Jeremy Corbyn’s insistence on three-line whipping his party in support of Theresa May’s Brexit bill was certainly a display of mettle from the Labour leader – but he has alienated some of his most fervent supporters.
Britain’s departure from the EU is the defining political issue of today, and perhaps of the next decade. The referendum had a clear outcome, and what polling evidence there is suggests there is little appetite to overturn the result.
So standard political calculations would suggest the Labour leader has done the right thing. If he had failed to whip his MPs on the article 50 bill this week, Corbyn could have been accused of failing to offer leadership on a question of vital national interest.
He could easily have been portrayed as weak: if Labour can’t make a decision on an issue this important, and bring its MPs into line, how can it possibly pose as an alternative government? And if he had whipped them against, the Tories would have fought the next general election portraying Labour as “the party that tried to stop Brexit”.
In the party’s heartlands in the ex-industrial towns of the north, where many people voted enthusiastically to leave, that could be electorally lethal.
But some of the key groups of supporters who brought Corbyn the leadership and secured his reelection in September – young, internationalist, liberal – feel strongly that Brexit is wrong for…