There is a take going round, from Remainer celebrities like Emma Kennedy, from journalists like Ian Dunt, and even from people who I’d expect to have more sense, that the European elections are a great missed opportunity for Remain parties to have come together as one big Remainer alliance, and then we would all have won everything and everything would be perfect. But instead, the Lib Dems and Greens and SNP and ChangeUK all insist on being separate political parties, almost as if they have policies *other* than remaining in the EU which they might want to implement at some point in the next five years, and so the Remain vote is split, and the Euro elections will be a disaster as a result.
Now, there is a *tiny* element of truth in that when it comes to ChangeUK — a “party” that has no platform, no profile, no membership, and no electoral history. They *are* doing little but taking votes away from the Lib Dems and Greens, and have very little likelihood of doing anything other than preventing more-established parties from gaining seats. I only hope that they take more votes away from the Conservatives (and ChangeUK are basically One-Nation Conservatives to the extent that they’re anything) than they do from decent, principled, parties, but I doubt it.
But leaving aside the Pro-Euro Conservative Party II: Centrist Boogaloo*, I don’t think this accusation holds any ground at all. And the reason is very simple, and it’s one that every single person who’s attacked the Remain parties for vote-splitting knows, but they’re pretending not to know because it makes them sad and it’s a hard problem that doesn’t admit of the kind of simple solution that starts “why don’t you just…” (as in “why don’t you just all stand as Remainer candidates?”).
That problem is, there are, for most people, going to be three parties standing in their area with remaining in the EU as a policy position (four in Scotland and Wales, where the Nationalist parties also want to remain in the EU). There are also, though, going to be four parties with leaving the EU as a policy position — Labour, the Conservatives, Fascist UKIP, and the Genteel-Racist Brexit Party.
So, by the commentariat’s logic, the Quitling vote will be split four ways, the Remainer vote will be split three in most places, so Remain parties should romp to victory, right?
Because no matter how much the Remainer commentariat may want it, the voters simply aren’t choosing to see the European elections as a plebiscite on leaving or remaining in the EU. Some are, no doubt — mostly the people who are going to vote for ChUK or one of the varieties of fascism — but most people will be voting on party lines, because of loyalty to their existing party, or because they consider leaving the EU less important than other policies, or because they’re unaware of the policy of the party they’re voting for, or any of a myriad other reasons.
We know this because in the 2017 General Election the overwhelming majority of Remain supporters didn’t vote for the Lib Dems or Greens — parties which supported remaining in the EU. Instead they voted for Labour, a Quitling party, whose manifesto clearly committed them to leaving the EU, and also to leaving the single market because they don’t want those foreigners coming over and taking our jobs. Some — a smaller but real number — also voted for the Conservatives.
Now, we can’t generalise from this as to what those people’s reasons actually were. Sometimes it will have been “to keep the other lot who are even worse out”. Sometimes it will have been because they care more about other policies than the policy on the EU. Many, many, Remain supporters seem to think (and who knows? They may even be right, though I doubt it) that while leaving the EU will be bad, it won’t be *that* bad, so it’s not worth making a fuss about. Others will have wanted to vote for a Remain party but found something about the ones standing in their area too offputting in other ways to support them.
But what that very, very, clearly shows is that there simply isn’t a bloc “Remain vote” of any size that will go out and vote in an election — as opposed to a referendum — purely on the lines of the parties’ attitudes to the EU.
Polling suggests that roughly sixty percent of people currently want to stay in the EU. Polling also suggests that roughly eighty percent of people plan to vote for parties that want to leave the EU. That’s not a problem caused by splitting the Remain vote, that’s a problem caused by remainers simply not seeing the issue as a particular priority.
And, of course, there’s the other fact that the different parties have different policies, and different priorities on subjects other than Brexit. This can be seen even in their names — the Liberal Democrats’ main priorities are liberalism and democracy, the Greens’ is the environment, and ChUK’s is Chuka Umunna’s ego.
And this is important. Because even if you accept — as I do — that Britain leaving the EU is the single most important political issue facing us, and the one that needs dealing with *right away*… well, it needs dealing with right away. But, one way or another (please God let this be true) the problem will be dealt with by the end of the year, and we’ll either be out of the EU (in which case who we elect for a very short time makes very little difference) or we’ll be staying in the EU, and the MEPs we elect will be dealing with other issues.
Now, the Greens and Lib Dems have fairly similar policies in most areas, as it happens, but they’re still distinct, and both parties should be maximising their own seats for that five year period *after* leaving the EU stops being an issue.
So fundamentally, what the Twitter celebrities are doing is blaming the political parties that are on their side for still being political parties, and ignoring the fact that the real problem here is that the voters don’t care about the same things the Twitter celebrities do. They want the electorate to be dissolved and replaced with one that will do what they say.
So anyway, the point is, if you’re a Remain voter, don’t be put off by talk of “vote splitting”. Vote for whichever of the Lib Dems, the Greens, the SNP, and Plaid is closest to your views, and don’t worry about vote splitting. If there is a remain vote, it’s no more split than the Quitling vote, and if there isn’t then there’s no point worrying.
(I don’t include the Chuka Party in the list of parties that might be closest to your views, as they literally have no policies at all yet other than having a second referendum, and they can’t be trusted on that given that the majority of their MPs voted for Article 50 to be invoked in 2016 and several of them argued vehemently against a second referendum for a long while after that. They’re opportunists, as well as many of them being racists and TERFs).
The only thing I would say is *if* you’re voting on EU lines, don’t vote for Labour in the hope that they’ll vote for anything other than leaving the EU, because your vote *will* be counted in support of leaving the EU. (If you want to leave the EU, or you don’t really care, or you don’t think your vote will make a difference, or you think other considerations matter more, then do what you want, obviously).
I hope you vote Lib Dem in the Euro elections — I certainly will be — but more than that I hope you vote for any party that represents your views, as while the system Great Britain uses for its European elections is horribly flawed (as I pointed out… God, ten years ago now, on this very blog. I am so old…) it is at least a little more representative in some ways than the Biggest Loser system we use for Westminster, and I’d hate to see people missing what may be their last chance at proper representation in Europe because they’ve been conned by someone who once had a bit part on Casualty saying “it would be nice if everyone was friends with each other, but they’re not, so we’re all going to lose”.
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* In the original draft of this I used Chuka Umunna’s name here rather than the word “Centrist”, but at least one person took this as a racist reference to Umunna because of the proximity of his name and the word “boogaloo”. That interpretation had never occurred to me — it was a joke about weak sequels based on an old Internet meme about the title “Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo” — but I obviously don’t want my posts to contain even inadvertant racism, so I’ve changed that, and added this note for transparency. Sincere apologies to anyone offended.
Do we have to call them ChUK?
If it’s any consolation, I think there’s little sign that we’ll be talking about them at all after the next general election. Current polling suggests that Heidi Allen is the only one who has any chance of holding her seat…