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Emily Thornberry shares an affection for metaphor, anecdote and clever dick turns of phrase with the Prime Minister – and the shadow Foreign Secretary is convinced that she has the measure of him. At a fringe event here at Labour party conference hosted by the Huffington Post’s Paul Waugh, she described facing Boris Johnson across the despatch box. She encountered a bumbling George Bush-type figure, she said, his comic persona developed from the Silvio Berlusconi playbook. A “girly swot”, she said, (cue audience sniggers) might be best positioned to take him on.
Speaking to the BBC this morning, Corbyn backed another public vote on the terms of a new Brexit deal negotiated by Labour (over an ambitious three-month time frame) and with Remain on the ballot paper. A special party conference would then allow members to have their say on Labour’s campaigning position.
Thornberry set herself markedly at odds with Corbyn on both process, “I think that this conference should thrash it out,” she said, not unfairly, given that polls of Labour members strongly favour Remain and of all the activist energy here in Brighton, Remainer imagery is by far the most visible, and on the substance of his position – without clarity on Brexit, she continued, the Labour party could lose 30 per cent of its vote to the Lib Dems and the Greens.
Outflanked by the newly badged Revoke Article 50 Lib Dems, Brexit has become a “do or die” type wager for the party. The Labour party’s prevarication over Brexit is reminiscent of a common motif in action-adventure films, she said. The walls close in, inch by inch. Our hero is trapped. What to do? “You have to get out of there”, said Thornberry.
But adopting an explicitly pro-Remain election strategy carries great risks for the party. Without a strategic pro-Remain alliance – “I don’t believe in pacts”, she said – the party is making a bet that Labour can reconstruct its 2017 coalition, holding onto its tribally anti-Tory base and topping it up with gains in the pro-Remain cities in the south. But not once did I hear Thornberry mention the Brexit party. Disaffected Labour voters no longer have nowhere else to go. Remainers can go to the Lib Dems. And Labour leave voters have other options.
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