Wednesday, 22 June 2016

EU Referendum: The Brexit Blame Game - Who Will Take The Rap For A Leave Vote?

During Jeremy Corbyn's Sky News Q&A on Monday, arguably among his stronger performances since becoming Labour leader, audience members challenged him on immigration, the refugee crisis, and his 'damascene conversion'.

The most interesting question, however, came from Sky News' political editor Faisal Islam. He asked the Labour leader whether he would "take the blame" for Brexit. The speculative question rather stood out from the substantive issues being discussed, but hinted at a potential post-Brexit media narrative.

Of course, whatever happens on Thursday, it will have been by the will of the British people. Using the term 'fault' or 'blame' implies the people will have made the wrong choice. The fault, if any, will collectively be all of ours. That is how democracy works, after all.

But the 'status quo' option is undoubtedly favoured by whatever it is you may term the 'establishment'. Groups including the government, the majority of business, the majority of economists, the majority of trade unions and even all 20 clubs which make up the Barclay's Premier League are in favour of a Remain victory.

As post-Brexit anger and bitterness brews, agents in the media may then begin the process of apportioning blame as a convenient way of bashing their political opponents.

Bearing that in mind, who will be the likely players in this Brexit Blame Game?


Jeremy Corbyn

There lives and breathes a rather large faction of Corbyn catastrophicists who fervently believe everything the Labour leader does, says, or even touches turns into a brown, mucky substance. But, on this, they may have a point.

The man who admitted his enthusiasm in this campaign has only been "seven or seven and a half" out of ten, and that he has "no great love for the European Union" has only made a handful of major set-piece speeches, and has allegedly done little to convince undecided and demotivated Labour supporters to turn out.

Notwithstanding the danger of emulating The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Corbyn's lacklustre role in this campaign will almost certainly attract scorn from many - particularly in the Labour Party - who will feel his heart wasn't in it, and that he didn't do enough.

Alan Johnson

Hopes were high for the Labour grandee and perpetual party leader-in-waiting, who took the reigns of the Labour In for Britain campaign in December. But over the course of the official referendum campaign his presence has been almost non-existent.

When researchers measured the frequency of media appearances during a four week period between May to June, the alleged leader of the Labour campaign was ranked 18th overall, with 14 appearances in what has been a very Conservative-dominated sphere.

But even from all the Labour figures in the top 20, Johnson was ranked 5th. He fell behind Harriet Harman (14th with 17 appearances), Gordon Brown (13th with 18 appearances), Gisela Stuart (11th with 20 appearances), and Jeremy Corbyn (7th with 52 appearances).

Labour Voters

Will Labour voters be motivated to turn out? It is a question many have been asking during this campaign. Generally, Labour voters are fairly united; only split 75/25 in favour of Remain while, for reference, Conservative voters are split 56/44 in favour of Leave.

But, come Friday, the 'lazy Labour' trope may resurface. One theory floating around is that the overwhelming Tory domination in the media, and the failure of the Labour party to make its position clear, will lead to a low Labour turnout, and a Leave victory. 

Young People 

Younger voters have gained a notorious reputation for developing a stubborn political apathy; with only 43% of 18-24 year-olds turning out to vote in the 2015 General Election compared with 78% of those aged 65+.

Meanwhile, data that has emerged during the referendum campaign shows that 18-24 year-olds are overwhelmingly in favour of remaining (69%), and voters aged 65+ are overwhelmingly in favour of leaving (62%). If the turnout by age group mirrors that from last year, which is incredibly likely, withdrawal from the EU could well be pinned on young people's apathy.

The Political Class

The Mayor of London only this week described the tone of the EU debate as "poisonous". In fact, I've written previously about how politicians are failing to cut through with the public and engage in this campaign.

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A combination of hysterical economic claims based on dubious models, scaremongering about immigration, and personal in-fighting between party colleagues may lead to a climate that ultimately turns off members of the public and leads to a low turnout.

When asked who they trusted the least, people under the age of 30 answered "politicians" with a net -66 rating, while a recent survey of both Remain and Leave voters showed a general disdain for the opinion of "experts".

It could well be the case that after this referendum, our MPs, who overwhelmingly back Britain's continued membership of the EU by 459 to 150, use their summer break to take a long, hard at themselves in the mirror, and think about what they've done. Unlikely, yes, but stranger things than MPs taking responsibility have happened.

David Cameron 

The Prime Minister may ultimately have to resign in the event of a Brexit, and his opponents within Labour and the Conservative Party will be spoilt for choice if they wish to pin it on his back.

For example, the widely-accepted view is that he bungled his months'-long EU renegotiation, failing to return with the sufficient changes to convince his Eurosceptic back-benchers and undecided voters across the UK to follow his lead in this campaign.

There are smaller factors too, such as the government's voter registration reform which disproportionately disenfranchised young, and overwhelmingly more pro-European voters, as well as his staunch resistance to widening the voting age to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Blame may also arise, of course, from his decision to hold this referendum in the first place.

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