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.
Paul W says
I’m not convinced that the voters want more ‘centrism’ at the moment from either of the two main parties (or the Liberal Democrats come to that), having had quite enough of it under Blair-Brown and Cameron-Clegg. By the end, centrist government looked too much like clever presentation and managerialism rather than political representation and the redress of real grievances. There are plenty of those. I’m not sure that adding ‘failure to deliver Brexit’ to the list would be of help. What we could do with is a period of steady government or, indeed, ‘the smack of firm government’. But I don’t suppose we can expect either of these things until one party or other has an overall majority of seats in parliament. Then we can all complain about something else – such as the dictatorial and out of touch nature of British governments.
For a future General Election 2022 (or possibly sooner) and leaving Corbyn aside for a moment, is there anyone on the Tory side who could provide the electoral impact that leave 2017 looking like an outlier? Marmite does not do justice to their personas or images.
Although received wisdom is that May stands down some time after March next year, though this could be pushed back to the end of 2020, the feudal tendencies in the Conservatives, with no faction wanting one from a rival faction, could mean that May plods on to 2022.
Corbyn’s hope that the deteriorating economic outlook is enough to secure a win, could happen. If up against May, the pubic would have to endure two of the worst* media interviewees of leaders within living memory head to head.
*other than Duncan Smith
You can’t leave Corbyn aside, though. How many of Labour’s 2017 votes were from people who felt safe doing so because they were sure Corbyn wouldn’t end up as PM? And who would switch in a campaign where that was a real prospect? Okay if you’re twenty points ahead; death if you’re already two or three points behind.
The interesting question, that I haven’t seen addressed nearly enough, is who is going to replace Corbyn when he does step down. Because if there’s one thing Marxists aren’t known for, it’s orderly and strife-free transitions of power. It’ll be The Death of Stalin on the Thames.
Paul W says
“It’ll be The Death of Stalin on the Thames.” Will it be played as tragedy or farce?
Phil Beesley says
If we are bothered about liberalism, all that we can do is to argue for it. I’m not going to argue for centrism because I’m not a centrist.
If 10% of the population are inclined to liberalism — convinced by the preface to the constitution — why don’t Lib Dems win 10% aggregate? Talk to them about liberalism, rather than centrism.
Um, the Lib Dems are getting a consistent 8-10% in the polls. I presume that is the 10% of the population who are inclined to liberalism.
Phil Beesley says
Maybe we are useless about selling liberalism.
Mark purcell says
I’m not sure the swing to remain is necessarily to remain in the EU, rather it’s not wanting a hard Brexit. The reasons for voting leave still remain. I think a much softer Brexit (like EFTA and in the customs union, with freedom of movement of workers only and no EU resendency rights) would be quite attractive. After all, this is one of the options Farage and Hannan were promoting at the time.
A new centrist party would actually be good for Corbyn IMO, for the following reasons:
a) They won’t be able to use the Labour in their name or Labour’s assets
b) They’ll steal more votes from Tories than Labour (and UKIP will too)
c) Brexit in the coming months is going to severely damage the Tories, and
d) They’ll forever be linked with Blair and the Iraq War,.being Blairite
After all, this is one of the options Farage and Hannan were promoting at the time
They were promoting remaining in the single market but leaving the customs union, I believe, so basically the same relationship to the EU as Norway or Switzerland (as remaining in the customs union would leave us unable to do our own trade deals by offering better terms than the EU due to being less protectionist regarding standards etc).
I’m actually still expecting the government to declare sometime in the coming months that the UK has applied to join EFTA, effective the day after we leave the EU, as a backstop position in the case of no deal — and for that then to become the actual result, by default.