This week’s missive is aimed principally at those of you who did not vote Leave in the Brexit referendum three years ago. Apologies if this doesn’t include you; I promise that normal service will be resumed next week.
The uppermost question in the minds of Remainers, as we head for next week’s European parliament elections, is which of the anti-Brexit parties to support.
So, in an attempt to be helpful, and breaking with a tradition that stretches all the way back to when I started writing these weekly ponderings nearly fifteen years ago, I shall reveal whom I’m going to vote for.
I’m going Green.
I have two over-riding priorities: I want to maximise the unambiguously anti-Brexit vote, which is why voting Labour is not an option, and I want to support a party that has convinced me that it understands the seriousness of the climate crisis that confronts us.
On which note, by the way, you may have missed the news that, according to the Washington Post, last weekend the temperature near the entrance to the Arctic Ocean in northwest Russia reached a terrifying 29 degrees Celsius, just as the concentration of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere went above 415 parts per million for the first time in at least 800,000 years and probably for the first time in over three million years.
In Greenland, the ice sheet’s melt season began about a month early; in Alaska, the winter ice in several rivers broke up earlier than at any time on record; and across the Arctic overall, the extent of sea ice has hovered near a record low for weeks.
If that doesn’t warrant the word crisis, I don’t know what does.
But perhaps you’re more tempted by the Lib Dems. Perhaps you think they have more chance of winning some seats than the Greens. On the other hand, perhaps you don’t know that in the last Euro elections, the Greens won three seats (London, South-East and South-West) and the Lib Dems scraped just one (South-East).
Unlike in elections to the Westminster parliament, tactical voting isn’t really an option in these elections: first, because they are conducted using a party list system, under which each region or constituency elects several MEPs; and second, because turn-out is so variable that making predictions is almost impossible.
So here’s my reasoning: yes, the Lib Dems and Greens stand for many of the same things when it comes to Brexit and climate change. They differ on economic policy, but that’s probably for another day. In London in 2014, the Lib Dems won 14% of the vote and the Greens won 11%. Assuming that both parties will pick up a substantial chunk from disaffected Labour voters, I prefer to go Green because I think they’ve been right about more things that really matter than most other parties.
In the South-West region, Lib Dems and Greens were virtually neck and neck in 2014, with 10.7% and 11.1% of the vote respectively. In the South-East, it was a similar picture: Lib Dems on 8.04% and Greens on 9.05%.
So there really isn’t much in it. (You’ll notice that I’m ignoring Change UK, for the simple reason that I can’t think of a single reason why anyone would prefer them over the Lib Dems or Greens. Their first, faltering steps have not been overwhelmingly impressive. I’m also ignoring the SNP and Plaid Cymru because I think their records speak for themselves and voters in Scotland and Wales will need no help from me.)
What matters most next Thursday, I suggest, is not so much which of the anti-Brexit parties you vote for, but that you do vote. This is not one of those elections when you can persuade yourself that your vote won’t make any difference.
This time, it most definitely will. Even if Nigel Farage emerges victorious – just as he did wearing his UKIP hat in the Euro elections five years ago, with 26.6% of the vote – that won’t be the whole story. Polly Toynbee put it well in The Guardian: ‘The threat of Nigel Farage – a bully, someone who consorts with worldwide far rightists, antisemites, brutes of every variety – is real and frightening. Sending his rogues’ gallery of the comic and the extreme to Brussels will be an embarrassment – but the headline that matters will be total votes cast for staying in Europe.’
It is a wonderful irony: three years after the UK voted by a narrow majority to leave the EU, we find ourselves voting in EU elections that are probably the most consequential – at least in terms of their impact on domestic politics – that we have ever held.
If Labour haemorrhage votes next Thursday, there is every chance that the party leadership will at last come to understand that their ‘we can be all things to all people’ approach to Brexit is a dud. Mr Corbyn needs to confront reality: within months, he’ll be facing a new Conservative party leader, almost certainly a much more committed Brexiteer than Mrs May ever was.
If it’s, say, Boris Johnson or Dominic Raab, they’ll ramp up the Brexit no-deal talk, with Mr Farage snapping at their heels all the while and their party in melt-down. With the parliamentary arithmetic unchanged, they may well be tempted to go for an autumn election, perhaps even with an electoral deal in place so that in some of the most pro-Brexit, Labour-held seats, they’d be prepared to give the Faragists a free run.
According to the best estimates of the 2016 referendum result calculated on a constituency-by-constituency basis, about sixty per cent of constituencies currently held by Labour had a majority of pro-Leave voters. So they represent a huge opportunity for Mr Farage and an equally huge headache for Mr Corbyn. All the more reason, I would have thought, for Mr Corbyn to do everything he can to shore up his anti-Brexit base.
The very first radio documentary I made when I joined the BBC in 1989 was about the Greens’ remarkable success in that year’s European parliament elections, when they came third with 14.5% of the vote.
The latest YouGov opinion poll ahead of next week’s election puts them on 11%, just behind the Lib Dems on 15% and Labour on 16%. But I’d like to think that with my help – and perhaps with yours – they’ll be able to top that historic 1989 result. Apart from anything else, it would be no bad thing to have a few more Greens in the European parliament.
Whatever happens, it won’t be pretty, because we’re heading for some very stormy political waters. We’ll need strong stomachs and clear heads – and we’ll need to keep our wits about us.