The EU referendum result presents an existential threat to the Labour Party. Outside of London and a few big cities, Labour pleas to its supporters to vote ‘remain’ fell on deaf ears. This deep and dangerous divide among Labour supporters must now be confronted. It cost Labour the referendum, and it could cost the party any future hope of governing.
Labour’s failure in this campaign is illustrated by plotting the strength of ‘remain’ support against the strength of Labour support, in different parts of England (the graph shows the party’s strength in each counting area, estimated by using Labour’s vote share from different local elections over the last three years). Despite the party’s strong backing for the EU, on Thursday there was only a very weak relationship between the extent of ‘remain’ and Labour support (see the dotted line).
The chart also shows that, while areas with fewer Labour voters cluster around the median, in more Labour supporting areas the results are very divergent. Counting areas where Labour secures more than 30 per cent of the vote included some of the best and worst results for ‘remain’. As Andrew Harrop wrote yesterday, Labour supporters are ‘two nations within one party’.
Of the 40 counting areas in England with the highest Labour vote (Labour councils, ranked according to recent vote shares in local elections), 25 voted to leave the European Union. Of the remaining 15, all but 4 were London boroughs. The others were Manchester, Liverpool, Leicester and (just) Newcastle.
So while the debate rages about what the Labour Party should do next, Thursday’s result makes two things abundantly clear. Labour’s campaign didn’t persuade enough Labour-leaning voters, which arguably lost the referendum. And, there is a dangerous distance developing between Labour voters in ‘metropolitan’ areas and industrial towns. While Labour’s leadership only represents the former group, the party cannot rebuild.
With thanks to Tobias Phibbs for his help number crunching