Andy Slaughter: London Remainers can only thwart the Brexit Party by voting Labour

Andy Slaughter: London Remainers can only thwart the Brexit Party by voting Labour

It is not a secret that most Labour members and MPs would like to see their party taking a more robust line on supporting a second vote on European Union membership, with the objective of defeating any of the deals on offer and staying in the EU.

Some Labour voters think that means they should lend their European elections vote to one of the smaller parties that are more brazenly pro-Remain in their campaigning, either to encourage Labour to follow suit or to be certain they are registering a vote for Remain on 23 May.

I think that is a wrong analysis and also a dangerous one which, if acted upon, could give the far right its biggest electoral win in post-war politics.

Firstly, Labour is an overwhelmingly Remain party, especially in London where most people reading this will be casting their vote.

Secondly, by squabbling over and fracturing the Remain vote the minor parties are giving the advantage to Farage’s vehicle, the Brexit Party.

And thirdly, painting Labour as equivocal about or even pro-Brexit will minimise the Remain share when the votes come to be counted.

Labour accepts the plethora of independent and government studies that show any version of Brexit leaves the country worse off. We have also, rightly in my view – and I voted against triggering Article 50 – said the 2016 referendum result should be respected unless and until it is revised by another popular vote.

Even if in theory there could be a deal the party would support, in practice that is not going to happen. That is both because the talks with the Tories are going nowhere and should be abandoned and because a majority of Labour MPs are resolved to vote against any deal that is not subject to a popular vote.

The reality is that it is Labour doing the heavy lifting on defeating Brexit. Had Theresa May and all but a handful of Tory MPs got their way, we would have left the EU two months ago.

But over 200 Labour MPs have consistently and repeatedly voted for a second ballot and against leaving the EU with May’s deal. Yes, we have been joined by about 60 minor party MPs, but the strategy that has kept the hope of Remain alive came from Keir Starmer’s team, not the depleted ranks of the Liberal Democrats or SNP who cannot get all their MPs to vote for a People’s Vote despite their self-righteousness on the subject.

Many voters I have spoken to mistakenly believe that they can vote for any Remain party with equal effect as these elections are run on a proportional system. That is not so, however, as set out in this explainer.

Parties getting a high share of the vote are rewarded with more seats than their percentage alone justifies. Farage, benefiting from the implosion of UKIP and the Conservatives (who are barely topping 10 per cent in many polls), will be the main beneficiary of this. A 30 per cent vote share will net him more seats than a similar percentage gained by several small pro-Remain parties. The only party that can take him on on his own terms is Labour, which is polling in the mid-20s. Votes should be moving to Labour from the minor parties, not the other way.

This week, the European Movement held a hustings in Hammersmith. Labour was represented by the excellent Seb Dance MEP (see photo). Seb, like almost every Labour candidate in this election, MP, councillor, and party member, is a passionate pro-European. My own Council, Hammersmith & Fulham, was the first to back a People’s Vote.

Too much attention is given to the handful of pro-Brexit Labour MPs. This gives a distorted picture of where the Party sits, as does the media obsession with the half dozen Tory supporters of a People’s Vote – if there were 60 rather than six of them we would having that vote by now.

Sending Labour MEPs to Brussels means progressive centre-left parties in the Socialists and Democrats group can be the biggest party, elected on a platform to end austerity and tackle climate change.

This is the only way to stop the populist right gaining the upper hand in the parliament and our country being represented in Europe by Farage’s far right extreme nationalists. Farage praises Putin but scorns the NHS, would relax gun controls but is unrelaxed when he hears a foreign language spoken on a train.

Despite the buffoonery, his is a well-funded and organised campaign. It can be stopped, but only if everyone who fears and loathes what Farage represents uses their vote most effectively. And that is best achieved by putting a cross next to the Labour Party next Thursday.

Andy Slaughter is the MP for Hammersmith.

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Categories: Comment

4 Comments

  1. Malcolm Grimston says:

    Mt Corbyn has said unequivocally that Labour is a party of Brexit. I voted Labour in 2017 and have had two years of being told that I was one of the 80% who voted for a ‘leave’ manifesto. I am certainly not making that mistake again.

  2. Caroline says:

    Malcolm Grimston -I did the same and like you am not making that mistake again. Labour’s position (despite the valiant efforts of some on the Front Bench, notably Kier Starmer and Emily Thornberry) is simply not unequivocal enough for me. I want the chance to stop Brexit altogether, via a People’s Vote, not do a deal with the Tories to support their (possibly very slightly softened) hard Brexit. I’m sick of the views of the 48% (and probably more now if polls are to be believed) being totally ignored and sidelined in this debate over the last three years. It’s time Remainers told both major parties by voting for an unequivocally Remain Party that a significant proposition of us want the U.K. to remain in the EU and for its people to keep our EU citizenship and rights.

  3. Caroline says:

    Obviously I meant proportion not proposition above, I can’t find an edit function.

    I agree with the author that the D’Hondt system favours parties with larger shares of the votes which does mean we are in danger of handing Farage a propaganda victory on a plate if the Remain vote is split – especially if it gains the biggest single party percentage in hugely pro-Remain areas like London. So it does mean Remainers getting behind one party if there is any hope of defeating the Brexit party, but with Labour being equivocal and not backing a People’s Vote in all circumstances, to send the strongest message this HAS to be an unequivocally pro Remain party. The latest YouGov polling suggests that people are starting to do exactly that by getting behind the LibDems both in London and the rest of England (in Wales and Scotland it’s a different matter). Even in London they are now ahead of Labour according to that poll, and if everyone who said they were voting Green and ChangeUK in this survey switched to LibDem instead (even if they could only bring themselves do it just for this election) it would give one Remain party almost 40% of the vote and comprehensively more than The Brexit Party. And, we would be 100% sure that our MEPs supported a final say for the public. Brexit is the single biggest issue facing the country at the moment, which could define the politics, economics and social conditions in this country for at least a generation, potentially in a very detrimental fashion, and we really must not squander the opportunity to make Remain voices heard.

    By the way that same YouGov survey ran some stats on where Labour and Tory voters from 2017 were going to cast their votes in the EU elections. It showed quite clearly that of Labour voters in 2017 who would not vote Labour this time over 40% would vote for LibDem, Green or Change UK. Only 14% would vote for the Brexit party which clearly puts to bed the view that it is Labour Leavers who are the ones the Labour Party needs to keep on side if they are to win an election (be that EU or GE). So Labour’s fence sitting and attempts to avoid alienating Leave voters has backfired spectacularly because it is haemorrhaging Remain voters at a far higher rate.

    For the record, I am a floating voter, I am not affiliated with the LibDems or any other political party in any way, but I am a very frustrated Remainer who cannot see any benefit to Brexit whatsoever (only huge downsides) and who feels my voice, along with that of other Remainers, has been sidelined for far too long in this debate.

  4. Malcolm Grimston says:

    Now that the LibDems have overtaken Labour in the national polls the decision is a much simpler one on both policy and tactical grounds.

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