Politics is a matter of sentiment, of attitude and feeling.
Tactical voting is essential in this general election. It does not matter how big a majority a Brexiter MP has in your constituency, the national aggregate of votes cast for anti-Brexit candidates matters. And in constituencies where a combined tactical vote could oust a Conservative MP, that tactic is an absolute necessity. Give up the tribalism and antipathy of the past; matters are far too serious for that.
In any case the political tribes and loyalties of the past are approaching their sell-buy date. Both the Conservative and Labour Parties are turning against themselves, the cracks are widening.
In the Conservative Party rich donors are funding pro-Brexit candidates and constituencies with retiring MPs are having candidates parachuted in by Central Office ‘because the election was called at such short notice’. Some say Theresa May wants a big majority so she can control the hard-right Hard Brexiters – because it is already apparent that to save the country from complete disaster Brexit has to be as soft as possible, and the hard-right are angry about that and want to force her hand. A mega-Soft Brexit is a cosmetic preparation for re-entry to EU membership, and the Hard Brexiters view that prospect with horror.
Watch that battle develop. The majority of current MPs are Remainers and many are equally horrified at the mess the country is heading towards. Almost all the Conservative Party’s biggest beasts and most experienced figures are keeping well away from May, her cabinet – and indeed the election: some are not even standing this time round. They are keeping as much distance between themselves and the poisoned chalice as they can. Some are being kept away as liabilities: Boris Johnson to name one.
In Labour, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and Jeremy Corbyn’s office are in two separate galaxies. One inside voice reports that Corbyn’s office is like a 1960s student union, loud with ideological debate and with Trades Union wish-lists being cut and pasted into the manifesto. There are very few MPs there. That inside voice says that the Corbyn office wants Labour to lose this election very, very badly, to clean out the moderate MPs in the PLP so that Momentum can replace them with true believers for the next election. Because the Corbyn office neither expects nor wishes to win the election, it can play to the gallery with a raft of policies highly attractive to the gallery – policies that in a different time and different place would be brilliant: but they are not in the realm of current practicality.
Because Corbyn and the hard-left are as anti-EU as the hard-Right, seeing the EU as a capitalist-corporatist conspiracy, there is not much to choose between them: the political centre is being squeezed. So should one vote tactically for Labour MPs where they have a chance of winning? Yes: because most of the PLP are moderates and anti-Brexit, and they could be vital in a couple of years when the whole issue is back in the ballot box (for which, see below.)
And the Lib Dems? They should be approaching this election in the boldest possible way, as the flagship bearers for the EU. They have nothing to lose by being the party of Remain. I put this to Nick Clegg at the Convention last weekend, and he said that it would not do for MPs to simply reject the Referendum result. This, with great respect to Clegg, is wrong. We have a representative democracy; Parliament is sovereign; only 37% of a deliberately restricted electorate (= 26% of the population) voted Leave in an expressly advisory referendum; it is Parliament’s duty to decide to whether to take the advice of this quarter of ‘the people,’ given a careful weighing-up of the costs and benefits of doing so; and since it is manifestly, glaringly, agonisingly obvious that there are no benefits and a mountain of costs, to say No Thanks, we will maintain our membership in the EU. In any case if a party campaigns on an electoral promise and wins, it has its license to aim to implement that promise, just as May will do. (I say ‘aim,’ note; with no guarantee of succeeding.)
Suppose that 26% of the population (at least half of whom were ill-informed about the EU and duped by the tabloids and a false and deceitful Leave campaign) is so placed, and so votes, that the Lib Dems do no better, or worse, than their current Parliamentary position. They are at such a low ebb that the difference will be small. But the gains they could make are very big. For remember: half the electorate in the referendum voted Remain; as the dire facts come streaming thick and fast into the country’s consciousness about the disaster of a Brexit, and as young people register to vote, the Lib Dems have everything to gain by saying ‘We are the Party of Europe. Our policy is to reject Brexit and remain’.
Campaigning on an enthusiastically pro-EU platform worked wonderfully for Emmanuel Macron in France, and the group of Liberals and Democrats from all nations in the EU Parliament (the third biggest group there) think that this is the tack Britain’s Lib Dems should take. Let’s urge it on them.
It is a curious feeling to be the subject of the kind of twisting and deceiving that the tabloid press goes in for. Last weekend I said in a podcast that the EU very much wants the UK to remain as a member of the great project of peace, unity and progress that is being built across Europe, and which, despite all the difficulties and flaws – well understood by the EU itself; it patiently works to redress them – brings such great benefits, as co-operation and amity always does. And I said our EU friends want to help Remainers in the UK by letting them know that attitudes to the British are warm and fraternal. In the Express this message was distorted into ‘Unnamed figures in the EU helping Remainers in the UK to subvert Brexit’ – turning yours truly into an improbable cloak-and-dagger figure.
Don’t waste your time reading any tabloids. Vote tactically. Encourage everyone you know between the ages of 18 and 24 to register by May 22. The future of the UK is in the EU: we have to deal with this unnecessary and damaging mess while it lasts, but even the Brexiters know that they will not win in the end.
Never forget this great truth: politics is a matter of sentiment, of attitude and feeling. As public opinion – aided by our arguments, our determination and our commitment as Remainers – turns more and more against Brexit over the coming months and years, under the pressure of evidence about what a bad idea Brexit is, so Parliament itself, and the powerful case for a referendum on the terms of any ‘deal’ with Remain as an option on the ballot paper, will be brought to the Remain cause: and the whole Brexit fiasco will one day be no more than a bad memory of a wasted time.