My vantage point a couple of thousand metres up in the French Alps didn’t make Labour’s agonising over Article 50 any less depressing for me than it was for colleagues back at Westminster. For what it’s worth my sympathies were with those Labour MPs who felt, at this precise point in the process, that the referendum result trumped their pro European principles.
But I wholly agree with MP Paul Flynn who tweeted “Anti-Brexiteers, who reluctantly accepted force of referendum on Brexit principle, now liberated to insist on safeguards & second thoughts.” And France was a good place to understand how quickly politics can change. We all know about the financial allegations that have put the skids under Republican Francois Fillon but what was on the newsstand in my Vanoise supermarché ?
An intriguing Le Monde headline “The three cases that threaten Marine Le Pen and the Front National”over a story detailing how the FN is alleged to have taken 7.5 million Euros of EU cash for fictitious jobs; how since the arrival of Marine Le Pen the NF is suspected of using fraudulent system of funding for all its election campaigns and that in their declarations of interests as MEPs Le Pen and her father undervalued their property interests. Le Monde says the latter charge if proved could bring jail or a fine as well a ten year ban from office for Le Pen.
Undaunted by these allegations Le Pen launched her campaign in Lyon with echoes of Trump and Farage. As the Guardian reports polls point to her winning first round in April but losing to a mainstream candidate in the 7 May. Fillon’s problems mean there’s every chance that could be the independent Emmanuel Macron, described as “economically liberal and pro-business and progressive on social issues.”
My re-immersion in domestic politics started with Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry’s impressive performance on the Andrew Marr show. She pitched it right in conceding that Labour was divided just as the country was divided. She offered a message of hope saying Labour would “look after the economy first” and would seek alliances with MPs from other parties in challenging Theresa May’s hard Brexit.
Framing Brexit as an economic argument with the emphasis on jobs and living standards is an approach around which Labour MPs can rally. It’s one which ought to worry the Prime Minister and the hubristic Brexiters. I believe there is everything to play for.
Just as her toadying to Trump is a sign of the Prime Minister’s Brexit-induced weakness, underneath the triumphalism of the Leave camp there is a nagging fear that in the end they will not get their prize. They are scared witless that what has happened in several other countries, where voters given the chance to think again after a referendum have reversed their decision, could happen here.
Messy Brexit negotiations, robust Parliamentary scrutiny, an economic downturn and smart campaigning amongst Labour supporters who voted Leave could bring a shift in the public mood. We are not there yet. It’s premature to make a referendum the goal but it shouldn’t be ruled out.