“Is Labour’s Brexit dilemma being misunderstood?”, Professor John Curtice wrote ahead of the crucial 2017 by-elections in Copeland and Stoke.
The feeling at the time was that areas such as Stoke epitomised what the typical Labour voter wanted. Some 69 per cent of the party’s stronghold seat voted to Leave the European Union in 2016, which by default surely made them a party of “working-class leavers”.
As it turned out UKIP party leader Paul Nuttall was defeated by the Labour candidate Gareth Snell, who garnered 37 per cent of the vote against Nuttall’s 25 per cent. Not too dissimilar to the outcome in Peterborough this year, where constituents voted convincingly to leave but then elected a Labour MP in the subsequent General Election and by-election.
The snag for those who choose to interpret election and referendum outcomes by constituency – as John Mann did recently – is that, as Curtis explains, “it does not necessarily follow that because a majority of all voters in most Labour constituencies voted to Leave, most Labour voters in those constituencies must have voted that way.”
In Stoke, over half of voters opted for either UKIP or the Conservatives in the by-election. In Peterborough, a similar number voted for either the Brexit Party or the Conservatives. But Labour prevailed in both cases.
That’s not to say that Labour Leave voters don’t exist. They do. But it’s not nearly the amount that is frequently touted, and the notion that Labour is a party of Leave voters because it represents Leave constituencies is quite frankly, a myth.
In April, when Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage repeatedly said that his party is targeting the “five million people” who voted to leave the EU in 2016 and voted Labour in the 2017 General Election, the BBC ran a fact check on his claims to put the claim to bed once and for all.
Using polling data (which are still just estimates based on a sample size) they found that at most 29 per cent – or about 3.5 million – of those who voted Labour in 2017 voted Leave in the EU Referendum, which is a fraction of the total 12,874,985 people who voted for the party overall.
Better then, I would say, to look at recent Conservative Party membership polling which paints a very different picture. They would rather Brexit take place even if it caused the destruction of their own party, with 59 per cent saying they actually voted for the Brexit Party in the European Parliament Elections.
So who is really driving this? Working-class Labour Leavers, who stand to benefit little from Brexit, or upper-class Conservative voters, who have already been promised a tax cut if they back Boris Johnson in the leadership race.
As John Harris wrote here, the Tory leave elite is being allowed to drag the country towards a disaster. It’s time Labour stop colluding in it.