The Remain campaign must not be a Labour Party front
London4Europe Committee Member Michael Romberg worries about partisan politics which would drive away millions of voters. A companion article in this series is Agree process, disagree policies. A letter by the author on this subject was published in the New European.
The mandate set by the 2016 referendum binds the whole political class to implement its result by producing a Brexit plan which can then be considered by the electorate in the referendum on the terms with the option to Remain (People's Vote).
It is the May Conservative government which is now implementing Brexit. So Brexit is now a Conservative policy, backed by most Conservative party activists and members. It arose out of the long Conservative psychodrama over Europe. But all that does not make it a project for all Conservatives.
Nor is Brexit only for Conservatives. Jeremy Corbyn has not been shy about advocating Brexit. In the 1970s it was above all Labour figures who opposed EU membership and it was to get over the long Labour psychodrama over Europe that we had the 1975 referendum. Lexit never disappeared as an idea.
In 2016, 42% of Conservative voters backed Remain. In November 2018, 23% of those who had voted Conservative in 2017 thought the 2016 decision to leave was wrong. So applying those percentages to the 14m who voted Conservative in 2017 tells us that there are between 3 and 6 million Conservative Remain voters to be had or regained, plus those whom we might convert from a longer-standing Leave view.
A Remain campaign or a Labour campaign?
Yet the Remain campaign looks to many like a Labour party fringe group. For sure, official Labour is absent with Jeremy Corbyn and his inner circle virtually offering a cakeist Boris-style fantasy Brexit. Yes, there are Remain Conservatives such as Justine Greening, Jo Johnson, Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve.
However, the policy statements come from Chuka Umunna (ex-Labour, now independent), David Lammy, Andrew Adonis, and Alastair Campbell. More importantly the supporting rhetoric from campaigners and in the press of what underpinned the Leave vote is a straightforward Labour analysis: austerity, inequality, Tory cuts. This analysis is not going to resonate with Conservative party Remainers.
Conservative Remainers are like Conservative Leavers
“Conservative Leave voters look very much like Conservative Remain voters, except that they disagree on the relative importance of economic growth and sovereignty but both groups have these issues in their top four.
“Conservative Leave voters grouped strong economic growth together with the sovereignty options, suggesting that they believe sovereignty is a route to economic success. Conservative remain votes considered the economy as separate from sovereignty, although they still believe that sovereignty is relatively important.
“This suggests that Conservative remain voters believed that staying within the EU was the best path to growth but (perhaps reluctantly) were prepared to accept the consequent trade off in sovereignty.
“The only other area of disagreement is on immigration where Conservative Remain voters are relatively relaxed about immigration compared to Conservative Leave voters. However, both groups agree that social issues such as reducing inequality, affordable housing and benefits are less important.”
That is different from Labour where Remainers and Leavers are divided from each other by other policies. Further, Conservative and Labour Remainers have little in common with each other, while Labour and Liberal Democrat Remainers show considerable overlap in priorities.
So domestic policies that appeal to Labour Remainers are unlikely to appeal to Conservative Remainers. A Remain campaign that sounds like Labour risks losing millions of Conservative votes.
Solution1: a Conservative Remain analysis
Conservative Remainers need to go public not just with statements of support for Remain and a People’s Vote but with their own explanation of why people voted Leave and what the Conservative party will do about it.
Theresa May’s burning injustices speech is a good place to start. The response to the elector’s fair question “Why have you not done anything about it in your two and a half years in office?” is (a more tactful version of) “because you told us to do Brexit first, which means we won’t get round to anything worthwhile for another five years at least”.
Solution 2: a genuinely party-neutral Remain campaign
The Remain campaign needs to distinguish much more clearly between Remain themes and UK political discourse. For Remain we should talk about how good the EU is and point out that much of what has gone wrong in the UK is not down to the EU.
We should then go on to say that the various political parties each have their own idea of what had gone wrong and how to solve it. As Remain campaigners we are neutral between those solutions. At the next general election we will all be able to choose a government according to our own tastes.
But unless we stay in the EU, the next Government also will be consumed by Brexit and will not address any real issue.
Groups to join if you are a Conservative Remainer
We need to find ways of making sure that the Remain campaign does not put Conservative Remainers off by presenting an essentially Labour analysis of the UK’s political problems and their solutions. The Remain campaign needs to be neutral between political parties.
Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.