Labour is missing a huge electoral opportunity by refusing to back remaining in the EU, a conference has been told.
Eloise Todd, CEO of anti-Brexit campaign Best for Britain, told the ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ conference in central London that data from last year’s election showed Labour had benefited considerably from Remainers ‘lending’ the party their votes to prevent a hard exit from the union.
But she warned Jeremy Corbyn’s party could not guarantee those votes again if they continued to refuse to put “clear blue or red water” between themselves and the Tories on the Brexit issue.
Ms Todd was speaking at a panel event chaired by The New European editor Matt Kelly alongside Hugo Dixon of the journalism website InFacts and Roger Casale, a former Labour MP who is now CEO of the campaign group New Europeans.
At the event, titled ‘Tactical voting and principles above politics’, Mr Dixon urged EU citizens to vote in May’s council elections for candidates committed to a referendum on the final Brexit deal, while Mr Casale admitted a strong vision had not been articulated for Britain’s future within the EU.
Ms Todd told the conference, for EU citizens living in the UK, that one of the “biggest unsaid, untold stories” of last year’s general election was a tactical vote “which bolstered the Labour vote by quite some measure”.
She said: “Now, that’s not to say there wasn’t a kind of Corbyn bounce, all the data shows that there was, but specifically there was this sometimes anti-Tory, very often anti-Brexit vote which got Labour over the line in key constituencies and here’s the rub: it mainly got them over the line in places where the seats were very marginal, and that was mainly in the north of England.
“And if you look at all of the data which we have, because we’re geeks, it all shows that actually the difference between the make-up of the Labour vote, between north and south, between different demographics, is actually not that different at all.
“We have this view in our minds that it’s a huge divide between the north and south and all the rest of it, but for the Labour Party voters it’s actually very, very similar.”
This provided Labour with a “real challenge”, Ms Todd said.
“When they say they don’t really want a referendum, they want a general election, but yet the reason they did so well in the last general election is because people lent them their votes in order to fight the very extreme kind of Brexit that Theresa May continues to peddle.
“But it’s very clear that a lot of people who did that might not be in a position to do so because they haven’t got the clear blue or red water between the two parties that people might have hoped for right now.
“So I think it’s a really dangerous game that the Labour Party are treading. I hope… we get to that kind of evolution and that they can almost continue to tread a very fine line and not even in the end come down on one side or another as long as we get a people’s vote, but then they would at least have to get behind asking for a people’s vote.
“I also have to say I’d be quite concerned if we get to a point where there is a campaign for a people’s vote and neither of the two biggest parties in our country are advocating the alternative view from what is obviously such a dangerous cause for the country.”
Mr Dixon urged the predominantly non-British audience to use their vote in May’s council elections to elect candidates who were committed to a “people’s vote” on the final Brexit deal.
They are the first elections in the UK since Brexit in which non-British EU citizens have had a voice.
Mr Dixon said: “You should use that vote and you should get all of your network to use that vote.
“And the key thing, if you care about staying in the EU – obviously if you care about other things, what I’m saying is irrelevant – but if you really care about staying in the EU, and probably that’s why you’re here, you should put that vote to advance the chance of a people’s vote on the Brexit deal.
“And that means do not vote for any candidate who is not committed to push for a people’s vote on the Brexit deal.
“So if you’ve got a Labour candidate, ask them ‘are you behind this?’. And if they say yes, and they win, that’s great because that will help sway the wind… even if you’ve got a Conservative candidate. But do not vote for any candidate who is not committed to pushing their leadership to back a people’s vote on the Brexit deal.”
Mr Casale, who was MP for Wimbledon from 1997 to 2005, said he remained convinced that Brexit would not happen, but admitted a strong vision for Britain in the EU had not been made even when Labour was in power under Tony Blair.
“I don’t think Britain will leave the European Union,” he said.
“It’s always been my view. I think it can’t be done, and I think that in itself is challenging from a democratic point of view, if that’s what people want.
“I think that we have to bring Britain together around a new vision for Britain’s future inside the European Union. And that job should have been done in the last two or three generations, including the time I was in politics and in Parliament and in government in the Labour Party.
“It wasn’t done. We have to do that now. We can’t just walk away and leave a divided country. We have to do it in a way that’s going to unite people.”