Labour and Brexit. Against having your cake. Against eating it too.

Writing yesterday, I observed that Labour’s pro-Brexit positioning was unfathomably removed from both:

its 2015 Voters (65% or 63% of whom voted Remain) and its MPs (218 for Remain versus only 10 for Leave) in light of polling showing limited support for a Brexit without strings.

The same point is made afresh by recent polling from Labour List which demonstrates overwhelming Labour support for a possible second referendum

My post yesterday speculated that Labour’s present pro-Brexit positioning was likely to be borne of two defensive factors: first, a need to keep the red tops onside and, second, perceptions of the effects of keeping the door ajar on Labour’s vote share in 2020. 

Of the first I said:

Faced with a vigorous and scornful media [Labour] seems determined to repeat its mistakes from the last Parliament. Then MPs bowed their heads regretfully to ‘overspending’ allegations and the need for austerity. Now they genuflect to demands for a Brexit that ignores the limitations of the mandate.

They do so because they understand it to be what the electorate wants. They do so because they are frit. But they ignore that they will take the blame when things go wrong. And they ignore that no one wants a Party that follows where others lead.

Of the second, to demonstrate the source of the concerns, I attached some charts (reattached below) which illustrated that a 15% loss of Labour votes in Leave voting constituencies in England and Wales would (all other things being equal) involve a loss of 44 constituencies. These would only be partially compensated for by the mirror image of a 15% gain of Labour votes in Remain voting constituencies in England and Wales delivering an extra 18 constituencies.

The additional point I want to make today is this. 

Few, if anyone, is suggesting voting against triggering Article 50 or somehow otherwise blocking Brexit. What is being suggested is that Labour should in the A50 Bill leave the door ajar to a second referendum.

And, critically, the relevant time to judge the popularity of that course is not today. We don’t have a general election today. It will be in 2020, when we do. 

By 2020, MPs will already have voted on the article 50 deal. That vote will probably have taken place in early 2019. If the evidence in 2019 is that the economy is performing well then, of course, Labour will, and rightly, support the Government’s Brexit deal. There will be no second referendum. And MPs in Leave voting constituencies will not face a Brexit penalty at the polls.

If, on the other hand, the evidence in 2019 is that the economy has tanked, inflation is rising, living standards have slumped, and the deficit has ballooned MPs would be applauded for having in the Article 50 Act enabled a second referendum. Far from being punished at the polls, Labour will benefit in 2020 from being the Party that delivered a way out of the mess.

So the very best that can be said about the argument that Labour shouldn’t support a  second referendum because voters in Leave constituencies won’t like it is this. It’s an answer to the wrong question: ‘what is popular today?’

The worst thing that can be said, the really unfathomable thing about Labour’s decision to rule out a second referendum now, is this: it has the option. It can wait and see. It can have its cake and eat it too. 

But instead it is doing neither.

Illustrative Charts

The following two charts show Labour seats in England and Wales by margin of victory, support for Brexit and (by colour, Runner Up).

The first shows all Labour seats.
The second highlights those Brexit supporting seats where Labour’s margin of victory was less than 15% (they total 44: 39 Conservative, 3 UKIP, 1 Lib Dem and 1 Plaid Cymru).



The following two charts show seats in England and Wales where Labour was Runner Up by margin of victory, support for Brexit and (by colour, Winner).
The first shows all seats where Labour was Runner Up.

The second highlights those Remain supporting seats where the winner’s margin over Labour was less than 15% (they total 18: 14 Conservative, 2 Lib Dem, 1 Plaid Cymru and 1 Green).


3 thoughts on “Labour and Brexit. Against having your cake. Against eating it too.

  1. The problem with a second referendum is that almost everyone on both sides promised that this would be final. Even Farage explicitly said that defeat in the referendum would end the matter for at least his lifetime.

    There already was a “let’s stay in the EU” negotiation followed by a referendum. We can’t do these things forever. Should we hold a vote every three years? Annually?

  2. Commendable logic Jolyon. But there is one issue that you have still not dealt with, as per my question of yesterday.

    For ease: “What is the point of a second referendum as corrupt as the first?”

    Your logic seems to rely on the same, flawed assumption as EURef1, i.e. that people will be casting their vote in a free and fair democratic process, based on logic and emerging evidence, and will not be Unduly Influenced by a populist rhetoric from approved public authorities. AKA, damn lies.

    It should not be overlooked that Oxford Dictionaries’ just-announced ‘word’ of the year is “post-truth”. (Not frit unfortunately – apparently that’s old-hat).

    You state that “Few, if anyone, is suggesting voting against triggering Article 50 or somehow otherwise blocking Brexit”.

    That may be true of some frit politicians in the face of some very vocal – indeed verging on hysterical – constituents and populist media. But I can assure you that it is not true of the (at least) 48% who – albeit slightly less hysterically – favour Remain, and are aggrieved because they consider that EURef1 was democratically unsound.

    The quality of the marginal EURef1 poll result is something that MP’s of all parties have a duty to consider, as does your previous commenter Michael. Thankfully the UK has some law which will test that. In the meantime, at the very least, I think this issue should be recognised as part of your narrative. Hopefully in time it might become part of that of the ‘opposition’ party.

    Whatever people’s views on relatively trivial issues such as continued EU membership, UK democracy is sorely challenged at present.

    And if we lose that battle then God help us.

  3. Pingback: Richmond is a wake-up call for Labour’s Brexit strategy – Hub Politic

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