By backing "Remain," Labour may have blown the next election already

We have lost far too many votes to Ukip—and may yet lose more

June 22, 2016
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech setting out why Britain should remain a member of the European Union, 14th April 2016 ©Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/Press Association Images
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech setting out why Britain should remain a member of the European Union, 14th April 2016 ©Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP/Press Association Images
Read more: Gisela Stuart—Brexit is the left-wing choice

With just one day left until each of us votes to decide the future of our country, both the "Remain" and "Leave" camps have thrown almost everything they have at voters—as well as at each other.

We have been subjected to an almost daily diet of claim and counterclaim, followed by arguments over the motives and integrity of the groups and individuals making those claims. Politicians and campaigners have rummaged through the cupboards for as many statistics as they can possibly find, and have used them to try and convince voters that they know exactly what will happen to our country once the dust has settled on the referendum result.

The truth is, of course, neither side knows for sure what will happen to our country after 23rd June, regardless of whether we remain in, or leave the EU. To pretend otherwise is to mislead the electorate.

What we do know is that it is for each of us to decide on 23rd June what kind of country we want to live in. No set of statistics can help us arrive at this decision. It is about who we are, and who we want to be as a country.

Do we want to become part of a United States of Europe, or do we want to forge as a self-governing nation a new relationship with Europe? That is the key issue at stake in the referendum.

But, for those of us concerned about the future of the centre-left in British politics, there is a secondary issue beginning to play out as we approach referendum day: what will be the consequences for the Labour Party of its recent attempts to scare voters into voting "Remain"?

My fear is that the Party’s scare tactics totally disregard the lessons from Labour’s recent history. Worse still, such tactics could put us in a particularly vulnerable position once the Party is forced to come to terms with the post-referendum political environment.

Analysis by the House of Commons library shows us that almost a million people who had previously supported the Labour Party offered their vote to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in last year's general election. Those Labour voters believed then that we no longer represent their interests. There was a suspicion among this group that Labour’s natural position was now to prioritise the newcomer over our own people, many of whom are struggling at the bottom of the pile.

Yet the early signs from the referendum suggest that these lessons have not been heeded. The current Labour leadership, alongside much of the parliamentary party, overwhelmingly favours "Remain." Meanwhile, Labour voters themselves are split almost down the middle—around 40 per cent have suggested they could vote "Leave."

The leadership’s response has been to warn of a "bonfire" of workers’ rights if we come out of the EU. The leadership has failed to mention, though, that Britain took many of these rights into the EU. Coming out of the EU would not deprive us of these rights.

My fear is that by trying to scare Labour voters into backing "Remain," our leadership could haemorrhage another million voters to UKIP at the next general election. This would of course put a severe dent in Labour’s chances of forming the next government.

UKIP currently finds itself second to Labour in 44 seats. How might the leadership’s stance on the EU alter the fate of those seats, and many others we so desperately need to win, in 2020?

Central to UKIP’s appeal among traditional Labour supporters has been a common desire to curb the level of immigration to this country. For the Labour leadership in this referendum to be advocating a continuation of open borders with Europe, will be a kick in the teeth for many Labour supporters.

Our leadership could therefore find itself yet again taking on the role of UKIP’s chief recruiting sergeant. The danger is that another million Labour voters will believe a vote for UKIP at the next general election is the only way to protect themselves from further waves of immigration and the horrific side effects of globalisation.

The issue of immigration of course goes right to the heart of the question of who we are, and who we want to be as a country. By placing itself on the side of yet more uncontrolled immigration from the EU, the Labour leadership will be seen by voters as going against their own culture and way of life.

So might I conclude with a plea to those many hundreds of thousands of Labour voters whose natural wish is for Britain to leave the EU and take back control of our borders? Please vote "Leave" with your heads held high as Labour voters. In fact, whatever your decision may be, use this chance to vote as you believe is in the best interests of your country, knowing that many other Labour voters will be doing the same thing.

Now read: What would Brexit do to the pound?