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13 June 2016

The Remain campaign have only thin gruel to keep Britain in the European Union

The weapons available to avert the nightmare of Brexit are not good ones. 

By Stephen Bush

“If we have to have another Labour-only day, then we’ll be in trouble.” That was the verdict of one senior member of Britain Stronger in Europe shortly after they and Downing Street shut down all campaigning activity to allow the Labour party to have the media spotlight to itself, the week that Jeremy Corbyn gave his “warts and all” speech in defense of a Remain vote.

But the Remain campaign is in trouble, and desperate times call for desperate measures. In January, they plotted a path to victory that ran through six million Labour voters – now they face the nightmare scenario that just four million Labour voters will turn out to avert Brexit.

Within the Labour party, the mood is bleak. “We are sleepwalking to losing the damn thing,” lamented one senior source. One frontbencher returned from canvassing and announced to his office: “It’s just like the general election. The polls say it’ll be fine but every doorstep someone tells you to f*** off.”

It comes back to what Gavyn Davies identified as the big strategic weakness for Remain in April:

“The core Labour vote, upon whom Cameron is relying for victory this summer, are not being offered anything positive to force them to the polls.”

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That’s why Remain today brings out Gordon Brown to launch the “Leading not Leaving” initiative, designed not only to reinforce that the Labour party is for an “In” vote but also offering red meat to Labour voters to get them to turn out for a Remain vote on 23 June.

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Among the items: greater protection of workers’ rights, action to tackle tax havens, and the creation of 500,000 new jobs.

Will it work? That the main event that Brown is using as the centerpiece of his speech is Britain’s EU presidency in 2017 highlights the problem. Although the raft of measures has been signed up to by Corbyn, McDonnell and Labour’s deputy Tom Watson, the reality is that David Cameron has yet to sign up to the agenda, nor could he carry his party if he did.

Regardless of the referendum outcome, the priorities of Britain’s 2017 presidency will be set by Cameron or his Conservative successor. Look at the small print, and what is being offered is an agenda for a EU presidency that will not happen until 2020 at the earliest. (Britain’s 2017 presidency comes at the end of a 12 year wait, so depending on the order chosen, Britain’s next turn could be as far off as 2029.)

This is thin gruel, not red meat, but it’s difficult to see what else there is that Remain could plausibly serve up. They can’t win over a Conservative vote that has been whipped up into a Eurosceptic frenzy over 25 long years of Brussels bashing from Tory leaders, including the present incumbent. They don’t have a Labour government that can rustle up goodies to get Labour voters to the polls. All they can hope is that a dose of fear and the distant prospect of a Labour Prime Minister holding the European Union’s presidency is enough to secure a narrow victory on 23 June.