The electoral consequences of backing a second referendum could be severe for Labour

The electoral consequences of backing a second referendum could be severe for Labour

The Labour Party’s decision to whip its Members of Parliament to support a second referendum in this week’s indicative votes was not only a betrayal of the five million Labour voters who voted Leave, but will consequently be an electoral disaster for the Labour Party. The gradual drift towards a second referendum has been occurring within the party for the past two and a half years, to the detriment of our popularity outside of the M25. No longer can we merely disregard rogue Labour MPs calling for a second referendum, or inklings from the leadership; the party has now been institutionally changed.

Some wonder if backing a second referendum would make Labour the ‘party of Remain’. As the anger grows within Labour heartlands over such an extreme and historic betrayal, this could be an overly optimistic portrayal. The Labour Party is gradually morphing into the party of anti-democrats, the party that collaborated in and drove one of the greatest betrayals of the British people in our history. Can Labour MPs considering backing a second referendum not see the effect this will have on the reputation of our party? Or does it represent a change they would welcome – from a party representing the working class to one representing the metropolitan middle class?

For those such as Sir Keir Starmer who wish to overturn the biggest vote in British history, there seems to be a lack of understanding surrounding how this will affect marginal Labour seats, and consequently how it will affect the strength of the current Labour leadership. Whether his personal ambitions are playing a role in this is unclear.

What is most troubling, however, is the indication that the leadership of the Labour Party is now adapting its view to appease the Remainers. Jeremy Corbyn has a duty both to his historic scepticism surrounding the European Union, as well as those disaffected Labour voters he claims to represent, to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum. He must do this for democracy, for the five million Labour Leave voters, and to have any hope of getting into Downing Street.

The cold electoral numbers are unequivocal. Of the top twenty constituencies which the Labour Party would need to win at the next general election to form a government, seventy per cent of them voted to Leave in 2016. These are working-class areas which are disillusioned with the state of politics and the lack of control they feel over the law-making process. For the Labour Party to represent these voters, overturning a vote which they were told would be a ‘once in a lifetime’ decision will not be electorally successful.

The Labour Party instead should try to engage with the frustrations these people have and address the reasons why they voted to leave in the first place. Merely brushing their opinions under the carpet and hoping they will dissipate is not only arrogant, but ignorant of the depth of anger there is in the country at large. If the UK’s political class wants a surging wave of ‘populism’, if they want a British Trump, they are going precisely the right way about it.

If the Labour Party wishes to be in power in the next decade, it needs to fundamentally reassess its drift towards supporting a second referendum. It would leave five million Labour leave voters politically homeless, unable to support a party which no longer represents their views nor respects their vote. It is a policy which will force voters to reconsider their (often long-term) allegiance to the Labour Party, and question their role in an institution which claims to represent democracy but only seems to embrace it when it produces results with which they agree.

If Members of Parliament did not spend so much of their time in the echo chamber of Westminster, they would be able to assess the mood of the country far more effectively. And I can safely say it would not lead them to the same conclusions which they have currently reached. The majority of the public just want the process of Brexit to be over and done with, so that fundamental issues such as the NHS, social housing and welfare can get the attention they deserve instead of being eclipsed by a never-ending Brexit shambles.

There is total ambiguity surrounding what the question would be on the ballot paper in a second referendum, and whether it would merely be a confirmatory referendum on Theresa May’s deal. Senior members in the Labour Party, such as Emily Thornberry, have made it clear that they would support a Remain vote if this referendum were to take place. Yet it is unclear whether this would be official party policy. It seems democratically impossible for the Labour Party to support a policy of Remain, when its MPs were elected on a manifesto which categorically stated that it “accepted” the referendum result. No fewer than 27 Labour MPs defied the party whip to vote against the proposal on Wednesday night which they consider a gross rejection of their electoral obligations.

Ultimately, the facts are clear to see: the British Parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to pass the decision of Britain’s membership of the EU to the British people; the people were told it would be a once-in-a-generation vote, and that their vote would be respected; Parliament then voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50; and yet the same Parliament is now unwilling to enact the largest democratic vote in British history because it was not the result they wanted. This cannot be allowed to happen. The long-term consequences for our democratic systems are unpredictable but, almost certainly, severe.