POLITICS

Leave Voters 'Must Vote Tory If They Believe In Democracy', Says Focus Group

Even Labour voters have more confidence in May to deliver Brexit

06/05/2017 10:01 BST | Updated 08/05/2017 15:45 BST
Huff Post

Everyone who backed Brexit last year must vote Tory on June 8 ‘if they believe in democracy’, members of the latest HuffPost UK-Edelman focus group have declared.

The striking message came from some traditional Labour voters in Birmingham, where mixed groups from a variety of working backgrounds were asked for their views on the general election.

Lifelong supporters of the party had no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to deliver the Brexit they want, even though they had doubts about the Conservatives overall.

Underlining the PM’s reach beyond Brexit, one member of the focus group even described Theresa May as ‘a Tory politician with some Labour values’.

And in a startling example of voters fearing what May has called a ‘coalition of chaos’, the Labour Leavers were worried that Corbyn could do a deal with the Lib Dems to frustrate Britain’s exit from the EU.

PA Wire/PA Images
Focus group members were concerned about a Lib Dem/Labour coalition 

Graham, 42, who works for a rail company, said: “As much as I have voted Labour all my life I probably won’t be able to vote Labour this time...Anybody who has voted leave and believes in democracy currently must vote Conservative.”

He said he was likely to back the Tories despite being unsure if he fully trusted the PM.

“She has gone back on a couple of things already.  She was very pro-Remain,” he added.

“But she seems like a Tory politician with some Labour values.”

“I am Labour through and through, but I just cannot vote Labour,” added Derek, a football coach, who became a grandad in 2015.

“I don’t like to admit it but I quite like Theresa May.  I have always voted since I was 18.  When I was away in the forces I made sure I had a proxy vote.”

He said politicians were the ones responsible for ‘dividing the country’ and that people should not view next month’s election as a ‘second referendum’.

The 58-year-old summed up the views of many of the Leavers in the focus group when he hit out at claims that Britain was heading for the economic rocks.

“We are not sinking,” he added. “Things are going to get better when we leave Europe.  They need us more than we need them.

“If they [politicians] just stopped bickering and all stood together and did it [it would be better].”

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Support for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was not strong

 Alex, 30, who has traditionally switched between parties said that May felt more “genuine” than the Labour leader.

 “If you put her against someone like Jeremy Corbyn she seems honest, open, quite genuine.

“I might be eating my words in a few months...but coming back to it she seems strong-willed.  I don’t think she would back down.”

Some in the group were unenthusiastic about the main party leaders but knew who they preferred.

Ben, a maintenance manager, said of May: “She seems pretty determined.  Jeremy Corbyn just seems like a dope and she seems slightly less of a dope.”

Cleaning supervisor Peggy, 57, said she got most of her news from Russia Today, which her son watches, and had been tempted to vote UKIP in 2015.

“I like Nigel Farage.  He just seems to say what ordinary people on the street are thinking,” she added.

She said she lives opposite a centre for asylum seekers and was turned down for a job there because she did not speak three languages.

“I just that was just unfair.  Some people have said that every time you  apply for a job, the whole of Europe is applying for the same job. And I just thought it’s getting silly now.”

“I voted Leave because of the lack of support the EU gave to Greece [during their economic struggles],” she added.

Other members of the group said they were unsure how to vote up until the day of the referendum last June, but opted for Leave because they wanted to see change.

“I was Remain for a long time, because I felt like what I was reading wasn’t telling me anything,” said Lisa, a 43-year-old mum-of-two.

“But then I thought about whether I wanted change and that excited me.”

The group were played a clip of Theresa May’s forthright speech on Wednesday, in which she accused EU officials of trying to influence the election, and agreed she was ‘strong-willed’ and ‘determined’.

 “What she is saying and the way she is coming across makes me want to vote Conservative,” said Alex.

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But the PM’s approach was regarded with caution by some.

“I’ve heard it all before,” said Richard, a hotel receptionist. “She’s got a good scriptwriter. She said she wouldn’t call an election until 2020 and she has already gone back on that.”

“She is wrapping herself in the flag here to get votes, but at the same time she’s upsetting people who we will have to negotiate with later,” Graham added.

When asked what was the Tories’ key campaign message, most agreed the main focus was Jeremy Corbyn’s ineptitude.

Strikingly, not a single person mentioned May’s ‘strong and stable’ mantra - which suggests we could be hearing it a few more times before it cuts through to the average voter.  

When asked if they would consider the referendum ‘worth it’ if the UK was slightly worse off in two years, most of the group said they felt it was impossible to tell what state the UK would be in in the long term.

“There is no way of measuring that, because we can’t be sure what would have happened if we had stayed in,” Graham said.

NOTE: The focus groups are part of HuffPost UK’s ‘Beyond Brexit’ series, which aims to look at the kind of Britain voters want to see once the UK quits the EU in 2019. Going beyond the usual political bubble, it will cover the issues obscured by both the noise of the general election and the narrow Brexit debate. 

Two focus groups were recruited. Each contained eight people - some who ordinarily vote Labour, some who vote Conservative and some floating voters. One group had all voted Leave in the EU referendum, while the second all voted Remain, but both groups identified as ‘soft’ supporters of their side of the argument. Participants were 30-58, worked full or part time and several had children at home.