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Remainers demonstrate outside Parliament (photo: licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).

Remainers demonstrate outside Parliament in May (photo: Clem Rutter/Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license).

Poll points up dilemmas faced by Remainers in Hastings

A local poll shows that in the event of a snap general election the Remain vote is likely to be split between the three parties committed to opposing a no deal Brexit – Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens – thus running the risk of losing the seat to the Conservatives. Voters are strongly in favour of the parties working together to avert that risk, though Labour says it has ruled out the option. Nick Terdre reports.

The survey was carried out by Coastal Action, a non-profit Hastings social research organisation. “We wanted to dig down and get a clear sense of what Hastings and Rye Remain voters make of the parties’ position on Brexit and how strong an appetite there is for some kind of coming together of the Remain parties under a single banner”, said founder and director James Prentice, a doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex.

The results indicate that Remainers’ best hopes for taking the Hastings & Rye seat depend on forming an alliance to fight against a no deal Brexit. Labour however seems determined to go it alone.

The poll found that the Remain vote is split between the three parties committed to stopping a no deal Brexit, with 35% backing Labour, 41.9% the Liberal Democrats and 15.5% the Greens (and 7.7% the Tories).

Given that the Remain vote is estimated to account for just under half of the total constituency vote, the implication, the pollsters say, is that 25% support for the Conservatives would be sufficient to retain the seat for them. And the fact that the latest You.Gov poll indicates 33% support on a national basis for the Tories suggests that 25% may not be too difficult to achieve.

The existence of the Brexit party, which has told HOT it will stand a candidate in Hastings & Rye, and the fact that sitting MP Amber Rudd is regarded with some mistrust by Leavers for voting Remain in the 2016 referendum, means that the Leave vote will also be split.

However, the Tories are likely to be less hurt by a split than the Remainers, Prentice told HOT. Given that 55% of the constituency voted to leave in the referendum, they start with a larger pool of support, and prime minister Boris Johnson is doing a good job in getting Brexit party voters on side – support for Nigel Farage’s new party has fallen by 6% nationally.

Remainers desert Labour

A key finding of the survey is that Remainer voting intentions have changed substantially since the 2017 general election, when 75.4% of respondents backed Labour, 9.2% the LibDems and 4.5% the Greens (and 10.7% Tory).

According to Coastal Action director Chris Connelley, “There has been a major falling away in support for Labour among local Remain voters, probably reflecting disillusionment with its national policy position on Brexit.

“This has seen a sizeable direct shift from Labour to the Liberal Democrats and to a lesser extent the Greens, reinforcing the evidence seen earlier this year at the EU elections when Labour’s vote was topped by the other two parties.”

The EU elections were based on proportional representation, when parties can rely on securing seats in proportion to their voting strength. That is a very different situation to the first-past-the-post principle which applies in general elections in this country, when the party with the most votes, even if only a minority, wins. In these circumstances electoral pacts become relevant.

Respondents were clearly aware of the danger of losing the seat by splitting the vote. The overwhelming majority were strongly in favour of the Remain parties uniting behind a single ‘stop no deal’ candidate – 63.5% strongly supported this option and a further 30% supported it.

But that appears to be where the consensus ends. As regards who should lead such a coalition, opinions are divided, roughly in line with voting intentions, with 49% expressing a preference for the LibDems, 30% for Labour and 24% for the Greens, a finding which will not be welcomed by Labour.

“Given the party’s near success in 2017 and dominance on the local council, Labour will continue to make the case that it is the most obvious and strongest contender to challenge the Conservatives or indeed lead any ‘stop no deal’ ‘coalition,” said Prentice.

Labour rethink needed

“However, the situation has changed markedly over the past two years and Labour probably needs to accept it cannot go it alone this time if it wants to avoid a ‘No Deal’ win. Labour must engage with – and even lead – the local talks to form an anti-No Deal alliance and must show leadership and make concessions to ensure ‘No Deal’ is taken off the table locally.

“If it fails to do so, it runs the real risk of being blamed for failing Remain voters, who clearly wish to avoid a No Deal Brexit, and this could damage their longer-term electoral prospects”.

When presented with the names of candidates, or likely candidates, best equipped to lead a No Deal coalition, 42.6% of respondents backed Nick Perry (who has since been confirmed as the LibDem candidate), 26.6% Labour’s Peter Chowney and 14.6% the Greens’ Julia Hilton  (the Greens have yet to choose a candidate, or decide if they will stand one).

Prentice told HOT that when he tried to submit a motion to the local Labour party, of which he is a member,  urging entering talks with smaller parties to unite the ‘stop no deal’ vote, he was told that the party had already ruled out this option.

On a national level, a ‘stop no deal’ alliance including Labour could perhaps take up to 50 seats off the Tories, but only about half that number if Labour refused to join in, according to polling expert Prof John Curtice. A Labour spokesperson however dismissed the idea of an alliance.

The suspension of Parliament from early September to mid October by prime minister Boris Johnson may bring the prospect of an early election closer, given the widespread opposition to his move. If attempts in the courts to have the measure overturned fail, Remainers and opponents of a no deal Brexit could try to force an election by seeking a vote of no confidence in the government.

As Labour appears to lack sufficient support to form a new government, an election would have to be held. It is not guaranteed however that this would take place before 31 October, when Johnson has said Brexit will be implemented, deal or no deal.


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Posted 15:26 Friday, Aug 30, 2019 In: Politics

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