Labour voter turnout crucial to outcome of EU referendum
Party’s MPs report mixed views on the doorsteps especially outside London
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn calls on Labour supporters to vote Remain, but insists the EU must reform. Photograph: Mary Turner/Getty Images
Birmingham’s Quaker Meeting House was packed to the roof – its two galleries as well as the stacked, wooden pews downstairs fully occupied, with lots of young people and just as many old but not too many in between. This was the latest in a series of public meetings across the country by a cross-party left-wing group called Another Europe is Possible, which wants to “stay in Europe to change Europe”.
Former Green leader Caroline Lucas, her party’s only MP, shared the stage in Birmingham with former Respect leader Salma Yaqoob, writer and activist Neal Lawson and Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack.
Despite the ecumenical line-up, it was clear that most of the audience was made up of Labour supporters, many of them on the left of the party.
Almost half of all those who want Britain to remain in the EU are Labour voters and the strength of their turnout will be crucial to the outcome of the referendum. The party, its leader and almost all its MPs support the Remain campaign but Labour has been much less visible than the warring Conservatives. And many of its more radical activists have mixed feelings about the EU, particularly in the light of the experience of Greece’s left-wing government at the hands of the eurogroup of finance ministers.
“This is a cold, realistic assessment of the balance of forces as we take this vote – who will gain, who will lose in a referendum later this month. It’s based on a realisation that, if we leave now, under the current circumstances, there will be an attack on workers’ rights, there will be other economic influences that will impact adversely on working people,” Wrack told the meeting.
He called for more transparency in decision making in the Council of Ministers in Brussels but said the battle for better labour rights and more democratic control over the economy should be fought on a Europe-wide basis.
“There is an overwhelming case to remain and reform so that we build on the best that Europe has achieved. But that will only happen if we elect a Labour government, committed to engaging with our allies to deliver real improvements in the lives of the people of our country,” he said.
Corbyn has faced criticism for his low profile in the referendum campaign and his refusal to appear with David Cameron. One woman in the audience in Birmingham received loud applause when she complained that the debate was being dominated by the Conservatives.
“What’s making me really angry is that the referendum campaign that I’m following on the radio and on television very rarely includes the kind of voices and arguments we heard tonight at any length. What I am getting instead is a sense that this referendum campaign has turned into a general election campaign with only one party on the ballot form,” she said.
Towards the end of the meeting in Birmingham, a succession of young people spoke passionately from the floor in favour of the EU, with one young man saying he was “terrified” at the thought of leaving. Then a burly man with a white, cropped beard stood up and started talking about his son, who has a family of four and earns £25,000 a year.
“He can’t get any social housing. He can’t get his kid into the same school that his other two kids are at. He is working as a delivery driver, forced to become ‘self-employed’. So the Working Time Directive doesn’t apply to him, the minimum wage doesn’t apply to him,” he said.
“Where is the hope in this? When he turns around and he hears the xenophobic statements about schools, hospitals, housing, he’s attracted to that kind of proposition.”