In the 23 May Euro-election, Labour, by not putting their lot in with the Remain parties, muddied the waters and stopped a clear Remain vote emerging.
The Labour leaders also allowed the Lib Dems to detox. For the first time since the 2010-15 coalition government, lots of people are willing to vote for them. That is damaging for Labour (though also for the Conservatives).
The good news is that the group formed by Chuka Umunna’s split from Labour, Change UK, with 3.4% of the vote, are for now a spent force. There are things that could revive Change UK, like a sizeable group of anti-Brexit Conservatives joining, but for now its long term future looks like disappearance into the Lib Dems.
Labour’s especially poor showing (14%) strengthens the hand of the pro-second-vote and Remain elements in the layers around Corbyn, and also of the pro-Remain right. John McDonnell and Emily Thornberry have been tacking towards a clearer Remain stance. Jeremy Corbyn is nudging in that direction, though he’s still in triangulation mode.
The Peterborough by-election (6 June) will be another key moment in Labour’s Brexit crisis. If the voting is anything like 23 May’s, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party will win, and Labour cannot even be sure of second place. Even if Labour swings back to Remain, its triangulation over the last six months or so has disrupted its own post-2015 base, both in members and in votes. A sizeable number of voters who have moved to the Lib Dems or Greens will be hard to win back. The smaller but still significant number who have moved to the Brexit Party will also be hard to win back. The Tories may find it easier to win the voters they have lost to the Brexit Party if they elect a hard-line pro-Brexit leader to succeed May.
Bizarrely, Boris Johnson may be the least scary of the hard-Brexit candidates. He is an unprincipled opportunist and will probably balk at no deal. Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and other seem actually to believe what they are saying, something that is never an issue for Johnson. Johnson is tacking to the hard-Brexit right to get elected, but if he wins he could go for compromise for equally opportunist reasons. My suspicion is that he will reheat May’s deal, and by simply not being May, offering people jobs, etc., he may get it through.
The Institute for Government has suggested that Johnson could prorogue parliament and push through his preferred Brexit with no parliamentary votes. Probably enough Conservative MPs will make credible threats to vote against his government when parliament reconvenes (or leave the party) to make that unlikely.