YouGov released some polling this morning which painted a political landscape in the midst of massive change. One poll was measuring Westminster voting intention, with both the Tories and Labour on 24%, The Brexit party on 18% and the Lib Dems on 16%, with the Greens on 7% (the rise of Farage’s new group seems to have destroyed UKIP totally). The focus in the political media, to some extent understandably, has been on the Tories declining numbers against the sudden rise of the Brexit Party. What isn’t being talked about enough is how badly Labour are also doing.
In addition, YouGov has out an EU elections poll. Brexit party are on 34%, Labour on 16%, Lib Dems on 15%, Green 11, Conservatives 10. Again, it’s easy to focus on the Tory-Brexit Party dynamic and talk only how Farage’s bunch are charging out in front and leaving the Tories behind. In the midst of that, it is easy to lose sight of how the Labour vote is melting in front of our eyes.
There are age old assumptions at play here. One is that since the Tories are in government and are in crisis, this must benefit Labour even if that benefit doesn’t seem immediately identifiable. Even when this assumption is proven wrong in a set of elections, as it was in the local elections nine days ago, it is mostly ignored. Yes, Labour did much worse than anyone expected, but the Tories did way, way worse than they did, so Labour must have somehow “won”.
The common excuse given by those who wish to maintain that things are not changing in politics at present as fast they seem to be is that the EU elections are some sort of one-off that will not have any lasting effect on the British body politic. This, not coincidentally, is the same position taken up by the leaderships of both the Conservative and Labour parties at present; let the voters blow off steam in the EU elections, they’ll then come back to us. Actually, they could find voting for someone other than the Tories or Labour quite enjoyable and continue to do so in future. This latter idea is being given way less attention in Westminster than it deserves, particularly given what happened in Scotland four years ago. The idea that the Labour vote is indestructible in parts of the country was proven definitively incorrect in 2015.
What I see from this morning’s Westminster voting intention poll is both the Tories and Labour losing a lot of voters to the Brexit Party on one side and the Lib Dems on the other. The Lib Dems on 16% in a HoC poll is insane – they have polled as low as 5% as recently as February 2019, and the last time they polled at 16% in a nationwide poll was in January 2012. Something is happening here. You can argue that it is a blip, but there is nothing other than lazy assumptions to really suggest that it is. In fact, what is happening now feels like a political earthquake that is only just started and these poll numbers are like the sound of the early, distant rumblings.
We’ve known for a while now that people are becoming much more wedded to political identities built around Leave or Remain rather than anything else. So why then do we assume that one party who is in government and can’t deliver Brexit while the official opposition says we need to get on with some form of softer Brexit aren’t going to be electorally punished by both sides of that divide eventually? I don’t know, this all seems really obvious to me. Anyhow, watch the Labour numbers fall further over the coming weeks. Eventually, they’ll get low enough for pundits to start noticing the Labour Party could be dying on its feet.