What makes democracies flourish is scrutiny. Opposition to government brings out the best of the governing parties through scrutiny and compromise with government. The Brexit referendum broke this trend in a peculiar way. Neither of the two main parties in the UK are ardently pro-EU, and Labour’s ambiguity in their stance towards Brexit makes easier the job of the Conservatives – who face less opposition from Labour in regard to the withdrawal from the EU than they ought to. The fundamental reason for this is down to the fear of alienating large swaths of supporters.
Since the General Election in June, Labour has maintained a narrow lead over the Conservatives in the polls, despite the divisions in the Tory party on the manner of the EU withdrawal, while failing to consolidate a strong lead over them.
Labour’s relative success in this election was founded on a mixture of former UKIP, Liberal Democrat and Green voters. This varied coalition has brought Labour into a strong political position in parliament and aided the collapse of the Conservative majority. The Labour party has long awaited success in the polls, and it appears that they are (on face value) succeeding in that regard. This however, makes Labour’s newly established popularity fragile, if one is to assume that Brexit is a major electoral issue. The support is delicate due to Labour’s mixed messages on Brexit – Corbyn made a career of being a left-wing Eurosceptic; Sadiq Khan and Tom Watson not ruling out a second referendum; and Corbyn resisting calls from Labour members to remain in the Single Market. The Brexit ambiguity that is projected by Labour therefore fails to alienate its pro-remain (students, and former Green and Lib Dem) voters, while keeping Britain’s ‘working-class leavers’ happy (estimated to be around 15 percent of the population).
A radical deviation to either ‘Brexit’ or ‘Remain’ politics would certainly risk Labour’s lead in the polls. This may explain the silence from the strongly pro-EU Labour MPs such as Owen Smith (now in the shadow cabinet), which begs the question: is Labour prioritising its party interests over what many of its MPs believe will damage the UK with Brexit?
Either way, Labour will eventually have to come out of its shell and show a firmer stance in this regard. This will not necessarily harm the party – a plurality of people believe that Brexit will damage the economy, and life more generally. If the damages of leaving the EU become as clear as they were described during the Referendum, then surely a vote on the final deal obtained by the government would not be an unpopular move.
The recent treatment of Jeremy Corbyn is the latest blow to the representation of the views of young people in politics. This comes in the wake of an EU referendum result that revealed a serious generational divide between the views of the young, who overwhelmingly voted to remain, and older members of society who voted to leave. Encouraging younger people to become more involved in the political process is a democratic necessity. However, more effort must be made by younger people themselves and the political establishment to progress toward this goal.
Corbyn clearly enjoyed strong support amongst young people who supported his election as Labour leader and who have made up the bulk of the subsequent surge in Labour members. However, he has been consistently mocked in parliament, belittled and criticised from almost every conceivable angle. He has not been respected at any point by his political opponents or even by many from his own party. Proof, if any where needed, that many in the political establishment either do not take the views of young people seriously or simply do not believe that they need to. If further evidence of this was required, Nick Clegg’s infamous ‘selling out’ over the issue of tuition fees in 2010, the coalition government’s stubborn stance over their increase and the decision not to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the EU referendum would seem to offer it.
However, young people cannot afford to feel sorry for themselves. They must make their voices heard at the next Labour leadership contest if necessary, forgive the Liberal Democrats and listen to the progressive choice offered by the Green Party. They must however, be given help from the establishment. Political parties must realise the power that young people have to swing elections and political decisions and reach out to them. In the long term, plans must also be put in place to educate children from a young age about the political process and the importance of voting.
Young people must engage and be engaged by the current political system. The consequences of doing nothing are clear. The voice of young people in politics will fade into nothingness in both the present and in the future, and leave current and future generations at the whim of a political caste that they have no power in influencing. This scenario, quite simply, cannot be allowed to become reality.
Nigel Farage’s recent claim that the Leave campaign has carried an ‘upbeat’ message further evidences the Leave side’s attempt to portray itself as the more positive of the two referendum campaigns. However, the disheartening truth is that both sides have quite clearly been motivated by fear and political opportunism. Debate will rage after June 23rd on what the future holds for the nation depending on of the outcome of the vote. What will be beyond debate, is the undeniable truth that this referendum campaign has been a deeply costly one in terms of the divisions that it has created in British society and politics.
Proving that both of the campaigns have been motivated by fear is not difficult. One cannot deny the incessantly negativity of the arguments produced by the Remain side. David Cameron has implied that a Brexit could put peace and stability in Europe at risk, while the criticism of the Leave campaign’s plans for building new trade relations with the EU and other nations has been constant. It has also become clear that the Leave campaign’s very existence is based on the fears that people have over the impact of migration, the strain being placed on the NHS and housing markets, terrorism and loss of sovereignty. If these fears were not present, there would be very little debate over Britain’s EU membership.
There are also a number of question marks over the motivations of politicians from both sides. Is Boris Johnson using the Leave campaign to put himself in contention to fill the power vacuum at the head of the Conservative Party once David Cameron steps down? Why were articles on Jeremy Corbyn’s personal website that espoused eurosceptic views deleted prior to his becoming Labour leader? Amongst the viciousness of this debate, the opportunistic and untrustworthy nature of many politicians has come to the fore.
This referendum has brought out the worst in modern day politics. Facts and arguments have been exaggerated and twisted, with fear mongering and opportunism clearly evident. Healing public faith in politics and reconciling members of the two political factions to work together again will be as much a challenge as dealing with the result of the referendum. There is already the potential of a second referendum if Britain votes to remain. For many, the thought of having to go through another campaign like this one is too much to contemplate.
Young voters are set to play a pivotal role in the upcoming EU referendum. Considered the key to victory by many on the ‘Remain’ side, efforts to woo them have been stepped up a notch in recent months. One politician considered crucial to this strategy is Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who thus far has remained relatively quiet on the issue. This silence has registered with voters with a recent Opinium Observer showing only 47% of those polled knew Jeremy Corbyn supported remaining in the EU.
The same poll showed a lead for Remain over Leave in the age group of 18-34 of 53% – 29%, but crucially that only 52% would be certain to vote. This is where Jeremy Corbyn comes in. In the Labour leadership election Corbyn did very well with younger voters winning 64% of the under 25 vote and 67% of the 25-39 year old age group. Added to this according to a GQQR poll for the Fabian Society, Corbyn is the most trusted figure within the Labour Party in this debate with a net approval of +17. In getting young Labour voters in favour of staying in the EU to the polls, these numbers highlight there is no-one better than Corbyn, so why is he not a more passionate advocate?
Firstly confusion remains over whether Corbyn actually wants Britain to stay in the EU. His endorsement and comments have been lukewarm and prior to running for leader held some Eurosceptic views. In 1993 he spoke out against the Maastricht Treaty and in 2008 voted against the Lisbon Treaty. He once also said that the EU had ‘always suffered a serious democratic deficit’. These are not the words or the stance of an ‘Inner’ and suggest the only motive for his stance is political survival and not ideological support.
Referendums are often won by the side who are the most effective in getting their supporters to the polls. For ‘Remain’ to be certain of victory they need young voters to turn up on polling day. For young, leftish voters, there is no figure they respect more than Corbyn. This carries consequences and means whatever role Corbyn decides to play in the next few months, he is likely to be of great importance.