Britain’s newspapers are broadly in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, a study has found. But the authors highlighted a lack of left wing voices being used to make the case for a Brexit, which has prompted left wingers to mount their own campaign for a ‘Lexit’.
Of 928 referendum articles studied, 45 percent were in favour of leaving the EU, against 27 percent which made the case for staying in, researchers at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism have found.
19 percent were categorised as “mixed or undecided” while 9 percent had no position.
The articles were gathered during two sample days of coverage per week during the first two months of the referendum campaign immediately after David Cameron’s post-summit Cabinet meeting on February 20th.
The Daily Mail published the most pro-leave articles, followed by The Daily Express, The Daily Star, The Sun and The Daily Telegraph. Conversely, The Daily Mirror was strongest at flying the banner for Remain, followed by The Guardian and The Financial Times. The Times was found to be fairly balanced in its reporting, with a slight bias towards leave content.
But while most of the papers were willing to make the case for Brexit, they are less willing to give all sides of the campaign an equal hearing: 36 percent of people quoted within the articles were politicians, and of those, 69 percent were Conservatives, while just 14 percent were Labour.
Vote Leave, the official Leave campaign has already been criticised for being too focussed on placing Conservative figures in the limelight to make the case for leaving the EU, with some suggesting that they are using the referendum campaign to line up their preferred candidate as the next leader of the Conservative Party.
“I think they’re a bit more worried about who succeeds Cameron in No 10,” UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage told the Guardian last weekend, adding that he thought there was “a lot” of political positioning “going on.”
And in late April senior Labour donor John Mills quit the board of Vote Leave, claiming that the campaign doesn’t take Labour votes seriously enough.
“Over the last few weeks, within the campaign, I have come to believe that it would be useful and more effective for the Leave campaign if there was a strong and independent Labour voice for the arguments to leave the EU,” he said in a statement.
But a letter leaked in February showed stronger feelings on the subject: “The bottom line is that Labour Leave are fed up with the way they have been treated by Vote Leave and the — intransigent and insensitive from their perspective — policies it pursued,” he wrote.
Left wingers have now started rallying for a Brexit on left wing principles, coining the phrase “Lexit” to differentiate from the mainstream Brexit campaign which they associate with the right.
At a rally in London last week Lindsey German, from socialist group Counterfire told the assembled audience that “millions” of Labour supporters were going to defy Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to vote Leave on June 23rd.
“The deal they (EU) made with Turkey is a complete breach of any international law since the Second World War and it is a shame to humanity. The only way we can move forward is by fighting back,” she said.
“I’m sorry Labour is taking the position that it is because I think millions of people – Labour voters – are going to vote no.”
And she urged those present to shed the idea that a vote for Leave was a vote for UKIP style right wing politics, saying: “There is a narrative that if you are left wing, if you are in support of women’s rights, if you are anti-racist, if you support workers’ rights you have to be in favour of remain.
“We have to have a left voice to say we can vote to leave but can do so from the left. It’s not all about turning your back on your people. It’s about uniting over the things that matter.”
Campaign group Left Leave list among their reasons for wanting to exit the EU: opposition to the “big business agenda” pursued by the EU; opposition to an “unreformed and undemocratic” EU dominated by the Commission and the European Central Bank; and claiming ownership for the workers’ rights won by the trade unions in the 1970s, which those making the case for remaining in the EU are wrongly attributing to Brussels.