The campaign to leave the EU has been filled with toxic rhetoric that has put off left-wing voters, argues Sam Glover.
What campaign can unite Donald Trump, George Galloway, Iain Duncan Smith and Vladimir Putin? Well, one that isn’t going very far, that’s for certain. This hodgepodge of the loony left and revolting right have all scuttled out from under their various rocks to endorse Britain leaving the European Union. And the Remain campaign will be thankful that they have.
It’s a shame that the most prominent critics of the EU have been the ones who are the most odious, and use the most off-putting rhetoric. There are certainly plenty of sensible critics of the EU: Frank Field, Gisela Stuart, and Daniel Hannan among others. But instead of using their most eloquent and intelligent supporters, the Vote Leave campaign has been dominated by those who use the most divisive and ugly arguments for Brexit.
To an extent, it makes sense. The argument that the Leave campaign thinks is most persuasive is its stance on immigration. There is some basis for this idea: in YouGov’s latest polling figures, immigration is the most important issue for British voters, and the Leave campaign has a strong lead on immigration, beating the Remain campaign by 52 to 23.
This is why Farage (who, admittedly, has played second fiddle to Boris since GO lost out to Vote Leave as the official Brexit campaign) has been so prominent in the debate; he’s excellent at making passionate pleas for Britain to be able to control its own borders. But here’s the problem: far more people are put off by the likes of Farage than are fans of him, and people who like Farage are almost certainly going to vote to leave the EU anyway.
Before the 2015 election, one of Labour’s flagship policies was the so-called “Mansion Tax,” a tax on all properties worth over £2 million. It was seemingly a hit for Labour: the polling suggested that the public were largely in favour of the tax on the owners of the most expensive homes. However, although the policy individually was popular, it played into a larger narrative about the “politics of envy” that was harmful for Labour. Similarly, one of the largest sticking points for many would-be “out-ers” is the toxicity of the Leave campaign. People who consider themselves on the left would rather vote In, even if they are natural Brexiteers, than associate with the likes of Farage and Johnson. Many on the left would apparently rather be in good company than good conscience.
The Leave campaign has failed to highlight the left-wing criticisms of the EU, and this will cost them dearly. It has not been made clear that because of EU tariffs against non-EU countries, the people who will lose out the most are people trying to export from Africa, Asia or South America. Very few people are aware of the fact that the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidises the Duke of Westminster to the tune of three quarters of a million pounds. Labour MPs like Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart who support leaving the EU are left on the side-lines while “Ukippers” are frequently featured on Question Time.
This is a problem because it means that only political anoraks on the left will know about the injustices brought about by the European Union, and the inequality that is necessary for it to exist. Even the Conservatives have fielded their weaker MPs to make the arguments to leave the EU. Daniel Hannan’s excellent arguments about democracy have received little attention, whereas Boris Johnson’s remarks about Obama opposing the EU because of his “part-Kenyan ancestry” made headlines.
Here’s another thing: the Remain campaign has been surprisingly effective, both in encouraging people to vote to stay in the EU and in keeping the Tories together. For all the talk of David Cameron’s Conservative Party being in disarray, the Tories have actually stayed fairly united and the campaign to stay in the European Union has received the backing of most of the cabinet.
Several months before the campaign, there was talk of Sajid Javid and Philip Hammond joining the “out-ters,” and Theresa May seemed almost a dead-cert. Instead, the only influential Tory MPs to have endorsed Brexit are Boris and Gove, with people like Priti Patel and Chris Grayling failing to make much of a splash at all. For a party that is supposedly in crisis to be leading by four or five points in most of the polls is very impressive, and the focus in the EU referendum has seen a marked shift from immigration to the economy, the issue on which the Remain campaign is currently winning with ease.
Britain will vote to remain in the European Union. It didn’t need to be this way. Many argued that the Leave campaign needed to ensure that left-wing voters were not alienated, but the campaign has been so toxic and fraught with dog-whistle racism and xenophobia that it is understandably difficult for anyone on the left to vote to leave the EU. As a crude barometer for the prevailing left-wing opinion, The Guardian commentariat, after a brief wobble has come back to unanimously supporting Britain’s membership of the EU. The Leave campaign has been an utter farce, and the people of Britain will, completely understandably, vote Remain on the 23rd of June.