BRIGHTON, United Kingdom – The president of the Party of European Socialists (PES) had plenty to say at a meeting dedicated to keeping Britain in the European Union (EU) this morning, telling delegates to scare voters into wanting to stay in.
Speaking at the panel discussion of European politicians with experience of fighting and winning EU referendums at the Labour Party conference, PES leader and former Bulgarian prime minister Sergei Stanishev pledged the support of all European socialist parties to Labour to help keep the nation in the EU.
Opening his remarks, Stanishev said: “to see the treasurer of the PES, the vice president, and myself here shows the very clear commitment of the European socialist party to stronger links and cooperation with the Labour Party, especially facing this tremendous challenge not only for Britain, but for the whole of the European Union with the referendum… we are strongly committed to working with the Labour party in this campaign”.
Drawing experience from other successful referendum campaigns in Europe – including the gay marriage vote in Ireland, the speakers called on delegates to turn UKIP’s arguments on their heads and throw them back. Dutch socialist Agnes Jongerious recalled a poster campaign which recast migrant workers as handsome, muscular hunks to appeal to women voters. How this would appeal to working class male voters, now facing migrants stealing both their women and their jobs was not elaborated upon.
Stanishev insisted Labour activists should turn UKIP’s own policies on opening Britain to the world by leaving the EU back on them. He said: “you have seen news headlines, in the [tabloid papers], ‘Bulgarians are coming to take away our social benefits’. The simple statistic is, Bulgarian nationals are in 28th place for foreign nationals who receive social benefits in Britain. About 20,000 people in a country of 60 million.
“In first place, it is people from the Commonwealth. Pakistan , India, etcetera. So when you have a Farage type saying these things, come out with the figures”.
One of the key themes of the meeting was how demographics would be key to winning the vote – and keeping Britain in the European Union. Panel chair Baroness Royall regretted the government wouldn’t be extending the franchise to 16-year-olds, and that “sadly all those wonderful European citizens living in the UK don’t have a vote”.
One speaker from the floor, a former Labour candidate expressed this frustration at not being in a position to gerrymander the electorate best when he asked the panel, with a hint of desperation :”Do you think there is anything we can do to move the goalposts now?”
It isn’t all bad news for the European Socialists, though. If what they call their “rational” arguments fall on deaf ears, there are all the dirty tricks to fall back on, reminds Stanishev. You can always frame the referendum as a vote of no confidence on austerity, calling on people to vote for Europe to give the Tories a black eye. Or you can appeal to the desire of young people to jump on a Ryanair flight to the Czech republic for cheap beer. Or, of course, you can appeal to darker emotions:
“For every campaign, it is crucial to create an emotion… In my view, you should not be afraid of creating fears.”
“The people who are campaigning to leave the European Union are saying ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be out but all the benefits will be there’. No. They won’t be there… it should be said in a very blunt way… yes the campaign should be positive, but you have to have a negative element. Negative emotions are very strong. Fear is strong”.
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