It was meant to be a cunning plan, but just like Baldrick, Jeremy Corbyn’s cunning plan was too clever by half. And he has now fallen flat on his face.
A year ago, Labour was on the wrong side of history.
Having campaigned to remain in the EU, Corbyn had seen the majority of Labour constituencies vote to leave. Labour had to adjust – and adjust quickly.
First, Labour voted in favour of invoking Article 50, which began the formal Brexit process.
It then went into the General Election with a commitment that aped the Conservatives’ Brexit plan to withdraw from the EU Single Market and Customs Union.
Labour was now able to stem the haemorrhage of support from its traditional base caused by the party’s earlier support for the Remain campaign. It not only held its ground, but won back a few seats from Conservatives in the bargain.
Subsequently, in a variety of interviews such as the BBC’s Marr Show, both Jeremy Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell emphasised that the party believed that free movement of labour – one of the EU’s pillars that define the Single Market and are a prerequisite for joining it – was no longer supported by Labour.
It was beyond doubt that this was a party offering an alternative vision from the government’s, but no longer challenging the country’s democratic verdict, or crucially ignoring the genuine concerns of traditional Labour voters.
The reward was seen in the polls, with Labour riding high, pulling away from the Conservatives and leaving Ukip floundering without a purpose, no longer eating into Labour heartlands.
The cunning plan was working, but it was fatally flawed – for Labour MPs, shadow ministers, and Corbyn himself were all saying different things and confusing their own positions.
Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, was being particularly duplicitous by making out that the transition Labour favoured would keep the UK in the Single Market and Customs Union for at least four years.
Opponents smelt a rat, for this meant that Labour could go into a fresh General Election in four years time arguing to extend the transition. Suddenly leaving the EU might never happen.
On Brexit, Labour soon had more positions than can be found in the Kama Sutra.
What was also apparent was that Labour was still in election mode. Corbyn has been campaigning up and down the country as if the election has never stopped.
It is clear that he wants to be ready for the prospect of Conservative Remainers bringing their own party of government down.
The Labour leader goes around as if he was in fact the victor, when other Labour leaders like Neil Kinnock – who lost just as badly – had resigned.
Then the cunning plan was sprung. To try and force division in the ranks and defeat the government Labour announced it would not back the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that would transfer EU law over into UK law and start the legislative process of Brexit.
Initially, some internal Tory critics voiced concern about the government’s plan. But was it a feint designed to encourage Labour?
The hubris of Corbyn, McDonnell and Starmer was their downfall. Believing that they were on the cusp of forcing a crisis that would lead to another General Election, and that they could win it, they then lost the vote – and lost it badly, by 36 votes. The government didn’t even need the DUP to survive.
In the end, there were no Tory rebels voting against the government, but there were seven heroic Labour MPs who voted against Corbyn’s three line whip. At least 13 more Labour members abstained.
It has been a disaster, although no doubt the Labour narrative will try to paint it differently.
The reason that this is so damaging is that Labour has been exposed as completely opportunist and untrustworthy on the biggest issue facing the country. Corbyn put party interest before national interest, and has been found out.
Who can trust him on anything he ever says about Brexit again, when he is so willing to change position if he smells the slightest scent of a Conservative revolt?
He was prepared to deceive students over tuition fees and debt, and now he’s deceived the country over Brexit.
The Conservatives are still not out of trouble. They have many problems to face, and there are over 150 amendments to be dealt with at the Committee stage of the withdrawal Bill. Conservative Remainers may win a few victories, but the journey is inevitably towards a Brexit, and – like Ken Clarke – the EU needs to recognise that Labour cannot stop it happening.