Friday, 2 December 2016

The Significance of the Richmond By-Election

The Liberals will no doubt see the significance of the Richmond By-Election, as being that they are on their way back from oblivion. It isn't, and they aren't. The significance of the by-election is that, given that all the candidates were opposed to the Heathrow expansion, the clear basis on which it was fought was Brexit. Goldsmith, as incumbent MP, should have had a significant advantage. Instead, his 23,000 majority at the last election was overturned, and the Liberals won with a 2,000 majority. This is a huge blow against Brexit, and has important implications for all MP's, and for the Labour and Tory parties.

Around 35% of Tory voters voted Remain, across the country. Its only a very rough rule of thumb, but, the implication is that around 30% of Tory MP's are in seats, where a majority of voters voted Remain. Some will be in the same position as Goldsmith, i.e. that a majority of their voters supported Remain, whilst they as the MP supported Leave. What Richmond indicates, is that in all such seats, even a 20,000 Tory majority is not safe against a challenge from the Liberals. Indeed, some Tory seats might be susceptible even where the Tory MP was a Remainer, if voters in that seat are so concerned about Brexit that they fear a Tory government would push through a hard Brexit, and think a Liberal or Labour MP might be a protection against that.

In every Tory constituency where there was a strong Remain vote, therefore, as with the 75% in Richmond Park, there will be a strong incentive for the Tory candidate to adopt a pro-Remain, or anti hard-Brexit position, or else risk being overturned by alternative pro-Remain candidates. That means around 100 Tory MP's could be in that position. Of course, come the next election, Tory voters are likely to weigh other things into the balance than just Brexit. That fact has implications also for Labour.

Around 65% of Labour voters supported Remain, though you would not know it from the way the media have discussed it. About a third voted Leave, and using the same very rough rule of thumb, that means that a third of Labour MP's, might be susceptible to a challenge from a pro-Brexit candidate from UKIP, or the Tories. But, in reality, come a General Election, for the same reason as above, that susceptibility is probably not that great. Come a General Election, in Labour seats, and frequently those Labour seats where there was the biggest Leave vote were safe Labour seats, voters will take into consideration far more issues than just Brexit, when casting their vote.

So, in all those Labour seats where there was a large Remain vote, usually in metropolitan areas such as London, Liverpool, Manchester and so on, it would be crazy for Labour MP's to roll over, and acquiesce in the vote for Brexit, rather than actively putting forward a pro-Remain argument. But, even in those Labour seats that voted Leave there is a case for Labour continuing to put the case for Europe, provided that case is presented in the right way. Labour needs to aggressively put the case for a different kind of Europe, a Europe based upon workers unity, and raising workers conditions across the EU to the highest levels.

Prior to the referendum, I correctly suggested that Leave would win, based upon its core vote. I have over the years suggested that there is a core of around 30% of the population that holds bigoted views. The further polling around the referendum confirmed this. It shows a huge cross-over of those who voted Leave, with those who also held reactionary views on immigration, climate change and environmentalism, women's rights, LGBT rights etc. But, that 30% of the population has not suddenly appeared with the EU referendum. It has been there for years. Yet, it did not stop many of those who held those views voting Labour in General Elections, and in many cases being active trades unionists etc.

What the EU referendum did was actually the opposite to what its proponents claimed in relation to an exercise in democracy. The reason I argued that this 30% core would win it for Brexit, was that simply limited to this one issue, which was largely seen in terms of putting an end to immigration, those that felt most driven on that issue would turn out to vote, whereas those who supported Remain, especially as all of the polls and media coverage more or less took a Remain vote for granted, would be less likely to turn out.

In fact, only 37% of the electorate voted to Leave. In all of the opinion polls ahead of the referendum, the issues of the EU, and of Immigration repeatedly ranked low in the list of people's concerns. There is little indication to support the claims of Farage that if Brexit fails to happen there will be rioting on the streets. None of the proposed pro-Brexit mobilisations against the High Court ruling etc. have materialised, and they won't. When it comes down to it, people are far more concerned with issues such as the NHS, wages, jobs and so on rather than Brexit. And, in fact, its clear that Brexit would have a deleterious effect on wages, jobs, the economy, and so also on public services such as the NHS.

The line for Labour, therefore, should be quite clear. Labour should lead a large-scale and aggressive campaign against Brexit, and for a different kind of Europe, a social Europe, based upon workers unity across the continent. It should draw in all of those new large-scale social democratic movements across the EU, such as Syriza, Podemos, the Portuguese Left Bloc and so on. Rather than acquiescing in the reactionary nationalism of the Brexit vote, Labour should offer to all those left behind workers in areas like Stoke, a positive alternative, of a much higher minimum wage across all of the EU, for a new EU wide modern day Marshall Plan of widespread investment in infrastructure spending, to repair all of the decayed roads, schools, hospitals and public housing. It should offer hope via such measures of putting people back to work in secure, permanent jobs with decent wages.

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