Can anything arrest the fall in Labour's polling numbers ahead of next week's European Parliament elections? Remainers in the PLP believe that calling time on Brexit talks with the government and offering an explicit endorsement of a second referendum is the only option. But party strategists believe an unlikely figure could boost Labour's chances on 23 May: Tommy Robinson.
The far-right activist – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – is standing as an independent candidate in the North West of England. The region elected three Labour MEPs in 2014 but in 2009, as local members have been reminded in emails this week, its eighth seat was taken by Nick Griffin, then leader of the British National Party.
In a campaign dominated by divisions over Europe, Labour has made a deliberate decision to invoke the spectre of Tommy Robinson MEP in a bid to win over wavering voters ahead of next Thursday, and to motivate an activist base MPs allege has been left disenchanted by the party's divisions over Europe. "In the last elections we saw off the BNPs Nick Griffin with your help, we can do the same with Tommy Robinson…Please dont let Brexit be the reason you dont vote next week," one email to members in the North West said.
Writing to the parliamentary Labour party this afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn similarly sought to reframe next week's poll as a chance to "campaign on our radical agenda but also to stand up to the racism, hatred and division of the far-right", in an explicit attempt to overcome party divisions over Europe after a fractious week at Westminster.
"History shows us the appalling outcome if this is allowed to fester and grow, so it is alarming to see the rise of fascist and far-right parties and politicians both here in Britain and across Europe," the Labour leader wrote in an email that did not mention the prospect of a new public vote. "We must never let the far right or those who seek to divide us triumph."
"I will be out campaigning and taking our message to the far right in the coming days, and thank you for the campaigning you have planned between now and Thursday 23rd May to send a message that only the Labour Party and a future Labour government can deliver unity, change and a society that works for the many, not the few."
MPs in the North West and beyond have also been advised to "use Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson) to motivate Labour members to campaign for our Party". They have also been advised to support counter-demonstrations against far-right activists.
"For example, if he is in your area, you should communicate with your members to push the message 'only Labour can stop Tommy Robinson and the far-right. Maximising the Labour vote is the only way to do this and so everyone should help on polling day to increase turnout of the Labour vote," the PLP was advised in Corbyn's email this afternoon.
Squeeze leaflets aimed at supporters of smaller parties in the North West urge voters to vote Labour "to fight racism in Europe" and prevent Yaxley-Lennon from winning a seat. They do not mention the party's Brexit stance beyond a promise to "always work closely with European neighbours" and protect environmental standards and workers' rights.
MPs from other regions have been offered the chance to use similar campaign literature in their own areas. With internal tensions over Brexit running high, an anti-far-right campaign is likely to be one of the few messages able to induce a semblance of unity.
The full text of Jeremy Corbyn's email to the PLP is below.
I am pleased that we had a constructive and honest discussion at the PLP on Monday evening and I thank you for your attendance and for the issued raised, which I am taking very seriously.
There is no doubt that this is a very challenging time in politics and as Leader of the Labour Party hearing your views is imperative in shaping our focus. The Brexit debate is deeply polarised and throughout the Brexit process I have always prioritised uniting MPs, our members, our voters and the country.
The European elections are rapidly approaching. They are not elections we were expecting to hold but they do provide us with a great opportunity tRead More – Source