Some thoughts on political strategy in the EU elections

Paul Mason
Apr 14 · 6 min read

With the decision to run the EU elections on 23 May, the UK political situation is changing fast. Here’s how Labour should respond…

The most important event is the launch of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party. It is taking votes, members and attention from the Tories (and UKIP) because it knows what it wants: Brexit. Most voters haven’t really clocked that UKIP has morphed into an alt-right party so UKIP to remains in double figures.

Farage plus or minus UKIP could take 25% of the vote (although the anti-EU vote is also likely to self-suppress on polling day). The Tories will be devastated.

Labour is holding up well compared to 2014. Why? Because strong voices on the front bench are making it clear we stand for a Second Referendum. Labour’s own preferred option of a customs union plus dynamic alignment with the single market cannot be delivered by May without splitting her party entirely.

Now take a look at the polls. They are bouncing around a bit but this YouGov one looks right (other put Labour closer to 30%, we will see).

Who are the 24% of people supporting Labour? Given the alternatives on offer, does anybody in the movement seriously think it is voters who passionately want Brexit? The majority of Labour members and voters want Remain.

Winning matters to Labour not just because it makes us look like a party of government, but because if we end up staying in the EU, having a big group from the Party of European Socialists (which Labour is a member of) will be important. Allied to the radical left group of GUE-NGL (Syriza, Podemos etc) it could turn the tide in Europe and help resist the rise of the far right.

So where are we going to get more voters from by 23 May?

Look at the chart and ask yourself what is Labour’s strategic challenge in Britain? It is to mobilise voters voting for progressive parties behind the project of a radical, leftwing internationalist Labour-led government.

Why is that possible? Because if the Tory vote splits in a general election Labour will sweep to power by winning its key marginal targets in England.

The 8 percent score for Change UK (Labour and Tory neoliberal careerists) is soft. They don’t have members: they have money, but money does not have a ground game. Also the 8 percent Green vote is soft once we get to a general election and who forms a government is at stake — but this means absolutely doubling down on Labour’s Green New Deal offer.

There is an obvious three part strategy:

  1. Split the Tories.
  2. Convince CHUK, Green, Libdem, SNP/PC and non-voters to — on the crucial day of a general election — vote tactically for a Labour government committed to human rights, fighting climate change and anti-racism.
  3. Mobilise young people, including the young working class voters switching from Leave to Remain — to vote en masse. You can only do this by having a clear progressive message oriented to the future, not a fudged one oriented to nostalgia.

All three objectives can be advanced in the 23 May election.

The question of Remain versus Labour’s own form of Brexit is a distraction in the EU elections. They are held on the assumption that we are staying in. Otherwise why would we take part in them?

The tenor of the manifesto should be: if our MPs take their seats (ie May does not get Brexit through parliament) they will fight to change Europe for the many not the few and put right some of the injustices people attribute to Europe. This is the exact slogan in the PES manifesto Labour has signed up to (Corbyn was at the meeting that agreed it).

The clinching argument before 23 May will be the offer of a second referendum. Here’s why:

People who hate Europe, hate the open and tolerant society will either vote for Farage or the fascists. That’s bad, but as I have argued, the culture war is here — we can’t avoid it. We can only stop people voting fascist by giving them a narrative of hope and pointing out that racism and xenophobia are dead ends.

People who are fanatically pro-EU and hate the idea of a left government will vote Libdem or CHUK.

But there is a large group of voters in-between that can be persuaded to vote, and to vote for a party that is committed to a close orientation to Europe and a second referendum on any deal. Some of those currently vote Tory — as, in most working class constituencies in England/Wales, that’s how the vote swings.

There are many working class people in swing seats who voted Tory last time, but who will be appalled by the lurch towards xenophobia, and by the utter incompetence of May.

Labour needs to fight for that vote. It’s there as much in northern towns as it is in leafy southern suburbs, if you stop objectifying “working class” voters as a monolith.

I don’t think the far right can form a pro-Brexit bloc to come first in the election. There is a clear social divide between UKIP and Brexit Party: Farage’s own supporters (like the majority of Leave voters) were middle class on the rally on 29 March, while UKIPs were bonehead alt-right football fans. If it does though, the tactics will have to respond to that.

As long as there is no unified pro-Brexit bloc, there is no point in forming a national pro-Remain bloc, because of the way the PR system works.

The election will be a headcount — a fight between the progressive majority and the growing reactionary minority. Labour has to fight in a way that understands that.

While it’s true that, as Jeremy Corbyn keeps on saying, the main issue facing Britain is poverty, austerity and stagnation — whether you’re in Mansfield or Islington . But Farage is going to turn the EU election into a referendum on reactionary vs progressive values. So will the SNP, Greens, CHUK and Libdems.

You have to fight the battle in front of you, not the one you would like to be in.

Thankfully, this time, we have 2+ million EU-born voters who are allowed to vote. An internationalist left would see winning them to Labour a critical issue, even if they can’t vote when it comes to a general election. That’s because our definintion of the British working class is: people in Britain exploited by capitalism — not what colour is your skin or what’s your first language.

A clear vision that answers: how do we get out of this impasse and promote progressive politics? That’s what will win this election for Labour.

It’s amusing to hear the die-hard Lexiteers using the argument “what I want is a general election”. Sorry, what you’ve got is an actual election to a body with some legislative power, where winning can help all our comrades across Europe. The logical thing for the Lexiteers is for the CPGB and RMT to revive Bob Crow’s No2EU party — an attempt to create a left pro-Brexit movement. I wish them good luck with that.

If you agree with the above, the point is to fight for this strategy. The talks with Theresa May are going nowhere: they will not produce a deal we can vote for in parliament — and any attempt to de-link the deal from a second referendum will provoke a rebellion, not least by the candidates who will be fighting the actual election.

Mosquito Ridge

Resist the right!

Paul Mason

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Journalist, writer and film-maker. Former economics editor at BBC Newsnight. Author of Clear Bright Future: A radical defence of the human being

Mosquito Ridge

Resist the right!

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