Our free and fearless press has today told readers that the Labour leadership has made some kind of U-Turn: even the Labour-supporting Mirror has told readers “Corbyn backs second Brexit vote … Labout come out for new referendum to block May’s botched plan or a no-deal”. The more right-leaning titles have applied a little more spin.
The increasingly desperate and downmarket Telegraph tells readers “Corbyn comes out for second referendum … Labour Brexiteer backlash as leadership backs vote in attempt to heal party splits”, suggesting this is some kind of new policy. The Murdoch Times agrees: “Labour will back second referendum on Brexit … Corbyn declares support in bid to stem exodus from party, but terms of any vote remain unclear”.
Unsurprisingly, the Mail eschews such spin and just does the judgmental stuff, lecturing readers “Corbyn U-Turns on 2nd referendum”. And the joke paper still known as the Daily Express howls “As Jeremy Corbyn backs a second referendum, he must understand that as far as 17.4m citizens of our democracy are concerned … OUR FINAL SAY ON BREXIT WAS JUNE 23 2016!” As Sir Sean nearly said, I think we got the point.
But there is a problem here: Labour’s Brexit policy has not changed. Let me repeat that for the hard of understanding: LABOUR’S BREXIT POLICY HAS NOT CHANGED. And at least some media outlets have admitted this: take the BBC Reality Check on Labour and Brexit from last September, which noted “Pushing for another referendum may well become Labour's main strategy, if it is unable to force an election”.
There are some in the press who have conveniently short memories: Labour’s Conference position did not rule out a second vote, and with Remain on the ballot paper. And the BBC echoed this: “In his speech to conference, Sir Keir [Starmer] said the party had to be able to put forward alternatives to leaving the EU with no deal, including - crucially - campaigning for a public vote”. So, as Theresa May might put it, nothing has changed.
Check out the Guardian headline from last September: “Labour delegates vote overwhelmingly for Brexit motion backing second referendum as option - as it happened”. The article also confirmed that “Sir Keir Starmer, has mobilised Labour support for a second referendum on Brexit in a speech that saw him receive wild applause after he declared: ‘Nobody is ruling out remain as an option.’” So why the spin?
Simples. There were defections last week not just from Labour, but also from the Tories. The majority of the press leans well to the right, and so anything that makes Labour look bad, and can be used to take the heat off the Tories and their singularly useless top team, will be enthusiastically promoted to the exclusion, if necessary, of reality.
When yet another Corbyn critic asks why Labour is not ahead in the polls, and suggests that the leadership is somehow at fault for not bringing this about, the response should be to ask what that leadership can do when presented with a tsunami of hostile propaganda.
Labour’s Brexit position is unchanged. What you will not read in the papers.
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