Political forecasting often seems based on nothing more than a wing and a prayer. But if it’s to be successful it has to be possible to explain how the forecast will come about, step by step, and that this outcome is more probable – or sometimes less implausible – than any other.
So if we take the present situation and project into the future – let’s say by two to five years – for the first time since the 2016 EU referendum it is possible to predict rationally that Britain will at last reluctantly admit to the national embarrassment of Brexit and look forward to becoming a member of the EU again.
What is new in the equation is the huge Labour majorities projected by the present polls. Now any experienced political operator will tell you not to trust the polls, especially those in your favour. That is understandably partly a defence mechanism, but it is true that optimism is often the enemy of good politics. Any argument which depends on ‘at that point the voters surely must realise’, without explaining precisely how this revelation is to be brought about, is to be dismissed.
Can the Tories be wiped out as a parliamentary force?
But in this case, the polls seem to be showing what, given the present chaos at Westminster, is entirely plausible. My colleague Mr Pecksniff has already suggested he expects the polls to get worse for the Tories before they can improve. And close investigation into voter attitudes in last year’s local elections, especially in ‘safe’ Tory seats in Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire, showed droves of formerly loyal Tory voters in despair and considering mutiny.
Even the best polls for the Tories currently give Labour around a 25% lead, which would wipe out the Conservative Party as a serious parliamentary force. Two give 38%, and one rash suggestion based on raw data suggests the party may end up with only 15 seats. Now that is implausible, but we don’t have to dwell on just how cataclysmic the result might be for the Tories; we just have to accept that the polls probably have good reason to make their present claims. This is the most probable outcome.
A huge Labour majority actually weakens Starmer’s position on no EU membership
A Labour victory in itself won’t bring about a likelihood of rejoining the EU.
Starmer himself and several of his more eurosceptic colleagues (with an eye on their own seats in the north) have wantonly gone out of their way to suggest there is no appetite for it. But though a huge majority on the scale the polls are suggesting would give the party carte blanche, ironically it would also introduce constraints and threats to the established position which may be difficult to repel.
There will be a huge influx of new Labour MPs. We know that would happen. Some from the more winnable seats will have been groomed for parliament and to follow party policy. They will know what the party expects of them. But many will be ingenues who had stood in apparently safe Tory seats on passionate ideals rather than any hope of winning. Now, here they are, taking the oath in the Commons chamber. Most of them will be young, most will be pro-EU. The junior government posts will be divvied up among the expected winners and the Labour government will commence its business.
The Brexit narrative will disappear, having lost its champions
But if Labour has a huge majority, many of those newcomers will be superfluous. They will have time on their hands and they become a worry to the whips. They will meet in the bars and tea rooms and they will conspire together. And with no immediate prospect of preferment and their European ideals still burning brightly, they will begin asking exactly why their government is still haplessly trying to pretend there is anything about Brexit which can work.
The champions of Brexit in the Commons will have been vanquished and humiliated. Their protectors in the press will be abashed, since no newspaper likes to be seen to have backed the losers, nor to give the impression in their editorials that they think the voters don’t know what they’re doing. So who exactly will Starmer be kow-towing to? Will farmers demand a continuation of the ban on European workers? Will small businesses want the continued red tape which is putting them out of business? Will shoppers object to cheaper food and more of it? Will families prefer how much more expensive and difficult it is taking their holidays in Europe now, or the lack of European doctors and nurses in the NHS?
There will be no narrative in favour of Brexit. That narrative will change once the Tory hubris meets its Nemesis at the ballot box, leaving a space where reality can at last make its point.