by Frank Schnittger
Fri May 17th, 2019 at 02:39:44 PM EST
In a kindness to all concerned, Jeremy Corbyn has finally put an end to the the Conservative Labour talks aimed at finding a common solution to the parliamentary impasse on Brexit. Everyone knew that both sides were simply playing for time, but it would have been farcical to continue after Theresa May had announced that her premiership was nearing its end.
Nevertheless his letter to her calling time on their joint efforts showed considerable more class than did her riposte. He thanked those involved in the talks for their detailed, constructive, and good faith efforts but said that the remaining differences between the parties combined with the instability of the government had made it impossible for them to succeed. For her part, May blamed divisions in Labour over a second referendum for the breakdown.
The reality is that Labour had offered her a lifeline to continue in office past the local and European elections, and if she really wanted a deal she could have had one. It would have meant compromising on her objections to a continued close relationship with the Customs Union and Single Market, and, in all probability, a second referendum to validate the deal. Without that there is no way Labour could be sure the next Tory PM would deliver on the deal.
But it is doubtful whether being kind to May has helped Labour in the opinion polling leading up to the European Parliament Elections. The latest polls show Labour slumping to 15% support - almost 20% behind the Brexit party on 35% and just behind the Lib Dems on 16%. It is little consolation to Labour that the Conservatives are in fifth place on 9%, behind the Greens on 10%.
Peter Kellner, in the Guardian, provides a detailed analysis of the latest You Gov poll:
Let's start with all those who voted Labour in 2017. The shift is clear. Defections to remain parties - the Liberal Democrats in particular - rose sharply, while those to leave parties did not. In late April, defections divided two to one in favour of remain parties; by last week, that had risen to three to one. More of those who voted Labour two years ago now plan to switch to one of the remain parties than plan to stay loyal to Labour.
That is not all. If we divide Labour's 2017 voters into remainers and leavers from 2016, we find - not surprisingly - that the change between the two surveys can be explained completely by those who voted remain. In late April 53% of Labour remainers said they'd now vote Labour, and 45% would vote for another remain party. Last week the number staying with Labour had dropped to 40%, and 57% said they'd look to other remain parties.
As for Labour leave voters, the picture is more intriguing. One-third remain loyal in both surveys, with half defecting to leave parties. But one in 10 Labour leave voters now support remain parties. This is consistent with the findings of other surveys: that a significant minority of Labour leave voters, but not Labour remain voters, are having second thoughts about the wisdom of Brexit.
That said, it remains the case that a fair number of Labour leave voters still want Brexit and plan to switch their support next week, overwhelmingly to the Brexit party. But this should be put in context. In the 2016 referendum, Labour supporters divided two to one in favour of remain. Today the ratio is three to one. This means the number of Labour remain defectors to remain parties is three times as large as Labour leave defectors to leave parties - and has continued to grow.
The bottom line is that Labour is haemorrhaging votes to both the committed Leave and Remain parties, although overwhelmingly and increasingly to the latter. Those who still want to Leave will switch to voting Brexit Party (12%); those who want to remain will vote Lib Dem (21%), Green (15%) or ChangeUK (5%). In trying to keep both Leave and Remain voting Labour supporters on board, Corbyn has ended up in satisfying almost no one.
He has also damaged the Labour party brand by more closely associating it with a failing Conservative government and Prime Minister. The YouGov data shows precisely 0% of voters switching from Labour to the Conservatives. What's the point, if they are both intent on pursuing similar policies?
It is probably too late, at this stage, to arrest the Labour decline by switching to a more clear cut Remain policy. Remain voters have simply lost patience with Labour's prevarication on the Second referendum issue. Even 10% of Labour Leave voters have simply changed their minds and have switched to supporting Remain parties.
There may not be a crisis of leadership in the Labour party at the moment, but there should be. 15% support at a time of unprecedented government unpopularity would be a disastrous result. I argued in Corbyn's Moment of Truth that "The real question mark over Corbyn is not his economic ideology or democratic credentials. It is whether he has the leadership abilities to pull Labour and the UK out of this mess."
It now looks likely he is going to fail that test. Only an unambiguous commitment to hold a second referendum on May's deal (or failing that, on the next Tory leader's NO deal Brexit) could save the Labour party now, and even then, it is probably too late to save it for these European elections. Even polling for the next general election is showing Labour and the Tories tied on 25% each with the Brexit party looming in the background on 18%, and the Lib Dems on 16%. Labour's place in the duopoly of power in Westminster is anything but secure.
Unless Corbyn is playing a long game, has written off the European elections, and is hoping to defeat a Boris Johnson led no deal supporting government at a general election in the autumn, his strategy makes no sense at all. My guess is that enough Tories will defect should Johnson be elected Leader that he will fail to secure election as Prime Minister and be forced to call a general election on that basis.
But its a high risk game, and there is no certainty that Corbyn would win it. Writing in the Guardian, Mary Kaldor argues:
Is there time to recover and move away from the brink? Labour is still the only party that can bring leavers and remainers together - and not through a vague attempt to triangulate with Brexiteers. It must take a firm position on remaining in the EU and combine this with a strategy to reform Europe and to end austerity: this would tackle the root causes of Brexit.
The remain parties, at least the Liberal Democrats and Change UK, merely offer a return to the status quo. The only way to take votes from the Brexit party is by making a credible commitment to employment, housing, and public services - and by refusing to pander to racist sentiment.
There is still a way for Labour to stop this Brexit juggernaut. If it ends the talks with the government, calls for a confirmatory vote on any deal and throws the well-oiled party machine into the election campaign, it is just possible that we can avoid the total meltdown that would result from the Brexit party triumphing on 23 May.
Regrettably, she seems to be arguing more out of hope than conviction. The European elections are in less than a weeks time...