To what extent was Labour’s remain campaign insufficient?
It’s hard to say. Labour voters did vote 63% to remain, which compares to SNP (64%), Greens (75%) and Lib Dems (70%) and 42% Conservative. 4% for UKIP. How UK voted
Pros of campaign
- It started well with message that social and economic problems caused by austerity not immigration and EU. But, this message seemed diluted during the rest of the campaign. Sometimes it’s best to chose one strong message and reinforce it. There would have been more material, such as cuts to NHS as % of GDP e.t.c. could have reinforced the point about government austerity.
- Honesty and truthfulness. Corbyn is an interesting paradox. I really admire a politician who is honest, tries to speak truth and sticks to his principles no matter what the political cost. The night before the referendum, Corbyn (truthfully) admitted EU membership means no control over immigration. It was a gift for the Conservative tabloids and the Leave campaign. Which places a difficult dilemma – do we praise Corbyn for speaking the truth or do we criticise him for not being a ‘professional politician’ with the skill to evade question or even mislead and come up with an impossible immigration target like Conservatives did in the last election?
- Working together on environment. Labour was a voice for promoting international co-operation on issues like environment, labour markets and security. It didn’t particularly capture imagination because voters didn’t seem particularly moved by issues of idealism, but still it deserves credit for some positivity in a campaign marked by negativity. I would have liked to hear more about the positive aspects of European integration and co-operation.
Cons of campaign
- Regional minimum wage. Labour didn’t see to have an effective strategy to deal with the implications of free movement of Labour. J.Corbyn did suggest we could have a European wide regional minimum wage, but from an economic perspective, this is unworkable. You can’t impose a UK Min Wage level on Eastern Europe, it would cause mass unemployment. I always worry when politicians come up with economically illiterate policies, no matter how much I admire their integrity.
- EU protects labour market rights. I heard this a lot, but I’m not sure it really galvanised many voters. It wasn’t the issue people were concerned about. For people working in zero hour contracts, feeling that immigrant labour is driving down wages – they may well ask – what labour market rights exactly do EU give us anyway? The most effective labour market protection at the moment is actually the Conservative increase in the national minimum wage (which Labour introduced in 1997). Also, if you say we need Europe to protect labour market rights, it asks the question why is the UK not capable of protecting its own labour market rights? Perhaps because the UK nearly always ends up voting Conservative.
- Criticising economic forecasts. At one point, Corbyn criticised economic forecasts of HM Treasury, which was the central plank of the Remain campaign. This was perhaps ill advised, even if you don’t trust Osborne and HM Treasury, there are plenty of independent economic analysts, who also stated UK would be economically worse off. A low point in the whole campaign was Grove saying we shouldn’t listen to economic experts, because they were like stooges of the Nazis. The campaign was marked by anti-intellectualism or anti-expertism, but Labour weren’t always standing up for listening to independence academic advice either.
- Yes, Osborne could be criticised for exaggerating the certainty of negative forecasts, but there is a real case that Brexit had economic costs and if you’re trying to support Remain it feels a mistake to try and deny this. This perhaps gave confusion about whether Labour was for or against staying in EU.
During campaign, I kept thinking Corbyn is a man of principle – speaks his truth, stands up for his principles. All admirable qualities and yet sadly, these very good qualities don’t necessarily make you an effective politician. Whether this is an indictment of politics or Corbyn is up to you to decide.
Unfortunately, Labour’s campaign came across as half-hearted, but then it was better than the more extravagant claims and outright lies of other politicians in the campaign. I feel both some sympathy for Corbyn, but at the same time frustration, Labour hasn’t really successfully highlighted costs of austerity or misleading information of the Leave campaign. To some extent you can blame the media for being more interested in the top Conservatives. But, you can’t just blame other people. Unfortunately, when Corbyn talks about labour market rights, it doesn’t make very interesting tv. I certainly wanted to turn off, and I support Corbyn!
Final note. It is sad to see the state of the Labour Party. I did support Corbyn’s leadership due to his principles and vision, but now I have sympathy with Labour MPs who have lost confidence. It’s a tricky situation because the Labour membership is just very different to British voters and Labour MPs. It would have been nice to have the good aspects of Corbyn, married with a leader who can appeal to the whole British electorate and not just Labour party members. But, that is maybe harder now.