Why Labour Needs to Listen to Leave Voters

25/05/2016 17:07 | Updated 25 May 2016

Obviously the country is facing a big decision on 23 June and at this time it does seem that the result could be too close to call. We all know that the turnout and intention of Labour voters will almost certainly be the difference between us remaining in or leaving the EU and whatever the ramifications for David Cameron and the Tory Party, the implications of this referendum for the Labour Party are potentially just as significant.

This isn't Scotland but there was a complete transformation of the political scene there post referendum which could be repeated here, even if in a different way and not to the same degree but to an extent that could deny Labour or indeed any party a clear majority in future. No party has commanded over 40% of the vote in a general election for over 15 years now and the trend towards minority parties picking up support shows no sign of reversing. Could the referendum lead to significant numbers of these voters coalescing around an existing or new party in the aftermath of the EU referendum, or several new parties in ways that could fragment the political system? The factors driving people towards voting for Brexit are numerous, especially for Labour voters and are unlikely to be completely or even partially resolved by us leaving the EU.

Polling shows that people think Britain's fundamental problems are "very" or "fairly" big and that this view pervades across both the pro and anti EU electorate. Our balance of trade epitomises the structural weakness at the heart of our economy and the ever decreasing circles we move in.

The relentless march of globalisation fosters an environment where the majority feel helpless, marginalised and left behind and where they believe the politicians who represent them are unwilling or unable to address their concerns. The decline of collective bargaining has seen a steady erosion of the type of secure and reasonably well paid jobs that were once commonplace in every community. The gradual replacement of these with low skilled, low paid, and often temporary jobs has been at the forefront of many Labour Brexiters minds as the EU becomes the scapegoat for other concerns about society.

This often manifests itself in talk of the undercutting of wages and even if you accept the premise that immigration from Eastern Europe has suppressed wages, the imbalance in the relationship between employers and workers will remain even if we leave the EU. Let's be in no doubt that a Conservative Government would take the first opportunity available to them to erode workplace rights further. Be it TUPE protections, rest breaks, annual leave, or equalities legislation, it will all be sacrificed in the name of "cutting red tape".

This will obviously give Labour an opportunity in terms of workers rights to come forward with a clear offer to reintroduce the protections we have seen come from Europe. But whether we remain or leave there will still be a tremendous sense of anxiety and frustration felt by millions of people across the country, people who are looking for something to offer them hope that there are politicians on their side.

We only need look at the widespread rise of right wing populist parties across the continent to know that there is an appetite out there for change. UKIP will be hoping that whatever the outcome of the referendum, a sustained period of coverage on their pet topics will legitimise support for their party from people who have traditionally voted Labour or Tory. So a failure to recognise the motivations people have for voting for Brexit will leave us in the risky position of having seemingly failed to listen to the concerns of a large chunk of our supporters and potential supporters. Having found they share the same analysis of the world with the Brexit crowd, what will be our offer to tempt them back? There are still many of our voters who would never consider voting Tory but could be and are being tempted by UKIP.

There is also a difference in view in terms of age and geography. It would be negligent of any party hoping to secure a majority at the next election to not recognise that there is likely to be a majority voting for Brexit in the English regions outside London. Even if that does not turn out to be the case there is still likely to be a significant proportion of potential Labour voters in the seats we need to win who may have decided that we are not offering any solutions. Nobody is talking anymore about the deal Cameron did before he announced the referendum date because that is not going to change the fundamentals of what people think about Europe and the concerns people have will still be there even if those reforms are implemented.

This may all seem fairly doom and gloom, but there is an opportunity for us here. If we can use the referendum to listen as well as to campaign we will find that many of the concerns people have that are listed above are issues that the Labour Party should be offering clear and compelling answers on, and they can be answers that are rooted in our values rather than the dog whistle politics of the right. Tax avoidance, exploitation by big business, declining public services and job insecurity are all areas where those flirting with Brexit might have concerns and all areas where we can articulate a visions that shows we are on the side of the majority. Our conversations now should be addressing those concerns and explaining that a Labour Government would affect those issues just as much as, if not more than EU membership.

If we just consider this in the context of a pro or anti EU argument until 23 June we might find that come the next election the party resonating with our supporters in parts of the country most is one that has morphed from a single issue party to a huge movement for change. The Jon Cruddas report on why Labour lost in 2015 raises difficult questions for us as a party which we must be prepared to answer and do so quickly as the referendum has the potential to put rocket boosters under a number of the issues that arose in that report and propel many of our voters further away, rather than closer to us.

Justin Madders is the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston