People’s Vote campaigners are playing dirty with the facts
As Monday's Channel 4 drama Brexit: The Uncivil War reminded us, the Remain campaign likes to take comfort in the fact that it tried to win us over with facts and figures, never stooping to the kind of outright lies about the economic benefits of leaving the EU or the threats of immigration indulged in by members of Leave.
True, George Osborne may have implausibly threatened to impose £30bn of spending cuts and tax rises if the result was for Leave. But Remainers are nonetheless attached to the idea that, while Brexiteers manipulate feelings, they are on the side of facts and evidence.
Why, then, are advocates for a second referendum risking this reputation by playing dirty with the facts?
Last weekend saw the publication of an expensive YouGov poll of 25,000 voters, funded by the people’s vote campaign. It purported to show that Labour’s support would crash to 26 per cent if the party “fails to resist Brexit”.
The figures were eagerly picked up by the Observer, which claimed on its front page that Labour faces a “mass exodus” over its Brexit policy.
Yet those Remainers eagerly sharing these headlines should check their facts – YouGov’s questions bore no relation whatsoever to Labour’s actual Brexit policy. The participants were asked how they would vote if Corbyn instructed Labour MPs to support the Conservatives or offered them a free vote on a Brexit deal negotiated by Theresa May.
Labour’s policy as it stands is to vote down May’s deal on Tuesday, and hope that this results in a vote of no confidence against her, leading to a General Election. If Labour won, the new government would be in a position to negotiate its own deal.
There has never been any hint that Labour would vote for May’s deal.
The people’s vote campaign is therefore polling people on a course of action that the Labour leadership currently has no intention of pursuing. The figures are completely unhelpful for understanding attitudes towards Labour’s actual policy.
As for the alleged “mass exodus” of Labour supporters over Corbyn’s direction on Brexit, it is still not showing up in the form of a credible increase in support for anti-Brexit parties such as the Liberal Democrats or the Greens.
While YouGov claims that Corbyn’s popularity is slipping, most polling companies continue to place Labour and the Conservatives neck-and-neck at around the 40 per cent mark.
Figures from the Economic and Social Research Council last week did indeed show that nearly 90 per cent of Labour members personally favour a second referendum. But crucially, they also revealed that nearly 70 per cent are unopposed to Corbyn’s policy. Of the minority who do actively disagree with it, only half have contemplated leaving the party over the issue.
In other words, Labour members think that Brexit is a bad idea, but they trust the Labour leadership, and accept the argument that actively campaigning for Remain would open it to damaging accusations of trying to frustrate a democratic referendum.
Manipulating these figures won’t stop us leaving the EU. But it might throw enough confusion into people’s view of Labour to harm the party.
People’s vote campaigners were eager participants in the protest against the visit of Donald Trump last year. They often claim that the US President and the UK’s Brexiteers are equivalent purveyors of “fake news”.
But suggestions this weekend from the Greater London Authority that the campaign radically exaggerated the turnout of its recent anti-Brexit march may remind voters of Trump’s thin-skinned overstatements of the number of supporters at his inauguration.
The People’s vote campaigners’ current approach of attempting to benefit from confusion over political facts, whether turnout numbers or support for Labour’s Brexit stance, threatens to make them look more similar to the unpopular president than they would like.