Let us start—for perhaps the only time between now and 8th June—with some good news for Labour. Its broad approach to the UK’s departure from the European Union chimes with the public mood. On the issue at the heart of the election campaign, both the party and a majority of voters want a soft Brexit.
A few weeks ago, YouGov described two possible outcomes to the Brexit negotiations. Both included immigration controls, preserving the rights of EU citizens already in the UK and continuing co-operation with the EU on security and law enforcement. The “soft” version included free trade, while the “hard” version contained a limited trade agreement, with customs checks. By more than two-to-one—52 per cent to 22 per cent—respondents said “soft” Brexit would be good for Britain, while the “hard” version was supported by only 30 per cent, with 40 per cent saying it would be bad for the UK. Only 25 per cent thought the UK should go ahead with Brexit on these terms, while 52 per cent wanted the government either to call a fresh referendum (22 per cent) or reopen negotiations in order to secure a better deal (30 per cent).
So, when Jeremy Corbyn talks of scrapping the present government’s strategy for the Brexit talks (if he becomes prime minister), or opposing any deal that makes it harder for Britain to trade with the EU (if, by some chance, the Conservatives remain in office), he ought to attract large numbers of voters.
It isn’t happening; at any rate, it isn’t happening yet. Why not? Here are some more polling numbers that give us a clue to the answer. They come from an Evening Standard poll in late April. Ipsos-MORI asked people (a) which party they trusted most on a number of issues, and (b) which party leader they trusted most. On “handling Britain’s future relationship with the EU,” the responses were similar, and devastating. The Conservatives enjoyed a 31 per cent lead over Labour, while Theresa May enjoyed a 32 per cent lead over Corbyn. These were not quite the best figures for the Tories—their lead was even greater on the economy and defence—but they were not…