Friday, 7 June 2019

Peterborough Killed Farage's Brexit Company

If Farage's Brexit company could not win in the by-election in Peterborough, it cannot win anywhere. Peterborough voted 60% Leave in the EU Referendum, way above the national average; it has long been a Labour-Tory marginal; the former Labour MP had to stand down after having been convicted; not only the Tory vote, but also the UKIP vote collapsed in the local and European Parliament elections, delivering up all of their Leave voters on a plate to Farage's Brexit company; neither the Liberals nor Greens were in a position to carry the banner of Remain in the election, leaving Remain voters in the seat with only the possibility of voting Labour, despite its still ambiguous position. Yet Farage's Brexit company, having been made 5:1 odds on favourite to win, despite the Tory media talking for a week in advance of the poll as though it was a done deal, failed to win. 

But, what the vote for the Brexit company, and the collapse of the Tory vote did do was to ensure, if there was every any doubt about the matter, that the Tory Party itself will now elect a hard line Brexiteer, and will swing decisively to a clear No Deal Brexit position. Indeed, the Tory Leader in Peterborough made that abundantly clear, saying that the party must deselect all of its MP's that do not back a No Deal Brexit on WTO terms on 31st October. Meetings to deselect prominent Remainers like Dominic Grieve are already planned. The Tories know that even if Farage's Brexit company did not manage to win any seats, which Peterborough showed is likely to be the case, as it was with UKIP before it, the 20-25% share of the vote they could pick up would be enough to stop the Tories winning an election, and would put Labour into government, despite its own confused and appalling position over Brexit. The Tories will not do that. The only surprise is that it has taken them so long, and such a tortuous route to arrive at this position. As I pointed out at the start of the year, the glaringly obvious thing for May to have done, in February, was to have swung right, to a hard Brexit position, taking advantage of Labour's hopelessly confused position, thereby to have won a parliamentary majority. 

But, once the Tories, under Bojo, who now seems virtually in the position of being crowned, adopt a managed No Deal Brexit position, the support for Farage's Brexit company will disappear in a puff of smoke, as all of those natural Tory voters, return to the fold. Yes, as Sam Gymah says, there are 5 million Tory Remain voters, who may switch to the Liberals, in such an event, but the Tories must surely rely on traditional tribal loyalties, and fear that switching votes, would lead to a Corbyn victory, as a worthwhile bet, in making such a strategic gamble. In any case, better to lose some of those 5 million Remain voters to the Liberals, than to lose not just the core Tory vote, but also a large chunk of its own membership. Moreover, the Tories must gamble that as they consolidate their core vote around a hard Brexit, Labour, if it continues its own disastrous position, will continue to see its support flood away to the Liberals, Greens, SNP, and Plaid, ensuring that with the opposition split, the Tory core vote will be enough to gain a clear majority.  As John Curtice says, for every vote Labour risks losing to Brexit, it risks losing 3 to the Liberals, Greens et al.

The Stalinists in Corbyn's inner circle will undoubtedly try to spin the victory in Peterborough as vindication of continuation of the current, disastrous pro-Brexit stance. But, it is no such thing. Neither the Liberals nor Greens were in a position of having any chance of winning in Peterborough. Potential Liberal or Green, Remain supporting voters, undoubtedly will have voted Labour to prevent a win by Farage's Brexit company. Even so, the Liberals still trebled their vote share. Add together the vote share of Farage's Brexit company, the Tories and UKIP, and you get to 51%, supporting avowedly Brexit parties, but, as John Curtice points out that is significantly lower than the 60%, who voted for Brexit in the 2016 referendum in Peterborough. That is consistent with other polls, and with the European elections, which show a decisive swing of voters away from Brexit towards Remain

Labour has tried to claim that the by-election was determined by other political issues other than Brexit. However, as Curtice says, the facts show otherwise. Farage's Brexit company has no other policies other than Brexit. Its vote is a direct switch of Tory voters to the Brexit company, and its clear they voted that way on the basis purely of Brexit. Similarly, Labour's performance in the by-election was exactly as was predicted from the results of the European parliament elections, which everyone agrees was effectively a proxy referendum on Brexit. In other words, Labour retained its own Remain supporters, plus other Remain supporters in the seat, who voted for it as the only credible opposition to Farage's Brexit company. Farage, at least was right on this that the by-election was effectively another proxy EU referendum, and once again, the forces of Brexit lost, and those of Remain won, albeit via the rather sludgy compromise of voting for Labour. 

Bojo once in position, and having committed to a managed No Deal Brexit, will have to call a General Election for several reasons. Firstly, there is no majority in parliament for No Deal. With Remain supporting Tory MP's being threatened with, or actually having been subject to deselection, there will be nothing stopping them opposing such a position, even more vehemently. Some may even take the opportunity of jumping ship to the Liberals, ahead of any General Election, in the hope of retaining their seats under a different flag. The idea that a No Deal Brexit could be pushed through by proroguing parliament has already been thrown out. The only way Bojo or any other Tory Leader could get a No Deal Brexit through would be by calling a General Election, and betting that Labour's confused position, leads to votes draining to the other Remain supporting parties, so that the Tories win on the back of a divided opposition. Everything points to that being the case. 

But, Bojo will want to call an election for a further reason. The truth is that he probably knows that such a Brexit is not possible. He always thought that it would be the case that the UK would go back and renegotiate a deal to stay in with further concessions. For him to be able to do a “Nixon Goes to China” scenario, he would first have to have a clear majority in parliament. He only gets that via a General Election. Even if he does not know that, the reality is that if it looked like Britain was headed for the door on October 31st., the Pound would crash, financial markets would crash, and amid the financial chaos, the only option remaining would be for him to hurriedly revoke Article 50. That would be the end of him, and probably of the Tories. It would leave the door wide open to Labour. 

So, the European elections, and the Peterborough by-election probably represents the high point for Brexit, and the reactionary nationalism it signifies. If Bojo, makes a sharp right turn towards hard Brexit, Labour will be forced to respond accordingly. Unless Labour decisively moved to a clear anti-Brexit position, it would see its support disappear overnight to the Liberals, Greens, SNP, and Plaid, as voters have seen that in the current conditions, the first past the post system can strongly reward parties once they get over a minimum threshold. Everywhere that Liberals or other Remain supporting parties had the chance of being the largest party, Labour would see its support disappear. The Stalinists behind Corbyn are surely not such blockheads that even they could fail to respond to that situation, but more significantly, the rest of the party would not allow that to continue. Otherwise, Labour would be finished. It has no god given right to be the Workers Party, and if on this crucial, generational issue it failed, then it would see many of those drawn in after 2015, simply move to the Liberals or Greens, as the vehicle for working-class interests in the period ahead. 

And, the fact is that those backing Remain, represented by these parties are now in a clear majority. That majority is increasing by the day, as older voters die, and new voters join the electorate. In the next two years, the majority backing Remain will be undeniable, making any justification for Brexit unsustainable. Even if by hook or by crook, the Tories were to push through Brexit, it would not be the end of the matter, because the majority that oppose Brexit, a majority that will quickly grow, especially as the consequences of Brexit manifest themselves, would not simply go away, but would continue to argue for Britain to rejoin Europe. At every stage of the negotiations that would necessarily have to take place between Britain and the EU, there would be a loud voice demanding that Britain rejoined. 

And, its only necessary to look at the last week or so to see why that would be the case. We have seen British Steel close, we have seen Ford announce the closure of its Bridgend plant, and say that depending on Brexit it may have to close its other UK operations. The UK economy is in a weak state, and even the potential for Brexit is weakening it by the day, as investment grinds to a halt. At the same time, the lies told by the Brexiteers about UK prospects outside the EU have been clearly exposed with Trump's plans to get his hands on the NHS, to destroy UK agriculture with US imports of chlorinated chicken, and other US agricultural products. 

Brexit and reactionary nationalism has passed its peak. Now its necessary to move on to the offensive with a progressive, internationalist alternative. 

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