Engaging with disgruntled Leave voters

Beside the ongoing drama around Westminster, there’s an urgent task to be done among those who voted to leave the EU and are beginning to regret it. This is crucial for the country, and wise for LibDems as well.


I’m thinking of those taken in by false “promises” — there isn’t an extra £350 million a week for the NHS, or an end to free movement of people, Brexit doesn’t mean an end to fishing quotas, and “taking back control” now sounds like a joke. They were already alienated and this is not helping.

We’re hearing stories of Brexit hitting places that voted for it: Lush moving from Poole, Forterra mothballing plants in Accrington and Claughton. Vacancies and job prospects are down. We need a more constructive response than a brutal “You voted for it”.

If Labour were acting as a proper opposition rather than embroiled in in civil war, they would be highlighting further betrayals from the Tories: most startling is the abandoning of plans to move to a budget surplus. If it were to be so quickly abandoned now, why was it clung to for so long despite fuelling misery for millions? How many voted Leave because of that pain?

The best hope for avoiding Brexit is pressure from people who voted Leave and now fear the consequences, giving the government the chance to seem to have changed its mind after listening. But many of these are already people who feel excluded and assume politicians will ignore them. With Labour otherwise engaged, it falls to us as LibDems to mobilise them before Article 50 is invoked.

The divisions exposed by the referendum shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been door-knocking. Traditional socialism has failed, and we need something else.

The preamble to the LibDem constitution says we “exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” That has powerful resonances with where we now are, and is a brilliant place from which to begin to engage with those conned into voting Leave. Even more sharply, freedom from enslavement by poverty is a good place to start the conversation with people who are financially excluded, and a change from what people are used to.

There are European resonances: the EU is there to improve life for all Europeans, and reversing Brexit is in the best interests of many of those who voted Leave out of desperation.

At an idealistic level engaging those who now feel betrayed has powerful echoes of Nick Clegg’s resignation speech, talking of “British liberalism, that fine, noble tradition that believes we are stronger together and weaker apart is needed more than ever before.”

If we are about to head into a snap election, then connecting with these people will be really important, both to minimise resentment in LibDem-held constituencies that voted Leave, and to build support among those we need to win over in seats we hope to gain.

The crucial thing is to enable the voices of those feeling increasingly angry or dis-spirited to be heard — both the 48%, and those conned into voting Leave.

Can we go out and talk with people, and organise marches and petitions, to mobilise pressure to abandon the folly of Brexit, and build a better UK at the heart of a reforming European Union?

Originally published on Liberal Democrat Voice.

2 thoughts on “Engaging with disgruntled Leave voters”

  1. Some Leave voters are probably regretting their decision in the light of the evidence: others, on the far Right, will never change their views and now feel vindicated and empowered to voice their often repellent views publicly. Neither of these groups should concern us, the one because they are already with us, the other because they will never be. As Remainers, we need to recognise that there are many Leave voters who did understand the issues, who did conduct their research carefully, but who still decided that the EU as it stands is not where they see the country’s best interests. These people are unlikely to be converted, but still need to be recognised: they have always been “the loyal opposition” and have contributed to the debate, especially about reforming the EU. I believe this is where the challenge lies, assuming that we are able to turn away from the disaster of leaving the EU.

  2. I do think ‘enslaved by ignorance’ and by believing the red tops – is powerful.

    There were so few Remain posters around and they said nothing powerful to counter ‘take back control’. Even with a discredited Cameron/Osborne team in the fore, Remain still got 48% and without a badly timed and badly communicated intervention from Junker, the ‘Lead not Leave in Europe’, that came in too late from a clearly passionate Gordon Brown, and was interrupted by the Jo Cox murder, might have swayed the day

    So think we need a continuing campaign some simple messages and slogans that don’t talk down to people, and don’t attract too many ‘bad losers’ retorts, but start to communicate things such as:

    LibDems stand for truth in democracy

    Losing influence in Europe means lost jobs, and less money to pay for the NHS.

    There as so many other variants of these. Graphs that show the truth about percentages of EU workers, and one I saw only on Twitter after the vote that emphasises the billions that yoynger workers from Europe, doing jobs that no-one in the UK wants to take, have contributed to paying for nurses etc

    This simple overall message of ‘Truth with Independence’ can help us stand up to union-owned Corbynite Labour, the fat cats and even take on UKIP. Fact-based should be our differentiator. Even on other socially liberal policies such as liberalising/taxing and making safer some soft drugs.

    @chadatom (Twitter)

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