Jeremy Corbyn’s embarrassing train row is a gilt-edged opportunity for his rival to try and make up ground in the party’s leadership contest. Instead, Owen Smith is more intent on alienating Labour voters by setting out how he wants to block Brexit. It’s a foolish move on Smith’s part. So why has he done it? It seems Smith’s only motivation is to try and snatch away a core group of Corbyn supporters who want Britain to stay in the EU (after all, Corbyn said hours after the referendum that Article 50 should be triggered straight away). But the dim possibility of attempting to gain traction amongst sulking Remainers means Smith has taken his eye off a far bigger prize: the millions of Labour voters who did back Brexit.
The referendum was lost for the ‘Remain’ camp in the Labour heartlands of the north of England. Take Middlesbrough, for instance – a rock-solid Labour area which backed Brexit by a margin of 65 to 35 per cent. In Sunderland, also a Labour territory, it was 61 to 39 per cent for Leave. And it was a similar story in Gateshead, Darlington, Durham, Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland, North Tyneside and South Tyneside, as well as Northumberland, which all backed Brexit by considerable margins. Whilst in Hartlepool, nearly seven in ten of the electorate wanted Britain out of the EU – a result which led a local Ukip councillor to say, possibly correctly, that Hartlepool was ‘no longer a Labour town’. But this Labour core who voted for Brexit aren’t only isolated to this part of the north-east: across the UK, as this YouGov poll shows, there was a 24 per cent margin for ‘Leave’ amongst the poorest households – exactly the sort of target group Labour might, at least in the past, have hoped to consolidate its vote amongst.
Instead, Owen Smith’s insouciance to this important constituency is summed up when he vows to battle ‘tooth and nail’ to keep Britain in the EU. He goes on to call for a second referendum on whatever EU exit deal emerges from negotiations – describing his plan as offering Britain ‘more democracy, not less’. In reality, it’s nothing of the sort. Perhaps it’s worth Smith pausing for a moment and taking a look at the wording on the referendum ballot paper. The question given to voters? ‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ There’s no mention of a second referendum – and 17.4million people voted to ‘Leave’ without knowing what Britain’s deal would look like. It’s time for Owen Smith to listen to them.