It is now less than three weeks until the UK decides whether to remain a member state, or leave the European Union. While Wales has been typically considered to be less Eurosceptic than England, the polls have been tightening in recent months. Recent polling places the Wales as just voting to remain overall, but with still 22% of people unsure. Both the Leave and Remain campaigns have built momentum since the Welsh Assembly elections, and May 14th saw a national day of action for both Wales Stronger In Europe and Vote Leave across Wales.
In my last blog, I discussed how the election of UKIP to the Welsh Assembly may add to UKthe political toxicity of the ‘out’ campaign and therefore cause overall harm the campaign to leave the EU. Indeed, Neil Hamilton’s appointment as leader of the UKIP Welsh Assembly group has seen controversial headlines and further disputes within the party leadership. The former Conservative MP won the leadership contest much to the aggravation of party leader Nigel Farage, who regarded the act as of ‘deep ingratitude’ and later brought up Hamilton’s age (70) as a reason why he was unhappy with the appointment. Alongside the leadership disputes, Hamilton hit headlines with accusations of sexism after his maiden speech accused Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and Liberal Democrat AM Kirsty Williams, of being “political concubines” to Carwyn Jones. Although he later apologised for the comments, the press and headlines surrounding these events have already contributed to a toxic image. This has been clearly demonstrated in reports that Vote Leave activists have been briefed not to mention Farage’s name when campaigning. Furthermore, Farage received condemnation by Vote Leave for his controversial comments regarding the Cologne attacks.
Although this may paint Vote Leave as somewhat ‘losing’ the PR battle, there is concern that the Remain campaign has done little to address the perception that the referendum is solely about the political ambitions of senior Conservative MPs. The Remain campaign is relying on Labour voters to win; 75 per cent have been polled as supporting continued EU membership, compared to just 44 per cent of Conservative voters. To enhance the left-wing presence in the EU debate, various coalitions of left-wing politicians have been coordinating in order to construct the ‘progressive case’ for EU membership. For example, Another Europe is Possible, supported by John McDonnell, Caroline Lucas and Yanis Varoufakis is focusing on workers’ rights, democratic reform and ‘solidarity across borders’. Likewise, and after a somewhat shaky start to relations between Plaid Cymru and Labour after the Assembly elections, Carwyn Jones and Leanne Wood have now come out united in support of the Remain campaign. Despite these efforts, the Guardian recently reported that only half of Labour voters are aware that Labour Party supports the Remain campaign. This suggests that Labour is failing to communicate effectively with its membership or voters, and almost all statistical analyses suggest an overall Remain vote is dependent on a high turnout. If Labour fails to energise its supporters into voting remain, a vote for Brexit is ever more likely.
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