Every party keeps on file a list of rash things politicians in other parties have said that can be used against them at a later date.
Way back when I was directing Ukip’s 2014 European parliamentary campaign, I built up a ‘helpful contributions’ folder containing print-outs of gaffes and embarrassing admissions made by pro-EU MPs and MEPs.
Conservative Campaign Headquarters probably has at its disposal a far more sophisticated and comprehensive digital system for logging the own-goals of its adversaries. But one thing is certain, someone will imminently be inputting an entry marked something like ‘Duffield, R. – Labour’s plan to re-join the EU’.
Because Rosie Duffield, the Labour MP for Canterbury, has served up a precious New Year cargo for Tory strategists scoping out how to keep hold of the former ‘Red Wall’ seats won from Labour in 2019.
She has not merely signalled her own determination to campaign for Britain to re-join the EU – several Labour politicians have done that – but has gone a big step further.
Ms Duffield has ascribed her own view to the majority of her colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party and sounded pretty convincing about it, when speaking to HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast:
“‘The majority of the PLP wanted us to remain and were campaigning really hard on that and towards the end almost all of those people had signed up towards a People’s Vote.So the majority of us, we don’t need converting again, we’ve done all that getting together if you like. It was pretty hellish, voting at two, three in the morning on these deals and things, and all the amendments we put forward. All of that hurt is still there and we are still desperate to re-join if we possibly can, I think, at heart,’
‘We will try and shift the leadership, as and when it needs to shift, towards re-joining I would imagine,’ she added.
Tory chairman Amanda Milling has already seized on Ms Duffield’s remarks, claiming:
“‘This is proof that Labour doesn’t respect your vote. Keir Starmer may have voted for the Brexit deal, but he spent years trying to overturn the result and now Labour MPs are openly admitting that they will try to undo Brexit and the PM’s deal.’
It is quite possible that the Prime Minister himself will seek to lever in a reference to Ms Duffield’s outburst at his next Commons despatch box duel with Starmer.
For now, this is all just Punch & Judy politics – the Tories are in power with a huge Commons majority and nobody thinks that Brexit is in any imminent danger. The epic struggle against coronavirus is rightly absorbing the media’s glare. Rosie Duffield may well escape with just a flea in her ear from her whip, communicated on behalf of a less than gruntled party leader.
But while she may prefer to forget the incident and move on, it will be remembered by the Tory machine. The run-up to the next general election is when the newly buried treasure of her remarks will be dug up and slapped on leaflets and targeted online graphics.
The chances that in the interim Starmer will have been able to engender overwhelming confidence that Labour can be trusted not to mess with Brexit are, to be frank, negligible. There are far too many previous offences to be taken into consideration for any EU-sceptic voter to believe the Labour leopard has changed its spots.
The minions at CCHQ have several years ahead in which to fill a dossier with further Labour gaffes and over-frank confessions on many subjects. But thanks to Ms Duffield, their year has got off to a cracking start. A most helpful contribution, indeed.