Burnham fundamentally mistaken on “Labour for Yes”

Labour Leadership front runner Andy Burnham has vowed “not to repeat the mistakes” of the Scottish campaign and thus run a separate “Labour for Yes” campaign in the event of an EU referendum.

Oh dear.

This rather demonstrates that Mr Burnham has not taken enough time to work out what the mistakes were. It was most certainly not a mistake for “Better Together” to run a joint campaign; if anything, the mistake was that it was too political and not sufficiently civic.

Mr Burnham is making two fundamental mistakes – which is worrying, frankly, for a potential Leader of the Opposition (from Labour’s point of view). Firstly, he is allowing his opponents to frame the debate – the SNP claims that the “Better Together” campaign brought Labour and Tories too close together, so Mr Burnham just believes this rather than challenging it. Secondly, he is treating a referendum like an election – but referendums are nothing like elections, focused as they are on a single issue and very often not particularly on politicians at all.

With regards to Scotland, Labour needs to challenge the SNP, not buy into its narrative. If, for example, Labour candidates are nothing but a bunch of “Red Tories” who make no real difference, why was the SNP so intent on seeing a Labour-led UK Government and not a Conservative one? If the SNP really wanted a Labour-led UK Government, why did it recommend that people in England split the left-leaning vote by voting Green? Oh yes, and by the way, if the SNP is so “anti-austerity”, why did it never use its tax-varying powers (and instead reduce Health spending comparative to England when it could have raised the gap), why has it overseen the lowest household taxes in Great Britain (while cutting hundreds of Further Education places that money could have been used for), and why did it make reducing Corporation Tax a focus of its own referendum case (something it itself has now effectively admitted was an error)? The contradictions are obvious – so Labour should waste no time in pointing them out rather than buying into the SNP’s own narrative.

With regards to referendums, the last thing the “Yes” side needs is a whole raft of different campaigns; actually, the very last thing it needs is a whole raft of a overly political different campaigns. What it really requires is a single civic campaign, albeit as an umbrella covering various different civic and local angles.

Andy Burnham may be most useful staying right out of it.


3 thoughts on “Burnham fundamentally mistaken on “Labour for Yes”

  1. Why not both? Stake Labour’s case as well as the fact that the EU covers a broad political spectrum. Show the Red and then show the Rainbow. Even highlight the ironic fact that in the EU Parliament you can see UKIP’s purple, when it is a mere spec in the national parliament.

    Look at the Republic of Ireland’s referendum campaigns … you have partisan campaigns in a broader movement putting up posters, you have civic campaigns in a broader movement. Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin all backed Equal Marriage and won, they all backed Seanad abolition with roughly the same support and lost. So there is quite a lot of truth that partisan campaigns alone are not enough, issues resonate with people on very personal levels and civic campaigns are important

    The Good Friday Agreement was largely civic but it had partisan campaigns too. You had the biggest party in the region divided into camps on the issue. There is a superposition effect when different parties defend the same cause in their partisan colours. There wasn’t a true Good Friday Agreement coalition, there was a consensus however.

    More notable than the failure/phyrric victory of Better Together was the complete failure of Yes to Fairer votes … Labour voters held the balance of power, they were divided on the issue but they were completely absent as a party from the contest. Arguably they were the party that drew the highest number of Yes supporters but that was a campaign lead by Greens, Scottish Nationalists and the Liberal Democrats.

    It became relativistic in some quarters from the No side “Vote Yes, Get Clegg” … completely misunderstanding or misrepresenting the fact.

    Given Kate Hoey of Labour might lead the NO campaign, having a Labour Yes and a small Labour No group (like the Conservative group who supported AV) there is need to for the Yes group to show the conviction politics rather than political tribalism that they are backing the EU because it is in the interest of Labour voters, and the nation as a whole.

    Certainly I’d love given the subject matter a broad coalition of parties and civic groups campaigning for Yes, I can see the positives for Northern Ireland to have groups like the SDLP, Sinn Féin, Alliance and pro-reform anti-exit voices within unionism too banding together with voices from Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, Wales, England, Gibraltar and indeed across Europe on this matter along with the civic groups who have massively benefited from Europe.

    To me there is something better about individual groups organically repeating the same message as opposed to what will be a cabal of UKIP, the Daily Express and their other media partners engineering their voice of dissent. There is a tact to dissenting against that dissent, a political art of challenge and conviction. If you can make your point giving opponents the same respect you have for your own argument then you show you are confident about it.

    2. Treating a referendum as an election

    So here is how Burnham needs to tackle the two issues.

    Here the opponent isn’t the SNP, it may not even be the mainstream of the Conservatives.
    Labour’s enemy is UKIP, the Tory right-wing back-benchers, the Brugges Group, (who are not completely sold on any alternatives) the Express, the Daily Mail and the Sun.

    a) Avoid tribalism – just because you are a Europhile doesn’t mean others who don’t are your enemy. Be honest and humble about the fact that the EU isn’t perfect.

    b) Play the issues / objective – Cite Evidence not Opinion.

    – Malthusian dilemma by arguments into the productivity arguments rather than the tangential attacks on Roma beggars who aren’t millionaire criminals, Employment arguments remind people some migrants create jobs and some local people outsource them leaving the EU will not stop the outsourcing.
    Fears about national identity/the People’s Army/Muslims … Mo Farrah = Muslim, Britian’s long connection with Pakistan and India and Nigeria etc. have nothing to do with the EU anyway.

    The “People’s Army” might fear Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians … The British Army fights with Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians as part of NATO.

    c) Show the missed opportunities the EU has to offer and let UKIP be Project Fear this time – they are good at that themselves

    d) If UK is harmed why not Germany? – 27 other nations wouldn’t accept sovereignty losses? It is never USS-Europe, or USE but the UEFA to the UN’s FIFA … erm maybe not the greatest example.

    e) Allow dissent even if you don’t agree with it.

    f) Propose Reforms to the EU as a party

    g) Nationalize the Argument before Internationalizing the Argument – The UK is good for the EU, the EU is good for the world. It punches its weight.

    h) Be sympathetic and flexible to concerns over migration, the Eurozone, the debt crisis, fisheries, £3 billion net contribution and whatever else is brought up.

    i) The UKIPtopia does not exist. The idea that an island nation could fend off immigration, and strains on its health services simply by leaving an international body was bumken since the invention of piracy.

    j) Use the power of workers and their employers … their vested interest is only from a self-evident source. Unemployed people

    k) As for the libertarians – there is the case that our neo-liberal voices are as valid as theirs. Where is the basis of a more competitive economic equilibrium lie? Rather than free companies from EU laws they may have to rely on EU laws free from British influence and new treaties that could disturb supply lines from the EU if they are too protectionist, and disturb export markets from the UK if they are no protectionist enough. The Swiss were forced to follow the Eurozone during the Great Receession through the Swiss Franc-Euro peg.

    l) Finally challenge the No side when they say protecting their borders if it means the closure of the borders to the Republic, to France, to Spain … and remind them borders, treaties and international arrangements ALWAYS work both ways in any set up.

  2. Bobby Dazzler says:

    Have you any strong views on Burnham’s apparent willingness to let Labour stand here in NI?

    • You’ve phrased that perfectly. There’s a world of difference between being allowed to stand on one hand, and standing with even a remote hope of success on the other.

      I don’t understand why local activists don’t simply stand anyway. Why do they need to be authorised? Just get on with it.

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