The latest UK wide opinion polls warn of a real danger that the Leave campaign will win a small but decisive majority in the referendum to be held on June 23.
This would not only represent a triumph for the Tory hard right and for their far right anti-immigrant allies in UKIP, it would also provide an incalculable encouragement to similar forces in other European countries bent on the destruction of the European Union.
The polling evidence we have suggests that the Remain camp is supported by a wide range of political and social forces. These range from sections of big business and more “centrist” minded Conservatives to the great majority of Liberal and Green party supporters, the influential Scottish and Welsh nationalists and most voters in Northern Ireland. Most striking has been the strong support of a big majority of students and other younger voters. But new electoral registration changes threaten to deprive many of them of the right to vote.
A big question mark hangs over which way the bulk of traditional Labour voters will vote in three weeks time. Without substantial backing from these voters, the anti-European right would face a massive defeat. Of course, on the left of the Labour movement there have always been some bitter opponents of the whole idea of greater European integration and unification.
Within the Labour Party they are found today among the dwindling number of the old-fashioned Labour right wing who supported the anti-EU stand of Hugh Gaitskell in the early 1960s and from some small currents on the left still influenced by the old – long dormant – Communist Party of Great Britain. They have been joined by very small numbers of the radical and revolutionary left who are – rightly – bitterly opposed to the “know nothing” economics of EU neoliberals and austerity doctrinaires.
But there has been a striking growth in a strongly pro-Remain position by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, the new left Labour leader. The more serious threat to the Remain camp lies among some traditional Labour voters – in areas of the north of England and along the east coast who feel bypassed and as victims of economic and social changes, including migration from elsewhere in the EU.
There are also numerous reports that many of these traditional Labour voters have little or no idea that the Labour Party leadership is strongly in favour of Remain. In large measure this is because of the obsessive focus of the national media on the increasingly bloody Tory civil war. Fearful of a small Remain majority, bitter Tory critics of prime minister, David Cameron, have already signalled they are plotting to secure his removal as party leader.
In these circumstances it would not be surprising if some of Jeremy Corbyn’s advisors were not tempted to “let the Tories stew in their own juice.” But in recent speeches Corbyn and his close ally, the shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, have put forward a very strong case for the left to Remain and fight for radical economic, social and democratic change in the EU.
There is still time for these messages to be driven home by a relentless focus on both traditional and new social media. It would be tactically wrong to share platforms with discredited Tory leaders. But since a radical Labour government would vitally depend on allies across Europe to secure an essential new direction for the EU, nothing should deflect or diminish a final Corbyn-led push to avert a political disaster – not only for Britain but the whole of the European Union.