Corbyn was right. As a purely political calculation Labour had to snuff out, or been seen to snuff out, any attempts to keep Britain in the single market. There was simply nothing to gain from it and everything to lose.
It was clear what the Brexit vote signified: the wish for controls on immigration. The very same liberal left who depict Brexit as evidence of monstrous racism and xenophobia cannot then turn around and baldly proclaim it had nothing to do with concerns over immigration. You can have many arguments about whether Brexit strictly speaking meant leaving the single market and getting to self-determine on matters of immigration but doing so is an exercise in semantics when the meaning is clear as far as the British public are concerned, and that is the political reality that Corbyn has to deal with.
When we understand the Geist of Brexit it becomes apparent that arguing to keep Britain in the single market would be seen as a negation of the referendum – and we all know at this point how negation of the referendum will be dealt with. I am alluding to the Lib Dems, of course. This does not seem to me to be the formula for political dynamite, unless you mean to explode your party’s electoral prospects.
In any case, whatever gains can be made by appealing to such obstructionist sentiment have already been tapped into by the Lib Dems. How much could be gained by fine grain tinkering, remains – if you pardon the pun – to be seen.
Not only is it generally unappealing to the country, but it is specifically so to the northern Brexit constituencies which also form Labour’s traditional – and increasingly estranged – base. It was only by enforcing the whip to enact Article 50 that he made sure that Labour held on to the north; it was one of the few things he got correct. Make no mistake: Brexit mattered for the working class, hence the Tories with their more explicit Brexit-means-Brexit platform winning among it, the socioeconomic groups C2DE, by 12 points. Even with this pandering Labour still managed to lose the Leave seats of Derbyshire North East, Mansfield, Middleborough South and Cleveland East, Stoke-on-Trent South and Walsall North to the Tories attesting to the absolute massacre averted by taking into account Leave sensibilities.
What is more, the seats that swung to Labour had little to do with a Remain rebellion. Excluding Scotland where the predominant issue pertained to another referendum, 27 out of the 29 seats gained came from the pro-Brexit Conservatives. But of these seats, just 11 were in Remain constituencies. It is a mainstream media myth that these gains were just in university towns and cities – a confection if I were more cynical I would attribute to a wish to co-opt the General Election result for the Remain camp. The lion share of swung seats then, such as Lincoln and High Peak, would see little reason to rebel against Labour protection of the Brexit mandate.
These are the real, tangible gains that Labour has to protect. Most of the middle class votes would have been piled up in safe, less numerous metropolitan seats – very much analogous to Hillary Clinton’s problems with the Electoral College during the 2016 Presidential Election – and had little effect on wining seats in places like Derby North and Ipswich. As such Labour could easily weather the loss of muddle-headed, middle-class airheads who did not bother to read the Labour manifesto – or else they would have known about the commitment to end freedom of movement.
Of the paltry two that swung over from the Liberal Democrats, it is safe to conclude that these would have had little to do with the anti-Brexit proclivities of their constituents otherwise they would have remained Lib Dem.
When Labour risks losing so many of its seats it had better do so for a sure thing. Lame duck, paper tiger, constipated snake – call it what you want, but the anti-Brexit vote is not that.