Sean Jones QC Profile picture
Jul 21 34 tweets 6 min read
Last night's Starmer #Brexit thread threw up hundreds of variations of the same theme:
1. Starmer is really a Rejoiner
2. He has a cunning plan
3. Cleave to Hard Brexit to get elected
4. Mend fences with the EU
5. Switch to Rejoin-friendly strategies once he has a grip on power.
This is supposedly a politically clever strategy. I don't think it is. I'm going to say why in this thread so that I don't have to set it out endlessly in individual responses. /2
Before I go any further though, I'm sure to be challenged to say what I think he should do. So let me get that out of the way. /3
I'll accept the argument's three premises:
1. He needs to win back Red Wall Labour voters to govern;
2. They will not vote for him if he pushes for rejoin (or anything like it) now; and
3. There is no prospect of the EU letting us into the SM still less the EU for decades. /4
I'm not sure the premises are right, but I want to look at whether his strategy makes sense in its own terms. /5
His ideal strategy looks something like this:
1. The Govt has delivered a Brexit that is toxic (we're polarised), dysfunctional (see NI) and harmful (just listen to business!). We're going to do whatever we can to get it sorted out. /6
2. We're not going to let Brexit be used as cover for eroding rights and standards.
3. We're not proposing rejoining. That could only ever happen if it was clear that that was the "Will of the People". If the People's will changes there's no reason in principle not to follow it/7
What are the advantages of this position? First, it frees you up to point out the Brexit harms and pin the responsibility for them on the party you are trying to unseat. /8
Second, it does not promise that Brexit can be made to work. It therefore does not lash you to the mast of the sinking ship. /9
Third, it makes it clear that there is no immediate and futile move to "overturn" Brexit whilst ...
Fourth, it gives Rejoiners the room they want to oppose Brexit and still vote Labour. /10
Which means fifth, you don't end up simply telling Remainers airily that they have no choice but to give you their votes whilst you cosy up to the hard core leavers.
Sixth, it is honest. /11
I think this very thin hope is enough for Rejoiners. In fact I am certain it would be because the even thinner hope that Starmer is lying as part of a cunning plan is enough for many of them./12
So why is hugging Hard Brexit not a good plan? Three reasons:
1. It's an unnecessary political hazard now;
2. It will be an unnecessary political hazard until the election;
3. It will be an unnecessary political hazard even if he gets wins. /13
Now: First, the policy is disappointing a very large proportion of his party membership and base. Telling them, in effect, to suck it up is dangerous particularly given the rationale of the plan. /14
The rationale is, "I need the Red Wall votes, so I have to give them what I think they want". So the pellucidly clear message is, if you want a different Brexit policy you will have to show him that he will lose your votes. He is literally telling you how to change his mind. /15
Second, even assuming his Remain base does toe the line, he is restricted in pointing out the obvious harm Brexit is doing *and* who is responsible for it for fear he will be portrayed as a being a Remainer. /16
That's bad for him, because buying into Hard Brexit puts him on exactly the same purity treadmill so many Tories have found themselves on. If you can't accept Brexit is causing the problems you are left with nothing but "believe harder" sloganising. /17
If it's bad for him, it's worse for the country, because unless you accept Brexit is causing the harm, you can't fix the problems. The economy just keeps on bleeding because no-one is allowed to point the knife in its leg. /18
All this, of course, assumes leave voters will believe him despite his *own* supporters determinedly pushing the likely Tory attack line that he's really playing a "long game". /19
The Immediate Future: Whether it is Sunak or Truss, they will spend the next couple of years (assuming they cannot be lured into a suicidal election) de-regulating. Sunak through conviction, Truss through ERG instruction. /20
Already the line is that de-regulation is the great Brexit opportunity - that it is necessary to make Brexit work. Likely Starmer will disagree. But what does he say? Each time he argues against a de-regulatory measure he'll be asked how else he will make Brexit work. /21
That's the question no-one wants to or (so far as I can see) can answer. It doesn't bother the de-regulators. If they can de-regulate, Brexit is working no matter what other effects it may have. Starmer has to identify his own "opportunities". Good luck with that. /22
If he gets elected: The long gamers see No 10 as the finish line. Mission accomplished. Then he's free to change tack. First, no he isn't. /23
If he's been elected on making Brexit work he has to try to make it work. I think that he's pretty much bound to fail. But even if you disagree, what is inescapable is every Brexit harm is then down to him. /24
The Tories will revel in every bad stat. Every point we lag behind others in growth rates will be him failing to deliver. Worse, since his entire programme depends on economic growth, he has to achieve that whilst still dragging round the Brexit growth anchor. /25
So if you believe that he is sucking up Hard Brexit in order to get a chance to do the things he really wants to, the bad news is that Hard Brexit makes doing those things much more difficult. /26
But so what if he conspicuously can't make Brexit work says the long game theory. He can just shrug, tell the voters he tried and by then they will have seen it's all a disaster and back a change in course. This is a critical element of the "pragmatic" plan and it's bonkers. /27
"I promised you I could make Brexit work but either I lied or I failed and therefore I am now going back on the very promise I thought I needed to make to get your votes. Vote for me!" is a very, very punchy electoral strategy. /28
It can only work if those who have suffered the pain of the failure can be persuaded to ignore the Tories saying "he was right, it can be done, but he was wrong to think he could. We can do it" and to endorse him reversing course. /29
Is there good evidence that the sort of voter who sees anything less than backing Hard Brexit as a betrayal (those being the voters he is apparently going after) are the sort of voter given to mature reflection and acknowledging their own errors? /30
If they are, on what timescale do they come round? Fast enough to stop Starmer and by association the party being seen as incompetents who were willing to mislead? /40
The problem with the long game is the same problem that so many left visions have. They are premised on the notion that despite swimming in the toxic sludge of misinformation and the less attractive aspects of human nature, voters will, en masse, embrace the path /41
TLDR: The Brexit long game is not clever. It allows harms to accumulate now whilst preventing Labour acknowledging or addressing them. It lashes Labour to a failing and increasingly unpopular policy that will prevent a Lab Govt achieving its broader aims.
Even more TLDR: Don't commit to an impossible task in the hope voters will let you off when you fail. Voters do not forgive failure.

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More from @seanjonesqc

Jul 20
I have just listened to Keir Starmer on @campbellclaret and @RoryStewartUK's podcast and have been reflecting further on his Brexit position. /1
There are two things which stand out for me. The first is that like all Conservative politicians, he invokes the need to heal the divisions Brexit has caused but wants to do so by leaning into the Hard Brexit project. /2
I know all the "he has to to get elected" arguments, so I beg you, on pain of blocking, don't make me run through all that again. What I want to do instead is take him at face value. He says he means it, I pay him the respect of assuming that he does. /3
Read 11 tweets
Jul 11
Part of the problem communicating how bad things are at the criminal bar is that the truth sounds crazy. Talking to @Joanna__Hardy she tells me that if the fee for a first appearance in the Mags was increased by 100% it would still only be £100. /1
It costs me more than that to have a guy come to my house, stare at my boiler and say “it’ll cost yer”. I don’t begrudge him his callout fee because I know he has hard-won expertise and I’m a buffoon. But think about the expertise barristers have /2
If you get a criminal tenancy you likely have been consistently amongst the best of your cohort at every stage of your education. You will have developed Olympian devotion to deferred gratification and built up sleep-denying debt. /3
Read 8 tweets
Jun 27
The British love to boast about “British Justice”. I grew up hearing that our courts were the best in the world and our criminal courts were a source of particular pride. At some point governments decided that as long as you kept boasting, reality need not keep up. /1
If you have not read @barristersecret’s latest book, may I recommend it? Right now people are being convicted or escaping conviction at hearings where advocates may have had only minutes with the case file. /2
There are delays so severe that witnesses and victims simply lose the will to stay involved. There are cases where a just outcome depends on lawyers working hard at times for nothing at all. /3
Read 8 tweets
Jun 18
#BArCouncil I've managed to oversleep through the one bit of the meeting that most of you would be interested in (thanks COVID). I joined as MFQC said that his remarks quoted in the Times had made it clear to the PM that bullying lawyers for political purposes is unacceptable.
Baroness Blackstone: BSB will hold round table meetings with Chambers later in the years to identify best practices with a view to promoting them. She is standing down. She appreciates vital role of #barcouncil and pressures on Bar including PM's attacks.
MFQC Thanks Baroness B and wishes her all the best for her glorious next project.
Read 53 tweets
Jun 15
I've been interviewed on TV or radio a couple of times now about legal issues. I've been asked with a reasonable frequency but have usually referred the request on because I'm being asked to comment about something outside my area of speciality /1
As I have explained elsewhere, the danger of straying into other specialisms is that you really don't know what you don't know. The concomitant risk is that double authority conferred by title and the fact that you are being broadcast reassures people that you are right /2
Even within my specialist area I have made a poor interviewee because I am incredibly anxious to get it right. I had the great @CliveMyrieBBC ask me to confirm that "equal pay law" was about pay discrimination on grounds of sex or race etc. /3
Read 8 tweets
Jun 11
It’s somehow amazing that the shortest route to getting yourself a regular gig on TV appears to be engaging in a performative lack of empathy.
In the 1970s, no-one was “woke”. My father’s preferred term was ‘do-gooder’. He hated “do-gooders”. As a kid I struggled with the idea that people wanting to do good was a bad thing. Still less could I understand why they made him so furious …
The theme which eventually emerged was that he could not believe anyone was capable of empathy or selflessness. He thought it was all an attempt to look good. He’d have seized the term ‘virtue-signalling’…
Read 6 tweets

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