One interesting nugget from last week’s local elections was Labour’s progress with Leave voters. Analysis from Sky found that Labour’s vote share increased by around 6 percentage points in areas where a majority voted for Brexit. Compare that to the 2019 general election – the low point of Labour electoral strategy – when 40 per cent of Labour voters who supported Leave defected to the Conservatives.
There are two possible interpretations. Either the importance of Brexit as an issue has diminished, or Labour is managing to appeal to Leavers to whom it is still important. It’s a bit of both.
Most importantly, Brexit has slipped down the list of voters’ priorities. Fewer than one in five think Brexit is the most important issue facing the country. While many Labour supporters want their party to focus on rejoining the EU, 65 per cent of target voters for the party – 2019 Conservative voters who are now unsure – prefer a party that prioritises other issues. This may change as people’s frustrations with the economic damage of Brexit increase the importance they put on issue; that would be something to watch out for in the first term of a Labour government. But Labour was wise to campaign during the local elections on the cost of living, crime and the NHS.
In the years since 2019 voters’ priorities have shifted away from Brexit towards the fact that people are getting poorer. People are angry the NHS isn’t working. And they are tired after thirteen years of Tory government. Campaigning on these issues, while moving on from Brexit by committing not to return to the single market, customs union or free movement, is proving fruitful for Labour. Keir Starmer is patching up some of the damage done in 2019 but, as ever, he’s lucky. Politics has shifted onto much more favourable territory for a Remain-voting second referendum campaigner.
This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.
[See also: Who’s afraid of a Lib-Lab coalition?]