The idea that a more centrist, and more crucially an openly anti-Brexit Labour Party would be way, way up in the polls (10 points? 20 points? I’ve heard as high as 30 this morning) over the Tories has become an article of faith amongst a certain political set. Equally, this tends to get shot down by pundits who point out that one of the reasons Corbyn tries to sound somewhat Brexity all the time is because a lot of Labour held constituencies voted to Leave.
What do I think? Without wishing to equivocate here, it really depends. If the Labour Party had a leader who was politically attractive to young left-wingers, suburban parents, and swing voters generally, then that’s a start. Further, this leader, assuming this leader is vocally anti-Brexit, would have to be hammering the government hard on the way the negotiations are going – and be winning over at least a reasonable slice of Leave voters with this rhetoric. Added to all that, this notional leader of the Labour Party would have to have a whole agenda for the country beyond Brexit that appealed to all of the groups previously mentioned and several more. Then, yes, Labour would probably be way ahead in the polls.
To summarise, Labour being centrist and anti-Brexit is not even close to being enough to win the next general election – that centrism would have to have a recognisable shape that appealed to a broad chunk of the electorate. Further, the anti-Brexit stance would have to answer most of the questions that led to the vote to Leave in the first place. So, when pundits say that being anti-Brexit could be politically toxic for Labour, they have a point; just that, if Labour were anti-Brexit and sold that to the public along with the rest of its agenda, that could change.
Of course, this is all academic as the Labour Party has none of these things and there is almost no way to change this anytime remotely soon. The only thing I’ll add here is a further note to all those pundits who poo poo the idea of a centrist, anti-Brexit Labour Party being electorally viable on account of all those Labour Leave voters. One, a lot of Labour voters who voted Leave in the referendum are changing their minds. In fact, they represent the one area of the electorate that is really changing its mind on the EU question. Two, Labour as it stands are not in line to win a general election anyhow. I know after the 2017 general election we all think the rules have changed permanently and that now opposition parties can soar at the polls during the course of an election campaign, but it is much more likely that 2017 was an outlier and Labour would lose points during the next general election campaign. Fine when you’re 20 points ahead; bad when you’re neck in neck with the Tories, as is the case.
Anyhow, again, this is all academic. Labour are stuck with Corbyn, and he’s not changing his stripes, on Brexit or anything else, whatever the young and idealistic are praying might happen.