you think the dealer is going to offer you a better deal before or after you tell them that piece of information?
That scenario comes to mind when reading about John McDonnell’s pledge that “Labour will not seek to block or delay” Article 50 in Parliament. Labour are effectively walking into this process having told the Government that they don’t need to prepare any concessions to the Opposition in order to get Article 50 invoked, and have also let the Government know that they don’t even need to listen to their own rebels because there’s no way that Labour will be giving them any support in votes.
Leaving aside the issues of whether Labour should be for or against Brexit, this is just a bad tactical move from the party that’s supposed to be forming the official Opposition. They’re facing a Givernment party that’s got quite noticeable splits, but are throwing away the chance to make those splits mean anything. Proper Opposition (like Labour managed under Blair in the 90s) would capitalise on this to make the Government fight for every vote, esoecially on the most important issue facing the nation. This pre-capitulation just lets the Government off the hook. In the same way that Clegg weakened the Lib Dem negotiating position in the Coalition by refusing to countenance ending it or IDS made Blair’s Parliamentary life easy by backing him over Iraq, this is an Opposition willingly throwing away its chance of influence and power.
Oddly, just as those on the left who backed leaving the EU are realising that they were sold a lemon, McDonnell and Corbyn seem to be leaping onto the rapidly emptying Lexit bandwagon, talking of a ‘People’s Brexit’ and how staying in the EU supports ‘big business’. It might be the position they’ve had all along, but it feels like the worst possible time to be announcing it.