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Time for Labour to stand unequivocally by the working class

The Ashcroft survey of the EU election has been ignored by all mainstream media. ROB GRIFFITHS looks at its rather surprising findings

WITHIN hours of the EU parliamentary election results, Labour’s poor performance was being used as yet another stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters.

His leadership is being blamed for the fall in Labour’s share of the vote in Britain from 25 per cent in 2014 to 14 per cent in 2019. The number of Labour MEPs has dropped from 20 to 10.

His detractors argue that Corbyn’s failure to come out against every form of Brexit and to call for a second EU referendum drove many previous Labour supporters into the arms of the Lib Dems and Greens on May 23.

Moreover, it is claimed, as public opinion has turned against the majority decision for Brexit in 2016, Corbyn’s insistence that the referendum result should be honoured is leaving Labour high and dry as the tide recedes.

The intransigence of Corbyn and his sinister “Stalinist” entourage is — so we are told — jeopardising the prospect of winning a Labour government at the next general election. The only remedy now, supposedly, is to drop the party’s pledge to honour the Brexit result, unconditionally embrace a second referendum and commit Labour to keeping Britain in the EU in all circumstances.

Such an approach, Labour’s pro-EU enthusiasts concede, may lose the party some support among working-class Leavers, but it will bring back many more people who have switched to the uncompromisingly anti-Brexit parties.

Erstwhile self-proclaimed Corbyn supporters such as journalist Paul Mason go further, adding that victory will also require Labour dropping its policies for public ownership and welcoming a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons.

The Ashcroft survey indicates that — compared with the 2017 general election — significantly higher proportions of working-class and Labour voters abstained on
May 23 than “upper-class”

No matter the fundamental democratic principle that electoral decisions should be implemented before being revisited; no matter Labour’s 2017 general election pledge to respect the Brexit result; no matter the Parliamentary Labour Party’s vote for the 2018 European Union (withdrawal) Act setting March 29 2019 as “exit day;” no matter Labour’s 2018 conference decision only to consider a second referendum as an option in the absence of an acceptable withdrawal agreement and a general election.

So what was the reality behind the smoke and mirrors of the EU vote?

Indisputably, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party “won” the election in the conventional sense, securing the biggest share of the poll (32 per cent) and the largest number of seats (29 out of Britain’s 70).

Ah but, we are told by numerous anti-Brexit politicians and pundits, more people voted for Remain-supporting parties than for pro-Brexit ones. This supposedly reflects the shift in public opinion towards remaining in the EU, in keeping with recent opinion poll findings.
Except that it doesn’t.

True, the unambiguously pro-Leave parties (Brexit and Ukip) took 35 per cent of the vote while the pro-Remain parties (Lib Dems, Greens, SNP, Plaid Cymru and No Change UK) took 40 per cent.
Some calculations then add some or all of the Labour and Tory votes to either side of the Leave-Remain ledger, thereby shifting the balance one way or the other.

In fact, there are significant minorities among the voters in almost all of the parties who do not agree with their party’s official policy on Brexit.

Fortunately, the Ashcroft polling organisation has carried out a detailed survey of how more than 10,000 people voted in the EU parliamentary elections and previously.*

This sample, properly weighted, is 10 times the size of most opinion polls.

What the survey shows should burst the bubble of political activists and commentators who rely on the pro-EU media (notably the Guardian, BBC, Sky, Daily Mirror and London Evening Standard) for news and analysis — which is why they have ignored it.

First, of those who voted on May 23 across the UK, 50 per cent of the sample believe the UK should leave the EU (more than half of them without a deal) and 46 per cent think we should remain. In the 2016 EU referendum, 50 per cent of these voters had opted for Remain and 45 per cent for Leave.

This shows a shift towards Brexit since 2016, at least among that 37 per cent of the UK electorate who voted on May 23.

This turnout was only marginally higher than in 2014 EU elections, despite the strenuous efforts of pro- and anti-Brexit parties to turn it into a second referendum on EU membership. It is barely half the turnout of the 2016 EU referendum whose legitimacy has been challenged every day since by politicians and pundits on the losing side.

The politics must be argued in favour of an EU exit which does not shackle
a future left-led Labour government to EU Single Market rule

So why did 63 per cent of the electorate abstain from the polls in this year’s EU elections? Well, nearly half that number never vote in any poll.

As for the remaining one-third of the active electorate, many must have taken a conscious decision not to participate. As BBC and Press Association analyses confirm, the turnout increased most in areas that had voted Remain in 2016 and fell more heavily in those that had voted Leave.

Moreover, the Ashcroft survey indicates that — compared with the 2017 general election — significantly higher proportions of working-class and Labour voters abstained on May 23 than “upper-class” (social category AB) and non-Labour voters.

In fact, around two-thirds of Labour Leave supporters abstained from voting in 2019, whereas only half of Labour Remain supporters did so.

A clear majority of Labour Brexiteers could not bring themselves to vote Labour — or to vote for Farage or Ukip. They represent a bigger proportion of Labour’s voters in 2017 (around 22 per cent) than either those who switched to totally pro-Brexit parties (7 per cent) or to anti-Brexit parties (21 per cent).

Thus Labour’s alienated Brexiteers constitute a substantially higher proportion of Labour’s previous supporters than those who turned to the anti-Brexit, anti-Labour parties on May 23.   

The Ashcroft survey also confirmed that support for leaving the EU remains highest among the working class, whether defined narrowly (social categories C2, D and E) or more broadly (plus C1).

This was certainly true of May 23 voters, where the pro-Brexit proportions were 59 per cent and 55 per cent, respectively.

It is more important for Labour to retain and win back these pro-Brexit electors than it is to capitulate to the party’s anti-Brexit defectors. This is even more strongly the case when considering that Labour must not only keep its many Leave-voting working-class heartland seats — the majority of which voted Leave in 2016 — in order to win the next general election.

It must also, according to Dr Richard Johnson of Lancaster University, gain 45 Tory Leave-voting marginal seats in England and Wales together with 19 Remain-voting marginals in Scotland, 18 of them held by the SNP.**

An anti-Brexit policy will make these gains impossible. Nor will supporting a second referendum unconditionally help Labour achieve its key objectives.

Opinion polls indicate that this policy only has majority support when it excludes a Remain option. A second referendum offering a choice between a current or amended EU Withdrawal package on the one hand and exit on WTO terms on the other would be much more palatable to many Leave voters and others who genuinely respect the 2016 EU referendum decision.

But then, as Lenin might have said (but didn’t), psephology isn’t everything. The politics must be argued in favour of an EU exit which does not shackle a future left-led Labour government to EU Single Market rules.

A Corbyn cabinet must be free to pursue policies of economic planning, public ownership, regional development, industrial regeneration, infrastructure investment, fair trade, VAT reform and labour market equality.

Too many Eurosceptics at every level of the labour movement have stayed silent about the undemocratic, capitalist, militarist character of the EU in the vain hope of appeasing the more fanatical Remainers in the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Now, finally, they need to break cover, before the pro-EU extremists and their allies in the anti-Labour parties and mass media succeed in destroying the prospect of a Corbyn government pursuing left and progressive policies.

*The Ashcroft survey: https://lordashcroftpolls.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/European-electi...
**Dr Richard Johnson: https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2019/02/04/labours-path-to-vicotry-is-thr...

Robert Griffiths is general secretary of the Communist Party.

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