By Clare Moody MEP, @ClareMoodyMEP
Theresa May called her snap General Election last June with the aim of securing a much increased majority, in order to make the task of delivering Brexit much easier from a Parliamentary point of view. Despite a towering lead in the polls, unwavering support from certain newspapers, and claims that Brussels was subverting British democracy, come the morning of 9th June the Prime Minister had lost her majority and her mandate for a hard Brexit.
Clearly, there are many reasons why this happened – a resurgent Labour Party, rising concern over austerity and school funding – but the impact of Brexit on voters’ decision making should not be considered lightly. In January I hosted Best for Britain (a grassroots campaigning organisation challenging the Government on Brexit) so they could present their analysis from hard data on the impact of Brexit tactical voting on last year’s UK General Election. Isabelle de Lichtervelde, Best for Britain’s Director of Research, presented the evidence to a packed room of MEPs, staff, and representatives from the Commission.
Their study came to three conclusions: firstly, that Brexit influenced the election after all (in fact the Brexit related vote was key). Secondly, tactical voting helped in depriving Theresa May of her Commons majority. Thirdly, Remain voters may have been crucial in many of the seats that Labour gained or held on to, even in areas where the majority of people voted Leave in 2016.
Labour did best in constituencies where it was the tactical pro-remain choice against the Conservatives, like in Bristol North West. Conversely, Labour did worst where a different party was the tactical pro-remain choice against the Tories, like in Oxford West and Abdingdon. There was some discussion at the event about the viability of the data: is it correlation rather than causation? Does this match with what people were hearing on the doorstep during the campaign?
One of the intriguing statistics to come out of Isabelle’s presentation were those relating to the makeup of the Labour vote. In every region of Great Britain and in every type of seat – safe or marginal, remain or leave – Remain supporters made up the majority of Labour voters. Even in the most pro-Leave areas, Leave voters made up just a third of Labour voters.
Clearly, this is just one analysis of what happened in the UK last year, but for me the lessons we can learn from this are compelling. Labour would be misguided to think that supporting Brexit would not lead to negative electoral consequences; there is far more to gain from turning against Brexit than giving it our support. It is the right thing to do from a principled point of view, and it is the sensible thing to do electorally.