Voter backlash may not register unless and until Labour MPs fail to vote against a final Brexit dealby Chaminda Jayanetti / February 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
Leavers leave and Remainers remain. This appears to be the attitude of both main party leaderships as they scramble to stop their fragile parliamentary and public support bases from disintegrating: don’t upset Leavers, as they’re liable to go. Don’t fret about Remainers, as they’re likely to stay.
In many ways this is understandable. Both Leavers and Remainers have reacted with intemperance to the Brexit result—but whereas this backlash was not unexpected from the referendum’s losers, two and a half years raising hellfire is not what one would expect from its winners.
Accordingly, both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have tended to try and appease Brexiters whilst effectively taking Remainers for granted. May actively demonised them in order to whip up support among Leavers; Corbyn, backed by his key advisers, has mostly paid them lip service. In both strategies, it is Leave voters whose votes take priority.
Coverage of the two main parties’ Brexit-driven civil wars has tended to cast them in similar terms: MPs threatening to rebel or even split, and coalitions of voters that are fraying at the seams.
But chaos comes in many forms. While it is true that both parties are split on Brexit, where they are split is crucially different.
Trouble in the House
The main split on the Tory side is among MPs, not voters. The European Research Group (ERG) of around 80 pro-Hard Brexit MPs exists in a state of permanent mutiny against Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Most non-payroll MPs voted against her in the party’s recent vote of confidence. The ERG has the numbers to overwhelm the government’s majority, while the gaggle of Tory Remainer rebels is tiny by comparison.
And yet the view among Tory voters is rather different. Polling shows that while enthusiasm for May’s deal is low among Conservative Leave voters, so is diehard opposition to it. May’s personal ratings among the public have recovered some of their ground since her disastrous snap election. Ukip is goose-stepping its way to the margins.
By contrast, the deepest divide on the Labour side is among voters, not MPs. Yes, there are major disagreements among Labour parliamentarians. There is a credible risk of a small breakaway party, albeit one motivated as much by concerns over anti-Semitism as by Brexit.