Remainers To Back Labour Despite Doubts Over Cost Of 'Dream' Manifesto

Focus group in Boris Johnson's seat likens free broadband pledge to communist Cuba and see Corbyn as "indecisive"
HuffPost UK

Remainers in Boris Johnson’s constituency are set to vote Labour despite doubts over whether Jeremy Corbyn can pay for his “dream” manifesto, a focus group run by HuffPost UK and Edelman has found.

The voters in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, undecided between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, were won over despite reservations over Corbyn’s “indecisiveness” on Brexit, with many, and particularly the parents, prioritising domestic issues such as the NHS and education.

Most of Labour’s manifesto policies proved popular, although several thought universal free broadband was unworkable and compared it to communist Cuba, where free internet is available in busy public spaces.

Several voters from the west London seat accused Labour of “saying what people want to hear” and questioned whether Corbyn’s plan was simply “too good to be true”.

But despite voting for Remain, only two of the nine voters questioned ranked Brexit, a weak spot for Corbyn, as the most pressing issue in the election.

Only two said it was a priority and even they now believe Britain should leave the EU as soon as possible.

And just two of the group said they were considering backing the Liberal Democrats, who want to revoke Brexit.

In comments which will worry leader Jo Swinson, the voters also discussed how this week’s ITV debate showed that there were “two main parties so maybe you should vote for one of those two”, and even the two who backed the Lib Dems said they could vote Labour.

Johnson meanwhile was seen as a good, visible local MP, who helped one of the group access services for her son, who has special needs.

But the group noticed the hard time voters had given him around the country, including heckles as he visited flood-hit Yorkshire.

The PM was also described as “a clown”, “dishonest”, “calculated” and “unfaithful, in a lot of ways”.

Not a single voter said they would back him on December 12, when Labour is hoping to realise its outside chance of overturning his tight 5,084 majority.

The group, part of HuffPost UK’s ‘The People’s Election’ series, was made up of undecided voters from a range of backgrounds.

They held jobs ranging from teachers to IT and rail workers, from a florist to a student.

Labour’s manifesto

Corbyn’s campaign pledges appeared to be getting cut through with the voters, who identified free broadband, renationalisation, stopping NHS privatisation, spending more on the health service, scrapping tuition fees, a second referendum and mass housebuilding as Labour policies, just hours after the manifesto launch.

The voters supported most of the policies, but every single one questioned the manifesto’s credibility as a package.

Vicky, a pregnant teacher with two children, said it was a “dream”, but warned: “Saying what people want to hear isn’t the same as the truth”.

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Sam, a young teacher, described Corbyn’s policies as “popular” but “unrealistic”.

Siobhan, a mother-of-three who works in administration, said simply: “Great ideas, but do we have the money to pay for it?”

The most popular policies were creating a million ‘green jobs’, although some questioned what these were, as well as a £10 living wage, a national care service, nationalisations and a windfall tax on oil companies.

But more than half the group felt delivering free broadband by part-nationalising BT was simply unworkable.

Janine sparked horror when she recounted her experiences with the internet on a holiday to Cuba.

“When I went to Cuba you had these little scratch off cards, you had to go to somewhere like Trafalgar Square or a populated place, and that’s where you can access the internet, you can’t access it in your home,” she said.

“So I imagine it will be something like that.”

Another simply remarked: “It will be very slow.”

‘Relatable’ Corbyn

Perhaps unsurprisingly in London, the voters were largely positive about Corbyn, describing him as “fair”, “humble”, “wise” and even “the people’s champion”.

And they felt more positive about Labour after seeing his speech at the manifesto launch.

Vicky, who was sceptical about how realistic the policies were, described Corbyn’s sales pitch as “quite stirring”.

“It goes back to being the people’s champion, he’s trying to say he’s doing a system for the majority whereas the system already is only working for the minority,” she said.

“For so many people who are not from the upper echelons it’s not working - how you can have two working parents who can’t afford to put their kids in childcare, it’s not working for us, it’s not working for me.”

Majid, who works in IT for a restaurant chain, was another who doubted the manifesto’s credibility but liked the message.

He said the Tories have been “working for the rich” and that Corbyn was trying to say “come with us and we can make the impossible happen”.

“I think it’s a bit more truthful than the Conservatives,” he said.

Sam said: “It’s effective because he’s framing it like a political revolution, the system is bad, we can topple that system, we can make it fairer.

“It’s something politicians have tried before, it was a strategy, successful or not, used by Trump.”

Brexit as a distraction

Reflecting a theme which emerged from this week’s ITV leaders’ debate between Johnson and Corbyn, several in the group described the Labour leader as “indecisive”.

During that TV clash, the PM nine times asked whether Corbyn would back Remain or Leave in a second referendum, which he failed to answer.

And the voters noticed, describing him as someone who “seems to avoid answering questions”.

Neil, who works as a rail project manager, said: “He’s always been a Eurosceptic, that’s why I said indecisive.

“He’s always voted on these issues but when it came to the issue of Brexit he never said it, and that’s political posturing.

“It’s nice just to say which side you are on and what you are doing and it took ages for that to come out.”

Sam added: “I think he wants to say he’s in favour of (Brexit) but he knows it’s political suicide”, while warning that Corbyn’s carefully crafted position will not please everyone “because there is no middle ground anymore”.

“We’ve got people dying and bleeding on our streets but we’re talking about Brexit”

Nevertheless, only two in the group ranked Brexit as more important than domestic policy, and almost all said the issue needs resolving as soon as possible.

There were calls for “clarity”, and an end to “uncertainty” which is forcing people to put off important decisions, such as buying or selling a house.

Vicky was scathing about what she saw as a distraction from issues like knife crime.

“We’ve got people dying and bleeding on our streets but we’re talking about Brexit, we’ve got suicides especially among men at an all time high but we’re still talking about Brexit,” she said.

Despite being a Remainer, Neil said he just wants a party to get a majority and get Britain out of the EU with a deal.

“Even though I wanted to stay, they haven’t done what they said they were going to do and you can’t do that,” he said.

“It doesn’t work unless you have losers’ agreement to lose, that’s why another referendum will go in a vicious cycle.

“I would rather get it over and done with.”

Lib Dem squeeze

Ultimately seven of the voters said they would vote Labour on December 12, praising the party’s policies on the NHS and education, its desire to “provide for the majority” and bring about “change that matters for me and my family”.

Two of the group said they were thinking about voting Lib Dem but questioned whether it might be a wasted vote in a seat only Labour or the Tories can win.

Reflecting a squeeze of the Lib Dems in national opinion polls, Martin, a father-of-three who works for TfL, said he was thinking of voting Lib Dem “but they’re maybe not going to win, so maybe I should vote Labour”.

He added: “(ITV) had the debate with the two main parties, even (ITV) recognise there’s two main parties so maybe you should vote for one of those two”.

Neil cast doubt on leader Jo Swinson’s claim she could become PM.

“If you’re being realistic they are not going to win the election,” he said.

No mates Johnson

Several in the group described Johnson’s good work as a local MP, but none of them would countenance voting Tory.

Siobhan said Johnson was “very helpful” because he helped her son, who has special needs, access NHS services.

The PM “really turned things around for me” and “told people they had to put me on courses” which had previously been unavailable.

Meanwhile, Janine noticed the reception Johnson was getting around the country.

“When he was local MP, he was very helpful with the people.

“But now when you watch him on TV, he went to a hospital the other day and there were people shouting at him, he went to the floods and people were shouting at him.”

She adds: “It seemed when he was our local MP and didn’t have all the other responsibilities, he just seemed a lot more likeable”.

Note: the focus group participants were from social classes ‘BC1/C2’, aged between 21 and 45, Remain voters and undecided about whether to vote for Labour or the Liberal Democrats in the general election.

The People’s Election is a HuffPost UK series aimed at getting beyond the politicians’ agendas for the 2019 election, trying to find out what really matters to the public.

HuffPost UK

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