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Mark, My Words: treating this election like a second referendum will be a disaster for Remain

This election isn't about insta-remaining, it's about securing a People's Vote, argues columnist Mark Beaumont

This is Mark. In 2010, frustrated by New Labour doing George W Bush’s blatantly based-on-bullshit military bidding and following the neoliberal instruction manual that Thatcher had left in No 10 to the letter, he decided to make a protest vote. Offered the first actually socialist policy he could vote for in decades – the abolition of student fees – he voted for that nice, trustworthy Nick Clegg of the Lib Dems. In his own miniscule way, and to his utmost horror, he played a part in creating the Cameron-Clegg coalition which didn’t just institute the austerity measures which led to Brexit in the first place and lay the foundations for the industrial-scale privatisation of the NHS, it tripled student fees. Mark, in painful retrospect, was a mug.

It’s this undying shame which has come back to torment me over the past fortnight. In pubs, at dinner parties and in viciously passive-aggressive Facebook threads, I’ve heard my friends and online acquaintances explain, a little indignantly, that they’ll be voting Lib Dem on December 12. They skirt across a variety of reasons for switching their vote from Labour, but they generally come down to the same argument. Corbyn’s a Brexiteer at heart. Labour want to negotiate a Brexit of their own. Only the Lib Dems unequivocally support Remain, and that’s how they feel too.

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They’re not alone – polling shows that a party’s Brexit stance is currently the most important consideration in voters’ minds – that’s a hell of a lot of Remainers planning to bet the bank on the Lib Dems in December. But, perhaps even more than a John Lewis ad sung by Dan Bastille, it makes my heart sink that reasoning people I know are treating this election like a second referendum, believing that this is their best shot at remaining, that a surge in support for the most Remainerish party out there will somehow swing the argument in their favour. Because if this is another roll of the dice on our membership of the EU, it’s vastly loaded in favour of Leave. In fact in many cases, just like Mark in 2010, they’re voting for exactly the opposite of what they want.

Let’s lay out some basic facts of our situation as we approach December 12. One: if the Tory party get a majority, or can cobble one together with the help of Farage, the Boris deal will pass and Brexit happens in January, with No Deal a distinct possibility at the end of 2020. The consequences of that should terrify anyone without the superhuman ability to heal themselves of every disease known to man. A Dispatches investigation recently unearthed secret discussions between government representatives and US trade officials in which drug pricing was discussed – basically America, Trump or no Trump, wants the NHS to lift its “socialised” pricing restrictions so that it pays the same as US for its drugs, often around 250 per cent more than we do today. That could well mean an extra £27 billion a year, or £500 million a week, lumped on the drug budget of an already crumbling service. That’s another major step towards Farage’s on-the-record dream of a health insurance system for the UK in which, if modelled on the US, we’d all be paying hundreds of pounds a month for the rest of our lives, only to be made bankrupt because we weren’t covered for horny badger attacks or chronic Interpol fatigue or something.

So Boris’s Brexit must be stopped, agreed? But two: the Lib Dems cannot stop Brexit at this election. Sorry. If you’re voting in the hope that the Lib Dem surge will see a party with 21 MPs gain over 300 seats and that Prime Minister Jo Swinson will tear up Article 50 on the Downing Street doorstep and stuff it into Larry the cat’s litter tray on December 13 as grand vizier of some triumphant Remain Alliance, you’d be better off putting a tenner on June from Gogglebox to win the Grand National in a tin bath.

The reason it won’t happen is simple – they’re going all out to split the remain vote. You only have to see how they refuse to stand down in Canterbury, risking an ultra-Leave Tory snatching the seat from an ultra-remain Labour MP, to realise that the Lib Dems themselves aren’t prioritising remaining in the EU at this election but on increasing their seats at Labour’s cost.

They’re even trying to screw up the idea of tactical Remain voting by releasing internal ‘polling’ which suggests that the Lib Dems could win an MP for the moon or are best placed to take the 2020 Brit for Best New Artist, all based on the question ‘if your usual Lib Dem candidate is standing against other party candidates, all of whom are Prince Andrew, who would you vote for?’ What’s more, polling in London Labour seats suggests a significant swing from Labour to the Lib Dems will also allow Tory challengers to take the seat. Lib Dem voters in these constituencies are, in essence, voting for Brexit.

That’s where the Remain disaster lies. The dice is loaded against them. Of those voters casting their vote along Leave or Remain lines, most of the Leavers are voting to actually leave the EU with the Conservatives. But only about half of remain voters are voting for a serious chance to remain. The Labour half.

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You see, in order to stop Brexit we need to stop thinking of this election as our final say, our do-or-die last stand, and start thinking of it as our way to secure a People’s Vote. That’s the only place where remain votes will really count, and there are only two ways this election can get us one. First: Labour emerge as the biggest party. Their manifesto promises a second referendum on the Norway-style deal Corbyn will negotiate, and which we won’t really notice if Leave wins again. It’s a win-draw proposition for remainers.

The second route to a referendum is a bit like trying to parachute onto a pillow in a field full of spikes, and hoping the pillow isn’t booby-trapped. It involved the Tories as the largest party in a hung parliament and going into another coalition with the Lib Dems. ‘But the Lib Dems would never go into government with a Leave party!” my friends cry. ‘Just watch ‘em,’ says 2010 Mark. Swinson demands a PV in return for five years more Boris, and the option we get is remain versus Boris’s deal. Literally Eddie Izzard’s ‘Cake Or Death?’ offer made real. And there are plenty of people out there desperate to vote for death.

The Lib Dems argue that they’re the only party offering voters the chance to wholeheartedly support remain in this election, but they’re asking us to fight a battle we’re rigged to lose. Remain isn’t realistically on the table here, only leaving and the chance of a second referendum are. So Corbyn’s individual Brexit stance is irrelevant at this point; even if he personally wanted Britain transplanted to one of Saturn’s moons and encased in a bureaucracy-resistant Trade Shield, we should be grabbing his PV offer with both hands. Because it’s the last one we’ll get.

And it all hangs on Labour being the biggest party, and thus the first to try to form a coalition in the event of another hung parliament; virtually all other feasible results mean hard Brexit and goodbye NHS. What does this mean in terms of remain voting? Simply this: if you’re in a constituency where any other party ran a Tory close in 2017, vote for that party, you’re the Damage The Enemy brigade. But if you’re in a Labour seat, or one Labour stand a good chance of taking from the Tories, a petulant Lib Dem protest vote will cost us all dearly. Don’t be a mug. Don’t be Mark.

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