Labour’s flirtation with a second referendum will alienate millions of its Leave-backing voters

Labour’s flirtation with a second referendum will alienate millions of its Leave-backing voters

At Unite’s Annual Conference in Brighton in July, Jeremy Corbyn claimed “Labour is back as the political voice of the working class”. The fact he had to say this begs the question: when did Labour forget about the workers? Indeed, since 2015 the ‘Corbyn Project’ with its left-wing identitarianism and its ivory tower socialism has alienated huge numbers of working class voters. But Labour’s flirtation with the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign and its continuity Remain virtue signalling is now taking it across a cultural Rubicon, leaving its blue-collar supporters in Brexitland behind.

Jeremy Corbyn went on to tell Unite’s conference that Labour needed “to do far more to give a real voice to working-class communities who feel they aren’t heard in politics”. Yet raising their voices is exactly what many working class voters in Labour seats did in the People’s Vote of 23rd June 2016 by voting Leave.

By contrast to Labour’s erstwhile supporters and its manifesto promising voters “Labour accepts the Referendum result”, delegates at this week’s Labour’s Conference in Liverpool voted to keep ‘all options on the table’ including a second referendum. Keir Starmer got a standing ovation for supporting a second referendum in which “nobody is ruling out remain as an option”. Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News he supported Starmer’s words. John McDonnell said Labour would “go for it” if there isn’t another General Election on Brexit. By allowing itself to be identified with the ‘People’s Vote’ campaign, Labour’s leadership is seen to betray millions of working class Labour Leavers who backed Brexit in good faith.

A ‘People’s Vote’ for the few (the many having voted Leave) is the Labour’s elitist’s way of saying ‘we know best and you should know your place’ to millions of its Leave supporting working class voters in Wales, the Midlands and the North of England.

But they ignore working class Leavers at their peril. Voters will not take lightly to being used by Labour’s political class as a recruiting tool for metropolitan liberals whose views Labour really cares about.

It is no longer enough for Brexiteers merely to point out the political class promised to implement the decision of 17.4 million voters. The knockout argument is about highlighting how the elitist nullification campaign is in fact working against in the UK national interest. ‘People’s Vote’ is a three-card trick: by encouraging the EU to concede nothing, leading to a bad deal, they would then campaign against this hoping somehow we will end up remaining in the failing European Union. This is what Labour is now in league with.

Led by declining 1990s politicians of a New Labour vintage the paleo-Remainers deal in pure doublespeak when they call for a ‘People’s Vote’. Who do the euro blimps think voted in the EU referendum other than the people? Maybe they mean the ‘wrong’ type of people. The revolt of Labour’s elites against the five million Labour voters who backed Brexit will cause another haemorrhaging of working class voters from the party’s electoral coalition.

On the eve of the conference, The Observer polled Labour Party members and found that 86% support a second referendum in which 90% would vote Remain. The cultural clash between these members and Labour’s core vote is unsustainable. As Labour lurches away from its Brexitlands, two other polls give an index of Labour’s working class problem and the extent of its ‘Brexistential’ crisis. Firstly, YouGov found support for Labour among working-class voters declined from 46% to 37% between January and June 2018.

And secondly, last month’s ComRes poll for Brexit Express of voters in Labour-held Leave-supporting seats found while most of their 2017 supporters think their neighbourhoods support Brexit, 52% don’t think Labour’s official policy is to leave the EU. Most (47%) think Jeremy Corbyn opposes Brexit. Most (55%) think the same of Labour MPs. A clear majority (62%) are frustrated that politicians are not getting on with Brexit while 68% want Brexit implemented faster. Crucially, most (47%) think the Brexit vote should be respected and the will of the people should be implemented. Labour is now perceived de facto as a continuity Remain party, despite seven in ten of its seats voting Leave.

Yet Labour’s hard Remainers are, in the words of the former Labour Foreign Secretary Lord Owen, “gripped by a religion and they can’t stop believing in it”. And the way they denigrate their fellow citizens can be shocking, such as when Lord Mandelson described Brexit supporters, including working class Labour Leavers, as “Brextremists” and “nationalists” who “hate other countries” and “hate foreigners”.

Some Labour figures with roots outside the metropolis understand the wider cultural import of Brexit. Despairing at their anti-Brexit elitism, David Blunkett said “it’s my people who voted for Brexit. To call them racist is wrong and divisive”. What Labour realists really should fear is that the party’s EU dream dancing is a major factor accelerating the party’s declining working class support.

Labour’s working class problem used to be aspirational. Now Labour is fighting a cultural realignment compounded by Brexit. David Goodhart argues the values divide in Britain is between voters who see the world from ‘anywhere’ and those who see it from ‘somewhere’. This division runs through Labour’s electoral coalition of Hampstead and Hartlepool. Increasingly dominated by ‘anywhere’ values, Labour is leaving many of its blue-collar supporters behind.

Firstly, the left struggles with working class patriotism. Earlier this year a YouGov survey of Labour members for The Times found over a quarter (26%) believe Britain is a force for bad in the world. In his Notes on Nationalism, George Orwell identified this as ‘Negative Nationalism’. For the left intelligentsia, “a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory”. By visualising our country as a star on someone else’s flag, Labour’s EU nationalists lose a common identity with working class voters.

Secondly, the left’s attitude to immigration is at right angles to the working class. Labour has the most immigration-averse voter base but the most pro-immigration leadership. Gillian Duffy, who stuck with Labour when Gordon Brown called her a ‘bigoted woman’, has since quit Corbyn’s Labour Party. York Central MP Rachael Maskell thinks we should “keep going until we reach our saturation point because what does it matter if we have to wait another week for our hospital visit?” But taking back control of our borders and our £350 million a week is why millions of Labour Leavers turned out in 2016.

And thirdly, at the structural level, Labour’s membership is dominated by ‘socialism fans’ who identify with elite ‘woke’ and ‘snowflake’ left cultural attitudes rather than working class interests. These ‘high status city dwellers’ are now ‘over-represented’ in the party. It is striking that 77% of Labour Party members now come from ABC1 social groups and as few as 8% of Labour’s MPs hail from working class backgrounds.

A Conservative Party with an increasingly blue collar and Leave-supporting base and which owns Brexit can win the hearts and minds of working class voters alienated by Labour’s anti-Brexit elitism. Winning their long-term support requires careful nurturing. While Brexit Express found most voters in Labour-held Leave-supporting seats see Conservatives as supporting Brexit, most (46%) would also consider voting for a new single-issue party dedicated to implementing Brexit as soon as possible.

It is ironic that Labour, which trades on its heritage brand as a party of the workers, seems oblivious to the culture, identity and the votes of the very people that put it in office several times in the twentieth century. But then, as Thomas Sowell observed, the oldest fraud is the belief that the political left is the party of the poor and the downtrodden.