David Cameron put his job on the line in promising an EU referendum in his campaign for the 2015 General Election. He took a calculated gamble as he, like many, expected the result to go the way of the Scottish referendum. His train of thought was clear: appease the campaigners with a referendum, we’ll all vote overwhelmingly for the status quo and I come out of the whole sorry mess with my position strengthened and the campaigners quietened.
Except that didn’t quite go to plan. Cameron’s job is lost, domestic & European politics are in disarray and the financial markets didn’t exactly react well to the result. How could this calculated gamble have gone so disastrously wrong?
The nature of a referendum means that the number of areas ‘won’ by a particuler campaign means nothing; it’s all down to the number of people who vote for you. It is clear that the key areas where the leave campaign gained their victory were in the Labour heartlands of the northern towns, and it is clear that it wasn’t just Conservative or UKIP voters who backed Brexit, but rather the referendum crossed the political spectrum. These key areas saw generally witnessed a large swing toward the leave campaign – 75% in Boston, and over 65% in areas such as Hartlepool, Stoke and Doncaster. Even if the remain campaign gained just a few votes to reduce the swing to numbers such as 55%, the result may have been different.
The current negative attitude toward the political establishment undoubtedly was a significant contributing factor to the victory for the leave campaign, and when at you look at the people fronting both campaigns, it is clear to see why. On the remain side, the most visible campaigners were David Cameron, George Osborne and Harriet Harman. On the leave side, it was Boris Johnson (probably the most popular politician in the country), Michael Gove and Nigel Farage. It is clear which side would appeal more to the more economically deprived, politically isolated areas that in the end swung the referendum result in favour of the Leave campaign – from the remain point of view, the epitome of Conservative government that the remain campaign represented would not go far in convincing areas which were often staunchly Labour.
The Leave campaign successfully bridged the gap between stuffy politician and ‘ordinary’ people like those in the more economically deprived areas of the nation – Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson played their acts well – and the remain campaign catastrophically overlooked this important area of campaigning, despite having just the person who could have successfully swung the vote in their favour.
The remain campaign clearly won in more prosperous areas such as London and Cambridge. It is the more deprived areas such as South Wales, the North East and the formerly prosperous seaside towns which overwhelmingly backed the leave campaign, and therefore the areas in which the Remain campaign should have focussed their efforts in bridging the gap between the voters in these areas and their establishment-led campaign. Jeremy Corbyn was the ideal person to bridge this gap. Did he back ‘remain’? Yep. Is he the sort of politician who can appeal to the sort of people from these relatively economically deprived areas? Definitely. Did he? No.
As the leader of one of the two major political parties, Corbyn should have stepped forward and campaigned for a Remain vote. It is obvious to anyone who has an idea of UK politics that in many of these Labour heartlands, the ideas and words of a couple of privately-educated Conservatives would not resonate, and perhaps even swing votes away from ‘remain’. The campaign needed someone who could appeal to a mass of people who did not agree with or respect David Cameron et al, and for some incomprehensible reason the Labour leadership did not use Corbyn’s position as an alternative voice to his more conservative peers to further the remain cause.
Yes, it was Cameron’s idea for the referendum. But it should be abundantly clear, especially to top political strategists at the heart of the remain campaign, that the voices of anyone connected to the Conservative Party would not have been listened to by large swathes of the population. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership were in an ideal position to fill this gap, but they didn’t step up when they needed to, and as Corbyn is at the head of the second-largest political party in Britain, and leader of the main left-wing party which is able to connect with many voters, his pathetic level of campaigning simply wasn’t good enough. Corbyn and the Labour leadership must take a considerable portion of the blame.