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One of the most striking failures of the Labour campaign last December was any attempt to rebut or counter Johnson’s “Get Brexit done” sound bite. The leadership’s approach seemed to be to avoid the issue to campaign on bread and butter issues.
Should that be the approach adopted by the new leadership now Labour is on the sidelines, at the wrong end of an 80 Commons majority, or should we seek to offer a robust commentary on Johnson’s conduct of negotiations with the EU? To do that we would need to develop our own sound bites.
I think there are three reasons for having a strong line.
Firstly to seek to influence the outcome, thwarting the more dangerous and destructive consequence of the Johnson confrontational approach.
Secondly, it will help us to get an audience from the media, especially the broadcasters who will, otherwise, be tempted to treat Labour as irrelevant.
There is every chance that the new leader will get a bounce, possibly having better personal ratings than Johnson and bringing the party closer to parity in the polls with the Tories. To appear to be ducking Brexit will diminish that effect.
Thirdly, it will help us to make sure the Tories own the downsides of any Brexit deal they do.
So, what should we be saying? Here are some first thoughts.
We have to preface everything we say with an acceptance that Brexit is going to happen. That also means eschewing a policy many party members would support of going into the next general election advocating rejoining the EU.
We should say that “We support a Fair and Family-Friendly Brexit”. The subtext to that is our test of any proposed deal is whether it protects jobs and living standards and is in the interests of British families and businesses.
We should say “we oppose a wrecker’s Brexit”, condemning any proposal or demand that hurts business and families in the pursuit of some illusory future deal with the US and others.
We should have a consistent line when companies cut jobs and investment on the explicit grounds that they were forced to do so by Brexit. My suggested sound bite is “1,000 job losses – Undone by Brexit.”
As with Johnson and his sound bite, the key is repetition. It’s a lesson Labour need to learn. We used to be good at it.
By Don Brind - Labour Movement for Europe Press Officer & Former BBC political correspondent
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