YouGov sets a test
London4Europe Committee Member Michael Romberg looks at what people think the parties' positions on Brexit actually are.
*** amended 19 May with link to a further YouGov survey ***
On 24-25 April 2019, YouGov asked people to state for each party whether they thought the parties were pro-Brexit, anti-Brexit or neither.
The public are inattentive
There were some pretty impressive don’t know scores for parties that have failed to make much of an impact: Plaid Cymru 60% (55% even in Wales/ Midlands), Change UK 44%, Greens 43%, Liberal Democrats 34%. For UKIP (21%) and Brexit Party (16%) that gives us perhaps a baseline for the inattentiveness of the public.
For the smaller parties, those who reckoned they knew got to the right answer: Brexit Party (94% of those who answered pro/anti/neither gave the right answer), SNP (92%), UKIP (90%), Greens (81%), Liberal Democrats (80%), Plaid Cymru (79%), Change UK (68%).
It's not all the voters' fault. YouGov have also published an analysis of the slightly different question of whether voters think the parties’ positions on Brexit are clear. Yes, in the case of Brexit Party, Liberal Democrats and UKIP; so-so for Change UK and Greens; no for Conservative and Labour.
20% do not know where the Conservatives stand. 37% think they are pro-Brexit, 24% anti-Brexit and 19% neither. So of those expressing a view, only 46% correctly identify the party as pro-Brexit.
Sure, the party is split, though mostly between Deal and No-Deal. But this is the party of a government that has spent almost three years implementing the Brexit referendum result, successfully negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the EU, and tried repeatedly to persuade MPs to pass it.
A clue comes in the split between what 2016 Remainers and Leavers think. 56% of Remainers think the party is pro-Brexit, 11% anti-Brexit; but only 23% of Leave voters think it is pro-Brexit; 40% think the party is anti-Brexit.
So is this because they see Theresa May’s Deal as not a true Brexit - only No-Deal would now count as Brexit? Is it a sign of frustration that Brexit has not yet been accomplished? Is it a betrayal narrative that Remainer Theresa May has been trying to prevent Brexit all along?
25% do not know where Labour stands. 13% think they are pro-Brexit, 42% anti-Brexit and 20% neither. So of those expressing a view, only 17% correctly identify the party as pro-Brexit.
Yes, I know that the party membership is overwhelmingly pro-EU, that most Labour MPs are pro-EU, that there is widespread backing for a referendum amongst Labour. I understand too that no-one knows where Labour will end up.
Labour’s official position is for Brexit
The 2017 general election manifesto was unequivocally for Brexit; Jeremy Corbyn’s speeches consistently support Brexit; the 2018 party conference resolution only rejects No-Deal and any Tory deal failing to meet Labour’s six tests.
The leadership prefer a Labour or cross-party Brexit. Barry Gardiner made clear that “on Brexit we are in there trying to bail you guys [ie the Conservative government] out”. After the 2019 local election results, Jeremy Corbyn announced “We will continue putting our case for an alternative deal to Parliament … because Labour does not want to divide people on how they voted in 2016, we want to bring people together.” That is absurd: what Remainer is going to say “All I ever cared about with the EU was to be in a customs union”.
The European Elections manifesto backs Labour’s Brexit plan. "And if we can’t get agreement along the lines of our alternative plan, or a general election, Labour backs the option of a public vote."
That still means that Labour backs Brexit. Corbyn has made clear that in a general election Labour would campaign for Brexit. And Labour’s past whipping decisions show that Corbyn would not back a public vote particularly hard.
Why people believe Labour is for Remain
Even though there was little difference of substance between the Labour manifesto and May’s plan, Labour’s 2017 general election opposition to Theresa May’s hard Brexit led many of its voters to believe that it stood for Remain. In December 2017, over half of Labour-voting students thought that both Jeremy Corbyn and Labour stood for Remain. A separate poll at the same time found that 40% of Labour voters in general thought that Labour stood for Remain. Perhaps people still confuse Labour’s opposition to May’s Brexit – even though it is much the same as Corbyn’s - with opposition to Brexit itself.
It could be a reflection of a party genuinely seen as divided. But that would imply a higher figure for “neither” (albeit that at 20% it is much higher than for any other party apart from the Conservatives (19%)).
It could be Leavers’ annoyance at the party’s failure to pass the Government’s deal (or no-deal). Certainly, at 61%, 2016 Leavers are more likely to see the party as anti-Brexit than Remainers are.
2016 Remainers are confused: 18% see the party as pro-Brexit, 28% anti-Brexit, 30% neither, 24% don’t know.
2017 Labour voters are unlikely to face up to the reality: only 17% see the party as pro-Brexit, 35% as anti-Brexit, 29% neither and 19% don’t know.
Labour party members and supporters are overwhelmingly pro-EU. So most of the people they talk politics with will also be pro-EU. Perhaps some cannot bring themselves to believe that the party’s official position and the party leadership are not also pro-EU. Nor will they wish to admit to themselves that they voted for a pro-Brexit party in 2017.
A further possibility: Jeremy Corbyn has inspired a large following. While some share his Lexit views, many others may just be unwilling to believe that he stands for Brexit.
People choose which party to support for many reasons. Brexit is only one of them. Of course, at London4Europe we would like people to prioritise Remain. But if someone prioritises the non-Brexit policies of a pro-Brexit party that is their choice.
For as long as Remainers fail to acknowledge that the Conservative and Labour parties are pro-Brexit they will not be able to make an informed choice.
There are organisations associated with both main parties that are campaigning to change their policies to Remain. You can read about them and choose whether to join them in our article Remainers in the parties are fighting back.
The London4Europe blogs page is edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and no necessarily of London4Europe.