The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Keep The Faith

I wrote this for Progress but they're already going to run an article making the same points, so it's here instead.


It would be fair to say it didn’t come as any great surprise after the referendum when Jeremy Corbyn unilaterally announced on behalf of the Labour Party that we accepted the result and that the UK should now leave the EU as soon as possible. That’s his strongly-held, highly-principled opinion and he is welcome to it.

However, it is a little worrying to read other MPs stating, albeit in equivocal terms, that Labour should accept the will of the nation and, rather than trying to find some way out of this insanity, should lead the way in what some people call Brexit but which I like to call ‘Uk off’.

It’s understandable. Many of them are in constituencies where there was a majority in favour of Leave, and of course MPs should reflect the will of their constituents. However, there are also dozens if not hundreds of irrefutable reasons why Labour should not endorse the result of the referendum as being a legitimate and definitive expression of the majority, and should instead continue to be in favour of Remain. Don’t worry, I’m not going to repeat them here. You know them all already and I expect MPs’ inboxes are full of them.

My message to these nervous nellies is – you may think it will be a good idea to switch to Leave in order to win back Leave voters, but it won’t work. The numbers don'tt add up.

I’ll explain. To begin with, a few assumptions. If there is a general election in the near future, one of the main issues will be our EU membership. In that election the Conservatives will be in favour of Leave and the LibDems will be in favour of Remain.

So. Let’s say you’re a Labour MP where you’re defending your majority against the LibDems. You go into the election saying you’re now in favour of Leave. Unfortunately two-thirds of Labour voters are in favour of Remain, so you’re going to lose most of them to the LibDems. In fact, being a sitting Labour MP who campaigned effectively for Remain, it’s quite likely far more of your voters voted for Remain than the national average. You’re not only waving them goodbye, you are giving them to your main rival. The LibDems will also have all the Conservative Remain voters.

However, you still have the one third of your voters who voted Leave. Now all you have to do to win is to get all the remaining Leave voters in your constituency to vote for you. They are in the majority, so there are a lot of them... but you have to ask, why are they going to vote Labour when they could vote for the Conservatives or UKIP? The analogy I would draw is this. What you are doing is trying to convince people who drink Coca-Cola or Pepsi to switch to supermarket own-brand cola. You, an MP who is not in favour of Leave, in a party that up until recently was not in favour of Leave, in a country which is increasingly coming to the realisation that Leave is a really bad idea, will have to win over enough Leave voters in order to make up for two thirds of your vote going to the LibDems.

The same applies if you are a Labour MP defending a majority against UKIP or the Conservatives. You are now in a seat where the two main parties are both in favour of Leave. Who are Leave voters going to vote for? Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or supermarket own-brand cola? And on top of that, don’t forget that you’ve lost two thirds of your vote to smaller Remain parties like the LibDems and the Greens. Can you make up the difference by persuading enough Leave voters to switch to you from the two Leave parties?

The same applies if you are a Labour MP defending a majority against both LibDems and Conservatives, or Plaid Cymru, or trying to win a seat held by any of the other parties. You just can’t get around the problem that two thirds of Labour voters are in favour of Remain, and hoping that somehow the Leave vote will split in your favour rather than towards the main Leave parties isn’t going to work.

Of course, if you and the Labour party are in favour of Remain, you still have a problem. You have the problem that one third of your vote is in favour of Leave, and they are now going to vote for the Conservatives or UKIP. But on the other hand, you are now in a position to gain votes from Conservatives who are in favour of Remain – which is about forty percent of them. There are a lot of Conservatives in favour of Remain. In Labour/Conservative seats, you want them to go to Labour, and in Labour/LibDem seats, those disaffected Conservative voters are going to be split between Labour and LibDems, so you want to make sure Labour is even more emphatically pro-Remain than the LibDems.

The point is, if Labour switches to Leave, it isn’t going to lead to electoral success. It could well lead to disaster. It isn’t a quick fix to Labour’s problems. And who wants to be campaigning on the same side as Nigel Farage?

The solution is, of course, that Labour has to be cleverer than that. Labour should absolutely accept the legitimacy of people’s reasons for voting for leave. It should go into the next election with huge posters saying WE GET IT, WE HEAR YOU, MESSAGE RECEIVED AND UNDERSTOOD. There are towns and cities where the population have been basically left to rot, where they blame immigration for their social and economic problems. Labour should say to those people LEAVING THE EU WON’T SOLVE YOUR PROBLEMS. WE WILL. That’s the way forward. Labour has to go after those towns and cities and put them at the front of the queue for new schools, new hospitals and investment in jobs.

But the only way to do that is for Labour to remain Remain.

Learn the lesson from the SNP. They became the sole party for independence while the union vote was split between three parties. They turned a fairly narrow defeat in the referendum of 44.7% into a landslide victory with 50% of the vote. If Labour is emphatically, unequivocally the party of the 48% Remain it can repeat the SNP's success. Our FPTP electoral system is a series of tipping points - you don't need more than half the votes to win, you just need more votes than the party that comes second. (So ignore that statistically meaningless Buzzfeed article, it is the work of an idiot who has no understanding of electoral maths). There are no seats where Labour's electoral chances would be improved by switching policy to Leave.

But if they do, well, that's it. I'm out.

1 comment:

  1. Sensible. However I don't see the Labour leadership taking a blind bit of notice. They don't seem to be concerned with winning elections, just with fulfilling the supposed mandate of the Labour members who elected Corbyn, and if that means they don't get into government and have to scream in "principled" futility from the sidelines for a decade or two then so be it.