11 May 2016

EU – Gordon Brown deployed to reach the unreachables

In a recent talk the Labour former Cabinet minister Douglas Alexander said that the referendum on Europe would be as much about “psychology” as “psephology”.

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Perhaps with that in mind Gordon Brown was on unusually smiley form this morning when he spoke to students at the LSE about why the UK should stay in the EU.

The former PM has pulled together his thoughts in a book, as he did in the Scottish referendum. And as with the Scottish referendum, he worries that the government-led campaign is too negative. He told me that the Remain campaign “needs a positive message and I’m putting that forward”.

On immigration, Gordon Brown repeatedly said that “the biggest problem is illegal immigration”. When I spoke to him and challenged him that for people in many towns the “biggest problem” was actually legal migration, he repeatedly emphasised that “the biggest problem over the next 10 years will be illegal immigration”.

It’s hoped by Remain campaigners that Mr Brown (also speaking on the Good Morning Britain sofa this morning and in an article in The Mirror as well as The Guardian) can reach some of the voters that Jeremy Corbyn struggles to reach.

New analysis suggests that Labour’s hold on most of its seats in the Welsh Assembly elections last week, for instance, concealed a much more troubling set of numbers underneath. Labour, at 34 per cent, got its worst share of the vote in Welsh elections since 1918. While the middle-class Labour vote in Wales is estimated to be down 4 per cent, the working-class vote is estimated to be down 12 per cent.

Remain strategists are identifying that problem bleeding through into the EU referendum campaign across England too. One of them has talked about how the “working-class” Labour vote is hard to reach unlike the “ABC1 Internationalist” Labour voters.

One Labour MP who had been campaigning in her constituency told me that she found it was a “dead loss” trying to find Remain supporters in traditional working-class areas. She said, in an echo of some of the campaigning that happened in the Scottish referendum, that Labour has to “go fishing in some very middle class streets” for support.

There will be some Tory figures in the Remain campaign who will roll their eyes at Gordon Brown’s veiled criticism of their work so far.

There are critics in Scotland who think his intervention with “The Vow” shifted few votes and was not the turning point some portrayed it as. Those same critics, I hear, could be in for another shock in a few weeks’ time when the former prime minister may wade in again on the question of whether Scotland needs something closer to Home Rule than the government has delivered.

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