As a Labour MP, I am keenly aware that many party members and supporters feel disappointed and frustrated by our policy on the EU. I also know that some are considering using the European parliamentary elections to protest and vote for one of the minor parties.
As a long-standing Remainer, I share their concern about Labour’s stance on Brexit – but it is absolutely critical that Labour supporters don’t use the Euro elections as a protest vote. Doing so only helps Nigel Farage, could lose us some excellent Labour MEPs, almost certainly won’t elect more MEPs from the minor ‘Remain’ parties, and the election result will have no status in changing Labour’s approach.
In this election, we vote for a party, not named candidates. And although the D’Hondt counting system used is a form of proportional representation, it favours the high-vote parties. It’s explained clearly here by Richard Corbett, leader of the European Labour Party.
Given the relative support for different parties, a Labour voter casting a ballot for any one of the three small parties standing (Lib Dems, Green or Change UK) in protest against Labour’s policy will not only be a wasted vote, but it will make the Brexit Party look even more popular than it actually is.
Surely, the last thing that any Remainer wants to see is the government, the media and the public being presented with the message that the electorate favours a hard Brexit above all. If one thing will increase the chance of a hard Brexit and embolden the far right too, it’s the mandate they could claim if the projected triumph of the Brexit Party winning the largest vote share in these elections is realised.
Empowering Brexiteers by helping them to take up more than the 17 places already held by hard-right anti-EU MEPs is not the only reason for which a low Labour turnout on May 23rd could have devastating effects. Given how long Brexit negotiations are taking, and the uncertainty of the UK’s future place in the EU, the MEPs elected in May could be in post for months, if not years. The decisions they will make in that time will have lasting consequences. For those, like me, who believe the EU is important, it is critical that we fill the European parliament with as many MEPs committed to Labour values as possible, and not let it be occupied by those who wish to divide and spread hatred.
The 2016 referendum result was partly down to a myopic, imperial worldview that imagined Britain could thrive and lead in isolation. As internationalists, we should recognise that it is not just the UK that is currently experiencing politically turbulent times and the rise of the far right. For this reason, the decisions made in the coming months in the European parliament are likely to be some of the most important since its formation. Prioritising intra-party politics at home over the opportunity to elect the best decision-makers would be a disservice – not just to the least privileged in the UK, but much further across the globe.
People should remember that a lot of the policies being touted by the most ‘Remain’ parties as exemplifying the good of the EU are those passed by the Socialists and Democrats group, with which Labour sits. If the UK Labour Party gains seats at this election, S&D will have the numbers to defeat the right and become the largest group in the European parliament. That will allow it to pass transformative policies such as a Europe-wide ban on zero-hour contracts, a minimum wage proportional to average wage across the EU, and moves towards a decarbonised economy.
Change UK’s current MEP cohort consist of former Tories, and we saw how the Lib Dems supported a Conservative administration in Westminster. Even if these ‘Remain’ parties stood a chance of winning seats in these elections, not only would it prevent an overall S&D majority, you can be sure they wouldn’t help pass the progressive policies Labour are backing.
If you’re a Labour voter wavering in the face of the European parliamentary elections because you are disappointed by Labour’s Brexit stance, consider the bigger picture. Giving a vote to a minority party at these elections will be a greater gift to Farage than a kick in the face for Labour. It will feed the rise of the far right in corridors of power across Europe, and prevent the EU from being a force for good for those most in need. And far from stopping Brexit, it will give hard Brexiteers a mandate for crashing out of the EU – one they did not have before.