16 Sep, 2019
Chair's message to members - 16 September 2019
Dear Member or Supporter
The new tactical voting campaign launched by the People's Vote may be the best we can do in the circumstances. But it is also a missed opportunity. And it will present many local campaign groups with a real dilemma.
It is sometimes hard to remember that holding a referendum is not an end in itself; we need to win it because our actual aim is to Remain and then to heal the country.
London4Europe is all-party and no-party. We have no interest in domestic politics. Our only interest in a general election is progress towards Remaining in the EU.
The country's politics are changing
Voters identify as Remainers and Leavers, cutting across the traditional party lines. Anyway, "left" and "right" are more problematic labels than commonly supposed. So voters' allegiances may be more fluid than in the past.
Political parties are showing signs of stress. The formation of Change UK, the departure of other MPs to sit as independents, the expulsion of 21 MPs from the Conservative Party, the resignation of two Cabinet Ministers are all signs of fractures. Brexit is only one of the reasons.
Labour Party Position
We will not know what the Labour party will stand for until it has gone through its democratic processes to write its manifesto, or at least until after the Party Conference.
Curiously, Jeremy Corbyn did not think that the constraints of democratic processes prevented him from announcing that the manifesto would commit the Labour Party to a referendum on any deal, no matter who negotiated it. If we assume that commitment stands then Labour is a referendum party.
The 2017 general election manifesto was for a hard Brexit with an end to freedom of movement. Corbyn's last statement on the desirability of Brexit is his July 2019 statement to members. In that he makes clear his hierarchy: 1 - Labour's Brexit; 2 - Remain; 3 - certain forms of Tory Brexit or No-Deal. So we should assume for now that Labour would go into the next general election with a plan to negotiate its own "credible" Brexit Deal.
But then Labour - Corbyn having spent years arguing for it - would surely have to support it in the referendum, even if individual MPs were allowed to campaign against it (that has not been decided). How could the Party oppose its own Deal? That Remain was always better than any Brexit - but if so why negotiate a Deal? That the party had failed to negotiate a good deal - surely an admission of incompetence. That the EU were such rotters that they would not give us a good deal - an argument for leaving. None of these lines works.
Corbyn's Deal would be similar to Theresa May's. So unless the Conservatives played the same party political games as Corbyn had and rejected it because it came with a Corbyn sticker on the packaging we would have a referendum where both main parties largely supported Brexit. That would be hard to win.
Tactical voting for a referendum
So there would be a qualitative difference between Labour's support for a referendum and that of the parties who were committed to Remain. It is not clear whether that will be factored in to tactical voting advice.
To put it another way, backing Labour candidates might help to bring about a referendum; but might also make it harder to win one.
It also risks making the Remain movement look like a Labour front, putting off the millions of Conservative Remain voters.
Tactical voting for Remain
The alternative is to vote only for candidates in Remain parties or independents.
Such a commitment could lead to more MPs leaving pro-Brexit parties to fight as independents or join a pro-Remain party. That would be harsh on those Conservative and Labour MPs who had bravely defied their leaders and stood up for Remain/ referendum but also wished to stay loyal to their parties. Party loyalties are strong.
Or it could lead Labour to adopt as its manifesto campaigning for Remain, which would imply putting the existing deal to the electorate rather than negotiating its own. Pressure to do so would also come from the hardening of the Liberal Democrats' already clear anti-Brexit stance. It would however put Jeremy Corbyn into an embarrassing position of - as in 2016 - advocating a policy he does not believe in.
It would ensure that Remain voters were true to their principles and did not vote for a party with a pro-Brexit manifesto, even if they voted for a pro-Remain party they would not normally support. In the Euro-elections many leaflets produced by the PV campaign went straight in the bin because campaigners were not willing to support pro-Brexit Labour even if they were held to be supportive of a PV (the party's commitment to a referendum has strengthened since).
Focussing on pro-Remain parties would however be a far bigger gamble. In England most seats have in the past been fought Conservative/ Labour. FPTP makes it less likely that voters would risk "wasting their vote" on the smaller pro-Remain parties or independents. So a commitment to back only pro-Remain parties/ independents would be less likely to succeed in building a majority.
So tactical voting for a referendum misses the opportunity to reshape the political landscape by encouraging MPs to switch to pro-Remain parties or to stand as independents; and it reduces pressure on Labour to come out for Remain. It would require some Remain voters to vote for a party that supported Brexit.
But tactical voting for Referendum candidates may be the best that we can do, given where we are.
It will not be possible to tell until nearer the time. In particular we need to know Labour's election manifesto and to have a clearer picture of what the polls say.
In any event, we have to be cautious: even with the clarity of First Past the Post there are real technical problems in forming a view of which suitable candidate is most likely to win.
The best answer? As both Labour's Deputy Leader Tom Watson and Conservative intellectual and now rebel Oliver Letwin say: a referendum first and a general election afterwards.
This e-mail sets out the personal views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of London4Europe.
E-mail: [email protected]
Do you like this post?