A few days ago – I think it was only a few days ago at least. I’m on an extended continental holiday – a large sample poll came out via The Observer which showed that in terms of seats, Remain was now ahead. Some of you may recall the analysis of what would have happened in 2016 if the EU referendum had been a First Past the Post general election scenario, with only two parties. Well, some of the nerdier amongst you might remember this. In 2016, it was 403 seats Leave, 229 Remain. So, although it was close in terms of sheer numbers – which was what the referendum was actually fought along – in terms of seats it was a Leave landslide. This was only important in terms of how the post-referendum politics were going to be handled, but given the future of the country hinges on that, it was actually pretty important.
Now, according to the new Observer poll, that has switched to a Remain “majority”: 341 seats to Leave’s to 288. That would result in 112 seats flipping towards Remain. Perhaps unsurprisingly, almost all of the gains are in Labour held seats, with Labour Leavers becoming Remainers. In other words, the old school Labour voters who voted Leave in order to “shake up the system” are unsurprisingly not all that keen on the “not a Mad Max style utopia” that has been sold to them since.
What is also interesting is that, overall, the numbers are still only 53 Remain 47 Leave. This is because the Tory vote has overall hardened towards Leave. Brexit is becoming an increasingly left-right issue, with the Left getting more stringently Remain while the Right gets more Brexity. This has several implications.
One is that the Tories are even more strapped to the mast of making Brexit a “success”, whatever that means anymore. Given some of them are saying it may take 50 years to feel the positive effect of leaving the EU, a healthy amount of cynicism seems acceptable here. Meanwhile, Corbyn is going to struggle more and more to talk up how great a “Labour Brexit” will look like to an increasingly passionate pro-EU crowd. Who knows, at some point they might even all turn on him and want someone at least semi-competent running the Labour Party. But I wouldn’t get too excited about that just yet. Corbyn is not likely to change his position on Brexit substantially, unless forced to by the membership/Momentum. Which could happen, but again, lets see.
The moment to watch for in all of this is at 2018 Labour conference, which is only a month or so away now. It is very possible we will see some sparks fly here. Of course, we heard that this was going to be the case at both the 2016 and the 2017 Labour conferences, both of which I was physically present at, both of which were the dullest Labour conferences in living memory, with the Corbynites in full “wear a flower in your hair” lefty joyfulness, while the Blairites slunk in the corner looking miserable, but notably saying very, very little.
Could be different this year. I’ll be there in Liverpool with hope in my heart.
Paul W says
Any fool can extrapolate from the much-touted Observer/ YouGov polls what a national EU referendum split of 53% Remain and 47% Leave could mean in terms of parliamentary constituency seats. All you need is a pencil, pocket calculator and a list of parliamentary seats by estimated 2016 referendum percentage marginality – oh, and some time on your hands.
I should add for the record, that YouGov’s 23 June 2016 referendum day forecast (with a larger than usual sample of nearly 4,800 respondents) gave a split of 52% Remain to 48% Leave. In fairness, it was in good company with nearly all the other pollsters in getting the answer wrong: after all, it was a 50:50, margin of error call – and the EU issue remains so. (The 2016 polling figures are still available on Wikipedia for those who can be bothered to look.)
Where I do agree with you is that Brexit is becoming more of a left-right issue. This left-right divide has been opening up over some months, but I think this has more to do with the day-to-day operation of parliamentary politics than anything else – a Conservative government leading (just about) on Brexit and a Labour opposition doing what oppositions are supposed to do: rubbishing (sort of) the government’s Brexit proposals, only with a bit of unasked for help from the Tory side. Yet another EU referendum would soon blur the left-right dividing lines once again because that’s what referendums tend to do: they unsettle, cut across and generally upset established political alliances and opinions.
Given the need for both main parties to maintain party unity in a hung parliament, with the possibility of a general election always just round the corner, I can’t envisage either party volunteering to open up another can of worms marked ‘Divisive Referendum’ on the EU (or anything else for that matter) for a good long while.