10 May 2016

To win Leave needs more than just Tory and UKIP votes


I’m voting Leave in the EU referendum this June. However, my money is not where my mouth is. I’m betting on Remain. I can’t be persuaded to change my vote, but I can be persuaded to change my bet. If Leave are going to win, they need to get their act together and focus on the left.

Leave is taking on the weight of the British establishment. That’s a difficult battle to win. Without a crisis, the status quo usually prevails. We may or may not see another crisis flare up in Europe before the vote – Italian banks currently look extremely dodgy to me – but you can’t plan for a crisis (and hoping for one is not a good mental place to be).  Indeed this vote has been timed quite deliberately to lessen the likelihood of any crisis upsetting the applecart. By June the so-called “refugee season” won’t have got going yet and, more significantly, the vote falls right in the middle of the European Football Championships.

Football will overshadow most other news. For some two weeks in the lead up to the vote we will be blitzed with images thousands of happy fans from across Europe, cheering, watching football and drinking beer together. Tommy will have a pint with Francois, Fritz, Fabio and Fernando and end up feeling rather benevolent towards his European neighbours (and rightly so). I suspect the plan is that many voters will, somehow, confuse the goodwill generated by an international football championship with the centralized bureaucratic body that is the EU, and end up voting to remain.

But Leave can still win this. Here’s what they need to do. Let’s group British voters into three categories: Leavers, Remainers and the undecided. Most Leavers and Remainers have long since made their minds up. It is the undecided who must be persuaded, and many of them lie on the left. Every effort must go into winning over their hearts and minds. How can this be done?

The first thing I want to see, as passions intensify in the run-up the vote, is Leave behaving, whether things go for or against them, with integrity and dignity. No desperate tactics, no below-the-belt stuff, no dishonest fear-mongering. Let the opposition fight dirtily if they want. Be better than them.

Next up, beware how you frame your campaign. John Stepek, editor of Moneyweek, once said something to me and his wisdom has always stuck. “When you rant, you confirm the biases of those who already agree with you, but you alienate the undecided.” This was the mistake Ed Milliband made in last year’s election – in fact, it’s a mistake continuously made by the vocal left. Milliband ranted and raved, many thought he was “fighting” a great campaign, but he ended up alienating the all-important, moderate voters, who discreetly moved to the right and voted Tory. Leave, who tend to be more vocal than Remain, are in danger of making the same mistake. So beware ranting, beware pandering to those who already agree. Remember, it’s the undecided you need to persuade.

The attack on Obama, for example, might have been misjudged. Obama is liked, particularly by the left. By attacking him, Leave risked alienating those whose very vote they need. Let Obama make his own mistakes, which he did, telling us we’ll have to go to the back of the queue.

Somehow Leave need to find a way of turning the goodwill generated by the football tournament in its favour. Learn from the Obama experience. ‘Love Europe, but not the EU’ is not bad mantra to remember here.

Leave has deemed that Nigel Farage is too toxic to voters, so he has been rather shut out of the official campaign. Farage may well alienate people – but the toxicity is limited to a metropolitan elite – elsewhere in the country, he is immensely popular. I went to the Guardian debate at the Palladium a couple of months ago with Alan Johnson, Nick Clegg, Andrea Leadsome and Nigel Farage. I read the Guardian every day – and I write for it occasionally – and 2014 and 2015 not a day passed without some oped attacking Farage. I was expecting the audience to loathe him, but the applause he got when he walked on stage, to my immense surprise, was many decibels louder than anything for Clegg, Johnson or Leadsome. This was a Guardian event, not something organized by the Daily Express!

Leave must recognize that, just as Farage may be toxic to some, Boris, IDS and the Tory right are just as toxic to traditional Labour voters. IDS is loathed for the welfare cuts he has made. Boris is not exactly popular in Liverpool. There are many undecided voters in these regions, who could be persuaded to vote Leave, but they will never vote for the likes of Boris or IDS. If Leave can win their vote, they can win the referendum. Somehow, somewhere Leave must find a charismatic left-winger to make their case and win the hearts and minds of the undecided left. This person should be shoved into the limelight wherever possible. Farage can do some good here, but ideally it should be someone from the Labour party, probably Kate Hoey or Frank Fields. But such is the sad state of affairs in this area of the campaign, the LabourLeave website is not even working. Guys, you are the key to this referendum, you need to sort this out!

215 of Labour’s 222 MPs are remainers, just 7 are Leavers. That does not represent Labour sentiment at grass-roots level. But this referendum, sadly, seems to be the one issue on which the Labour MPs, in all their upheaval elsewhere, are unified. Surely the political opportunists within the party realize a win for Leave could easily divide the Tories in the same way Labour has been divided.

Leave must now put egos aside and focus its efforts into winning over the undecided left-wing. They might never vote for Tories, but traditional Labours voters could determine the outcome of the referendum.

Dominic Frisby is a financial writer. His books are Bitcoin: the Future of Money? and Life After The State. He will be performing his show Let's Talk About Tax at the Edinburgh Festival this August.