With parliament back in operation, the state of campaigning and public attitudes are beginning to be newsworthy again. The activists on both sides have kept going through the summer, Leavers showing itself more and more as ageing white men, while the two petitions on Anti Brexit have steadily gained support. By September 5th the People’s Vote petition had reached 296,184 and will exceed its current target of 300,000 soon, while the Independent petition with its ambitious 1 Million target had reached 729,927 and will also reach its target.
Since this was written on 5th September the Guardian (8th September) reported HEAVY UNION BACKING FOR SECOND BREXIT VOTE. A YouGov survey for the People’s Vote showed Unite, Unison and GMB members support a ‘new referendum’ by 2-1. More information on the Guardian website – reporter is Toby Helm, political editor.
But more significant are national shifts in opinion and clear evidence the national splits on Brexit are getting worse. Reaction to Brexit is moving toward Remain, but not yet on a scale to force the political leaders to approve a third Referendum.
The Headline figures
Over the summer, opinion poll shifts to anti-Brexit encouraged Remain campaigners, but without reaching the tipping point of 60-40 which would really put Theresa May under pressure to call a third vote. The Independent hailed a shift of 2.6m voters to Remain in the latest opinion polls (4th September), but factor in the near million Remainers who have moved to Leave and the gain is 1.6 million – which puts the 52-48 majority for Leave in 2016 on a knife edge. Hard core Leavers are not likely to shift, but the bigger picture of age against youth shows that Leave is losing because death is playing a part.
The Times reported (4th September) that Peter Kellner has calculated 1000 Leaver voters die each day,. With new Remain oriented voters reaching 18 each year as it was the pensioners who gave Leave their majority in 2016, by the end of 2019 there will be no Leave majority on current trends. A smart Leave strategy would back a Third Referendum before their majority is wiped out by the Grim Reaper.
The divisions created by Brexit are deep and growing. The Times report focussed on two major shifts – among women and the crucial age division. Women first. The report showed that while men are still roughly evenly split 51-49 on Remain, women who were also evenly split in 2016 are shifting and are now 56-44 in favour of Remain. Of course this is not 60-40, and the nation is not decisively for Remain as things stand. But factor in the younger age groups and the future is bleak for Leave, however much they can control the Tory Party at present.
Latest data show all age groups under 50 are now in favour of Remain. The U25s are now 80% in favour of Remain, even higher than 2016. As always, caution is needed – the old vote in numbers, the young do so less readily (64% Under 25s in 2016, 90% over 70s – and registration and postal votes are much higher among pensioners) – but the trend is clear.
Labour in the front line
Some shift in votes in Labour held seats from Leave to Remain seems to be taking place, and the biggest shift seems to be working class women, two thirds now wanting to stay in the EU compared to 50% in 2016. While the data on shifts depends on multi factor analysis and does not yet indicate that marginals and the crucial small towns are moving to Labour, the trends are positive. For Labour, it is vital that it breaks out of its big town heartlands. As Stephen Kinnock has written, in 2010 Labour got 29% of the vote – lowest since 1987 – but 258 seats. In 2017 it got 40% of the vote, highest since 1997, but gained only four more at 262 seats.
Labour is piling up votes in big towns but not making headway in smaller towns and rural communities. Kinnock does not provide a Brexit related solution, but whatever the problems with his overall analysis, the basic fact of Labour not having made gains outside the big cities has to be accepted. It means that relying on a General Election to remove Brexit even if that is the Party’s position – which it is not at the moment – is less sensible than having a 3rd referendum. In a national vote, all votes count equally. As we enter the autumn, the trend is eroding the Leave majority of 2016. But it is not yet decisive, meaning that more needs to be done.