Mike Buckley, The Independent
The ongoing drama of the Tory leadership contest, and Labour’s ongoing shift towards support for a second referendum and Remain is disguising the very real shift in voting intention since the spring. What looks like business as usual in Westminster has not been mirrored in the country at large.
Both Labour and the Conservatives are now at below 20 per cent, according to YouGov’s most recent poll. If the Labour Party is to regain support and stand any chance of winning an election we need to swiftly change our position, to not only back a second referendum, but to wholeheartedly back Remain. The data is unequivocal and adds telling context to the devastation faced by the Labour Party in both the local and European elections. We are losing swathes of our voters to Remain supporting parties, with the Lib Dems now polling ahead of both Labour and the Conservatives, and with the Green Party building more support.
The small rump of Labour MPs who stand by the Lexit doctrine, arguing that a switch to supporting Remain would lose the party seats in its “heartlands”, must face up to the data which clearly shows that the Labour Party could lose far more seats if it continues its precarious fence sitting on Brexit. No one really believes that Labour stands any real chance of sweeping up substantial Brexiteer voters if it switched to a definite pro-Brexit position. Whatever ordinary people’s original intentions when they voted for Brexit, its implementation has become a right wing project. The likely selection of Boris Johnson as the country’s next prime minister makes Labour’s position on Brexit even more urgent, as Johnson’s support for a no-deal Brexit on 31 October broadly creates two possibilities. First, that the Conservative Party continues to fall apart with Remain supporting MPs leaving the party or relinquishing the whip in protest at Johnson’s position. With only 3 defections needed before the Conservatives and their DUP allies lose their working majority, a general election then becomes increasingly likely.
The other alternative is that, buoyed by a bounce in the polls, the Conservatives maintain their hold on government and Johnson as prime minister takes the country towards a hard Brexit in just a few months’ time. Whatever your view on Brexit there can be no doubt that a cliff edge exit from the EU would have a devastating impact on the jobs and livelihoods of people across the whole country. Voters have already demonstrated in two recent elections that they would not forgive a Labour Party that stood by and allowed such a thing to happen.
The truth is that the voters in London or Scotland are no less Labour heartlands than those in the North East or South Wales. A good half of Labour voters are now middle class Remainers, a further fifth are working class Remainers. In the local and European elections the point was proved – voters were, often reluctantly, willing to ditch their affiliation to Labour in favour of Remain. It is in our gift to give them both – offering them and us a route to a Labour government and an end to Brexit, as well as Farage and Johnson’s dominance of the political landscape, and the new start that the country needs after the chaos of the last three years.
Voters are attracted to clarity. When the Tories and Farage can offer a single word as their Brexit policy – Leave – we in Labour need to do the same with the single word Remain. In the face of a threatened no-deal Brexit, Labour must now give full-throated and enthusiastic support for the UK remaining in the EU. The local and European elections have demonstrated what could happen to the Labour Party if we don’t resolve this issue. We no longer really face any viable choice, we either back Remain or we will face the wrath of the voters that we once relied upon.
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