Today’s papers are full of stories about the EU referendum stuffed with Conservative names – Boris Johnson in the Sunday Times, Nick Herbert in the Sunday Telegraph, Nicky Morgan in the Observer, Michael Gove in the Mail on Sunday, Karren Brady in the Sun on Sunday, and most of these everywhere else, together with exciting claims about covert plans, secret deals, an emergency immigration break, human rights reform, Gove’s position, a British equivalent to Germany’s constitutional court and the Prime Minister producing enough renegotiation rabbits out of hats to populate a sequel to Watership Down.
In the meantime, Labour’s Outers are scarcely to be seen – through Kate Hoey, ever the dogged Eurosceptic, has a piece in the Mail on Sunday asking why Jeremy Corbyn isn’t pushing for Labour members to have the same internal say over Britain’s EU membership as he wants them to have over Trident.
But if John Curtice is right, it is Labour voters who could swing the referendum, and these are naturally among the most impervious to Cameron’s charm and Tory campaigning (whether for Remain or Leave). He has argued that although there is evidence to show that Labour voters are more inclined to remain within the EU than leave, working class and less affluent voters lean more towards leaving than staying, since they have strong views about immigration controls and benefit access. “If Labour was to come to be seen as a principal cheerleader for remaining in the EU, that could be a development from which Labour suffers just as much as the Conservatives,” he wrote last month.
At first glance, it is puzzling that Corbyn’s party and he himself aren’t more sympathetic to Leave. One would expect the new Labour supporters and members who voted him in to be viscerally hostile to the system that is putting a generation of young people out of work in Greece, Spain and elsewhere.
Furthermore, Corbyn himself has a marked Eurosceptic voting record. Perhaps the explanation lies in accrued New Labour habits and guarded trade union support for Remain. But it is hard not to believe that the more Euroscepticism in Britain has become identified with the Right, the more flinching from it there has been on the Left. Some supporters of Leave argue that a Corbyn leadership that is reluctantly for Remain is good for the cause, since were it for Leave many floating voters would be frightened off. But whatever Labour and the unions do with their money and members, it is clear that Leave needs more Labour voices, just as it needs more female ones.
Perhaps we will know more when Labour Leave launches this week, though the group already has a website and there have been reports of launches before. Where is Gisela Stuart, a convinced Eurosceptic with real knowledge of the issue, as a former UK Parliamentary Representative to the European Convention that produced the European Constitution?