Donald Brind on how the campaign is unfolding
“It’s up to you in the Labour Party to save us.” I was too polite to reply: “From your son, you mean?”, for this was Stanley Johnson, the charming father of boorish Boris, the Brexiteer.
Boris is the black sheep of the Johnson clan. As is well known, his decision to join the Leave camp put him in opposition not just to his father but also to his brother Jo, the Higher education Minister and his sister Rachel Johnson senior and I were at the launch of a novel, Pax 1934-1941 which is set in a darker period for relations between Britain and Europe. Stanley Johnson describes himself as a lifelong “Europeanist”. He was a Tory MEP and also worked in the European Commission. He thinks his son may have made a “career ending” choice”.
I agreed with Johnson senior that Labour voters were likely to play a decisive role in the referendum. I took the opportunity to explain the importance of Jeremy Corbyn’s “warts and all” support for the Remain campaign. It captures the mood of many workers who see the EU as wedded to austerity but vital for protecting rights in the workplace. The Labour’s leader’s pledge to seek to reform the Union from within could be vital in making sure Labour supporters turn out and vote.
I also recommended to Boris’ dad an article by one of Labour’s rising stars Seema Malhotra on the importance of tackling the generational divide. She pointed to a recent YouGov poll showing a three-to-one majority amongst under 30s in favour of staying in while among the over-60 the leavers outnumber the stayers by 63% to 37%.
“The generation born in the 1990s believe that walking away from the European Union will damage the British economy and endanger their chances to get on and do well. But that could happen if their parents and grandparents stick with their current intentions to vote to Leave.” Turnout would be crucial, she said. “The hopes of the Leave campaign are pinned on the support of older voters – and on a low turnout.”
This presents a double challenge for Labour which is overwhelmingly in support of Remain. She said the party has to mobilise and motivate Labour supporters of all ages to achieve a high turnout – and to appeal to those planning to vote Leave to “Think Again”.
They should focus on what walking away would mean for their children and their grandchildren.
“My appeal to older people is – “Listen to the young people of Britain. Take note of what they think is best for their future.” She called for a “conversation between the generations”, drawing inspiration from last year’s Irish referendum campaign when parents and grandparents were persuaded to support equal marriage.
There is expected to be a strong youth theme when Jeremy Corbyn steps up EU campaigning after the local elections. He met Barak Obama after the US president’s town inspirational town-hall style meeting with young people. The Obama visit has put the Leave campaign on the back foot.
Which, brings us back to Stanley Johnson’s lad. Boris Johnson’s biographer, Andrew Gimson, delivered a scathing account of his run-in with the president in the Mail . “Game, set and match to the President” is Gimson’s verdict.
But why, asks the biographer, “did Boris ever get himself into a contest he was so likely to lose? The answer is that as well as being a politician, he is a journalist, and he needed to find an intro to his article which would grab the reader’s attention. “He was short of time, so he reached for the tired old Churchill anecdote and gave it a bit more edge by referring to ‘the part-Kenyan President’ – a phrase which would make people wonder whether Boris was being racist.”
“He was not being racist, but he was being inaccurate. For Boris has never set any store by the pedantic virtue of getting his facts right.”
Echoing Stanley’s Johnson’s view that joining Brexit was a “career ending move” for his son, the Mail headline asks “Has Obama busted Boris? … the President exposed the Brexit leader as a bogus… and unlikely PM.”
Maybe that’s right – maybe it isn’t.