Its worth analysing the results of the Richmond park byelection.
Let us start with the facts, Zac Goldtwit Goldsmith resigned from the Tory party and stood as an independent. This was a direct challenge to the PM. Normal protocol would be for the Tories to field a rival candidate and deny him his seat. However, Theresa May worried that the lib dems might use this as a mini-referendum on brexit, decided she’d rather have Goldsmith sulking in the corner and making noise about Heathrow, than give the anti-brexit forces in parliament a boost. So the Tories didn’t field a candidate, neither did UKIP and they’ve actually been secretly backing him (an unprecedented move for a senior MP who has so publicly defied the party leadership). And yet despite all this the government and Zac Gravedigger Goldsmith still lost, clearly indicating that while the locals are upset about Heathrow, they are more worried about brexit.
I have to say that I wasn’t convinced this tactic of the lib dems would work. Elections are rarely settled over a single issue, even something as serious as brexit. But clearly even I underestimated the depth of feeling about it. Of course Zac Goldtwat Goldsmith, who fortunately we’ll never have to see again, clearly failed because he was trying to fight an election on a single issue (Heathrow). Ignoring the fact that most of the other candidates were also opposed to Heathrow expansion.
This I suspect will have a pronounced chilling effect on the Tories. Its shown a strategy that the remain camp can apply to halt brexit. Many Tory marginal seats in the south east voted heavily for remain. Its therefore quite possible than any MP who votes for article 50, or if the government somehow wins its appeal and pushes ahead without a vote, then those MP’s will likely lose their seats . And those seats include several minsters. So while the Tories have been trying to put a brave face on it, I suspect there’s some panic going on behind the scenes.
In the event of a brexit vote many MP’s will now have to weight up the consequences if they vote leave yet their district voted remain. Namely the lib dems, the greens and SNP are likely to pick up a good few seats in many urban marginal constituencies across the country as strategic voting is launched to punish the Tories for brexit. While this will probably mean the lib dems & the greens ending up with a vast number more seats (and the SNP turning Scotland a solid shade of yellow) next election, its unlikely they’ll get enough to stop the Tories winning. The Tories you see have a secret weapon, a fifth column within the left – Jeremy Corbyn.
The real loser in Richmond park was the labour party. Their candidate, who got only 1/3 the votes received in the last election, managed to not only lose his deposit, but he actually got less votes than there are labour party members in this constituency. If Corbyn can’t even get members of his own party to vote for him, how in blue blazes does he propose to win the next election? What’s his cunning plan? And keep in mind that the greens and the other left wing parties all pulled out of Richmond park to give the lib dems a clear run. The very fact Corbyn didn’t do so should confirm what I’ve been saying for sometime now – labour is a pro-brexit party, they are allies of the Tories.
In a recent interview he made it very clear that he will not veto or vote against brexit, even if it means no protections for workers rights and the environment. Yes the current leader of the labour party is quite willing to sacrifice everything his party has strived for the last 70 years upon the high altar of brexit.
Now if you ask labour why they are adopting this stance no doubt they’ll mumble something about how the majority of the country voted leave and why we’re all brexiters now. I think the response from Richmond park can be summed up as – bollix to that! Firstly, the majority didn’t vote for brexit, only about 37% of the electorate voted for it (a majority would require +50% of the electorate to support the motion, brexiters might want to google the word “majority” sometime). The people who voted leave were Tories, UKIPers and other morons who read too much tabloid newspapers, likely the people frantically googling “what is brexit?” the day after the referendum. None of them will vote for Corbyn just because he’s adopted a pro-brexit stance. There is nothing he can say that will convince them to vote labour….except perhaps “I resign with immediate effect”.
By contrast labour party supporters voted overwhelmingly remain, at between 67-90% (it depends on who we count as “labour supporters”, only party members or anyone whose vaguely supports the party). Richmond park shows the pro-brexit stance of the labour party is likely to lead to a collapse in support come next election. They will be decimated, losing seats left and right to the lib dems, SNP, Greens, Tories and UKIP. Its a bit fanciful for UKIP to claim they can replace labour. But its certainly true that they will take a lot of seats off labour and likely see their voting share increase next election. Not thanks to anything the Tories have done, but thanks to Jeremy Corbyn’s pro-brexit stance, erroding away his own support base. And even Corbyn himself could lose his seat. While he may have secretly voted leave, 70% of his neighbours in London didn’t. And as Richmond park shows, they might well punish him at the polls for that.
However, if labour were to alter its stance, this would change things. An obvious compromise between the “never brexit” wing of the party and the “Muesli brexiters” around Corbyn would be to insist on parliament being involved (and voting on) the brexit negotiating process, with a vote against article 50 if the Tories refuse to do so. And there is no way they can hope to get concessions out of the tories if they don’t indicate they are prepared to push the nuclear button.
In the event of the next election, labour would threaten the Tories with a vow to enter into a strategic voting alliance with the other left wing parties (not fielding candidates in one another’s constituencies) with it agreed that should their coalition win they will hold a 2nd referendum.
This referendum would presumably have three options, A) brexit according to whatever conditions the Tories had already negotiated (or in the event of an early election a pre-specified brexit option that would be the coalition’s negotiated aim, presumably the softer Norway model, with a reverse Greenland option for Scotland and Northern Ireland) B) Brexit, but reject the terms negotiated (or a rejection of the soft brexit option mentioned above, in the event of an early election, so in other words the whole process would have to be renegotiated from a blank sheet of paper). Or C) reversal of the previous referendum result, no further referendums on EU membership for at least 50 years (this last condition is get the EU off the UK’s back, they will not appropriate this will they? Won’t they? going on any longer and might vote to eject the UK from the EU regardless of the outcome).
The scary thing for the Tories is, that’s actually quite a reasonable proposal. And in the first instance if the labour party were to vote against article 50, that’s basically the end of it. Theresa May is now down to a wafer thin margin of just 13 and like I said at least two dozen of her MP’s will probably lose their seats if they vote leave. They may not vote against the government, but they might abstain, swinging the majority back to the remainers. And of course the Lords is largely controlled by labour, so they vote against article 50, that’s a 6 month delay straight away. Add in another 6 months for various left wing filibusters and the government’s brexit plans lie in ruins.
And incidentally the Unionist’s too will likely not back the Tories. They are split on the issue of brexit and given that Northern Ireland voted against it they will have to consider the possibility of a backlash in Northern Ireland. Again, as Richmond park shows, back brexit at your peril if your standing in an area that voted remain. This could split the unionist vote and hand control of the province to the SDLP and Sinn Fein, which would lead to a border poll in the North, a nightmare scenario for the Unionists. Because even I won’t dare speculate on the result. Brexit is the sort of thing that could convenience enough people in both communities to vote to leave the UK. So its a risk the unionists would be fools to take.
The Tories probably won’t call an early election, because such a proposal actually might tempt enough voters to back this left wing alliance. And strategic voting would turn the unfair nature of the UK voting system (which tends to favour larger parties) on its head. It would give this coalition a good chance of putting together enough seats to gain a majority.
More importantly by labour changing their position on brexit it could, ironically, kill of UKIP. In such a scenario UKIP votes would face the dilemma of voting UKIP and thus voting against the pro-brexit Tories, giving the left wing alliance a descent chance of capturing more seats, or voting strategically themselves. While I suspect UKIP will pick up more seats in such a vote (they were unfortunate not to win more last election), their overall voter share will drop.
If there’s a nightmare scenario that has the Tories waking up in a cold sweat its “Jeremy Corbyn UK Prime Minster”. Worse, him as PM in a UK not constrained by EU laws. What they are planning to do to the unions and the migrants with brexit he will unleash payback on them and their non-dom allies. Obviously his coalition partners and the core of the labour party will likely restrain some of the more hard left policies he’s proposed, but certainly I suspect its a gamble the Tories aren’t willing to take.
Hence why I think we can turn the clock back. If Corbyn were to change his stance on brexit, I suspect the Tories will very quickly move to do a deal. They’ll consult with parliament, they’ll give them a vote, they’ll go for a softer brexit options and they’ll likely agree to some sort of referendum or early election to endorse any negotiated deal. So post-Richmond park the ball is now in his court, let’s see if he’ll do anything with it.
If he doesn’t then I would urge anyone who is even vaguely left wing to leave the labour party and make your views known to your local MP that you will vote against them next election or in any subsequent post-Corbyn elections to come.