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Some more thoughts from the Mefi thread I started this week.

“But 7 Out of 10 Labour Constituencies Voted Leave”

I have big problems with this line of argument, which comes up a lot in Labour circles. The Leave voters in Labour constituencies will have been a mix of voters from all parties, but this line implies that somehow 7/10 Labour seats were full of high concentrations of Labour Leavers. Nationally, Tory voters were 61% Leave and UKIP voters were 95% Leave (the other 5% who weren’t are a bit baffling, but it takes all kinds). Even Lib Dems were 32% Leave, only a few percent behind Labour’s 35% Leave. Given that individual seats in Parliament are FPTP, there would be plenty of Labour seats that were won with a minority of the overall vote in a general election, so even if 75% of Labour voters voted Remain in a particular Labour seat it could potentially have gone to Leave in the referendum, depending how the vote in that seat was split across the parties in the previous general election.

It’s entirely possible for 7 out of 10 of all constituencies to have voted Leave, even when the overall result was as close as 52/48. All it would take would be a bunch of urban seats with very high Remain votes, and a larger number of rural/suburban seats with narrower Leave wins.

Which seems to be what happened. Here’s a breakdown of 382 local authority regions and how they voted (I can’t find one that shows House of Commons constituencies,* but this gives a similar picture). Of these, 119 voted majority Remain and 263 voted majority Leave. That is, 68.8% of all regions voted Leave.

Some Labour figures keep stressing the risk of losing the 35% of Labour voters who voted Leave, but don’t seem as worried that they could lose many of the 65% who voted Remain. They kept our votes last time because Labour seemed the best chance of finding our way out of this mess. They won’t have as easy a time of it next time.

The risks of losing Remain votes, in fact, seem so much greater for Labour: they would have to lose only half the percentage of Labour Remain voters relative to Labour Leave voters to lose a similar number of votes overall. For example, if Labour had a base of 10 million votes, and 65% were Remain and 35% Leave, then they would risk losing a million of those votes if their Brexit policy turned off 29% of Leave voters, but would risk losing a (different) million votes if their policy turned off 15% of Remain voters. If they turned off 29% of Remain voters, they would lose 1.9 million votes.

They appear to be making a calculated decision that Leave voters are so strident that they’ll abandon Labour en masse if the party helps Britain stay in the EU, and that Remain voters won’t be sufficiently upset to abandon them to the same extent if they help us leave it. They’re making a relative judgment about which side is more angry, and going with the angry Leavers. And they’re making no allowance for the possibility that becoming the clear Remain option could attract former Tory and Lib Dem voters, even when that appears to be what happened in 2017 (before it became clear that Labour wasn’t going to save us). Presumably, these aren’t the “right” kind of voters, because they’d drag Labour away from the left back to the centre. But would they? Wouldn’t a bigger Labour vote in 2017 have been taken as a mandate for Corbyn’s manifesto, wherever the votes came from? Why couldn’t it do the same next time?

The 2017 snap election was a huge miscalculation by Theresa May (leaving aside the even worse miscalculation of triggering Article 50 without a plan). She wanted to increase her majority in order to strengthen her negotiating hand with the EU, she said, which was meaningless nonsense; what she most likely wanted was to dilute the influence of the hardliners within the Tory party by bringing in more middle-of-the-road Tories, so that the hardliners couldn’t hold the threat of rebellion over her and she could then steer to a softer Brexit arrangement of her choosing. But then she ran a campaign where Brexit was hardly mentioned at all, which meant that it ended up being about everything else, and the Tories’ record on everything else didn’t look good.

She could instead have taken her time, focussed on the withdrawal negotiations so that she had a deal on the table by mid-2018, called a general election now, and made it effectively a poll on the deal. Labour might in those circumstances have gone full Remain, because if they went hard Leave or fell in behind the Tories’ deal they’d drive votes to the Lib Dems and split the anti-Tory vote. So we’d have had a Deal/Remain choice in 2018, with the Hard Brexit/No Deal ideologues sidelined, instead of the mess we have now where we face No Deal and/or being bogged down in arguments about whether a second referendum would be a denial of democracy.

Absolute shambles. Which shows that May either (a) has terrible political judgment, and is the last person who should be PM, or (b) wanted to crash out without a deal all along. I really can’t credit (b), as for all her other faults she did back Remain in 2016, so it has to be (a).

*I’m not even sure there is an official breakdown along constituency lines. I’m suspicious about the “7 out of 10 Labour constituencies” trope—I suspect it must mean local authority regions, which aren’t the same thing.

 

A fellow commenter asked: Has it occurred to you that May might have excellent political judgement? Everything she has done since taking office has been in service of her ongoing political career. The only career saving move is to run the bus off the cliff...

The evil genius theory, eh? I’m not convinced by the “genius” part.

No Prime Minister with excellent political judgment calls a snap election three years early in order to turn her majority government into a minority government. No one with excellent judgment would trigger Article 50 prematurely without solid plans for all contingencies, over the advice of seasoned civil servants.

It would have been entirely possible to hold off on triggering Article 50 until the UK was thoroughly prepared for it—and even to sell holding off to hardliners: “The EU is pushing us to trigger Article 50 before we’re ready, so that it can put us at a disadvantage in negotiations. We’ll do so when it is to Britain’s best advantage, and not a moment sooner.”

But no, her excellent political judgment was to put us all over a barrel.

Her career won’t be saved by running us off the cliff, when government receipts are already down £440 million a week and are only going to get worse. We’re about to get austerity on steroids, and Austerity Mark I almost cost her the keys to No. 10 once.

 

From an article by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: One minister told me it’s like a bad 45 year marriage: “We’ve stayed together for the sake of the kids, given birth to Brexit which is now ready to leave home and we’re fighting now over who gets what.”

I’m sick to death of Brexit/marriage analogies. For every way in which they “work” and imply some inevitability about leaving, you could find a counter-example of how they should imply the opposite. (What about “in sickness and in health”? “Till death do us part”?) And fundamentally, they’re bollocks. Our 28 countries aren’t “married” to each other; 16,141,241 Remain voters weren’t “married” to 17,410,742 Leave voters; the UK isn’t “married” to the supranational organisation of which it’s a member (can you be married to the marriage itself?). Analogies are like Leave-backing inventors of powerful vacuum cleaners.

 

In defence of freedom of movement. Good to see this angle getting some airtime in the press. For me during the referendum it was the most important benefit of the EU, and it’s been a constant disappointment that so many have been so quick to dismiss it to pander to the anti-immigrant vote. Labour very much included.

27 June 2018 · Politics


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