'What is going on with Labour, Brexit and the second referendum? On one level it looks pretty straightforward. In recent elections the party lost many more votes to the Greens and Liberal Democrats than to the Brexit party, through paying the price for Jeremy Corbyn’s Euroscepticism and fence-sitting. The simple solution is to guarantee another vote on any deal with Labour as the enthusiastic party of remain in any such contest. This aligns with shifting demographics in the country and a detectable Brexit remorse. What’s not to like?
Media coverage tends to give the impression that the only people who think that Labour should not back a second referendum are a few MPs from somewhere up north who are scared witless by Nigel Farage and their electors, and a couple of Corbyn’s closest aides. So it appears self-evident the party should stop triangulating, offer some leadership and hoover up the votes of remainers.
This argument also interprets the 2017 snap election, when Labour did surprisingly well, as a “Brexit realignment”, in which Labour gained 30 seats and its highest vote share since 2001. It saw a particularly large increase in vote share among younger voters, gained a 15-point lead among graduates and made significant advances in urban metropolitan areas. It held a substantial lead among remain voters and made significant improvements among social classes ABC1. There is no reason, then, not to double down and embrace a new vote.
Opponents of this orthodoxy, and I am one, say Labour needs to retain a longer-term perspective.
Simply put, we have not won a majority since 2005. Sure, Labour lost more remain voters during the course of recent elections; but the party has lost more voters of the kind who voted leave over the course of a generation. And, critically, leave voters are more impactful in the majority of English marginal seats. This debate has become an unresolved numbers game, an internal stalemate, despite the millions piled into polling by the People’s Vote campaign.
In any case, political parties do not just exist to chase votes. They are traditions built around competing theories of justice and democracy; alternative approaches regarding how society should be organised. For Labour, the Brexit dilemma goes to a tension at the heart of the party regarding its character and purpose; even existence.'
Read more: Labour can’t afford to lose its working-class heartlands by backing remain
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11 July 2019
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