By Alex Andreou
Remainers are about to fumble the European parliamentary elections and it is not because of a lack of formal cooperation or party alliances. It is because they have landed on entirely the wrong goals.
The European election has been presented as a proxy second referendum. This means that the focus has been on 'winning' it. What is the path to victory for Remain, however, if we accept it as a proxy referendum? What could Remainers hope for, if there were some sort of Remain alliance?
That 20 million people would turn out to vote for it, making an incontrovertible case for a People's Vote? It will never happen. That the government could be pressured into pivoting to a second referendum? That will never happen, either – the Conservative party's losses will be mostly to the right. Is the hope perhaps to send a slate of pro-EU MEPs to the European parliament? Sure, maximising the number of good MEPs would be great, but if Brexit still goes ahead in the next few months it is largely pointless.
Labour's policy is the real obstacle for Remainers. The only realistic and urgent goal therefore, the only thing that can make a true difference in the short and medium term, given parliamentary arithmetic and our electoral system, is to pressure Labour into supporting – finally and unequivocally – what the majority of its members and voters demand: a second referendum with the option to Remain. It's to show Jeremy Corbyn and his team that there are more votes to be won by moving firmly to a Remain position and more votes to be lost by not.
Farage understands this entirely from his side. He has not unveiled Anne Widdecombe and Annunziata Rees-Mogg to attract moderates or disaffected progressives. His goal is not to force an election and get a majority in the Commons. He is aiming clearly and precisely at a protest vote that will hurt the Tories from the right, forcing them into championing no-deal. He is forcing players already at the table to represent his wishes.
Remainers must realise as clear and simple a plan. And once that aim becomes clear, the strategy does too.
Given the Labour National Executive Council's equivocation yesterday, its complete refusal to acknowledge the vast majority of its MPs, MEPs, CLPs, unions, members, grassroot activists and voters, we know that a vote for Labour will be tallied, broadly, in the pro-Brexit column, just like it was after the 2017 general election, when our votes were cynically co-opted into the '80% of voters support Brexit' narrative. We must not reward this betrayal a second time.
Only one statistic matters: total numbers of Labour voters (or potential Labour voters) taken away from them in all areas. For this you need the Remain vote to turn out. It is all that matters. Big numbers. And that requires three things: a relentless registration drive between now and the May 7th deadline, a clear campaign which focuses on Labour's equivocation and motivates disaffected Remainers to switch their vote to any clearly pro-EU party, and high turnout on the day.
But on the Remain side, all this why-can't-we-get-our-act-together dithering and hand-wringing does precisely the opposite: it generates anger directed at Remain parties. It de-energises Remainers and suppresses their vote. It makes them feel hopeless, helpless, less likely to register and less likely to vote. It is entirely self-defeating.
It would be terrific if people end up voting strategically to turn numbers into MEPs, but that is ultimately a secondary objective. The European election is not a proxy referendum. There is no path to victory for Remain, except one: cornering Labour into taking its proper position as a champion for Remain. It is the only thing that can make a real difference in the coming months.
And, in this respect, strategic voting is irrelevant, the number of MEPs is irrelevant, which Remain party you favour is irrelevant, how well Farage does is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is to show Labour that there is no route to No.10 unless they change tack. The only strategy is to give Labour a bloody nose, in as emphatic a way as possible.
Alex Andreou is a writer, actor and cook living in London and Greece.
The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.