Will Straw, our Executive Director, writes today on the referendum campaigns and the future of the United Kingdom:
Those of us involved in the Remain campaign should not shirk responsibility. Ultimately we did not develop a coherent response to the Leave campaign’s rhetoric on immigration or their xenophobia.
When they kicked the hornet’s nest, we ran in different directions. Conservative voices were hamstrung by their ludicrous migration cap promise and a reluctance to make the positive case. Labour voices had a different answer depending on who was asked.
Despite a painful defeat, I am proud of what we achieved. In an inherently eurosceptic country, which favoured Brexit for most of the last five years, more people voted for Remain than have ever voted for a political party – including three-quarters of 18-24 year olds.
We created a mass movement which saw tens of thousands of volunteers – many completely new to politics – knocking on doors, handing out ‘I’m IN’ stickers and leaflets, and making the case for Remain to complete strangers. In total we calculate that 10 years of volunteer time was given to the campaign in just four months.
Although it often failed to get covered by a media obsessed by the Tory’s ‘blue on blue’ psycho-drama, our materials consistently made the positive and patriotic case for EU membership.
Our Referendum Campaign Broadcast – seen by millions – presented the opportunities that a 14-month old, Sam, could enjoy if we remained. The two televised debates were amongst the greatest exercises in public education on the benefits of being in the EU that this country has ever seen – sadly drowned out by a slogan (“Take Back Control”) which had no plan underpinning it.
Nor can we be accused of failing to set out a choice. The consequences that are already coming to pass – sterling depreciation, credit rating downgrade, job losses – were set out clearly by the campaign.
What we failed to do adequately was expose Vote Leave’s propaganda machine and its media echo-chamber. Their lies spread misinformation on a scale never before seen.
Nigel Farage and Iain Duncan Smith have already admitted there will not be £350 million for our NHS. Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan, has said immigration will not actually fall.
Britain is today more divided than at any point in my lifetime: old versus young, cities versus towns and rural areas; the university educated versus school leavers; Scotland and Northern Ireland versus England and Wales.
The challenge now is for our political leaders to bring the country together and ensure that Britain’s new relationship with the EU develops as smoothly as possible with skill and creativity used to mitigate job losses, prevent a dis-United Kingdom, and a loss of influence in the world.
They must also seek to temper the anti-immigration sentiment swirling around our communities with people born in this country asked when they are “going home”.
David Cameron has done the honourable thing and resigned. As well as losing the national argument, he could only deliver four in ten Conservative voters from 2015. If he had got that up to 50 per cent, we would have won.
Conservative MPs have a huge responsibility in deciding who they put forward to their 150,000 members as candidates for leader.
Boris Johnson became the Brexit poster boy but he and Michael Gove debased themselves by associating with Leave’s spurious claims and xenophobia. If he becomes Prime Minister, Johnson will never escape Leave’s lies about immigration and the public finances.
Jeremy Corbyn should follow David Cameron’s lead. Under his leadership, Labour is further removed from its industrial heartlands than ever before with 29 per cent of its supporters threatening to go elsewhere. New research from the IPPR think tank shows that the poorest families will be hit twice as hard by new inflation caused by sterling’s slide as the richest—many living in areas that voted overwhelmingly to leave.
Rather than making a clear and passionate Labour case for EU membership, Corbyn took a week’s holiday in the middle of the campaign and removed pro-EU lines from his speeches.
Rather than finding imaginative ways for Labour to present a united front and get its message across to wavering supporters, Corbyn vetoed a planned event featuring all Labour’s formers leaders.
Rather than confronting concerns about immigration with Labour’s values of contribution and reciprocity, Corbyn distanced himself from the manifesto commitment to restrict in work benefits for new arrivals to this country and planned a trip to Turkey to talk about “open borders”.
The last few months have opened the lid on Trump-ian populism in Britain. For the good of our country in its darkest days for decades, strong and wise leadership in the national interest is desperately needed.
So too is a national movement committed to healing our divisions and restoring integrity to our public discourse. I hope everyone involved in Stronger In will play their part in taking our country back.