Jeremy Corbyn has called on young people to vote to remain within the European Union and take “control of [their] future”. Labour members have warned Mr Corbyn he must make more effort to persuade Labour members to back remain, or potentially face a leadership challenge.
Appearing in Liverpool today to lead a voter registration drive, he told young activists that staying in the EU “goes hand in hand with an agenda for progressive reform in Europe: to increase democratic accountability, tackle tax avoidance and climate change, and strengthen workers’ rights across the European Union.”
He added: “This is your chance to make it clear that a vote to remain is about taking control of your future.”
Mr Corbyn has proved a lacklustre campaigner for the Remain movement so far, with critics highlighting his decades-long history of voting against measures to further integrate the Union, including leading the Labour opposition to the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. In 2003, he called the Common Agricultural Policy “morally unjustifiable”
But today he made the case that young progressives should vote Remain as a means to furthering their movement.
Telling the audience that Labour now has more members under the age of 27 than the Liberal Democrats have in total, he said: “It fills me with hope to know that our movement is reaching out to young people again, because it is you that must shape your future.
“The people who will be most affected by the decision we make in next month’s EU referendum will not be my generation, but your generation.
“It is young people who will make the difference in this referendum.”
But the speech failed to win support from readers of the Labour blog site LabourList. One commented: “Young voters eh? Look at what the failing EU has delivered – unemployment rates for the under-25’s: Greece 49 percent; Spain 45 percent; Croatia 40 percent.”
Another said: “It has been amazing to watch – those on the so-described Left spend an inordinate amount of time spitting and frothing at “the banksters” – and when a EU referendum comes along, align themselves with the very people they claim to despise.
“Cognitive dissonance doesn’t quite describe it.”
The comments are indicative of the line Mr Corbyn must walk over the next six weeks, as his main body of support comes from entrenched left wing voters who are unlikely to vote for a prospect supported by big business and the major banking groups, and championed by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.
But at the same time, the Parliamentary Labour Party has made it clear that they expect Mr Corbyn to be a strong advocate for Remain, as the campaign, which is not well supported among the Conservative grassroots, will need to swing the majority of Labour voters behind it to stand a chance of success.
One Labour frontbencher told The Independent: “If the public vote to leave the EU, Labour will get the blame.” Another said: “The finger would be pointed at Jeremy and there could be consequences.”
Labour backbencher Jo Cox was willing to be more explicit, saying: “The next big challenge for Jeremy in the next few weeks is the referendum. Lots of us in the Labour Party are going to be looking for some real leadership from Jeremy. He has to lead from the front and put a convincing case.”
Asked whether a Brexit vote could provoke a Labour leadership contest, Ms Cox didn’t rule it out, replying: “I want to see those Labour voters come out and vote Remain. If they don’t, and we leave [the EU], that is a conversation for 24 June.”