Game on: Jeremy Corbyn delivers a stump speech after the Prime Minister calls a snap election. Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.If Labour MPs want to avoid losing their seats, they need to ignore Corbyn and focus on opposing Hard Brexit. The very issue that drove Theresa May to call a snap election is now Labour’s best chance against a collapse. The case for this is now blindingly plain to see.
By most measures the Labour party isn’t going to do well in June. They are trailing the Tories by 10-20 points, depending on which polling company you ask. One poll last night put their lead at 24%. Worse, Corbyn is badly behind May when voters are asked who would make the better Prime Minister. It's worse because leader ratings can pull up or drag down the party’s popularity, as Ed Miliband found out.
Of course we can quibble over whether the polling is right or wrong. We can criticise errors in recent elections, but they were broadly within the margin of error. Labour is highly unlikely to get a 10 point margin of error, that too in its favour. I mean, it could happen, but the chances are vanishingly remote. And perhaps the pollsters have missed some non-voters, but all our evidence shows they are older and more right-wing than the average. That’s not helpful to Corbyn.
To be blunt, a lot of Labour MPs are going to be toast unless there is a miraculous turnaround. That leaves most of them with just one choice: to weaponise the biggest coalition of voters that want a clear alternative to Theresa May’s vision for Britain: Remain voters.
That leaves them with just one choice: to weaponise the biggest coalition of voters that want a clear alternative to Theresa May’s vision for Britain: Remain voters.
The case for is obvious. They are currently the most motivated and polarised group of voters. They are a cross-party coalition which wants a clear alternative to the government’s vision of the next five years. They are susceptible to the message that a Hard Brexit will make their lives more difficult. Lastly, it would also be a clear message to Remainers that they will not only oppose Hard Brexit, but do so in a clear rebuke to Corbyn’s ambivalence on the matter.
May is not trouncing Corbyn in the polling because she is likable, or because Corbyn’s policies are terrible. His policies are popular, on the economy at least. It’s because a lot of Brits think she is competent enough for the job – compared to him. However much she bumbles from crisis to crisis, May looks more in control than the guy standing opposite her. That’s not my opinion, but that of the country. We can blame the media for their views but that’s like blaming the sun for being hot: there’s not much that can be done about it.
But Theresa May has one glaring vulnerability: that Remain voters overwhelmingly think a Hard Brexit, which May is clearly pursuing, will wreck our future. Labour MPs still offer Britons the best chance of limiting that damage.
Theresa May has one glaring vulnerability: that Remain voters overwhelmingly think a Hard Brexit will wreck our future.
Why not campaign against Brexit with Corbyn, you ask? Because it's obvious he will try and stay away from the issue as much as possible. He has a long history of being ambivalent on the topic. He ignored it in his initial response after May called the election, and he is still saying he will fight the election not on Brexit, but on public services.
The best chance that Labour MPs have, then, is to ignore Corbyn’s national campaign, and convince Remain and Labour voters in their constituency they will stand against May’s plans.
There are caveats of course: not all Labour MPs have a large Remain coalition in their area. And not all Remain voters will prioritise the issue over party loyalty. So, Labour MPs will need a coalition of the two – Labour and Remain voters, not just either constituency. But that is still bigger than the constituency that believes, if the polling is even vaguely accurate, that Britain is best off with Corbyn as Prime Minister.
Brexit has to be their primary campaign. The most controversial debate of our generation offers Labour MPs the strongest fighting chance against the Tories.