Wednesday

22nd May 2019

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit has uprooted Britain's traditional party system

  • Theresa May’s party is consistently polling over 45 percent. (Photo: Prime minister's office)

A portion of British voters said they feel they have more in common with people who voted the same way in the EU referendum, even if they had supported a different political party in the 2015 elections.

In other words, Brexit has uprooted traditional party allegiances.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

At first glance, this makes the Liberal Democrats’ pitch as the "Remain" party more understandable.

The trouble with the British, however, is that we tend to be an accepting people when it comes to referendums.

While the Liberal Democrats have very slightly increased their support since the 2015 election, the party has not enjoyed the recovery that many expected. It actually lost seats to the Conservatives at the local elections at the start of May, and is currently polling at around 10 percent.

The fundamental problem of appealing solely to "the 48%" who voted to stay in the EU, is that "the 48%" don’t exist.

Pollsters YouGov say that the UK is split into three groups in terms of attitudes to EU membership: The Hard Leavers, who account for 45 percent of voters; the Hard Remainers who still want to try to stop Brexit through parliament or a second referendum.

The size of Theresa May’s poll lead can be attributed, in part, to the rise of the third group – the so-called "re-leavers," who voted to Remain in the EU, but think that the government has a duty to leave, in order to carry out the will of the British people.

At "Brexit and the political crash," a public meeting held in London last Saturday (13 May), Toby Young, a journalist turned professional Tory Brexiteer, advised determined Remainers to "wait 10 or 15 years till things have gone completely pear-shaped, and then argue for another referendum."

For the typically pragmatic British, this is realistic.

'Mayism'

The role of the Re-Leavers means that Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats are trying to woo just 22% – the Hard Remainer section of the electorate – where it is competing for support with Labour and Greens in England and Wales, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) north of the border.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, are fishing in a massive lake of potential votes.

It’s hardly a surprise that prime minister Theresa May’s party is consistently polling over 45 percent.

So, perhaps, it was logical that the Conservatives launched their manifesto in the West Yorkshire town of Halifax on Thursday (18 May), a Labour-held seat that appears certain to fall to May’s Conservatives in three weeks.

On economic and social policy, May has tacked to the left, promising a rise in the minimum wage and protection for workers on short-term contracts.

Although the prime minister insisted that "Mayism" does not exist, her party is, in terms of rhetoric at least, far more centrist than the party of Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron.

“We do not believe in untrammelled free markets,” her manifesto states, adding with a quasi-biblical flourish that: “We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality. We see rigid dogma and ideology not just as needless but dangerous.”

On the right, with May stealing the UK Independence Party's (UKIP's) clothes on Brexit, there is little reason for the party to exist.

Paul Nuttall, the latest UKIP leader trying to prove that the party is more than Nigel Farage’s tribute band, argues that UKIP is needed to keep May’s government "honest" on Brexit. As a pitch for votes, this is extremely feeble.

For many in the north of England and Wales, voting Conservative still carries a certain social stigma.

The Tories would never have let Cameron or Boris Johnson, both sons of privilege, loose in Halifax, a former mill town. May, the daughter of a vicar, is a far more convincing advocate of a classless Britain.

Political realignment

The seeds for a political realignment were probably sown years ago when the Labour party of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown became dominated by political professionals.

Post-referendum, the differences in culture and expectation between university-educated, metropolitan, Labour Remainers, and the party’s traditional base of supporters in the industrial heartlands has never been starker, principally over attitudes to immigration.

A realignment may take longer than the eleven and a half months between the EU referendum last June and next month’s general election.

Even so, British politics is edging closer to a radical reshaping, particularly in terms of the factors that determine how people vote.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

May promises hard Brexit in Tory manifesto

In her party's platform ahead of the 8 June elections, the British prime minister has asked voters to let her negotiate Brexit without guaranteeing a final deal.

EU wants Brexit talks to start the day after UK vote

EU negotiator Michel Barnier urged negotiations to begin as soon as possible, while European Council chief Donald Tusk said the EU-27's red lines will be updated once talks can move on from the divorce to the future relationship.

May surprises EU with snap election

The UK prime minister has blamed the parliament for divisions in the country and called for a vote on 8 June, which she hopes will result in a pro-Brexit majority. The EU says the vote will not change its plans.

Column / Brexit Briefing

Brexit vote devours UK's Labour Party

Britain's referendum was instigated by the Conservatives, but the result has left Labour staring into the abyss.

May's election win would still mean hard Brexit

A confident majority for Conservative prime minister Theresa May in Thursday's general election could help Brexit talks, but it will not spare the UK and the EU a hard Brexit.

Voter turnout will decide Europe's fate

European voter turnout is in deep crisis. Since the early 2000s, the share of voters in national elections has fallen to 66 percent on average, which means that the birthplace of democracy now ranks below average globally.

News in Brief

  1. European brands 'breaking' chemical safety rules
  2. Report: Merkel was lobbied to accept EU top job
  3. May struggling to get Brexit deal passed at fourth vote
  4. German MPs show interest in 'Magnitsky' sanctions
  5. CoE: Rights violations in Hungary 'must be addressed'
  6. EU affairs ministers rubber-stamp new ban on plastics
  7. Private companies campaign to boost turnout in EU poll
  8. Austrian government chaos as far-right ministers step down

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Dutch MPs: EU sanctions should bear Magnitsky name
  2. Far-right hate speech flooded Facebook ahead of EU vote
  3. Key details on how Europeans will vote
  4. Voter turnout will decide Europe's fate
  5. Happy young Finns don't vote at EU elections
  6. MEPs' #MeToo pledge - only 12 EPP sign up
  7. Poland sends EU reform letter in heated election climate
  8. Populists 'could be the opposition parliament needs'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us