- When your best-known face is Tony Blair’s, you’ve got trouble. The People’s Vote campaign – and supporters of a second referendum more broadly – haven’t found a popular leader, convincing spokesmen and fresh voices. Fairly or not, Blair, John Major and Nick Clegg are associated with the mistakes of the past – and elitism. Pronouncing from Davos (see photo right) doesn’t exactly help.
- The campaign has learned nothing from the mistakes of New Labour. Its original genius was brilliant communication. This is now, in folk memory, spin – a legacy of the Iraq War. In brutalist Alastair Campbell-style, it tried to kill off “Norway Plus”, seeing the idea as a rival competitor. Its effort produced another “dodgy dossier” row and effective counter-attacks from Nick Boles and others.
- And when you’re preaching to the choir, your problems grow. Backing from the 48 per cent who voted Remain in 2016 isn’t enough. Second referendum campaigners need to win backing from the 52 per cent who didn’t. But the core of the People’s Vote message to them is: you were wrong. Real people and voters don’t like being told that they’ve made a mistake. Not enough are switching to back another poll.
- Second referendum campaigners are divided. The People’s Vote campaign is led by Open Britain and supported by other groups. Elsewhere, Best for Britain is concentrating its fire not so much on all voters but on Labour supporters. Meanwhile, Conservative MPs who back a second referendum are running their own “Right to Vote” campaign. And there is no agreement on what the question would be.
- Corbyn is rolling back the campaign… He may or may not be a Brexiteer at heart. And Labour’s latest position on the issue may be no more than a tactical ploy. But it clearly marks a further move towards a form of Soft Brexit and therefore away from a second referendum. The party’s Our Town campaign gives a sense of the voters it believes it must target: these are Leave voters – suspicious of a second referendum.
- …Which has stalled among the Conservatives. Successful campaigns need impetus. But as Corbyn pushes it back on one wing, it is stuck among the Tories on the other. No new converts have recently announced their support for a second poll. The suggestion that Blair and his allies see the campaign as a trial run for a new party raises hackles on the Left, and is toxic on the Right. Of which more below…
- New Party rhetoric is alienating Labour MPs… The entanglement between support for a Second Referendum and plans for a breakaway party stir atavistic folk memories in Labour – of the SDP, Ramsay MacDonald, and of splits that keep Tories in office. That’s helped Corbyn, put wind in the sails of Labour MPs who back a Soft Brexit, and bolstered senior Shadow Ministers, such as Angela Rayner, who oppose another poll.
- …And the People’s Vote has attracted no prominent Brexit backers. There is a case for arguing that Leave would win a second referendum by an even bigger margin. But this shimmering possibility hasn’t persuaded Conservative MPs and activists to switch, and now back a second vote. Which is important: a successful People’s Vote campaign needs some prominent Leave supporters – not just Remain ones.
- There is no agreement on timing. Roger Godsiff is the latest MP to push for a Commons vote on a second referendum, aiming for one next week. Sarah Wollaston and Philip Lee, over on the Tory side, had a tilt at one last month before withdrawing their effort. But People’s Vote strategists believe that a vote at this stage will only show that the campaign isn’t taking off in Parliament.
- MPs are holding out. Most MPs backed Remain on 2016 (whether they were they in the Commons or not). But regardless of how they voted – or whether they did so at all – they all have one thing in common: constituents. The bottom line is that MPs are responsive to what voters think – and not enough of the latter have switched to supporting a second poll.
Andrew Gimson’s PMQs sketch: Johnson is starting to feel fed up with Starmer, and accused him of being unpatriotic
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