by David Ward
Labour been largely out of the limelight in recent weeks as the EU referendum approaches. So savage has been the feuding on the Tory benches, Labour almost seems like a confused onlooker at a wedding where a punch up has broken out among other people’s relatives.
Perhaps because of this a strange mood seems to have broken out among some activists and commentators. Labour supporters laugh behind their sleeves at the latest developments. In the Times a few days ago, Adam Boulton speculated “If the Tory civil war rages on, Jeremy Corbyn may not be so unelectable after all, especially if he can forge some kind of red-tartan coalition”.
In these idle daydreams one imagines the timeline would begin with a narrow remain win, sparking a Conservative leadership challenge. The challenge finishes Cameron, or fatally wounds him, and an unpopular brexiteer is picked to replace him for the next election. Who knows if Labour would win, but it looks more winnable. And that can only be a good thing right?
Maybe, but maybe not. Let’s think these scenarios through. Let’s imagine Cameron is challenged for the leadership this year. There’s no guarantee he would lose. He would then be a Prime Minister who had faced down his own party twice and just won a renewed mandate as leader. He could use the opportunity to renege on his promise to step down. Or wait for the economy to improve and pass on to a preferred successor.
Even assuming he is forced out and replaced with a Leaver, the new Prime Minister would be faced with calls to call an election this year. Just as Gordon Brown was. He/she would remember Tory mocking of ‘Bottler Brown’ from 2007, and how that turned out for him. Ask yourself, is Labour in any fit state to win an election right now?
Several donors are reported to be turning their backs on the party over its present direction. Can you close your eyes and imagine Corbyn beating Boris or a steely performer like Andrea Leadsom? There’s a danger the result could make 2015 look good.
Moreover, regardless of who Labour faces or when the next election is, there’s evidence it is not the Conservative vote that will suffer from the EU contest. As Philip Walker, a Labour candidate at the 2015 election, has shown. His analysis of Yougov data shows a third of 2015 Labour voters backed leaving the EU. 42% of those say they would not vote for the party today. By contrast the Conservatives look likely to retain 68% of those who support leaving the EU.
Corbyn has been criticised in some quarters for not shouting loud enough for the Remain campaign to turn out Labour voters. According to the Guardian, half of Labour voters don’t know the party wants to stay in.
After the Labour leader’s speech last week, which was ostensibly making the case to Remain, it’s doubtful if many are any clearer on his actual position.
But in some ways, maybe Jeremy Corbyn’s better off staying quiet.
As Kevin Meagher has pointed out on Uncut around immigration, Labour’s arguments on the EU can appear blasé or irritating to some of our traditional supporters. We only have to look at the recent Scottish referendum to see how that situation can end.
Maybe the armchair optimists are right, and the Conservative civil war will somehow permanently damage the brand speeding their exit from government.
I have a nagging worry this could be another accidental masterstroke from Cameron. One which pushes Labour further from voters courted by UKIP in its Northern and Midlands heartlands.
Meanwhile the Conservatives pick themselves up from their family fisticuffs, pat themselves on the back, and get another round in at the bar. As the police turn up and arrest the Labour contingent by accident.
David Ward is a Labour campaigner in south London