Labour’s manifesto decision is another cynical act of 'constructive ambiguity'

Unclear directions: Brexit has sucked the meaning out of British politics
Unclear directions: Brexit has sucked the meaning out of British politics

By Chris Allnutt

So now we know. Labour's manifesto for the European election will be just as garbled and meaningless as its existing policy. After weeks of debate, they are simply reiterating their plan to hold open the "option" of a public vote if they can't get their own deal or a general election.

This is evasive to the point of dishonesty. They're now aggravating the uncertainty of their conference policy by committing it to their election manifesto.

And things are no better on the Tory side. It's not even clear if they can produce a manifesto. With less than a month to go before the European elections, neither government nor opposition has a clear plan for their candidates to stand behind. Labour seems to be running two opposing campaigns while the Conservatives aren't competing at all.

Brexit has sucked out any content or meaning from the British electoral system. A vote for either of the main parties means putting your name to an utterly incoherent position. If you’re sufficiently invested in the European project to vote in its elections, but would nevertheless like to withdraw from the whole thing: vote Conservative. If you believe we should both be supporting an alternative Brexit and seeking to stop it: vote Labour.

Voters on all sides face a difficult decision, then: attempt to decipher the mixed signals coming from both parties, and risk your vote being completely misinterpreted, or lend your support to another party and risk splitting the vote.

This is the long sorry consequence of Brexit's fundamental meaninglessness. After all, it was the ambiguity of the original referendum question that got us into this nightmare. What kind of Brexit did people want? We never asked. Leave was all things to all people. So we spent three years tearing ourselves apart over it. And now we risk letting ambiguity embolden a Brexit that nobody voted for three years ago and nobody wants now.


We have already seen the price Lord Adonis has had to pay for his selection as a candidate in the South West: years of conspicuous campaigning to stop Brexit suddenly muddied by a statement of unprecedented prevarication and allegiance to the party’s conference policy.

On the other side, a Brexit party clear in its core message but unashamedly refusing to delve any deeper. Don’t be fooled. They have no plan, just a dangerous combination of malevolent frustration and ambitious incompetence.

Opposition to the political recklessness of the past three years cannot waver. It cannot be just another option on the table, or a bargaining chip, or a last resort. Party politics, personal gain and platitudes have no place in a coherent effort to resolve this mess.

Instead, opposition should reflect the 58% of the country now backing Remain. It should recognise the overwhelmingly pro-EU voices of newly-eligible voters, the million-strong march on Westminster, and the right of the rest of the country to change its mind.

Above all, it should be explicit: let people weigh up the negotiated terms of Brexit against our current membership, with no room for speculation or misinformation.

If we have learned anything from 2016, then, it must surely be to leave no room for idle interpretation on the ballot paper. Voters should not be responsible for filling in the blanks that parties dare not. A blurred mandate is no mandate at all.

'All options on the table' must not become the new 'Leave the European Union', forcing voters to commit blindly to policies that span the Brexit spectrum. Such equivocacy will only lead to profound alienation from the voting public and dissatisfaction in the democratic process as a whole.

If it is still unclear what Brexit actually means three years after the referendum, how long will we have to wait after May 23rd to find out where our new MEPs stand on the issue?

Chris Allnutt is a campaigner for Our Future, Our Choice. You can follow him on Twitter here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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