THE BLOG

Is Corbyn the Biggest Threat to the UK Staying in the EU?

04/03/2016 08:34 GMT | Updated 05/03/2017 10:12 GMT

The referendum on Britain's relationship with the EU is the most important decision in a generation. The Prime Minister agrees. Merkel, Obama and China agree. Big business agrees. Prince William agrees. Even Martin Lewis and Joan Collins agree, albeit with rather different conclusions. The public? Not so much.

Despite wall-to-wall press coverage the public are yet to fully engage. The pollsters are beginning to crank up but in their focus groups they are still finding that the public haven't fully decided. This is matched by responses on the doorstep. Activists on both sides are saying the same thing: people haven't thought about it at all.

In an Ipsos Mori poll at the end of January, only 11% of the public listed the referendum as an issue they cared about. This was up from 5% in December. It really is obscure.

The public are looking for political leaders to talk for them, explain the gravitas of the decision and why it is worth getting off the sofa on the 23 June and marking an 'X' for remain, or leave.

It has already been well documented how divided the Conservatives are. When Boris answered the Daily Mail's clamour for someone to 'Speak for England', his chances of leading the party, according to a Times/YouGov poll, shot-up to 43%. Many expect the majority of the Conservative membership will vote to leave.

So what about Labour? In a near mirror image of the troubles facing Cameron today, back in 1975 (the last EU referendum) Wilson faced a divided party with the majority campaigning to leave. Today, the Labour party faithful recognise the social impact of the great European project and champion its importance from an economic, security and internationalist perspective. Despite a few dissenters, the party is resolutely united.

And Corbyn? He remains stuck on the side-lines. It is an open secret that he spent the last 32 years advocating leaving the EU. Following his election, many of his colleagues agreed to join his Shadow Cabinet on the proviso that he campaign to keep Britain in Europe. On this measure, so far, he has failed. In fact, he is actually helping the 'out' campaign.

In an interview with ITV's Tom Bradby on Monday, Corbyn declared that he would never share a platform with Cameron over Europe. He went on to attack the credibility of the deal, trotting out the same argument put forward by Gove on the legality of the renegotiation. A technicality that only those of us in the Westminster bubble care about. His comments attacking the only significant element of the package concerning restricting child benefits, on the other hand, were symptomatic of a man who misunderstands the political mood of the country entirely.

Many of my Labour colleagues say: worry not, we have Alan Johnson and Hilary Benn flying the flag for our team. They'll deliver the approximate nine million Labour and 'lefty' votes for remain.

Yet, despite the derisory opinion of Corbyn in the press, he does have a huge amount of influence over this group. A group whose vote will be hugely important and one that currently doesn't have a voice. And a group that distrusts the Cameron Government hugely.

Labour voters across the UK are looking for a voice in the referendum debate. Whilst Johnson is credible and articulate, it is Corbyn they look to. If he remains passively on the edge, he runs the risk of the UK leaving the EU.