Labour is coming under pressure from leading pro-remain campaigners to clarify its stance on Brexit, after polling showed that a quarter of its current voters could switch party by the next election and more than half would oppose Labour backing Brexit.
The poll of people planning to vote Labour – conducted by YouGov for the Best of Britain campaign group – found 24% said they may change their minds before the next election, and two-thirds of those who voted remain would be disappointed or angry if Labour says it will proceed with Brexit.
The poll also found many Labour voters have opposing perceptions about the party’s current stance on Brexit. It found 32% of Labour remain voters believe Labour is “completely against Brexit” and a further 31% of Labour leave voters believe Labour is “completely in favour of Brexit”.
Mark Malloch Brown, a crossbench peer and chair of Best for Britain, said: “This data shows, clearly, that many more remainers are likely to abandon Labour over its Brexit line than leavers. Labour did so well in the election off the back of pro-European voters tactically voting for them. All that could be at risk if this policy, a calculated policy of ambiguity, continues.”
Seventy Labour councillors from south London have called on Jeremy Corbyn to be open to giving voters another say on Brexit.
All well and good, eh?
Now, consider this:
Whilst Labour’s vote share in the general election this year went up, we should remember that some Labour MPs lost their seats. Two of those were near-neighbours of mine: Natascha Engel in North East Derbyshire and Alan Meale in Mansfield. Both of these seats voted firmly to leave the European Union, and saw former UKIP supporters and Labour Leave voters coming together to back the Conservative candidate. Across the UK too, the other seats Labour lost were all heartlands for the Leave campaign, as were many of those where our majority was reduced.
In recent years, I have carried out surveys online, emailing directly to constituents and posting on my Facebook page. As a result, there is always a considerable bias towards those who are younger and more politically engaged. Therefore my surveys have always shown more pro-Remain results than the constituency voted in the referendum in June 2016.
In my survey in November 2017… 53 per say they would back Leave versus 40 per cent for Remain.
It is clear to me that Leave would still win, and by a larger majority. There is little evidence of a swing back to Remain or of large numbers of my constituents having “buyer’s remorse” with Brexit. Instead, it seems that opinion has hardened, particularly among Leave voters. Reading the responses, it is clear that many Labour Leave voters would regard any attempt to frustrate the result as insulting and a betrayal.
Second, large numbers of Labour voters in the north and midlands would back Leave in any second referendum. If Labour is serious about keeping their support, we must be conscious that that they do not regret their decision in the slightest. This tallies with my survey in 2016, when the majority of voters told me they needed no further information on how to vote. Opinions are therefore entrenched among Labour Leavers.
Third, support for a second referendum is low overall and very low among Leavers. Calls for a second vote are being driven by Remainers (predominantly in Westminster), and any referendum would be viewed very negatively by Leavers.
Finally, Brexit seems to be dividing Labour voters into two camps. Metropolitan, socially-liberal, younger voters are flirting with second referendums and have no time for those who have concerns over immigration. Meanwhile, northern, working class, older voters feel that only delivering on the Leave vote will address their concerns.
What are we to conclude?
Firstly, we shouldn’t pay too much attention to Mr Mann’s survey. Bassetlaw has an electorate of more than 78,000, more than 27,000 of whom voted for Mr Mann in June – but only 2,797 people responded to his poll. Mr Mann himself is a dyed-in-the-wool Brexiter.
And – as we have noted in the case of Suella Fernandez, Brexiters have a tricky relationship with the facts; they tend to twist information to suit themselves.
This Writer can’t say whether Mr Mann is playing fast and loose with the information available to him – but he certainly has an agenda.
That said, he makes points that are worth considering.
The statistics quoted in the first extract (above) suggest that Labour can afford to lose Remain voters much less than Leave voters – and we know that the decision to quit the EU has already damaged the UK economically, even in advance of our departure. So, for This Writer’s money, Labour should reconsider its policy of supporting Brexit and devise a new approach.
A party of government must follow policies that are right for the United Kingdom – that benefit the nation and the majority of its people, not just a rich and manipulative few.
So, if Labour is in danger of losing Leave voters in the North, Labour should consider explaining the situation and persuading those voters that this is the wrong time to quit our most important economic alliance.
It is an argument that should not be made on the EU issue alone.
If people are threatening to vote against a Labour that changes its position to support remaining in the EU, then Labour must remind those people of the worthwhile policies they will be opposing – and the useless Tory policies they will be supporting – by switching their vote to other parties in protest.
Brexit itself is a useless policy. It will result in economic harm – particularly to northern and deprived parts of the UK – and the Conservatives will take advantage of the fact that EU law will no longer cover us, to remove workers’ rights – and probably human rights – from poor or working-class people. They are already calling for workers’ rights to be stripped away.
It is in this context that Labour should consider renouncing its support for Brexit.
It should also be remembered that the political party that pushes Brexit through, in spite of the clear and demonstrable harm it does to the UK, its economy and its people, will suffer electoral blight for years, if not decades, to come.
The party that takes up position against Brexit, heeding the evidence that we have now, will be well-placed to take advantage of that situation, when – not if – it arises.
Sooner or later, Labour must make this choice. The longer party leaders hesitate, the less effective will be the decision.
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