Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name. (William Morris - A Dream of John Ball)

Monday, May 27, 2019

Three weeks are a very long time in politics?

The turnout in the European elections in Brighton and Hove was slightly higher than in the local elections three weeks ago, but not by so much as to make it pointless to look at the results in order to compare them. To a considerable extent, these are results from the same people voting in the same City, three weeks apart.

Share of the vote 2 May
Share of the vote 23 May
Liberal Democrats
Brexit Party
Change UK

Although our Green friends and neighbours will be justly proud of an impressive performance once again (and one which was also reflected elsewhere in the country and in Europe) what is really noticeable is that almost two thirds of those who voted Labour on 2 May, and more than three quarters of those who voted Conservative, did not stick with the Party they had chosen for the local Council when voting for the European Parliament.

These votes went to Parties not really in contention in elections to Brighton and Hove City Council but which had simple messages either for or against Brexit, either the Liberal Democrats (and – to a much lesser extent – their soon-to-be partners in Change UK) or the Brexit Party.

The contemporary volatility of political opinion may reduce the extent to which one can speak of “Labour voters” as a defined category, but looking at votes cast earlier this month and then last week, we can see that the large majority of those Labour voters did not vote Labour in the European elections, because these European elections were being treated as a surrogate (if constitutionally ineffective) referendum on Brexit.

The fact that – within three weeks – the results of local and European elections can be so dramatically different demonstrates that we cannot predict General Election voting from either set of figures. However, we cannot ignore the evidence that our approach to Brexit (focusing on the interests of the 99% rather than either the 52% or the 48%) has largely failed to appeal even to our own supporters.

We need to contemplate the sort of change of approach which John McDonnell has suggested today, which does not amount to any attack upon our Leader (a challenge to whom would be both futile and damaging). 

The Tories will respond to the surge of support for Farage by heading towards the disaster of a “no deal” Brexit. Any Brexit will be contrary to the interests of working-class people in the United Kingdom, but a “no deal” Brexit would be catastrophic. Circumstances dictate that Labour must shift clearly in favour of a confirmatory public vote, in which our only conceivable campaigning option would be “remain and reform.”

We also need to engage with our mass membership in order to start now our campaign for the all but inevitable General Election, which will be called when the next Tory Prime Minister cannot get their preferred Brexit option through Parliament.

And to start that we need our National Executive to allow constituencies throughout the country to get on with selecting candidates around whom we can build a campaign for socialist policies.

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