Trevor Fisher sees a failed Labour message despite some rare unity
Writing four days before the vote, it is clear that whatever happens in the EU referendum, Labour’s campaign flopped. While the Party adopted a sensible policy in arguing for staying in to reform the EU, a position picked up by the ANOTHER EUROPE IS POSSIBLE project which was backed by MOMENTUM, Labour failed to promote its own policy. Neither its website nor its literature reflected the policy and its campaign certainly did not push the position.
The campaign was largely traditional meetings behind closed doors talking to the already committed. Corbyn’s effective walk abouts were few and far between, while Alan Johnson was largely invisible on the media and elsewhere and did not inject the policy of Stay and Reform even into the website which was an exercise in non communication.
The Labour website ten days before the vote highlighted only three reasons for staying IN – jobs, Exports and Security. Two of these were economic policies largely irrelevant to the vital pensioners group. Security was a valid concern because Britain gains from international policing made no reference to migration and the Borders issue. Yet gaining control of borders was a major element of the BREXIT campaign. Criticisms of the EU to make a case for reform was completely absent. The site made no attempt to suggest the EU was anything other than a club Labour was happy to keep belonging to.
A week before the vote the website added some new material – but not the Policy. Under the heading BRITAIN IS BETTER OFF IN EUROPE – it glossed job risks as affecting 3 million jobs, highlighted paid holiday and mat-paternity leave guaranteed by Europe, exports to Europe, the dubious £4300 pa loss to households, the value of the European Arrest warrant, and influence as a world power – to keep prices down and sell products in Europe. None of this was to stay in to Reform, and the image was of an institution that had no flaws of any kind.
Labour has difficulty in making a simple VOTE TO STAY IN statement and its main leaflet, with articles by Alan Johnson and Corbyn, did not state clearly that on June 23rd people should vote REMAIN. The campaign used traditional methods with no imagination at all. A mix of meetings, leaflets and street stalls and canvassing was old hat. Where was the digital revolution we were promised as a part of the New Politics. Indeed, where was the New Politics? Meetings were held round the country, but nowhere was there any attempt to put the speech on social media.
The digital media have severe limits but they are where the young are. Apart from the EU referendum itself, the social media could be used to boost registration – Gloria Del Piero’s campaign is vital – we have to reach the young. Yet the scurry to register the young, similar to the panic in spring 2015, was not reflected on the Labour web site or any Labour media we are aware of. The digital revolution failed to emerge, leaving the issue open to the tabloids and their rabid commitment to BREXIT.
The idea of a New Politics is valid as it is clear the Old Politics has failed Labour. But the EU campaign showed no sign at all of a New Politics emerging.This is bad news when the party was relatively united about the position adopted. A change really does have to happen and whatever the result of the vote, the big issue has to be why Labour could not even promote its own Stay In To Reform position.