quinta-feira, 3 de março de 2016
Corbyn is Cameron’s real Brexit headache
Corbyn is Cameron’s real Brexit headache
Why London’s mayor will struggle to kill the Cameron show.
By MATTHEW GOODWIN 3/3/16, 5:32 AM CET
LONDON — Those who want Britain to leave the European Union received a major boost last week when Boris Johnson, the mayor of London and a Conservative MP, joined their camp. Hot on the heals of David Cameron’s renegotiation with EU leaders in Brussels, Boris’ announcement was hailed in Westminster as a game-changer. Such was the “Boris effect” on Brexit anxiety that the pound plummeted to its lowest level against the dollar in seven years. Euroskeptics were back in the game.
Yet while those campaigning for a Leave vote are still jubilant, a close reading of how arguments play on each side suggests that Cameron and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn could more than counter Boris’ move — provided they work together.
The significance of Boris
Looked at in one way, Boris’ decision to align with Leave has become even more significant since he declared his hand. Following Britain’s renegotiation there has been no noticeable rise in public support for remaining in the EU. It was not supposed to be this way. Prior to the announcement of Cameron’s reform package many voters had indicated to pollsters that they would approve of a renegotiation that delivered restrictions on benefits for EU migrant workers, opt-outs from “ever closer union” and protections for non-eurozone countries. But none of the polls conducted since the end of the renegotiation have uncovered a significant shift towards Remain.
While Euroskeptics have not seen an upsurge of support either, they can claim to have neutralized the anticipated bounce for Remain. Either voters were not paying that much attention to the renegotiation to begin with or they have concluded that the wrangling has not made much difference to their vote. Whatever the reason, any hope Remainers had of using the deal to convert wavering moderates looks misplaced.
More worrying for Cameron is that the lack of any discernible bounce in support also applies to his own Conservative Party supporters. It appears that rank-and-file Tories have also not been won over by their leader’s efforts to extract concessions from Brussels. On the contrary Conservatives remain seriously divided on the referendum, typically breaking 45-35 in favor of Leave with the remainder undecided. A YouGov poll of Tory members for the Times on Wednesday put Remain at 31 percent and Leave at 59 percent. Put another way, among all voters who intend to vote for Britain to Remain in the EU only around one in four voted Conservative at the 2015 general election.
This is where Boris could prove highly significant. Between now and June the charismatic populist could repeatedly undermine Cameron’s quest to bring as many of these Conservatives as possible over to Remain.
A crowded field
Yet while Boris could make life extremely difficult for Cameron, his effect on the overall race may prove exaggerated. Consider the messenger and the message. There is no doubt that Boris is popular. For a referendum on an issue that has never excited British voters as much as it has Tory MPs, it is significant that Boris enjoys recognition among the politically disengaged. Recent polling by Ipsos-MORI suggests that around one in three of all voters, regardless of how they intend to vote in June, think that the London mayor will be important when they are deciding how to vote. Boris also holds sway among key politically disinterested moderates — who could represent as much as 40 percent of the electorate. But he is also not the only messenger voters are listening to.
Euroskeptics face a risk that the benefit of Boris will be “crowded out” by a handful of pro-Remain politicians who are also seen as influential voices. This is heightened by the fact that the reach of other prominent Brexiters, notably U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, is limited to existing, mainly old Leavers. Consistent with other surveys, the Ipsos-MORI data shows Boris surrounded by a cluster of pro-Remain politicians who also hold respectable ratings — Corbyn, Chancellor George Osborne, Scottish nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon and Home Secretary Theresa May.
For every intervention from Boris or his largely unknown Euroskeptic cabinet colleagues there will be two or three from pro-EU figures who carry significant weight. Boris is especially likely to be overshadowed by Cameron who is — far and away — the most influential messenger in this debate.
Around half of voters leaning toward Remain, and two fifths of those leaning towards Leave or undecided, consider Cameron an important influence. It is also worth pointing out that in our own research we found that Cameron also helps drive support for Remain among Labour and Liberal Democrat voters, pushing their already strong support for staying in the EU to new heights — although he will still need Corbyn’s help to build a commanding majority.
That Cameron is a strong and influential messenger explains why the Remain camp is putting his face on everything, and probably plans to mobilize younger left-leaning progressives by contrasting Cameron and Corbyn with a more divisive figure: Do you want Farage to decide your future?
The problem with the sovereignty argument
Like many Euroskeptics who converted to the cause during the 1990s Boris hopes to cut through by doubling down on the sovereignty argument. His motive for backing Leave was reflected in his question to Cameron in the House of Commons during their first exchange after Boris came out for Out: “In what way does the renegotiation return sovereignty to Britain’s Houses of Parliament?”
If this continues and progressive voters stay at home then the probability of a Brexit vote increases significantly.
Arguments over sovereignty, though popular on the Conservative fringe, are likely to be insufficient to turn Britain’s large number of Euroskeptics into withdrawalists. As revealed last week in findings from the new British Social Attitudes survey, there are essentially two arguments that Outers need to win if they are to fulfill their Brexit dream. First, they need to mobilize widespread public angst over the perceived threat that the EU poses to British identity. This feeling of identity threat is not insignificant — 47 percent of Brits share this concern. But the research also shows clearly why only tapping into these anxieties over threatened identity — and even more narrowly the question of sovereignty — may fail to push someone with Euroskeptic views into voting for Brexit.
To support quitting altogether, voters need to be convinced of the economic case for leaving. Among those who feel that the EU threatens their identity and believe that Brexit would be economically beneficial, support for leaving the EU surpasses 80 percent. But among those who only feel the latter and not the former, Brexit remains a minority view, supported by around 40 percent. This would suggest that between now and June 23 Euroskeptics need to devote less time to fairly obscure constitutional points and more to addressing the fact that only one in four voters currently believe that the economy would be stronger after Brexit. This is their fundamental challenge and it is one that Boris and the skeptics must overcome if they are to win.
Could Corbyn help Cameron?
Without a majority of his own voters, Cameron’s strategy hinges on his ability to mobilize a very different base of support to that which won him last year’s general election, namely younger, socially liberal progressives who lean toward Labour, the Liberal Democrats or the Scottish National Party. This is not impossible but it is a riskier path up the mountain.
Many of these Remain voters turned out against Cameron at the 2015 general election and have been repelled by his rhetoric on migrant workers, his response to the refugee crisis and his party’s austerity drive and divisions over Europe. This is where Jeremy Corbyn — one of the most unpopular Labour leaders of all time — becomes important.
Corbyn need not agree with Cameron’s message. But he will need to start sounding far more enthusiastic about the case for remaining in the EU if he is to help Conservatives mobilize Left. So far the Labour leader has sounded far from convincing, which could be deeply problematic. In sharp contrast to the pro-EU passion of previous Labour leaders like Tony Blair or Ed Miliband, Corbyn sounds like a reluctant passenger, first criticizing the EU for “operating like a free market” and now failing to turn up the volume when making his case for keeping Britain in.
If this continues and progressive voters stay at home then the probability of a Brexit vote increases significantly. Cameron may thus want to spend less time worrying about Boris and more time thinking about how to energize Corbyn.
Professor Matthew Goodwin, University of Kent, Senior Fellow at Chatham House and with the ESRC ‘UK in a Changing Europe’ programme. He tweets @GoodwinMJ