— TSE (@TSEofPB) June 6, 2016
Guest slot by Mortimer
A few weeks ago I asserted here that focusing on the economy was a strategy that might not be working for Remain because a doubtful public no longer trust economic forecasts, and even amongst those who do, some – especially better off pensioners – might decide that a small economic correction was a price worth paying for greater sovereignty and reduced immigration.
The supplementary questions published alongside polls published last week showing Leave leading or at least matching Remain suggest there might be something in both of those arguments. So, for this week’s hostage to fortune, I’m going to suggest another reason why Remain are not walking this referendum: the fragmented political state of the UK, and especially the two major parties, has led to a level of beggar thy leaders and beggar the establishment sentiment not seen in the UK since the 1920s.
Much has been made of the fragmentation of the Labour GE vote since the giddy heights of electoral landslides in 1997 and 2001. Evidence from the Scottish elections suggest it has further to fall in Scotland, switching those more local and pro-independence parties (the SNP) and, on the other side, to the more fervently unionist Conservatives. From the Welsh assembly results I’m seeing a similar pattern; with Plaid replacing the SNP and UKIP replacing the Conservatives.
Add to this the increasing levels of detachment witnessed between the Islingtonite leadership and the historically Labour voting northern/midland working class who, I suggest, would be happier if the party was talking more like Gisella Stuart and Frank Field than Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn over Europe, and one might wonder what election-winning coalition the Labour party are looking to form in the short- and medium term.
Perhaps more pertinently for this referendum, it is little wonder that so few Labour voters know the party line is for Remain when the leader has spent most of his career positioning against the EU and now seems to be spending a good deal of his leadership shying away from the subject.
The Conservative party have never returned to the heights of electoral support lent to John Major in 1992. Yes, a shaky and often comprising coalition government in 2010-15 led to our first majority victory for 23 years last May, but mostly through remarkably accurate targeted campaigning in just a few dozen seats. The mainstream Conservative party membership recognise, I hope, that we are not a popular party and have not been since the early 90s.
The leadership, however, seems not to have realised – or perhaps does not want to realise – that the slim majority which has replaced a stronger governing party vote in the coalition actually leaves the Conservative party far more exposed to failure in the Commons and Lords, but also much more likely to lose popular support in the country.
Messrs Cameron and Osborne have also apparently failed to understand the impact of the last year on the Tory brand, and especially the Prime Minister’s personal reputation. Strategic mistakes, tactical missteps (the last budget, NHS strikes) and u-turns (academisation) have not helped. Ministerial displays of overwhelming strength are best demonstrated with overwhelming margins of parliamentary votes, not slender majorities and defeats. Would so many backbench MPs and party members be so vehemently against the current leadership if the Conservative party was stronger in the commons and the country? I’d say no. How would Conservative party leadership be looking presently if Mr Cameron had done a Harold Wilson in this campaign? I’d so almost certainly in a far stronger position.
With electoral weakness, divided parties and ‘interesting’ or ‘brave’ leadership decisions blighting both parties, is it any wonder that the public’s investment in both is ebbing away? When the people begin to feel underrepresented by even those they have recently voted for, it is little surprise that the people begin to question the judgement of our political leaders and look for ways to bring about change.
I previously tipped a 2016 election as a potentially good value proxy bet on Leave winning. In the short term, I’m now backing Remain to achieve less than 45% of the vote on June 23rd. Looking ahead, positioning my book to cope with this current political fragmentation – let alone the fallout of a Leave vote – is far, far more difficult.