Surveys of Londoners’ voting intentions published this week have found Labour heading crowded fields of rivals in European election, mayoral election and general election races alike. Yet backing for Jeremy Corbyn’s party in the capital has slumped and the same thing has happened to the Conservatives. Meanwhile, smaller parties have gained ground. If these trends continue, what sorts of results might forthcoming elections produce?
Consider London voters’ intentions for the European Parliament elections on 23 May – just eight days away – as measured by YouGov for Queen Mary University of London (QMUL). Labour enjoys the most support from Londoners, but only 24 per cent of them – 13 per cent fewer than at the last European elections in 2014. Tory support has fallen by the same amount to an absolutely desperate 10 per cent, leaving them in fifth place overall.
Who is on the up? The newly-formed Brexit Party sits in second place with 20 per cent, followed by, on the Remain side of the fence, the Liberal Democrats on 17 per cent (up 10) and the Green Party on 14 per cent (up five). The other newcomers Change UK, also pro-Remain, are on seven per cent. (UKIP, by the way, scored a dismal one per cent).
Few doubt that the problems of the Big Two in the capital flow fundamentally from their positions on Brexit. Opposition to Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal continues to be high, with 42 per cent of Londoners opposing it and only 17 per cent supporting it. May is set against a further referendum, but 47 per cent of YouGov’s London sample sample said they would be happy if one was held, compared with 30 per cent who wouldn’t. Given a choice between remaining in the EU and leaving with the May deal, 56 per cent of Londoners polled said they would opt to remain against 23 per cent who wouldn’t.
Why isn’t Labour support growing as the Tories’ plummets? After all, the party’s 2016 position was to Remain and its current policy is to keep the option of a further referendum open. Yet Labour continues to negotiate with the government to find a way to get a Brexit deal approved by parliament. The option of supporting a further referendum is precisely that – just an option. Labour’s stance has long been described as constructively ambiguous, but some commentators now think it pretty clearly pretty Brexity.
Hammersmith’s Labour MP Andy Slaughter, an intelligent man, pointed out on Twitter yesterday that (nearly all) London’s Labour MPs, councillors, members and its Labour Mayor favour a so-called People’s Vote and argued that Labour in the House of Commons “has the votes to defeat any deal not subject to a confirmatory vote”. But significant numbers of Londoners appear to be moving away from Labour towards smaller parties they regard being straightforwardly pro-Remain.
On London contributor Lewis Baston and QMUL politics professor Philip Cowley agreed that on the basis of the poll, Labour could be confident of winning only two of the London region’s eight European Parliament seats – they currently hold four – under the proportional representation system, with the Brexit Party, the Lib Dems and the Greens well on course for one each. The other three seats could end up being distributed between any of the above and the Tories. And Change UK? Lewis thinks they might have a small chance. Even if Labour won three seats, they would be worse off than they are now.
Both Labour and Conservatives have fallen back in London in terms of Westminster voting intention too, YouGov found: again, Labour topped the poll, but its 35 per cent is down 14 points since the last YouGov poll in December; the Tories, in second place, were down to 23 per cent from 33. By contrast, the Lib Dems were up to 21 points from their previous 11.
As for how Londoners are feeling about next spring’s London Mayor contest, the picture is much brighter for Labour’s Sadiq Khan than for some of his European election counterparts. YouGov found that 43 per cent of Londoners would give their first preference vote to the incumbent Mayor, down from a towering 55 per cent in December. However, his Brexit-backing Conservative rival Shaun Bailey also saw his first preference prospects fall, from an already low 28 per cent to just 23.
Meanwhile, support for Green Party candidate Sian Berry has risen to 16 per cent from seven and that for the Lib Dems’ Siobhan Benita has gone up to ten per cent from four. As the Evening Standard’s political editor Murphy has pointed out, at this rate Bailey could end up out of the top two run-off under the supplementary vote system – a miserable prospect for him and his party.
Murphy attributed the drop in Khan’s score to “Labour’s Brexit fallout“. Fortunately for Khan, the Tory equivalent seems to be hurting Bailey. The upshot is, as Cowley says, that Khan is still in line for a comfortable victory, and perhaps his consistently strongly pro-Remain position will ultimately insulate him against the worst effects of the Labour leadership’s approach to the EU membership – an approach that is clearly hurting it in London at a time when it would hope to be thriving.
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